Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

27 December 2021

Grey, cloudy, with a cold breeze. At least Town didn't warm up doing that circular passing routine, more the usual shambolic strolling and indifferent passing. Wayne Burnett was spotted stretching and much relief that his hair had grown a bit - he doesn't look like he's just had chemotherapy now. The pre-match entertainment consisted of 12-year old "cheerleaders" running around the pitch going "Woah", and they weren't even in time.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Coldicott, Gallimore, Livingstone, R Smith, D Smith, Pouton, Groves, Donovan, Lester, Ashcroft. The subs were Croudson, Butterfield, Black, Allen and Burnett. Pacy Stacy started at right-back with everyone else where you'd expect them to be (unless you think Lester should be at Wolves, or Leicester, or Ipswich, or Ilkeston Town). During the warm up one of the Palace players walked over to several Town players and hugged them, patted them on the head and other gestures of friendship. Looking down the list of players we finally deduced who he was - Jose Antunes (number 34). He started the game as well (on this showing it was a good thing we didn't sign him up).

As Town ran out they had the full vocal support of the Town 150 with one rendition of "Mariners, Mariners". That was the final audible contribution from the massed ranks of the faithful. As always at Palace the away supporters sit in one corner (the bottom left of the stand from which TV pictures are beamed).

1st Half
Town kicked off towards the Town supporters side/end and nothing much happened for the first couple of minutes. Town tried to pass through midfield, and Palace whacked it forward, without looking. Antunes produced a beautiful "samba" flick to set up an attack - that's a Town attack. From one whacked clearance, after about five minutes, the ball eventually went to Svennson about 30 yards out, he turned and ran across R Smith, who block tackled him. The referee gave a free-kick 25-30 yards out, slightly to the Town left. The "wall" consisted of Coldicott and Donovan, and there was a huge gap allowing a free shot at goal, which Fan Zhiy duly took advantage of. He wellied it low straight at Coyne, who dropped it. Morrison followed up at full pace and (fortunately for him) ran to where the ball had dropped on the edge of the 6-yard box, centrally, and in it went. The free kick was whacked really hard and did wobble slightly, but Coyne has no excuse for
dropping it.

Two minutes later Palace got a corner on the Town left. The corner was hit flat and hard to the near post, where it was flicked on towards the far post. Morrison was unmarked four yards out and he mishit it backwards. Two minutes after that Town should have equalised. Town broke quickly through the centre of midfield with Pouton eventually releasing Donovan on the right of the area. Donovan failed to beat his man and was pushed wide, though he did manage to return a low cross to the near post. Lester was unmarked on the edge of the 6-yard box with the ball slightly behind him, he turned and prodded a shot at the keeper's chest.

For the next 15 minutes Town exerted some control over the match, as they controlled the midfield, and stopped Palace launching too many long balls into the corners (their main attacking weapon). Then Palace broke up a Town attack when Lester failed to control a short pass on the half way line. Palace broke away at speed on the Town left and, after a series of Town blocks and tackles, the ball eventually fell to Mullions, centrally placed about 20 yards out. He shot towards Coyne's left, and the ball took a deflection off a defender and went the other way. So 2-0 to Palace and they'd only had three shots. I might as well list all the other Palace efforts in the first half:

a) From a Town corner the ball was cleared down the town left, a winger turned and ran straight into the box. He got to the bye-line but Coldicott stopped any of that nonsense with a sliding tackle; and
b) A volleyed clearance from the half way line bounced high to the left of the Town area. Coyne came out and challenged Svensson. The ball was dropped and Coyne picked it up (and shouted at Svensson).

That is all from Palace. Lots of whacking great clearances but no chances, or even shots. They played for set pieces, especially for long throw-ins, but got nowhere near the Town goal. On the other hand Town had the following efforts :-

a) Groves drove a shot five yards over from 20 yards;
b) Gallimore wellied a free-kick from 25 yards out, goalwards, and the ball flew off a defender's head for a corner (that went straight into the keeper's hands, of course);
c) Ashcroft shot weakly across goal from the right;
d) After a flick from Ashcroft, Lester was set free, to the left of the area, with the keeper slow to come off his line. From 10 yards Lester tipped the ball wide of the keeper and his far post (by two yards), then "fell" over the keeper;
e) Lester "bustled" into the area, on the left, and produced a weak shot low to the keeper's right; and
f) In the last minute of the half Town intercepted in the Palace half, Ashcroft passed square to D Smith, who was unmarked on the edge of the area. He sliced a chip a yard wide.

Town had bossed most of the first half but were 2-0 down to a very basic football team. There was a three minute period of play in which Town had applied intense pressure such that Palace were clearing desperately, but back to Town players. Wave upon wave of Town attacks were coming at them. It felt like Palace were about to break, but then Lester decided to relieve the pressure by leaving his foot high (and very late) in a challenge. The momentum was broken through a needless, thoughtless foul.

Town's attacking had been fine until it got to the edge of the box. The problem seemed to be a lack of movement from the front two (they were constantly offside and the player in possession was often unable to release the ball because of their laziness); or over-elaboration. There were far too many flicks and tricks in a crowded box. The simple ball was eschewed too often. For some reason Town players decided that the way to outfox Andy Linighan was to launch long balls on to his head, when the man was incapable of moving on the ground. When the ball was played on the ground Lester was easily brushed away by Linighan - quite literally swept aside by Linighan's right arm.

As a team Town had played mundanely, not badly. Some of the individual performances had been, shall we say, "below par". Donovan was particularly ineffective offensively. The Town supporters were very annoyed at being two down to a below average side, 0-0 would have been acceptable and the very least Town deserved (and certainly the most Palace deserved). We expected some changes in the second half.

No changes at half time by either side. Though it did start to rain.

2nd half
Nothing much happened in the first five minutes until Coldicott fouled a Palace player 10 yards inside the Town half. As the players lined up for the inevitable chip into the box, Morrison stood on the penalty spot five yards offside. So Coldicott ran back to make him onside, then decided to go back to the "line". Morrison stayed where he was (offside) so Ashcroft sprinted back to mark him, thus putting him back on side. So the "line" went back to the penatly spot. When the kick eventually came in it was scrambled away for
a corner on the Town left. The corner was driven in on a low trajectory, just above the players at the near post. Svensson ran in and held off Livingstone whilst diving forward. The ball hammered into the left-hand side of the goal. Three shots on target three goals.

Palace only had two other shots in the game. Bradbury (a second half sub) was allowed to run onto a punt forward, just inside the left side of the box. R Smith got goalside and Bradbury, from a narrow angle, dribbled a shot straight at Coyne. About 10 minutes from the end a ball was played inside Gallimore for Morrison to run onto. Gallimore was a little slow reacting and failed to cut out a cross from the bye-line. The ball was half cleared by Butterfield to the far post about 10 yards out. Rodger came steaming in and volleyed across the face of goal missing three defenders and two attackers (and the post by two yards). There were no other moments of danger created by Palace.

Town were not as threatening as they had been in the first half. No chances were created until the last 15 minutes (I am ignoring a half volley from Pouton, from about 20 yards, which went out of play two yards from the corner flag). Buckley made a double substitution after 15-20ish minutes of the half, Butterfield and Allen came on for Livingstone and Ashcroft. Groves went back to centre-half with Coldicott moving up to central midfield, and Butterfield at right-back. Allen a straight swap for the increasingly ineffective Ashcroft. With 15ish minutes left the unfortunate D Smith was taken off (he'd played relatively brightly) and replaced by Burnett. Town then played a 4-3-3 formation with Donovan up front between, and sometimes just behind, Allen and Lester.

The changed formation didn't particularly suit Burnett as he was unable to release the wingers (as there weren't any), and there wasn't much movement. However after he'd been on five minutes Town did start to exert pressure on Palace and did produce some shots. In the last 15 minutes Town efforts were:

a) Lester turned two yards inside the box and was brought down. The referee gave Town a free-kick one yard outside the box, to the left of centre. Gallimore drove the kick onto the first level of Executive Boxes behind the goal;
b) Gallimore drove another free-kick into the wall;
c) Some Town interplay around the edge of the box resulted in the ball being played back to Pouton 25 yards out. Instead of hitting the corner flag he whacked it straight at the keeper, who was unable to hold it. The ball bounced off the keeepr's chest and out for a corner, about 20 yards wide (it was a very hard shot); from which
d) The ball fell to Lester, unmarked, with his back to goal about four yards out. Lester attempted an overhead kick, but the ball dribbled off his shin for a goal kick;
e) Lester wriggled around the edge of the box, beating a couple of players. His shot went 3 yards wide, but the referee gave a corner; from which
f) Someone headed over from six yards out

And then the whistle went and our misery was ended.

The second half was not up to the standard of the first, but in both Town had played the "better" (which is not to say it was good). Oddly, given the scoreline, collectively Town had looked relatively tight in defence, as Palace only had five shots in total and two of the goals had elements of fortune. In attack Town had produced some excellent chances (Lester missed three chances inside the 6-yard box). Individually some (Donovan, Groves, Lester, Ashcroft) had indifferent games and some played quite well (Gallimore, Coldicott, D Smith). R Smith was by far our best player. Two made mistakes which resulted in goals (Coyne and Livingstone), though they played fine the rest of the game. Butterfield was not overawed when he came on and Burnett launched himself into two heavy, crunching tackles, which suggests he is confident. Pouton was a little ineffective for large portions of the game, but then when we didn't have the ball it was high in the air.

It wasn't good, but it wasn't terrible. The performance against Stockport was far, far worse, as was the first half against Forest. But the result had a sort of inevitability about it. What is it about Selhurst Park? No matter who plays in our kit, no matter how well, or badly, we play (or how poorly Palace play), Town always lose heavily. It defies logic, but it happens every year. And as for their fans singing "It's just like watching Brazil", they either have a huge sense of irony or they recognised our intrinsic superiority.