Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
7 May 2000
A very warm, clear sunny day in the hitherto miserable Midlands. About 150 Town supporters lounged about in the right hand corner of the stand behind a goal (on the right as you look on TV). The pre-match atmosphere was a little strange. There didn't seem to be any tension in the Birmingham support, nor a mood of celebration. A sort of after the Lord Mayor's show feeling pervaded, despite it being before their Lord Mayor's show. Odd.
Town lined up in an adventurous and experimental 4-4-2 formation with lots of youngsters, as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Lever, Livingstone, Gallimore, Donovan, Coldicott, Groves, D Smith, Ashcroft and Clare. The substitutes were Croudson, Allen, Black, A Buckley and Chapman.
Birmingham kicked off towards the Town support and within a minute they'd won a thrown-in. In the next minute they could have scored. McDermott was out-wriggled on the right, near the touchline, and the resultant cross was nodded on to the far post. Hughes, unmarked about eight yards out near the edge of the six-yard box, volleyed very high and wide.
On four minutes Lever went down injured after falling weirdly (i.e. normally for him), and within another five or so minutes he was down again, clutching his leg. In between Lever's injuries Town had the ball for several seconds. As per usual the back players delighted in chipping the ball over the heads of My Little Showpony and the Puppy. When they did get the ball to their feet they were incredibly irritating; I think young Mr Clare is still trying to control one of the passes he received. Ashcroft was in flicktastic overdrive, which left the Town support underwhelmed.
After 10 minutes A Johnson the small Birmingham striker scampered past Livingstone down the Town left and whipped in a cross to Furlong, about 10 yards out just to the left of centre. No worries mate, Furlong guided the ball five yards over the bar with no-one near.
The next 15 or 20 minutes were mainly Birmingham corners and Town players falling over. Birmingham players joined in the homage to the golden age of slapstick when their centre-half Purse and centre midfielder Hyde tackled each other, rather than Clare, near the half way line. Whilst they rolled around in agony Clare ran around in circles, eventually bumping into another defender. It was, in reality, Town's first "attack" and he completely wasted the opportunity, as Town had a three against two advantage. Around the same time Gallimore injured himself when twisting and turning. In the 26th minute Town caused "panic" in the Birmingham defence by getting to the edge of the penalty box and almost, almost, passing to Donovan. Almost.
Around the half hour the match really did descend into farce. It was as if the Town defence were trying to get on a 101 great comedy goals video. All 101 being in the same game. Firstly some hum-drum midfield play saw the ball break to a Birmingham player, who ran laterally across the defence, near the half way line. The ball eventually squirted away to Coldicott, who swung his left boot and missed. The ball rolled on and a Birmingham player ran at the heart of the Town defence, straight into three Town players, one of which was Lever, who fell over. The ball bumbled around and rolled slowly towards Coyne. Lever, though prostrate, saw the ball roll gently past him, so he swung his boot at it. His clearance ricocheted off Furlong's shins and bounced a few inches wide of Coyne's right-hand post. In the end about five players were on the ground having fallen over. A minute later A Johnson - who was a right pest all day, like a slightly better Clare - outpaced Livingstone (how rare), after a whacked clearance over the top. He ran on to the edge of the penalty box, right in the centre with only Coyne to beat, and carefully curled his shot five yards high and wide.
From the resulting goal kick the ball was knocked back to Coyne, who stopped the ball and steadied himself for a huge fly kick. Unfortunately he took so long steadying himself that Furlong eventually waddled up to him and the kick bounced off the big boy's bottom. The ball looped in a gentle arc past Coyne on his left. Coyne and Furlong ran after the ball, and it bounced a few inches past Coyne's left-hand post. By this time the whole of the Town support were convulsed in laughter. Town were trying really hard to give Birmingham a goal, but they were so poor at shooting they couldn't even oblige.
The last 15 minutes of the half was characterised by more of the same – Town players falling over and Birmingham getting loads of corners. I only recall one chance for them as a result, when Rowett headed a corner from the Town right a couple of yards wide from a position about 10 yards out at the far post. I think it was this corner which came as a result of a Lever moment. Birmingham had a break down the Town right and the ball was crossed deep into the area. After much flapping and flailing the ball dropped to a Birmingham player just outside the box, to the left of centre. It was mis-hit and went through a few legs before bouncing up off a Birmingham knee. It was going a couple of yards wide of the goal and Lever, standing on the bye-line a couple of yards wide of the post leapt up and headed it off for a corner. That was just plain daft.
With about 10 minutes to go to half time Town HAD A SHOT. Say it loud and say it proud: we had a shot. Some decent interplay down the left resulted in D Smith scuttling past the full-back and delivering a hard low cross towards the penalty spot. Groves just missed the ball and it rolled on to Coldicott, about 12 yards out to the right of the post. Coldicott had loads of time to control the ball and choose where he would kick it. Row K seat 132 about 18 yards to the left of the goal. He simply ballooned a volley way, way, way away from the goal, to quote Brian Cant.
The half ended after only two minutes of added time, which isn't much considering play was stopped several times for long periods. But no-one complained too much. The players obviously wanted to get in the shade and the crowd was not so much bored as disinterested. Most of the half was played within 40 yards of Coyne and there was a lot of pressure on Town, with lots of efforts on goal. Most of them were so poor that it isn't worth describing them. There were several far post headers that looped more that five yards wide, and shots from the edge of the box that were blocked.
Town had played like they were prepared to put in enough effort to lose by a bit, though not a lot. There wasn't a lot of football played, no passing and little movement. Well, it was quite hot, wasn't it? In addition to the falling over and kicking of the ball against Birmingham players, Town players managed several air shots (hey, it was golfing weather) and Coyne threw the ball to McDermott in a gentle parabola despite a Brummy being next to the diminutive veteran. It was as if the Town players were toying with them.
Anything positive to report in the first half? Well Coyne came out and caught one corner and …erm…mmm
The half-time distraction (I won't call it entertainment) summed up the mood. Birmingham decided to present some Man of the Season awards on the pitch – which all went to the same, injured, player. They got Jasper Carrot to present them. He told one, I shall be kind to him and call it (rather than him) a joke. "BMW are closing down Longbridge because that's where they built Spitfires". The crowd reaction was a mixture of groans and silence. Even the Birmingham supporters seemed embarrassed. He also announced his retirement from comedy performing after seeing the Keystone Cops in the Town defence. Only joking (unlike him). Lining the centre circle were about 20 pre-teen girls who twirled their pom-poms with such enthusiasm that it would be fair to say at least one of them was awake. They had an "I don't want to do it but I have to" posture. Much like the players and supporters then.
The Blues kicked off with a rush. A cliché indeed, but absolutely true in this instance. Within a minute they could have scored two, both after breaks down the Town right. The first saw a cross and block, the second came after A Johnson wriggled and wormed his way through and across the Town defence, releasing a short pass to the right winger as Gallimore came across. Despite being unmarked about 15 yards out, the Brummite curled a left foot shot three yards above the bar. Oh we did laugh in the little corner that was monochrome.
After about five minutes of the half Town got within 35 yards of the Birmingham goal. Ashcroft attempted to slip a pass down the right channel for Clare to sprint onto and lash an unstoppable drive into the top right-hand corner of the net. Sorry, got carried away there. Clare fell over the back of the legs of a Birmingham defender, hitting his chin on the ankle of the Brummy. Within a minute he was taken off, being replaced by Kingsley 'beautiful left-foot' Black. Black played as a strike partner to Ashcroft; he certainly did not seem to be in his usual hole, just a different one. Actually that's a bit unfair to Black as, bizarrely, he and Donovan seemed to be the ones trying most. Now that is bizarre. Donovan twice popped up in the left-back position with saving tackles. What a wacky end to the season. When the substitution was announced over the tannoy the Birmingham crowd greeted the words "Darryl Clare" with a co-ordinated "Who?", and Kingsley Black with a more subdued version. Arrogance tempered by recognition.
I cannot recall any major incidents in the first 20 minutes of the half. It was just like the first half, but without the attempts on goal. They still had a lot of corners. Most were played short to Hughes, who always stood five yards from the edge of the penalty box. Town, of course, never put anyone near him. One of the few times they didn't knock it short to Hughes, Donovan obliged by laying off a superb volleyed pass to him, after a rubbish corner had gone straight to Donovan at the near post. Hughes curled in a cross to the far post where three players threw themselves at the ball and it was headed a foot wide by a Birmingham player, who then collided with the post.
After 20 or so minutes of the half Town put together a rather impressive seven-man move from left to right, culminating in a cross to the near post. From about 10 yards out, Ashcroft dived and headed a few inches wide of the keeper's left-hand post. It even made the Town supporters stand up and say ooh. Passing and movement, ah yes I remember it well.
After this the game became somewhat becalmed for a period, with only Tony Gallimore to amuse us. Galloping down the left wing with the ball, he was unceremoniously up-ended from behind. No free kick was awarded. Well it wouldn't be as he tackled himself, his right foot tripping his left foot. He fell just like Norman Wisdom! Life imitating whimsical match reporting. What kind of fool is he?
Oh and then Donovan tried to do a Pouton step-over, though it ended up more like an Elvis shuffle. Thank you very much. Of course then there were D Smith’s comedy lay offs from throw-ins. Perfectly weighted straight to A Johnson, who promptly ran off down the wing. Oh, and Gallimore again, when he went for a header in defence and the ball bounced (yes, bounced) over his head, setting up a half chance. And then there was Coyne who, after Hughes had simply hoofed the ball high in the air, caught it on top of the cross bar and released it as he fell, with a corner resulting. Don't forget Livvo, who completely mis-kicked a clearance back to himself, thus bamboozling two attackers and setting up a Town attack (as in we got to the half way line).
In the last 10 or so minutes Birmingham threw on a couple more strikers and upped the pace a bit. With his first touch Marcelo nearly scored when he tamely helped a flick on at the near post into Coyne's arms. A few minutes later he dribbled past three Town players on the right before Groves came over and crunched the ball away. Livingstone was dispossessed near the left corner flag (in truth he was just very slow running), A Johnson turned him easily, ran towards goal along the bye-line and wellied in a hard shot straight at Coyne, who parried away for a corner. In the last minute Coyne had a save to make when a Birmingham player side-footed a shot from about 10 yards out to the right of goal, straight at Coyne. The shot was so feeble Coyne went down in several stages and still got there before the ball.
In injury time Black and D Smith combined down the left, leaving D Smith alone on the bye line and 15 yards from goal. He delicately chipped it into Myhre's hands. It was placed so precisely that Myhre was not required to move one muscle. Two minutes of extra time were added and nothing happened, with both teams content to continue sunbathing.
So that was that then. Town did their best to help Birmingham avoid missing the play-offs. We are, after all, generous guests at other people's parties. It's difficult to say anyone played well, as everyone did something ridiculous at some point on the game, with Gallimore and Lever particularly prominent in these points of ridicule. Unlike some games recently, the Town players made their supporters smile, even if it was with laughter rather than happiness.
Two shots at, not on, goal and much falling over. Town stumbled, fumbled, and tumbled their way to the summer holidays, with the supporters mumbling and grumbling along. We, like them, are glad it's all over.