Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
5 January 2022
A clear, still night and over 1,000 supporters wedged into the little stand opposite the gigantic stand where the TV cameras are. The players from both teams warmed up with a distinct air of indifference (except Lever, Butterfield, Black and Gallimore who were right in front of the thronging Mariners. They looked like they were attempting to look calm). As a connoisseur of hairstyles in football I was a little disappointed to read that Robbie Savage was injured. I was delighted to see a small figure in blue with flowing blonde locks run out, but, unfortunately, it turned out to be a 12-year old girl mascot.
Up to a couple of minutes before the kick off the Leicester supporters were nowhere to be seen, perhaps 2,000 at most. Then, suddenly, as if by magic, they appeared. The protest at their board consisted mainly of them standing up in silence holding an A4-size paper with "Gang of 4 out" printed on it. It was noticeable that the "pleb" stands were 100% participants, whilst the huge new stand had a only smattering of protesters. Perhaps they rattled their jewellery instead.
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Croudson, Butterfield, Gallimore, Groves, R Smith, Coldicott, Burnett, Donovan, Pouton, Lester and Ashcroft. The subs were Love, Black, D Smith, Lever, Allen. The team lined up exactly the same as against Ipswich, with Groves at centre-half and Pouton wide left.
Town kicked off towards the right as you see it on TV. The first five minutes were very even, with no chances, and only a little pressure from Leicester. It was mainly Town playing through midfield and retaining possession. After eight minutes Leicester should have scored. Guppy whipped in a cross from our right to the centre of the goal, about eight yards out. Heskey rose above his marker and powered a header just over the angle of post and bar. The game continued as it had started, with Town playing thoughtfully and comfortably through midfield, but the ball would not stick to Lester and Ashcroft, who started to moan to the referee.
After about 15 minutes Groves, stretching to intercept a ball over the top, sliced the ball high into the air. Croudson came out and caught it to the predictable claims for a back pass. A couple of minutes later Groves turned the ball back to Croudson when intercepting a through ball. Croudson, standing a yard to the left of his left-hand post, right on the bye-line, picked it up again. Now that definitely was a back pass and an indirect free kick was given a yard from the left-hand post. Two Leicester players stood right in front of Croudson, who was stood in front of the wall, but the free kick was rolled to the centre of the goal, about 15 yards out. The Town defence flung themselves at the ball and the shot was somehow deflected wide for a corner.
A couple of minutes later, after Leicester had retained possession in the midfield and Town left, a midfielder advanced through the centre up to the edge of the area. Smith came out to intercept, but the ball was slipped through to Cottee, on the edge of the Town area, to the left. As Croudson came out Cottee slipped as he drove the ball a couple of yards over the bar.
Nothing much happened for the next five or 10 minutes and then Leicester scored. Lester lost possession easily near the halfway line and the ball was eventually swung out to the Town left, where Sinclair had sprinted down the line. Ashcroft had seen Sinclair start to go down the wing, but didn't bother to run over and provide cover. Sinclair took on Gallimore near the bye-line and got in a cross, which Coldicott blocked at the near post. The ball remained in play and Sinclair returned the ball to Izzett, about 10 yards out, centrally placed and unmarked. Izzett placed his header low into Croudson's left-hand corner.
In response Town picked up the pace of their attacks and had their first effort on goal. Some quick, neat interplay involving Ashcroft and Donovan resulted in the ball being laid off to Coldicott about 20 yards out, to the right of the area. Coldicott's first-time shot swung across the goal and just went over the bar. Ooh, to quote several members of the crowd. A couple of minutes later Burnett tried a first-time shot from 25 yards which went a couple of feet over. Aagh, to quote other members of the crowd.
About 10 minutes after Leicester's goal, Town finally got a free kick for a foul by their centre-back. Whilst the ironic cheering was still ringing round the stands, Ashcroft took the free kick quickly and the ball was played into Donovan, on the edge of the area. He knocked the ball past Oakes, who proceeded to violently brush Donovan, who fell. Penalty, loud cheers, expectation, and chicken counting a-go-go. Groves picked the ball up, strode quickly to the penalty spot and rather rushed his shot. He hit it low, straight at Flowers' shins, the ball rebounded to the edge of the area where someone stabbed the ball just over the bar.
The only other attempt at goal in the first half came from Town, Coldicott driving a shot wide from 20 yards.
Town had acquitted themselves very well against a solid Premiership team. Guppy only managed one cross, as Butterfield had marked so tightly and intelligently, with Donovan doubling up when required. Heskey had been allowed one chance, and thereafter Groves had marked him superbly. If you think Lester falls easily you should watch Heskey. He falls over almost before the pass has been made. He has been coached to fall very well. It did rather backfire on him though, as the referee gave him the first claimed foul but no others. Which rather begs the question "why wasn’t Heskey booked for diving?" Heskey's preferred method of controlling the ball is to assume the long jumper's position that maximises distance travelled – ankles together, arms forward, back arched. It looks very funny when the nearest player is two yards away.
The one criticism about Town's first half performance would be the attack – we never got into their penalty area (apart from the penalty decision, of course), and the ball was too easily lost by Lester and Ashcroft. The midfield and defence had been the equals of Leicester, and Burnett in particular was exerting some control in midfield. The difference between the two sides in the first half had been the centre-forwards. Theirs moved and were working tirelessly. Ours stood around and moaned when they lost a challenge. There was not a division's worth of class between these teams, just a decent striker.
So at half time the supporters were annoyed at not being level, and certainly not overawed by a Premiership team.
No changes were made by either side at half time. Town started the more brightly and had two decent efforts in the first five minutes. Town intercepted play in the middle of the pitch (Coldicott I think) and immediately played the ball up to Lester, who turned his marker and laid the ball out to Donovan. Donovan, on the right edge of the area, took on Impey and, from about five yards from the bye-line and 12 yards out, hit a low drive to the foot of the near post, where Flowers blocked for a corner. Donovan's corner, of course, gently floated into the arms of the unchallenged goalkeeper. A couple of minutes later, after Town had retained possession near the edge of the area, on the right, Donovan tried a snap shot which flew a foot past the right-hand post. Flowers did not even move, as his view was obscured.
A couple of minutes after that Burnett advanced in the middle of the pitch and drew their defenders to him. He flipped a pass over the defender's head to Donovan, who had drifted into an unmarked position on the edge of the area, in the middle of the goal. The ball was a little too high for Donovan, who back-headed to Pouton who steamed in and hit a left-foot volley against the defender, the ball going out for a corner.
Leicester's first attack of the second half produced the second goal. Izzett turned R Smith near the bye line on the Town left, about two yards outside the area (I'd hate to describe Smith as being kippered, but he was). The cross went centrally, about eight yards out, where Heskey rose above Butterfield and placed it high into the left-hand side of the goal.
Town's response was a fine move down the left resulting in Pouton clipping a low pacy cross into the centre, about 12 yards out, right onto Lester's forehead. Lester flicked his header to Flowers' right, but only about a foot to his right; another foot and Flowers would not have saved it.
And then the game went completely flat. The pace dropped, the crowd went totally silent, and the managers started to make substitutions which signalled that they thought the game was over. The last half an hour had incident, but no excitement – certainly no cup spirit. Firstly Guppy was taken off (he only got in two crosses all evening - such was the job done on him by Butterfield), then Buckley took off Burnett, replacing him with D Smith. This resulted in Pouton going into the centre of midfield. D Smith did nothing of note whilst on the pitch (and conversely did nothing bad either- he was merely on the pitch occupying a space). With Burnett going off Town lost a little solidity and presence. The attacking was certainly less flowing and the play more bitty. We also missed Pouton's trickery and crossing from the left. With about 15 minutes left Lever came on for the ineffective Ashcroft. This necessitated an even more drastic change in positions with Groves going into centre midfield, Coldicott to right wing (where he is completely wasted) and Donovan went up front with Lester. There were many mutterings about this change: "Why not Allen?". Lever's first contribution was to head the ball sideways. Welcome back Mr Bananaman.
In the last 30 minutes the Leicester efforts on goals were:
a) An Oakes' free kick, from the left edge of the penalty box which curled a foot wide of the near post;
b) A long ball into the area with Cottee bearing down on the goal, Croudson half came out, Groves ushered Cottee away from goal, whereupon he laid the ball back. A Leicester player whacked a curling 20 yard shot towards the right-hand corner of the goal and Croudson flung himself to his right, pushing aside, where Butterfield cleared for a corner; and
c) An inswinging corner went through everybody and Butterfield cleared at the right-hand post as Heskey slid in.
Town’s remaining efforts were:
a) Ashcroft took the ball forward on a break and hit a right-foot drive a couple of yards wide, from about 25 yards;
b) Groves prodded a looping shot just wide of the angle of post and bar, from the edge of the area;
c) A ball was flipped over the defence (by Pouton, I think) leaving Lester with a free header, which he missed; and
d) In the last couple of minutes Gallimore intercepted a pass inside the Town half and ran forward where, about 25 yards out, he drove a shot a couple of feet wide of the left-hand post
With about a minute left the Town supporters (after a half hour sleep) woke up and began chanting in support again. Then the referee blew his whistle with the Town players as one applauding the supporters.
And so it came to pass that Town are out of the prestigious Worthington Cup. Could Town have won? Maybe. They certainly didn't go hell for leather in the last half hour – both teams were content to play almost exhibition football. However this was Town's best performance at Leicester in the 90s (that I can remember). The defence and midfield proved they could compete with a Premiership team (though Leicester didn't appear to play at their usual 110%, only 100% - which was still competitive and a lot better than anyone we've seen so far in the First Division). Town were never overrun, not even for a minute. Leicester only managed to get into the Town box five times, and they scored from two of those. But then we know that is the major difference between (the bulk of) the Premiership and the First Division – strikers. It isn't just about scoring –it's also movement, perception, heart, skill, strength. Too many times the ball simply came back from our front two and the midfield had few passing options when advancing.
The individual plus points were undoubtedly Butterfield, who again looked a more than adequate replacement for McDermott; Burnett, who found and made use of space beautifully; and the Groves/Smith partnership which was very strong. They play well together, with an obvious understanding. Apart from his awful penalty Groves was superb – a couple of last-ditch clearances were outstanding. Despite the barracking one bloke dished out, Donovan looked sharp and motivated. The penalty and the two best shots were from Donovan and he provided cover for Butterfield. Gallimore had a very solid game, only marred by him standing on the ball twice in the last 15 minutes to allow a Leicester player to run off towards goal. Even when he's good he has the capacity for slapstick moments.
Overall a decent performance, only lacking in the cutting edge. But let's put this in perspective - we played one of the better Premiership teams at their own ground, a place where we have been poor in recent years. Sometimes there is no disgrace in a loss.