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Lack of Fire Power

By: Rob Sedgwick
Date: 06/03/2000

Few teams can afford to lose 22 goals' worth of talent and still expect to find the back of the net with any regularity. Grimsby Town are no exception.

With Messers Ashcroft and Allen still expected to be out injured for another month, Alan Buckley must have sent them a get-well telegram after a first half display which saw the Mariners run Walsall ragged, but somehow fail to find the net. The home side must have trudged off at half time amazed at the scoreline as Mark Nicholls and Daryl Clare constantly probed the Saddlers back-line with incisive one-touch football. Loan-striker Nicholls had clearly reaped the benefits of a week of training with his new team-mates as his much-improved touch and awareness saw him slip into the Buckley system with far more effectiveness than his debut against Crystal Palace. But, for all the creative excellence of Nicholls and Clare, neither is an out-and-out goalscorer and Town desperately needs one of them to add that extra element to their game... and fast. Clare was his usual energetic self and yet again the Jersey-born youngster seemed to bring Kevin Donovan to life. If the winger has been unable to recapture the glorious form of the 'Wembley' year then Clare appears to be the perfect catalyst for him. So often this season he has flitted in and out of games, but on Saturday he produced 45 minutes of vintage Donovan as his link-up play with Clare and Nicholls was simply too hot to handle for the home side. And it was Donovan who came closest to opening Town's account after a splendid through-ball from Nicholls sent the winger clear. His low shot across the face of goal had the keeper beaten, but hit the post with Kingsley Black unable to reach the rebound. Then Paul Groves looked to have opened the scoring, only for Walsall keeper James Walker to somehow tip over the skipper's thunderbolt volley after more good work by Donovan. Town pressed almost constantly as they threatened to run riot, but it was Walsall who broke away after 39 minutes to score the game's only goal. When Ian Brightwell found space down the right, his cross found Mark Robins whose close-range header could only be parried into the net by keeper Danny Coyne. Maybe that was signal enough that it wasn't to be Town's day, and after the break their forward play fell apart. Nicholls looked exhausted after only an hour and simply didn't look strong enough. Donovan disappeared from the game as the emphasis switched from attack to the brilliance of Mark Lever and Steve Livingstone at the heart of the Town defence. With the Mariners unable to find their first-half rhythm Walsall came to life. Matias pushed from the midfield and time and again Town's makeshift central defensive partnership came to the rescue. Twice Michael Ricketts looked to be clean through on goal only for Lever to unfurl one of his long legs and dispossess the forward. It was Ricketts who looked likely to add a second when he chipped the ball over his own shoulder and turned the Town back four on the edge of the box. But, just as the striker pulled the trigger from eight-yards, in came Livingstone with a goal-saving block. After being thrown into the lions' den with the absence of Richard Smith and Peter Handyside, Lever and 'Livvo' have developed an understanding that has been the cornerstone of their impressive form since the New Year. But they can't be expected to do everything, and it was Ricketts who again wasted a good opportunity when he fired straight at Coyne with the Town keeper collecting at the second attempt. At the other end John McDermott then forced a full-length save from Walker after a neat one-two with Nicholls as Town's situation grew more desperate. Manager Alan Buckley replaced Nicholls with Alan Pouton as Kevin Donovan pushed up front with 25 minutes to go, but the winger looked ill at ease in an unfamiliar role and still the deficit remained. Town were then thankful to McDermott as he cleared a Robins header off the line from a corner, after Lever had been forced to head a curling cross by former Mariner Darren Wrack over his own bar. Then Groves was pushed upfront as Town went 4-3-3 with 10 minutes to go, before Livingstone was also thrown into the front line as Walsall dug in. With a four-man attack chances eventually came and Stacy Coldicott had a good effort deflected wide before Groves headed just past the post as time ran out. But, as Town threw caution to the wind in the chase for an equaliser, spaces appeared at the back and Robins missed a sitter in added time as all hope evaporated for Buckley's men. Picture: Paul Groves tries a spectacular overhead volley during Saturday's 1-0

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