Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
27 December 2021
A clear day with little wind and a chill in the air. The pitch looked ready to cut up, and duly did in the player warm up - it looked like a game had been played on it even before the start. The Forest players warmed up in continental style, with organised jogs and stretches. Town warmed up in the usual way. Ashcroft was deadly in the warm up – scoring from every angle and distance. Conversely Coyne managed to save only two or three shots, mainly from Croudson. Groves was the first player to come out for his pre-match warm up, at 2.20, and it looked like he was testing his back. He didn't do anything too strenuous and was moving gingerly at times.
The crowd tried to get behind the players by chanting "Mariners, Mariners" a couple of times before the game kicked off – it wasn't wholehearted, but it was an effort and a decent noise was made.
Town lined up in the usual formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Gallimore, Lever, Livingstone, Donovan, Coldicott, Groves, Black, Lester and Ashcroft. The subs were Croudson, Butterfield, Pouton, Allen and A Buckley. The crowd were as mystified as anyone by Lester's appearance. Definitely out must mean definitely in these days.
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon and the game was a cracker from the start. In the first minute Lester was fouled near the Lower Stones, about 30 yards out. Black swung a cross over to the penalty spot where Livingstone glanced a header to Beasant's left. A Forest defender stuck a leg out and diverted the ball to Beasant's right, whereupon he changed direction and saved with his right hand on the goal line, just holding onto the ball as Groves slid in. The crowd went "ooh" and roared their approval. A minute later Forest nearly scored when a ball was lifted over McDermott's head from a position in the centre of the field and Rogers (their left wing-back) sprinted into the area and crossed low to the near post. Somehow the ball went behind for a corner as two Forest and two Town players threw themselves at the ball.
In the 6th minute Town attacked at speed down the centre and right. Donovan and Ashcroft linked superbly, with Ashcroft skilfully (and with great determination) beating the defender near their left-hand corner. He crossed slightly behind the first line of players to a position about 15 yards out level with the keeper's right-hand post. Groves controlled the ball and hit a first time half volley with the outside of his right boot. The ball hit the post about a foot below the angle and bounced out. A scramble followed and the ball eventually flew to Black on the left edge of the penalty area. His shot was half charged down by a defender and saved by Beasant on his goal line.
The game was fast and sometimes very skilful, though the defending on both sides was very fraught. It wasn't going to be 0-0. Lever managed to get two "Lever moments" into the first five minutes – both times when he, in effect, challenged a Town player for a Forest cross/pass. One resulted in a corner and another in a cross which was cleared. Remember, this all happened in the first five or six minutes and I haven't mentioned everything. Like Coyne coming out and catching a corner, or Beasant dropping a corner.
Lester and, particularly, Ashcroft were causing the Forest central defenders a lot of problems with one-twos and their constant chasing of channel balls. If you thought Town's central defence was bad you obviously haven't seen Forest's. Forest were very fast when breaking away and their principal attacking weapon appeared to be diagonal balls over McDermott's head for Rogers. For the first 10 minutes Macca was being skinned very easily. In this period at least three crosses from inside the Town area came through this ploy and each time it was Rogers being faster and stronger than Macca which brought the opportunity. Fortunately their centre-forwards didn't shoot straight or, in the case of Freedman, get near the ball.
So for the first half hour the match was even and could have been 2-2, as sometime in this period Coyne was forced into a diving save to his left when a Forest break saw Rogers (I think) whack a cross shot in from the edge of the area. Scimeca had curled a half volley with the outside of his right boot, just wide of Coyne's right-hand post from a position 20 yards out to the Town left (unmarked, of course). Another breakaway saw a cross be half stopped at the Town near post and Livingstone welly the ball off the line for a throw-in. Plus they had three or four corners which were cleared from inside the 6-yard box or Coyne caught (yes another one).
After a brief period of Town pressure, Town finally scored after being awarded a free kick about 25 yards out to the Town right. The ball was rolled forward to Ashcroft on the right side of the box, about 20 yards out. He seemed to have lost the momentum (as he had done two minutes earlier when in exactly the same position he had messed up and Forest had broken away and nearly scored) but then produced a superb turn and flick to go past his marker. He got to a position about three yards from the bye-line and hit a hard, low cross to the near post, where Lester ran across his marker and diverted the ball into the side of the net, on Beasant's right. Beasant didn't have time to move. This was already the third occasion when Ashcroft had "done" his marker with skill, speed and aggression.
Three minutes later Town cleared the ball over the top of the Forest back line, in front of the Stones/Findus, about 30 yards out and 15 yards in from the touchline. It was, essentially, an up and under. Ashcroft chased after it and harried the defender into falling over (ie gave him a bit of a nudge with his bottom). This left Ashcroft free with just Beasant to beat, and Lester and two defenders hurtling after him. Ashcroft advanced and calmly rolled the ball under Beasant. It was a bit like Lester's goal against Crystal Palace last year when he helped Dean Austin miss a bouncing ball. 2-0 to Town and life was wonderful.
Straight from the kick off Forest knocked the ball in the air towards the right edge of the Town box. Stern John challenged with Lever (I think) and the ball was nodded back to Rogers, who had sprinted across from left back to a position right in the centre of the field about 25 yards out. Rogers hit a first time half volley with the outside of his right boot into the top right-hand corner of Coyne's goal. It was unstoppable, once hit. It was hit so hard that the ball came back out of the net and some Town fans thought it had hit the post.
The remaining 12 minutes of the half were just as frantic and exciting. Town's more noteworthy efforts were when Beasant dropped a corner and Groves turned and crossed straight back to Beasant and a very neat and concerted attacked down the left saw Black get to the bye-line and chip a cross into the middle of the goal, about eight yards out, with Ashcroft flying in and heading a yard wide of the left post. Ashcroft and Donovan again combined with flicks and tricks on the right side of the penalty box resulting in Ashcroft's cross being blocked by a Forest defender's hands. A corner was given. The defender had put both hands up in front of his face, effectively punching the ball out.
Forest continued to attack as they had done throughout – mainly down the Town right. The nearest they came was in the last couple of minutes of the half when a midfielder was played in behind McDermott and he hit a firm shot low to Coyne's right and Coyne firmly punched the ball aside. And Coyne came out and caught another cross.
The half time whistle came as a relief and a disappointment. A relief as the match had been so exciting (due in part to two bad defences) and the Forest attacks had been very dangerous. A disappointment as Town had looked so positive. I can't recall when a Town team had gone for the opposition with such gusto. The old mantra of "attack, attack, attack, attack, attack" was being made flesh. There wasn't, on either side, much attempt at keeping a defensive shape.
Ashcroft, to the universal delight and agreement of Town fans present, was playing like a player worth £500,000. He gave 45 minutes of commitment and skill. He was quite unstoppable. He produced at least three turns that had the crowd cooing and purring. Black hadn't produced one pirouette and had crossed well, together with some determination and (dare I say) spatial awareness. Groves really got stuck in and had played positively, looking to spread play at times and was using the ball quickly. Lester had linked well, but tired towards the end of the half, and Coldicott destroyed effectively. Ah yes, the centre of defence. Some things are best left unsaid.
The score could have been anything between 2-1 and 4-4 at half time and no-one could have complained too much. It was exciting and, at that stage, enjoyable.
Forest made one change at half time. I didn't pay too much attention to it. All I remember is that they replaced a relatively tall defender with a small one. I think they took off their right-back, who had been roasted, skinned and cooked for breakfast by Ashcroft and Donovan.
After a minute or so of midfield meandering Forest attacked down the Town right centre. They attempted a one-two one the edge of the box, but Gallimore and Livvo closed off the Forest player. Gallimore was pushed over and the Forest player ran and crossed from the bye-line (from about 10 yards to the left of the goal). Lever trundled towards the cross and, with no Forest player anywhere near him, calmly slid the ball in, from about six yards out near the left post. The crowd visibly shrank into their seats and no-one in the crowd said anything. Just deflation. A third "Lever moment" in the match and Town had squandered a lead. Several Town players remonstrated with the referee for not awarding us a free kick, but he wasn't interested. It was a blatant push and the goal should not have been allowed. I'm sure Lever will agree.
The game went a little flat too for 15 minutes, with Forest getting on top and Town's play becoming a little ragged. Whereas in the first half Town had passed and moved, in this period a lot of balls were merely hit to the forwards' head. Never works for Town, does it. Forest only had one chance, when after a build up down the Town left a midfielder was allowed to cross, where another midfielder was left unmarked eight yards out at the near post. His flick header looped into Coyne's midriff. Oh yes, Coyne came out and caught another corner.
After 53 minutes Lever was replaced by Pouton, with Groves going back to centre-half. Town defended much better after this. And during this period the referee and particularly the linesman running the Town defence end started to give decisions to Forest. Little things like not giving Town free kicks when Lester and Ashcroft were upended from behind; booking Ashcroft for a strong tackle where he got he ball; not booking Freedman when he dived (the referee told him off only); and giving free kicks when Freedman dived.
After about 20 minutes of the second half the game went bonkers. In the words of a West Ham fan I know – "like Julian Dicks' hair, it all went pear shaped" (for Forest). Another nothing ball over the top of the Forest defence was chased by Ashcroft and Hjelde (who is awful, he makes Lever look good). Hjelde allowed it to bounce and Ashcroft managed to bundle the ball forward towards the edge of the penalty area. Hjelde hauled Ashcroft down with a rugby tackle. Result - penalty and sending off. Forest were probably better off without him, as I think he was responsible for Town's second goal too. Forest made a substitution of some kind and Hjelde walked off the pitch very, very slowly. Ashcroft, with his right foot, firmly struck his penalty into Beasant's right-hand side netting. Beasant dived the right way and nearly got it, but it was struck very firmly.
Five minutes later yet another nothing ball over the top of their defence saw Lester and a central defender running towards Beasant, who had come out of his area. About 25 yards out Lester attempted to lift the ball over Beasant, who promptly raised his hands and saved it. Result – free kick and sending off. Beasant had been very bold in his dalliances outside his area, some would say foolhardy. He had, in the first half, attempted to dribble past Ashcroft and nearly lost out in a tackle; and twice slightly miskicked when clearing. He was a calamity waiting to happen. The whole of the Town support rose to salute his return to Blundell Park by singing an appreciative round of "There's only one Dave Beasant" as he waddled off to the dressing room. Forest made a further substitution - I can't remember who came off to be replaced by a keeper and I don't care.
Kingsley Black curled the resulting free kick just over the bar, but then he always does. A couple of minutes later he was replaced by Allen and Town went to a 4-3-3, sometimes 3-4-3 formation. It is difficult to say there was a set formation as Forest pulled everyone back into midfield and Town spent the next 15 minutes passing it around looking for space. When the game restarted after Black's free kick, every outfield player was standing in the centre circle.
Ashcroft should have completed his hat trick in the next 10 minutes. Town played very patient keep ball, passing to free men and (hey just like the big boys) only passing wide when they had pulled a Forest player out of position. Twice Town played a 50-yard cross field ball after retaining possession, on both occasion Ashcroft was alone on the edge of the box. The first time he was on the Town right and, with a huge space in front and around him, decided to go for a spectacular drive into the far corner. He missed by a yard. The second time he was released on the left, advancing to about 10 yards out near the edge of the 6-yard box. He dragged a right foot shot a couple of yards wide of the keeper's right-hand post.
With seven or eight minutes left Town again played keep ball and the ball (much to the crowd's displeasure) went back to Coyne then through the defence on the left, and then out to Coldicott (I think) on the right. The ball was then swung over to the unmarked Allen on the left edge of the penalty area, who knocked a first-time ball back to the centre, to Lester. Lester half controlled the ball and it rolled to Donovan, about 20 yards out. From a slightly right of centre position 20 or so yards out Donovan hit a low right-foot shot inside the keeper's left-hand post.
The remaining minutes were the same as the previous 10 – Town playing keep ball and trying to pull Forest out of position. The only shot I recall is when Pouton managed to hit the roof of the Osmond Stand with a trademark wild sliced shot from the edge of the area, again after a sustained period of Town passing down both flanks.
In the second minute of injury time Forest got a corner, which they played short. Town were very lazy in dealing with it and allowed the players to pass around and work it to an unmarked player about 15 yards out on the left edge of the Town box. Rogers clipped in a slow curling cross towards Stern John at the near post. The ball went over John and Livingstone, whereupon Danny Coyne decided he would entertain the crowd with his impression of Harry Worth. Coyne leapt vertically, spreading his arms and legs wide as the ball floated past his right ear and into the right-hand side of the goal.
Coyne had been very good for 92 minutes, but in this moment he was inept, pathetically inept. Town nearly scored again when Donovan drove in a cross shot from 20 yards which the keeper parried away low to his right. And that was that.
This was an extremely entertaining and exciting game. Town had a slightly better defence and much better attack than Forest and fully deserved the victory, even taking into account the ever-decreasing numbers they had to play against. Town showed more passion and desire. Between the penalty areas Forest were much more skilful than Town, but showed less interest in the penalty box – where it hurts. A right bunch of Premiership ponces – they didn't want to get hurt or dirty. When things started to go against them they started to foul and moan to the referee. After the first sending off their response was to kick Town players even harder. Ashcroft was launched towards the top tier of the Findus/Stones twice and Lester was dumped a few times. But they did have the best player on the pitch (Rogers) and the most skilful (Bart-Williams). Didn't do them any good though, it is a team game.
The pluses for Town – well the points, the goals, the performance of Ashcroft (which was outstanding), the whole team's attacking intent and performance. We have had far too many matches where we have dwelt on the negatives. We know what they are, and who they are. Today was one of the good days when we should just sit back and wallow in the reflected glory. Hey – four goals scored, in Division One. Admit it, they've made you smile for once. Don't be misled by the closeness of the scoreline – it wasn't that close a contest and Town deserved the victory.
I haven't mentioned everything, as too much happened. The Crowd got behind the team and the team responded. This is why we watch football. This game had everything (except dancing girls, of course).