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Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

8 January 2022

A really hot afternoon, with not even a hint of a breeze. In the huge space available to them the Port Vale board have decided to build a stand barely bigger than the Pontoon with a couple of rows of executive boxes on top. And it is only half done, so one half of the pitch has rubble next to it. There were allegedly 3,700 paying customers in Vale Park, though it appeared to be way below 3,000. In the barren acres of the first half the crowd was being counted by the Mariners cognoscenti, it was that low. As usual Town had 200 lounging behind a goal.

The omens were not good for Town. McDermott was out injured, Black was playing up front-ish with Ashcroft and the players pre-match warm up was the standing-in-a-circle-passing-to-each other routine that NEVER FAILS to bring an awful performance.

The Town team was Coyne, Butterfield, Gallimore, Livingstone, R Smith, Donovan, Coldicott, Groves, D Smith, Black and Ashcroft. The subs were Pouton, Allen, Croudson, Buckley and Chapman. Town lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Black playing somewhere between Ashcroft and the midfield.

Of course what follows is a personal recollection of the main events as seen from behind one of the goals. Apologies if some of the details do not tally with Sky's action replays.

1st Half
Town kicked off away from the Town support and totally dominated the first 10 seconds. Groves clipped a ball from the centre to D Smith, hugging the left touchline. He took the ball on the volley, skinned the full-back, and whipped over a cross to the far post.

And that is it as far as Town attacking is concerned. Towards the end of the half Black blocked an attempted shot from Groves, and D Smith (after being set free by Ashcroft) pulled a cross behind everyone. Absolutely no other "moments of danger" were created by Town. As an attacking force Town were moribund. Too many times the back players merely launched long balls down the channels.

Port Vale played to a simple plan - they had two wingers to whom the ball was played as quickly as possible, and the midfield players ran into the box.

Butterfield and Gallimore were unable to cope at all with two men running quickly near them. Coldicott and Groves failed to stop the central players infiltrating the box and the result was huge holes appearing in the Town defence whenever Port Vale attacked. A very unedifying spectacle. Port Vale should probably have scored three or four in the first half, simply through the pusillanimous defending rather than their own attributes.

After about 20 minutes Town allowed Naylor to run behind the defence, on the left of the area. The defence had been holding a line at the edge of the penalty area and he looked (from the perfect position 20 yards behind the goal) to be offside. Naylor got to the bye-line and pulled the ball across the six-yard line, where Bent lunged in to score, from a central position.

About 10 minutes later Bent played a little pass in between Butterfield and the centre-backs, to the right of the Town area. Naylor ran on and hit a cross shot past Coyne from about 10 yards, the ball going in off Livingstone's shins (it was going in any way).

Port Vale were obviously enthused by their goals and attempted to press for further goals by upping the pace. They had several corners that were rather poorly dealt with by the defence. One went whizzing through the six-yard box, and they won three headers on the six-yard line, though none were ultimately threatening.

Just after they scored their first goal Port Vale won a free kick about 30 yards out, to the Town right. It was tapped sideways and a shot was driven towards the top left of Coyne's goal. Coyne pushed the ball away for a corner with a very good save (though it was a perfect height for him). From the resulting corner the ball was played in low to the near post. The striker got a half shot in which bounced up towards the top left of the goal and Coyne pawed it away for another corner.

A deep cross from the Town right was met by Rougier, about eight yards out, with a volleyed chip which went over Coyne. R Smith ran back and headed the ball away for a corner from right underneath the crossbar. Coyne and R Smith had been a little indecisive to allow Rougier the opportunity. In clearing the ball R Smith got both his feet caught up in the net, and he managed to unhook the net from the crossbar. The game was halted for two or three minutes whilst a groundsman tried to put the net back (with assistance from the Town support "two to the left, one to the right" etc). Port Vale also had a shot cleared off the line when R Smith (I think) knocked a cross shot away from a striker a yard out, in front of the right-hand post.

Half time and Town 2-0 down. The performance had been wretched. The tactics were wrong and the players, individually and collectively, had been shockingly poor. Gallimore looked to be reacting two seconds slower than anyone else (I could say he looked like he was playing with a hangover). Ashcroft was not "up for it" and didn't appear to fancy playing up on his own. Butterfield looked out of his depth.

Coldicott and Groves had been watching players and the ball pass them by, and did not look physically capable of competing. All in all Town had given the type of performance they usually reserve for Swindon and Crystal Palace away, the sort of games only the committed 200 ever see. Why bother? Nobody is watching (except the TV, of course).

There was a quiet rage evident in the Town support - we would not accept another 45 minutes like that. It had been verging on the humiliating, as Port Vale are no better than they were six months ago. The least we expected were changes in personnel and a more attacking formation. You can imagine the highly descriptive words being used by the fans at half time. You were probably using the same ones too.

At last, Buckley changed the losing formula. Pouton and Allen came on for Gallimore and Butterfield. Pouton played in central midfield, with Coldicott at right-back; and Black reverted to left-wing, with D Smith at left-back, thus leaving Allen up front with Ashcroft.

2nd Half
This was so much better, with Pouton generally at the hub of most good things. He seems to be the embodiment of Buckley's footballing philosophy - passing and movement - as he kept the ball moving all the time. Town actually played with a rhythm in the second half. They weren't perfect, but still did enough to justify claims to a draw.

With Allen buzzing around up front Town had a distinct air of menace, and actually looked like (a) shooting and (b) scoring. After about five minutes of the second half Town had their first effort on goal. Hurrah, action.

Town's efforts in the second half were, in no particular order:

a) Donovan got to the bye-line and crossed to Ashcroft, six yards out, who headed down to the goalkeeper's feet;
b) Ashcroft turned, just inside the box, and tried a shot which hit a Port Vale defender and trickled to the right of the keeper, who picked up easily;
c) Pouton dinked a short, spinning pass just out of reach of the central defender, just to the right of the Vale box, releasing Ashrcoft who shot across the keeper and a foot wide;
d) Ashcroft was released, again inside the box, to the right of goal, and from a narrow angle mishit a sliding shot slowly to the keeper;
e) Pouton jinked to the bye-line, to the right of the goal and hit a firm, low cross to the edge of the six-yard box, where two Vale defenders scrambled clear;
f) Pouton sliced a shot from 20 yards about 25 yards wide of the right-hand post (confirming York City supporter's claims about his shooting);
g) Just after the Vale 3rd went in Allen was set free in the area, to the right of the goal and his half volley was saved by the onrushing Musselwhite; and
h) On 50 minutes Allen jinked past two defenders, going across the goal, about 20 yards out. The third defender tackled and cleared the ball by chipping the keeper, who turned round and tipped the ball over the bar.

Town seemed to have six or seven corners in the second half, most of which ended up in the goalkeeper's hands, with no challenge.

Town broke quickly and directly, often finding Donovan early, and produced many moments of danger, if not chances. Donovan was getting the better of his full-back and received superb support from Coldicott, who played very well in the second half.

From one such moment, after an hour, Town scored. Livingstone switched play with a trade mark clipped pass to the right touch-line. A one-two was played and Coldicott was released to the bye-line. His cross was met by the unmarked Allen, on the 6 yard box, to the left centre of the goal. Allen placed a glancing header into the right side of the goal. Fine attacking brought a fine goal.

This brought forth Escape to Victory quotes from certain sections of the crowd. "Come on lads, we can still do it!" And indeed they could as the flow of the game was definitely towards Musselwhite, with the occasional breakaway from Port Vale. At 2-1 a Town equaliser seemed more likely than a Vale winner.

Port Vale had rarely threatened, but had gone close. Their chances were:

a) A free kick was tapped sideays and a long-range drive was attempted. The ball was half stopped by a Town player's backside, but it fell into the path of Naylor about 15 yards out to the the left of Coyne's goal. Naylor's cross-shot hit the post and was hoofed away;
b) Just after Town's goal Vale broke quickly down the Town left, whipped in a cross from the bye-line, and a header similar to Allen's was held comfortably at a three-quarter stretch by Coyne; and
c) Another quick break down the Town left saw a cross really whacked in at pace, at head height. The ball skimmed off an attacker's forehead and out for a throw-in.

I cannot recall any other shots/chances for Port Vale, apart from the goal.

This was another break down the Town left which had resulted from indecision by Town when attacking. Town had attacked on the right but had slowed to a standstill, no-one moved and the set up fell apart with Donovan, Ashcroft and Coldicott all looking at each other. Vale moved the ball out quickly to their right, near the half way line, where they had two players unmarked. They advanced unimpeded to the edge of the Town area where R Smith failed to stop Bent who ran across the area, seeming to drag three Town defenders towards him, though none challenged. The ball was slipped to Foyle who was unmarked, and he clipped the ball under Coyne for a third they, ultimately, did not deserve.

The Town support assumed Foyle was offside as he was so alone in the area. From our perfect position, 120 yards away and at 90 degrees, he was way offside.

A couple of minutes prior to Vale's third goal Donovan was involved in an altercation with the midget midfield maestro, Minton. Donovan had been harried and fouled when going for a loose ball, and Minton shoved, snarled and appeared to swing his arms at Donovan. Another Vale player came over and confronted Donovan Port Vale got the free-kick and the player was not even booked.

The last move of the match was Town's, who moved fluidly from left to right. Allen turned and shot weakly and wide, when he should have dinked the ball through to the unmarked Pouton.

Overall great anger at the insipid and insulting first half "performance". The game was lost by the bad tactics and formation sent out by Buckley, and the attitude of the players. The second half was what we expect for 90 minutes. Groves looked like he was swimming in treacle, he was way off the pace. He hasn't performed well this season and recalls the last year played by Joe Waters when he too looked behind the pace. Is this the end for Groves?

Although Ashcroft has been mentioned many times within this report this is deceptive. He was either offside, not up with the play, or indulging himself with Reesian flicks which came to nothing. He looked disinterested and unfit (though not as unfit as Gallimore). A phrase used by Barry Davies springs to mind whenever Ashcroft has the ball "Over-indulgent nonsense".

The one positive thing to come out of this game was a minor fact found nestling within the programme. There is only one Port Vale player without a kit sponsor this year. Guess who?