Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
1 March 2022
Cold, cold windless but clear. A pitch like Steve Austin (It's breaking up, it's breaking up) with a big white patch under the Stones/Smiths/Findus. The Osmond Stand was completely full, and the overflow seats in the open corner were half full too, which at least boosted the crowd. And since when has Barns-er-ley had three syllables? Where did that stray "er" come from?
The pre-match entertainment was confined to the programme – the player profile was on Staurt Campbell (sic). You really must read these things - his choices of dinner guest, they were bizarre in the extreme. At least one person was moved to re-christen the managers column as "In the Electric Chair", though "In the Eclectic Chair" would be just as apposite.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Groves, Enhua, Gallimore, Donovan, Willems, Burnett, Campbell, Jeffrey and Rowan. The substitutes were Croudson, Handyside, Coldicott, Butterfield and Allen. No surprises where everyone played.
Town kicked towards the Osmond Stand, so I presume they won the toss and let Barns-er-lee kick off. I can't remember and, frankly, it isn't that important. The first memorable event was after three or four minutes when Dyer outpaced Groves down the Town left, just inside the area, and whipped the ball across the face of the goal. No Barnsley player was in the area, so McDermott calmly walked the ball away.
I am now struggling to remember anything for the next 20 minutes. Barnsley tried to play a continental short passing game, which enabled them to make lots of passes in their own half. They eventually gave the ball back to Town when they succumbed to temptation and dinked the ball over the top for Dyer to chase. Lots of offsides, goal-kicks and passes back to Coyne. Really thrilling.
Town, on the other hand, were occasionally dynamic through midfield, with Willems having a stormer. He ran the game and made Burnett a virtual passenger. Willems was everywhere, tough tackling, spraying 40-yard inch-perfect passes to the wings, and rushing up to support the front players. He was even the player chasing the goalkeeper when Tubby Miller tried to fly kick (at which he was often sub-Crichtonian in his ineptness). This left Burnett standing in midfield as the defensive holding player and, consequently, Burnett didn't do much at all, apart from one excellent forward run after about 15 minutes. He sprinted into a space on the centre right of the Barnsley area and Groves passed a little too slowly and to his wrong side, which allowed a centre-half to trundle over and block.
After 24 minutes something nearly happened. A Town corner from the left was curled in by Campbell towards the far post. Enhua headed firmly back across goal to the keeper's right-hand post and the ball was wellied away from the line. Barnsley broke away and Shipperley glanced a back header a couple of yards wide of Coyne's right-hand post, following a cross from the left. Coyne had it covered and there was no real danger, but it excited the Barnsley supporters. That was almost their first effort on goal, apart from a 35-yard free kick which was smashed to Coyne's left, and was caught comfortably. Town didn't bother forming a wall, allowing Coyne a clear view (and the kicker too, of course).
A couple of minutes later Barnsley attacked down the Town right. The play was on the edge of the icy white patch with McDermott and Burnett tucked goalside of the man with the ball. The Barnsley left-back sprinted up the touchline. Donovan didn't. The ball was laid off to the full-back, who took the ball into the huge space that was the Town right. He crossed to the centre of goal, and Enhua headed the ball out - straight to a Barnsley player on the right edge of the penalty area. After considering his options for several minutes, unhindered by monochrome men, (and, it was observed, with Donovan still hiding in the shade) he crossed to the unmarked Dyer, about eight yards out, just to the left of centre. He calmly nodded the ball low to Coyne's right, with Coyne a little flat footed. Silence in the Pontoon. Coyne went bananas at the defence, but they all turned their backs and walked up the pitch. The silence was a resigned "that's it".
The Town response was more of the same – some interesting and occasionally semi-dangerous passing moves to the edge of the Barnsley box, then nothing. Rowan and Jeffrey were, well, Rowan and Jeffrey. They both ran around a lot and fell over when a Barnsley player breathed on them. Town weren't totally poor, just lacking in the box – déjà vu?
Willems had a shot from 25 yards which hit the top of the Osmond Stand. This followed some passing and moving on the left. Nothing else got through, shots were charged down or players eased away from the goal. Donovan was an ephemeral presence, like a butterfly fluttering occasionally, but achieving nothing memorable.
In the last quarter of an hour of the first half there were, essentially, two more chances. The first went to Barnsley. Dyer out-paced Enhua in the space between Gallimore and Enhua down the left, the ball had been chipped over the top and, of course, Enhua had lost a fraction of a second by raising his hand appealing for offside. Dyer sprinted into the area and, about 10 or 11 yards out just to the left of goal, drilled a low shot across Coyne, who stuck out his right boot and deflected the ball wide of the goal.
Town's chance. And a what a chance it was. Some interplay down the Town right involving McDermott, Burnett and Donovan (and possibly Rowan) resulted in the ball being knocked over the left-back for McDermott to continue his forward surge. McDermott crossed first time with a deep cross arcing to the centre of the goal, about six or seven yards out, straight to a totally unmarked Town player. Jeffrey Nogan-ed it wide by a huge distance. He looked hesitant and fearful in approaching the ball, and never looked like scoring. No-one was surprised, people around me just shrugged.
The only other incident before half time was a minute or two's delay for treatment to Rowan after he was clattered from behind near the halfway line. The half-time whistle brought a few isolated, half-hearted boos.
There is no other way to sum up this half than: Town never looked like scoring. Town were okay between the penalty areas, with Willems by far the best player on the pitch. Commitment, technique, everything required. Defensively Town looked vulnerable to Dyer's pace, but what's new? Gallimore had, ironically, added some solidity to the left side with some crunching tackles. He stood in the right places and tackled at the right times. Unfortunately, his distribution was still erratic with a return of last season's trick of kicking the ball against an opponent when trying to knock the ball down the touchline.
In terms of efforts on goal, Barnsley had three and Town had three. Coyne had one save and Miller none. Some credit should be given to Barnsley though, they had obviously watched Town recently and planned for the new corner routines. Miller knew exactly where Willems' corners would go and the Campbell corners from the right were equally well defended against. It's slightly depressing that Town were the team that would never score from a set piece, and now it's the only way. If anyone has bothered to watch us they can stop that easily enough too.
Stu's half time Toilet Talk: "Donovan, Donovan, Donovan, Donovan, Donovan" (a bit like an incantation to purge those evil spirits). "Has anyone got a pin?" "We’re never going to score. I might as well go home now." "I bet he takes Jeffrey off for that miss. Any excuse to put Donovan up front." "Handyside would have stopped that goal."
Two changes at half time – Coldicott replaced Burnett and Allen replaced Jeffrey. Town now lined up in a non 4-4-2 formation. Donovan will probably be described as a having a free role, which is relatively accurate – no-one knew where he was. Coldicott seemed to play out on the right-wing a lot and no-one was on the left. A disaster. A shocker. A mess. Awful. Appalling. Clueless nonsense. Allen buzzed and floated into space behind his marker a few times, but never got the ball in the penalty area. In fact I can't remember any of the strikers receiving the ball in the box.
Nothing happened for 10 minutes. They didn't have any shots, and Town had a lot of possession 30 yards out. But nothing happened. Then Barnsley got a free kick half way inside the Town half, on the Town centre right. The free kick was given for a barely noticeable shove by Groves (I think); it was certainly not worth giving a free kick for. I think Shipperley got it because he asked politely. You see, good manners brings rewards. Perhaps Town players should open a few doors for old ladies, that way they might get a penalty this season.
The free kick was chipped beyond the far post where Enhua headed back and out, into a huge space on the edge of the penalty area. A Barnsley player waddled forward and shot low towards Coyne, who blocked it sideways to his right. Dyer, ambled towards the six-yard line and side-footed the ball into the net. You will have noticed that I haven't mentioned a Town defender after Enhua headed the ball out. No need, you see, no-one moved. Not one person. The Town supporters didn't make any noise. Silent, seated and sad. It was as if there was a realisation that the season has ended. The best way to describe it would be a collective shrug.
I can't say that the second goal energised the players, quite the opposite, in fact. They appeared to accept their lot. Shortly after the goal a player received treatment and there was a short break in play. The Barnsley players huddled in groups talking to each other and obviously organising and discussing the game. The Town players stood with hands on hips staring blankly forward. No-one talked at all. They had the appearance of a group who just wanted to go inside. Make your own foot and mouth analogy.
I do recall saying at one point "there's still 28 minutes left", which was greeted by a huge groan from those sat around me. It was slow, slow torture, with nothing positive on which to hang even a thread of self-deluding hope. The chronology of events is now irrelevant, there was a black hole between the second goal and the 80th minute when Handyside replaced Rowan. Groves played as a centre-forward and played like a Livvo – slow but strong with some positional awareness.
Most of the second half was taken up with Town lumping balls forward. A complete waste of time and I fully expect to hear another interview with Willems in which he bemoans the ball "always being in the air in the second half". The times Town did have threatening moments which were all wasted by the narrowness of the formation. Three times Campbell received the ball in the middle of the pitch about 25 yards out, with a big space out to his left. He looked to pass wide, but no-one was there. Poor old Gallimore was expected to play as a left-winger as well. And when he did "get up there" he looked like a startled rabbit and didn't do anything positive with it. There were three or four superbly weighted passes from Willems which set Gallimore free, but his hesitancy (and the iciness of the pitch) halted proceedings.
Similarly on the right, Town messed things up by having Stacy C plonked on the touchline. Why? Why? Why? And on other occasions Town had four or five players standing within a few yards of each other, having far too many players in a small area. From behind the goal it was blindingly obvious that none of the players knew where to stand in the 4-3-3 formation. Either they all ran to the same spot, or no-one ran into any spot. The familiar refrain of "no width" muttered its way along the Pontoon. Willems had a scuffed shot from about 10 yards, to the left of the goal, which resulted in a goal kick (when it seemed to bounce off a Barnsley knee) and Campbell had a shot charged down. I can't remember Miller making any saves at all.
Coyne, on the other hand, was very busy in the last quarter of an hour. Twice Dyer was sent free behind the defence, firstly Enhua messed up a clearance and allowed Dyer to run into the area from the Town right. Dyer blasted his shot into the side netting. A few minutes later Enhua disappeared again leaving Dyer totally free down the centre. McDermott sprinted back and forced Dyer to go wide to the left of goal. Coyne came out and narrowed the angle too, forcing Dyer to smash the ball in the side netting again. I think Coyne had to make a save as well, but I can't remember. It was all a dispiriting blur down the Osmond End.
On 79 minutes Handyside came on to an appreciative cheer. His first touch was a sublime ease and tackle to rob Dyer. Of course, Handyside turned round and stroked a pass directly to a Town player. A couple of minutes later Handyside headed a corner, from the Town left, towards the bottom left-hand corner of the goal. Dyer hooked the ball away from just in front of the line.
There was a load of pressure from Town in the last 10 minutes, but nothing tangible resulted. Huff and puff (that's Coldicott and Donovan to you), but not one shot. Yes, Barnsley defended resolutely, and were organised, but Town had neither wit nor tactics to cause them difficulties. There were three minutes of injury time, which just meant it was three more minutes before we could leave the scene of the accident. Blundell Park is becoming a bit of an accident blackspot these days.
The Town fans didn't boo (apart from three or four who did it out of habit). We just got up and went home. Silently. We don't expect anything but relegation. No-one booed or heckled any player. No-one booed the manager or board. We just seemed to recognise that it's probably all over. How many more nadirs can we have in this season?
Individually Willems, Gallimore, Groves, Coyne and McDermott were not bad. Willems was outstanding until he visibly tired in the last 15 minutes, getting caught in possession a couple of times. The others were average, to lacklustre, to invisible. They didn't seem a team in the second half, merely men in a field.
Blundell Park – abandon hope all ye who enter here. Apart from the opposition.
Man of the Match – only one contender, Menno Willems. Great. Super.