Three points in my wagon

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

27 December 2021

A very bright, very clear day with a slight breeze only. The pitch, once again, easily cut up down the middle. The atmosphere inside the ground was quite soporific, with virtually no noise from the Town supporters. The 150-1200 Crystal Palace supporters kept up an incessant chant of "Stevie Coppell's Red Army", which was monotonous and boring. Much like the game.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, D Smith, Lever, Livingstone, Donovan, Coldicott, Groves, Black, Clare and Nicholls. The substitutes were Croudson, Butterfield, Chapman, A Buckley and Pouton. D Smith played at left-back, with Clare and Nicholls up front. Nicholls looked, physically, like a typical Buckley player, built very similarly to Ashcroft (but with less chins). The referee wore pastel green and the minute and seven seconds silence for Stanley Matthews was impeccably observed.

1st half

Town kicked off towards the Pontoon and the game petered out almost immediately. There wasn't much cohesion in the Town play and the game was very scrappy. Palace played the typical Coppell game – enthusiastic longish ball.

The first attack of any real note came from Town after about 8 minutes: a neat passing movement through the middle saw Clare release Nicholls with just the keeper to beat, but the linesman flagged for offside. A couple of minutes later Groves played an excellent defence-splitting pass through the centre for Nicholls, but he hadn't anticipated it and it went through to the keeper.

After about 15 minutes Clare scuffed a shot, from the right centre of the penalty box, straight at the keeper. And Town didn't do anything else for 20 minutes or so.

The game became really awful, with many high balls from the Town defence. Surprisingly, Andy Linighan was able to out-jump Daryl Clare. How did he manage that? Palace started to threaten the Town goal, mainly through Morrison turning McDermott on the right. Three such attacks nearly brought goals for Palace.

Firstly Morrison crossed from the bye line deep into the heart of the Town 6-yard box. Black wellied the ball clear. On the other two occasions Morrison got to the bye line and crossed to Forssell at the near post, who turned and hit the shots into the side netting. Forssell also had a shot blocked by Livingstone's bottom after he had wriggled free, again at the near post on Town's right.

The only other Palace effort of any danger was when Austin drilled a low cross from about 30 yards out, under the Findus, to the edge of the right centre of the Town box. Ratso Rizzo, their badly haired left winger, won a flying challenge with the ball sitting up perfectly for him for a free shot. He scuffed a terrible shot five yards wide.

Town woke up a little with ten or so minutes to go to half time. Donovan wasted a couple of opportunities to cross from the bye-line, after being set free by Clare. As usual he looked up and managed to dent the foreheads of the opposition centre-backs. Daryl Clare beat three players in a terrier-like dribble, on the left corner of the Palace box, and hit a shot a couple of yards over the bar. On 41 minutes the referee awarded Town a direct free kick about three yards outside the box, five or six yards to the left of centre. Kingsley Black managed to curl the ball across goal and just wide of the keeper's left-hand post.

In injury time Town won a free kick. The ball was played in, half cleared, played in again, and half cleared again. Lever lobbed the ball back into the area, to the left of the Palace goal near the 6-yard line. Nicholls got behind the Palace full-back, who initially touched him. Nicholls stayed on his feet and shielded the ball from the Palace player, with just the keeper left, but at a very narrow angle. Nicholls then failed to remain upright as he saw the whites of the keeper's eyes. The referee pleased many by pointing to the spot, but then the question arose – who takes it? Striding forward manfully was Diddy David SMITH. Without any fuss, he placed the ball, took a few steps back and whacked it into the keeper's top left-hand corner, right under the bar. It was half time immediately on the restart.

It had been a very poor half, but no "Lever moments". The defence had been OK, but the attack was poor. Clare has reverted to his selfish headless chicken routine of his pre-loan period. Nicholls played like an ambling Ashcroft. The hair was different, but the outcome the same as last week. He played two or three decent flicks, but wasn't as in the game as Forssell. He certainly isn't blessed with lightning pace, and I don't recall him trying a shot. Donovan was as ineffective as normal, wasting several openings with poor crosses.

It was unedyfing stuff, but winning undefying stuff.

2nd half

Neither team made any changes at half time. The game deteriorated from a very poor standard, with Palace becoming more direct and Town less able to control the ball, let alone retain possession. It was dire stuff.

The first thing that Town did in the second half was after 58 minutes when Nicholls was replaced by Pouton. Donovan went to centre-forward, Pouton to right-wing. I do not recall Town getting the ball into the Palace penalty box until the 70th minute, when a back pass was miscontrolled by the keeper and he had to run back and pass it to his full-back from just in front of the goal line. And Town didn't have any part in that.

After 72 minutes Pouton, finally, was given the ball in space after a cross field pass from Groves. He took on the full-back on the outside, creating space with a step over. He got to the bye line and put over a superb cross to somewhere near the penalty spot. Groves headed the cross firmly towards goal, but straight at the keeper who tipped it over the bar at full stretch. A minute later Pouton again attacked at speed, with determination, down the right. He cut across the face of the penalty box and passed to Black. Black cut inside, fell over and was booked for diving, whilst limping away.

After 80 minutes Clare was set free just inside the left edge of the Palace box by a chipped cross field pass. He hit a first time volley a couple of yards wide of the keeper's right-hand post. And in the last minute Clare was set free behind the Palace defence from near the half way line. Again he took the ball to the left of the Palace area and, from the edge of the box, sliced the ball further away from goal than he was. There were absolutely no more Town attacks whatsoever. That's it. In the whole game Town had one header on target, four shots wide from Clare and the penalty.

Palace managed to make Coyne produce one save – an excellent arching tip over the bar after Forssell had, from eight yards, flicked a header on from a cross on Town's right. Fan Zhiyi headed a near-post corner high and wide. A couple more shots came in which were blocked, and a lot of deep crosses and high balls. Coyne caught one cross, the rest were headed out by Lever and Livvo.

And that really was that. One of those truly forgettable games where the result was the important thing. We got the points, they didn't. Forget the rest. Safety gets closer. The defence played resolutely against physically difficult, and larger, opponents. Lever never had a moment (though a scare in the first minute of the second half when Coldicott ducked away from a high clearance at the last minute) and Livvo didn't fall over too many times. For the last half hour or so Palace played 4-3-3 with three quick, and taller, players up front. The fact that Palace could only get one shot on target says a lot for our patchwork defence.

Apart from the annoying fussiness of the referee, who stopped play frequently for debatably small offences (and often got them the wrong way round) there weren't even any peripheral things to report. Radio Humberside described the afternoon as turgid – stunningly accurate (just like Smith's penalty).