Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
3 April 2022
A bright sunny day in old Birmingham Town with a breeze blowing through the open corner where the 250 or so Town fans were plonked. Not huggin' and a kissin' in the back row were three very C-list celebrities – Coldicott, Clare and Croudson. No–one invaded their personal space and they were left to ruminate amongst themselves.
The ground was full, apart from the little Town corner and the locals intermittently crooned morbidly for their team. The programme was plastered with "Fortress St Andrews – home to the team that plays with pride and passion". Well if they say it enough times they might end up believing it.
The pitch looked green and flat, but appearances can be deceptive. And why would Birmingham want a good pitch? That'd only help the opposition.
Town lined up in a Lennie special 4-3-1-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Groves, Raven, Gallimore, Pouton, Butterfield, Campbell, Donovan (hole), Livingstone and Cornwall. The substitutes were Hyldgaard, D Smith, Jeffrey, Willems and Mr K Black. So we even had a replacement hole on the bench in case Donovan got filled in. Butterfield "anchored" the centre of midfield with Pouton on the right and Campbell the left. Donovan fluttered around wherever he wanted.
At three minutes past three Town kicked off away from the Town supporters, with McDermott chipping the ball out for a goal kick within three seconds. So far, so normal. From the goal kick, Town won the ball back and played a slick one-touch passing move up the right-hand side involving Cornwall, Donovan and Livingstone, with Livvo as the rampaging right-winger. Livvo tricked his way to the bye-line and clipped a low cross towards the near post. Cornwall sprinted in front of his marker and headed very wide from three or four yards to the right of the near post. Raised and appreciative eyebrows were exchanged in the knot of Townites, though not literally of course. It wasn't ooh-worthy, but interesting nonetheless.
A couple of minutes later Birmingham had their first effort on goal. A high ball was flicked on by Marcello from just outside the Town area, on the centre right, and Johnson ran between McDermott and Groves to a position about 10 yards wide of the goal and six or seven yards in from the bye-line. He whacked a first-time volley straight at Coyne who parried it away easily. Now there was a surprising Birmingham tactic – hit the high ball and hope the little fast player gets to the ball first. The corner was palmed away by Coyne from the middle of his six-yard box to Campbell.
The excitement hadn't ended. After a few more minutes of frenetic Birmingham play and a blanket of Town calm, Town won a throw-in on the right-hand side about 25 yards out. It was lobbed forward and headed on by Livvo to Cornwall, who flicked the ball back and sideways for Donovan, who had run in a big arc into a big space on the right edge of the penalty area. Town's very own Superfly hit a first-time rising shot which smacked against the crossbar and over for a goal kick. Now that was an ooh-worthy moment. And we duly "Oohed". The Brummies were silent at this point.
At around this time a small section of Birmingham supporters decided that they would hurl an insult towards the relaxed Town supporters, something that would at once enrage and humiliate us into impotent silence. "You're just a small town near Scunthorpe". Mmmm. Geographically unchallengeable, though they didn't define the criteria for a small town. It was generally agreed amongst the Town throng that medium-sized would have been more accurate, but that wouldn't scan so well in the chant. Well, they are a large conurbation near Wolverhampton and a product of the Industrial Revolution. And that would be a useless chant too.
Ah, back to the football. As the half wore on Birmingham forced Town back towards Coyne. The balls were long, with many a winding road that led to Coyne's goal. After 20 minutes or so they realised that Town didn't have anyone playing wide, and their full-backs hugged the touchline and pushed up to the Town back line. Fortunately for Town, Birmingham don’t have many decent footballers and space seemed to be a concept too far for them. Time to think, or to quote from Pipkins, the most annoying children's programme of the 70s, "Time to...kick the ball out". I see Trevor Francis as Octavia the Ostrich.
Well, Birmingham did have quite a lot of pressure and Town were a little fortunate at times. Purse headed high over the bar from about eight yards out following a cross from the Town right. O'Connor slashed wildly wide and Woodhouse wildly high from outside the area. Just think of an inaccurate Pouton and you'll get the drift. Two or three crosses sailed majestically over everyone in the penalty box and a couple of shots were blocked by Raven's shins. Gallimore tried to head back to Coyne from outside the area, but underhit the ball. Fortunately Johnson wasn't paying enough attention and Coyne was able to rush out and collect the ball at Johnson's feet, right on the edge of the area. For the avoidance of any doubt this was Gallimore's only non-perfect contribution to the day. Read my lips: "No new Galli-slips". Marcello controlled the ball just inside the Town penalty area, to the left of centre, flicked the ball over his head and volleyed three yards over the bar.
And then there were the handballs, beautifully crafted ones too. Raven stopped an attempt by Marcello (I think) to flick the ball past him by swatting the ball out of the area with his left hand. Howls and caterwauls from the morose Midlanders, hoots of laughter from the tiny Town throng.
Towards the end of the half there was an even better, and more obvious, handball. A low diagonal cross was hit into the penalty area, about 15 yards out to the right of the Town goal. Gallimore (I don't know what he was doing over on the right, but he was) caught the ball, dropped it and booted it out. The Birmingham crowd went bananas, and who could blame them. By this time the Town supporters had collapsed in mirth. All sorts of theories were posited for the referee refusing to give the miserable self-styled bluenoses penalties. "It wasn’t intentional", "look at the eyes, he wasn’t looking at the ball". This, of course, is a theory with tankfuls of water held within in it. What was it that the Adverts sang "Looking through Tony Gallimore's eyes" - what would you see?
In the last five minutes of the half each side had one further opportunity. Livingstone skipped his way past his marker down the left-hand side, again showing the dainty flicks and tricks you'd expect from a Gilbertian winger. He got to the bye-line and chipped a cross to the near post where Groves dived in front of a defender and headed very high and wide. In injury time Johnson again sprinted through a gap between Groves and McDermott to receive a flick on from a high ball. This time he was about eight yards to the right of goal but very close to the bye line. He wellied the ball low to Coyne's right and the consistently yellow clad keeper parried the ball out for a corner.
And that was all the action in the first half, wild tackles excepted. Pouton was clobbered twice, once when he was literally volleyed from behind. Birmingham were not subtle, especially Sonner, though they moaned and moaned when the referee gave Town free kicks, and fell over easily themselves. As the players walked off Gallimore and Raven marched towards the corner where the Town supporters were. They obviously had forgotten where the changing rooms were (the other corner at our end of the pitch). They looked up to see 200 Grimbarians pointing to their left shouting "Over there, over there". Galli looked confused but followed our orders to the letter.
Generally a sound performance, with no one having a bad game, not even rocking Danny B. Raven was a revelation, winning everything in the air and not looking like someone who'd only played half a game this year. Quite honestly he was playing like Lever without the moments. Livingstone (on the few occasions that Town played the ball forward) was looking subtle and lithe (dainty even) and Donovan was absolutely everywhere. One moment he was on the left, then he was the last man clearing a cross in the centre of defence. All very confusing for the experienced Donovan watcher. It was much better than last year's Keystone Cops meet Norman Wisdom debacle. Town looked organised and competent, nothing too exciting, but nothing embarrassing. It was like watching an upper mid-table team play a lower mid-table team.
There was much debate about handball – it was finally decided that Town would only concede a penalty if they caught the ball and then walked over and placed the ball on the penalty spot. Only at that point would the referee consider it likely that Town had handled the ball.
The half-time entertainment was a bunch of people walking on the pitch to be given shirts. Jasper Carrot came on and (un)fortunately didn't tell any more "jokes". He clearly hasn't been forgiven for last year's. As the presentations were going on a dozen pre-teen girls ran around in the centre circle, without any music, arbitrarily exchanging places, like a cheap barn dance. Inevitably one of them ran the wrong way. Bit like the Birmingham team, really.
Stu's Toilet Talk: "Are we playing rush goalie?" "What's happened to Donovan – he's bothered." "How are they in the play-offs?" "Oh is that how you do it – one pulls, the other turns."
No changes were made by either team at half time. I can't remember Town getting near the Birmingham goal for 20-25 minutes. Certainly no shots, and I don't think there were even any hopeless, aimless crosses. Oh, hang on, I've just remembered Gallimore hit an awful right-footed shot from 20 yards which went 16 yards wide very, very slowly. I can't stress how slowly and mishit the shot was. He almost hung his head in shame.
Birmingham continued as they had in the first half, which meant they tried to bundle their way through. After about ten or so minutes of the half they had two opportunities in quick succession. Marcello chased a long ball down the Town left and bundled his way past two defenders, cutting into the penalty area as he surged. He cut across another defender and hit a low shot straight at Coyne's legs from about a dozen yards out, level with Coyne's left-hand post.
A minute later the ball was chipped over the top of the defence down the channel between McDermott and Raven. It seemed to have been hit way too hard but Johnson ran after the ball and caught it, he knew the pitch was so heavy that the ball would stop. He turned and clipped a low cross to the near post where a midfielder nipped in front of the last Town defender and, from inside the six-yard box near the post, scooped the ball softly into Coyne's waiting arms.
I seem to recall the game calming down a bit for the next few minutes. There were a few delays caused by minor injuries and fouls, with the Birmingham centre-half M Johnson literally falling over when Livvo looked at him. Beware Livvo's X-ray eyes, he can cut you down with just one look, yeah.
Just after the hour Birmingham took off a midfielder and sent on Dele Adebola. He immediately ran up to play on the left-wing, standing next to McDermott. Two McDermotts = one Adebola, though only physically. Within a few seconds Birmingham scored. A throw from the right, about 25 yards out, was lobbed into the penalty area. There was a whole lotta shakin' going on and the ball was flicked on into the heart of the Town penalty area, about eight-ish yards out, to Johnson, who had his back to goal. He shielded the ball and waited for Marcello to run around a wide semi-circle into a big space in the middle of goal. Marcello took the ball in one stride and placed it wide of Coyne into the bottom left-hand corner. The deflation amongst the Town supporters was slightly assuaged by the news that Wolves had scored a second against Crystal Palace. Only slightly, though.
The Birmingham supporters woke up and finally had the confidence to insult their old rivals from a small Town near Scunthorpe. Yeah, but we'll still be playing you next year (big gulp, hopefully, with fingers crossed). A couple of minutes after they scored, they should have scored again. Another overhit pass, this time down the Town left, failed to run out of play and Johnson (a sort of superior Clare) reached the bye line and mishit a cross that sailed gently over Coyne and landed on Adebole's boot a yard or so from the goal-line next to the right-hand post. Adebole carefully side-footed the ball into the 17th row of the stand 15 yards wide of the goal and collided with the post. End of game for him.
At about this time Cornwall and Pouton were replaced by Jeffrey and Willems. The cynical amongst us sarcastically observed that that'd really change the game….and it almost did. Town had five minutes of intense pressure and should have equalised. They fair dominated possession and worried the heck out of Birmingham.
With about 20 minutes left Town exerted some pressure down the right, with a fast break involving Iron Mike and Donovan. The ball was played up to Livingstone who had his back to goal on the corner of the penalty area. He twisted, turned and headed for the corner flag, twisted again, stepped over the ball and then clipped a low diagonal cross towards Jeffery. The ball was flicked on to Campbell, unmarked about eight yards out level with the keeper's right-hand post. Fortunately for Birmingham, the ball bounced vertically and he had to wait a long time for it to come down. Campbell leapt up and tried a sideways scissors kick in an attempt to get over the ball as the goalkeeper came rushing out, volleying the ball into the ground with the keeper blocking it. The ball spun back out towards the penalty spot and Jeffrey skipped forward. His first effort was blocked but he kept the ball and laid it back for a cross from Campbell, which was half cleared to the edge of the area. Willems steamed in and smashed a low drive a few inches wide of the keeper's left-hand post. Town got a corner, as it was slightly deflected by a desperate tumbling defender.
A couple of minutes later Willems again smacked a low drive just wide after a cross had been half cleared to him on the edge of the area. And a few minutes later he smashed another shot a yard or two high and wide from a similar position.
Given the Big City condescending "Who?" from the arrogant Brummies when Jeffrey and Willems came on it would have been so satisfying if those shots had been slightly more accurate. They might have shouted who at our players, but a shout of "What?" at their team would have been apposite. Style? Skill? Nowhere to be seen from the blue-shirted scufflers and hufflers. Birmingham had three shots from outside the penalty area that nearly went out of the stadium and their players started to fall over.
M Johnson injured himself when he attempted to block Livingstone. He literally bounced off Livvo with our man barely noticing. At about this point the referee started to award free kicks to Birmingham for odd reasons. He gave one free kick because Livvo outpaced a defender, as far as I could see. As was observed by the Town contingent "How could that be a foul by Livvo, the bloke's still alive!"
The last 10 minutes or so saw Town threaten down the left especially, where Jeffrey had a pleasing knack of sliding into space. He hasn't mastered the pleasing knack of doing something positive with the ball, though.
Groves nearly gave away a goal when he passed the ball straight to a Birmingham player 30 yards out, though he redeemed himself with the greatest tackle seen this season – he hooked the ball away from an attacker in the area and from behind, the ball was stuck on his toe and he spun round and cleared – all in one movement.
As the game drifted towards the inevitable narrow defeat a hint of nastiness crept in, and all down to Johnson (the attacker). After a header back to Coyne by Raven he jostled and kicked Raven, who responded by jostling him back very aggressively. A couple of minutes later another header back fell short and Johnson challenged Coyne for the ball in the area. Johnson got there just before Coyne but knocked the ball out for a goal kick. Except he dived forward in an attempt to get a penalty. As Coyne had stopped and put his hands in the air way before Johnson fell, it was obviously a dive. Coyne was furious, as were several Town players. They pointed out to the referee that it was either a penalty or a dive and seemed to demand action. None came.
The last couple of minutes were taken up with Butterfield lumping free kicks to their keeper. The referee added four minutes of extra time, but Town would have needed four hours to score. After the whistle Groves, Raven and a couple of other Town players seemed to get involved in a bit of argy-bargy with one of the Birmingham management team. There was a niggly arrogance about some of the Birmingham players and all their bench which riled even the most placid of Mariners.
Overall this was a far superior performance to the one against Sheffield United, especially compared to last year's farce at St Andrews. Town deserved a point. It would have been a slightly fortunate point, though only slightly. No-one was awful and some players surprised many. Butterfield was not embarrassing, even having periods of calm and competence. Pouton and Campbell did not look comfortable playing in the vague position of slightly wide-ish midfielder, which a better team than Birmingham would have exploited (there was still an awful lot of room down the flanks), and Cornwall looked a little uncoordinated (he had trouble controlling the ball). Town looked like a lower mid-table team. Let's hope that’s what we end up as.
Man of the Match – a very honourable mention in despatches for Gallimore, but I shall plump for Raven who was magnificent in the centre. It was his kind of game, but he did exactly what was required with head and foot. So that's why Buckley bought him. Rock On? No, Rave On.