Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
4 January 2022
A warm, sunny day, with very little wind and a completely packed Osmond Stand. The Town support was a little quiet to begin with. The Town players warmed up in scattered and disorganised bunches, though a frisson of excitement ran through the Pontoon when we realised that young Mr Nicholls (a premiership starlet - official) was not even on the pitch. A quick count up confirmed that he wasn’t even on the bench. To further whet the appetite Ashcroft was in full kit practising curling the ball round Croudson and into the Pontoon.
A rather sad little home-made banner was tied up at the top of the seats in the open corner between the Pontoon and Main Stand "Ashcroft Stay" and a little later its companion piece was tied up next to it - "Buckley Pout". Or it could have been "Buckley Out", my eyes may have been deceiving me. Don't get too excited about this crowd reaction – the banners were placed by four teenage girls and I think it had a lot to do with hormones. At the other end the Huddersfield fans tied up a huge flag with "HTFC – Hermaphrodites" written on it. It looked like that to me anyway. What a liberal bunch of supporters they must be.
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Lever, Groves, Gallimore, Donovan, Coldicott, Pouton, D Smith, Ashcroft and Clare. The substitutes were Croudson, Butterfield, Bloomer, Black and Allen. Groves partnered Lever at centre-back and Pouton came into centre midfield. Huddersfield, playing in a dark green/blue kit which rather clashed with the referee's pastel green and black outfit, lined up with three at the back and two strong, quick forwards (Wijnhard and Armstrong).
Town lost the toss and kicked off towards the Pontoon. As usual the ball went back to McDermott and went out for a throw-in. Then, unusually, Town broke away quickly through Aschroft (lovely first-time flick), Clare (good control and well-weighted pass inside the full-back) and Donovan (the usual fumblings). The move, which was within the first minute, ended when Donovan got to the edge of the six-yard box and fell over the ball. The referee considered that this contravened an obscure law of the game and gave Huddersfield a free kick. This was a recurring theme throughout the game – arbitrary and erratic decisions by the referee. At first we thought he was against Town, then we got everything, then he went weird again. His name was Mr Cowburn (I suppose I could have misread it as Mr Cowbum, which may have been more apt, if a little juvenile); his hair was Bill Clinton's.
It was obvious from the start that Huddersfield were a pretty average team, relying on pace up front. There were very few of their players who could control the ball, and their three centre-backs made Lever look graceful. Their game plan was very simple – the word "Hoof". I can get the boring bits about Huddersfield's attacks out of the way very quickly. Wijnhard turned his marker and hit the post after about half an hour, but as the referee had already given Town a free kick it was irrelevant; and after 43 minutes one of their midfielders tried a shot from the edge of the box which was blocked after it had travelled less than five yards. They had a couple of corners which didn't result in any pressure and they kicked the ball in the air a lot, rarely anywhere near a team mate. They played like a team that was lower middle table and in danger of sliding into a relegation battle, whereas Town played like they were on the fringes of the promotion battle. For once the football league was upside down.
Town played like a team, with players hunting in packs, linking well in attack and generally being committed and positive. They played at a much higher pace than they did at Barnsley (ie they were awake) and the Ashcroft/Clare partnership was just that, a partnership. Town attacked mainly down the right with McDermott a very prominent presence, instigating most of the moves, and bringing the ball out of defence superbly. There were not many chances, just a huge periods of Town pressure and moments of danger. Town's best efforts in the first half were when D Smith danced around three challenges as he moved laterally across the penalty area towards the centre, and his shot was headed away from near the six-yard line. D Smith also had another "shot" from 20 yards which was badly mishit and trickled slowly to the keeper in front of his right-hand post. This followed a Town attack down the centre right involving McDermott, Ashcroft and Clare, complete with wall passes and flicks.
From one of Town's many corners the ball was headed across from (our) right towards the left-hand post, about five yards out. Ashcroft twisted and fell theatrically, claiming a penalty. He did look to have been touched, but his fall was so mannered that he was never going to get a penalty decision from Mr Cowbum (I mean Cowburn). Groves, about 12 yards out to the left of the goal, headed a corner a couple of feet high and wide of the keeper's right-hand post following a corner from the Town left. Donovan was sent clear behind the left-back and, from 10 yards to the left of the goal near the bye line, pulled a cross across the face of the goal. Near the end of the half the ball was clipped in from about 20 yards out near the left edge of the Huddersfield penalty box. The ball curled just beyond Ashcroft and was hooked away from a yard in front of the right-hand post for a corner, as D Smith ran in. Gallimore sliced a first-time running left-foot drive into the Pontoon. He was about 25 yards out, to the left of goal and the ball just about stayed in the Pontoon Stand, rather than the kiosk selling various snacks at various prices near the floodlight pylon.
As you can tell, not many (if any) real chances or shots. Town had dominated the play, with Pouton and Coldicott controlling the centre of the pitch. Groves and Lever had the Huddersfield forwards in their pockets. Pouton was particularly impressive with his commitment, passing that was both accurate and positive, and a couple of terrific surging runs through the centre of the park. The sort of runs Cunnington and Cockerill used to do. The Huddersfield midfield resorted to tripping Pouton when he embarked on a run, or at least trying to as he invariably stayed upright and in control of the ball. There was much movement up front, with Ashcroft receiving and laying off passes to Clare very well. Huddersfield resorted to going through from behind, twice leaving our podgy hero crumpled face down in the dirt. It was most encouraging and at half time Town didn't have what they deserved, a goal and the lead. It was a stirring and pleasing first half performance, one which made the crowd rise up and make noise. The team even got a standing ovation walking off at half time.
Steve Bruce was constantly on his feet whinging about the referee's decisions, especially on the few occasions they were correct. The fourth official seemed to spend most of the half ushering him back to the dugout. Bruce certainly got the Main Stand agitated.
The crowd were a little puzzled as to the whereabouts of Nicholls, but the half time entertainment answered that query. He was playing number six for West Marsh A in the tiny tots competition. He was rather overpowered by bigger players, and had little effect. One day he may find his level.
The half started quietly, with Town retaining possession and Huddersfield wildly kicking the ball back to us. In the 48th minute some Town interplay down the right resulted in the ball at Ashcroft’s feet, 25 yards out. He slid a short, first-time pass across and back to Pouton who drove forward past a couple of challenges to get himself into the penalty box, to the right of goal. The keeper raced out and Pouton rolled a shot low to the keeper's left. The ball rolled towards the empty net. With the Town fans ready to celebrate (and some already doing so) the Huddersfield left-back ran back and hooked the ball off the line and away for a corner. It was a superb, strong pacy forward run by Pouton and he received a warm and appreciative roar from the crowd for his effort.
For the next 10 minutes or so Town kept the ball and won loads of corners, most of which hit the forehead of (unmarked) Huddersfield defenders. Donovan never seemed to spot Stacy in the "Paul Scholes position", ready for that stunning volley into the top left-hand corner of the Osmond Stand. Near the hour we had some goalmouth action. Town moved the ball down the right-hand side to Donovan, who cut in and passed across the edge of the box to Ashcroft. He turned, went forward a pace and, with imperceptible back-lift from 15 yards to the right of goal, unleashed a fast and powerful drive straight at the keeper. The gangling and hitherto lackadaisical Belgian managed to raise his hands in time to punch the shot away from his face. A foot to the left or right and it would have been in, but it wasn't, so it ended up a Town throw-in.
Nothing particular happened for another 10 minutes. Around the 65/70th minute events occurred. Butterfield replaced McDermott (who had played terrifically, but may have been tiring), Huddersfield also changed a striker (Hay replacing Armstrong). Within five seconds of coming on the pitch Hay had dribbled past a couple of Town players (I have a vague recollection of Gallimore flailing around) and got to a position about 10 yards out near the left corner of the six-yard box. As he was about to shoot, four Town players converged on him like a giant clam, the ball ricocheting away for a corner.
A couple of minutes later Huddersfield had their first effort on goal. From a free kick, 30 yards out to Town's right under the Findus/John Smith/Stones Stand (incorrectly given after Lever had fairly tackled and the Huddersfield player had dived badly), Wijnhard got a yard in front of his marker (Pouton) and flicked a header a few inches wide of Coyne's left-hand post. Wijnhard was about eight yards out and centrally placed and should really have scored. And that, sirs, was the very first time they had got into Town's penalty box. Around the same time Allen replaced Ashcroft, who got a standing ovation. Partly through his performance (relief at having a proper forward, trying) and partly as a message to the manager.
A few minutes later Town won a free kick near the right edge of the Huddersfield box, about 25 yards out. D Smith trotted in and smacked a stonking drive a few inches over the keeper's right-hand angle of post and bar. Ooh said the crowd, and quite right too. Huddersfield went up the other end and had a shot themselves. A corner on Town's left was half cleared to their left full-back, Vincent, who hit a drive from 25 yards which grazed Pouton's forehead and looped slightly. Coyne, centrally placed, re-adjusted his feet and tipped the ball over the bar. It was a very good save, though perhaps in the category of "good save if he saved it, error if he missed it". Still it was the only save he had to make all game. With 10 minutes left Wijnhard headed into Coyne's arms from five yards out following a corner, but the referee had already given Town a free kick. So that doesn't count as a chance.
That is it as far as chances and efforts on goal. In injury time Huddersfield did create some moments of anxiety for the crowd when they finally decided to attack Town on the left. Gallimore was made to look silly when the substitute right winger allowed a pass to go between his legs (and Gallimore's) and ran on to be free. Fortunately, Stacy and Pouton were back to cover. Deep into injury time, Gallimore failed to slide the ball out of play after it was knocked behind him for Wijnhard to run on to. Wijnhard failed to make anything of his one-on-one as other Town players came back to cover, principally D Smith who acted as Gallimore's muscle all game. It was noticeable that Smith played quite deeply when Town defended and he made a point of doubling up on the original right winger Donis. Donis was eventually replaced, principally because D Smith gave him no time and harried him constantly.
After two minutes of extra time the game was ended to a rapturous ovation from the Town supporters. A fully deserved standing ovation, with Pouton receiving some special cheers for a thundering, all action display. He produced a couple of surging runs (in addition to his chance) which caused minor panics in the Huddersfield defence. They couldn't cope with his dribbles and surges from midfield. He was also prominent in the midfield battle and with his covering in defence. He was the best player on the pitch by some distance and it was reminiscent of (but an improvement on) his performance against Forest last August. He and Coldicott formed an impenetrable wedge in the centre.
Groves and Lever were largely untroubled, and Coyne was confident in dealing with crosses – he came out and caught at least three. McDermott was close to his best, with Butterfield a more than adequate substitute. Gallimore was protected well by D Smith, and Huddersfield rarely attacked down the left anyway, so it is not really possible to assess his performance, though he didn't do any major bloopers and it would be most churlish to criticise. D Smith was relatively effective going forward and Donovan was occasionally OK. He did win a lot a free kicks by falling over in jellyfish mode. His crossing was at its usual standard and he didn't have much confidence when taking on the full-back. However, he did form a dangerous triumvirate with Clare and Ashcroft. The passing and movement on Town's right caused Huddersfield great discomfort and, compared to the ineptitude shown recently, was most heartening. Clare certainly enjoyed having a decent footballer as a strike partner.
The referee got hit full in the face by a Huddersfield clearance, knocking him over to the amusement of all. It didn't knock any sense into him as he continued to make erratic decisions. He booked only one player all game, the Huddersfield right-back. The same player was warned twice more after dumping Town players with crunching late tackles. He received a little finger wag and a "don't do it again" warning. A sterner referee would have sent the bloke off for THREE bookable offences. Still, mustn't grumble too much. Before the game we'd have settled for a clean sheet or a draw. The performance was really encouraging, not just for its cohesion, but also for the passion displayed. There is still some fire left deep within Blundell Park.
There isn't much to say about Huddersfield apart from why are they sixth? They are a sort of vastly inferior Barnsley. Their fans are a bit odd. As well as their Hermaphrodite flag they only got excited on four occasions – each time when they won a throw-in half way inside the Town half. How odd.
I actually enjoyed the game. Ah yes, I remember now. That's why we go.