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03/01 Sheff Utd 1st Half

By: Tony Butcher
Date: 24/06/2000

Grimsby Town 2 Sheffield Utd 2
03 Jan 2000, Nationwide League Division 1

An unseasonably temperate day in Cleethorpes with little wind. The Osmond Stand and "temporary seating" were completely full of Yorkshire Folk singing their little Yorkshire songs. Sections of the Pontoon sang their own Yorkshire songs back. Apart from the temporary seating near the Pontoon the Town stands were virtually full. At 2.30 the "parade of 27 stars" started, with each being announced individually. Matt Tees got a small cheer, though Messrs Birtles and (especially) Futcher got sustained warm cheering. This probably reflects the demographics of the Town support - there aren't too many 72'ers who regularly attend.

The pre-match entertainment was a 14 year girl singing a power ballad. Just what the world needs - another Celine Dion wannabe.

Town lined up in their usual 4-4-2 formation, with Livo dropping back in place of Richard Smith. The referee was from Scarborough and was called Mr Burns. The pitch looked green, but had started to cut up a bit even in the warm up.

Sheffield kicked off towards the Osmond Stand with a rush, as you would expect from a Neil Warnock side. From the start they played very directly with balls whacked down the "channels", or over the top. The first 5 minutes had very little pattern or order with Town, especially, playing poorly. Several players missed attempted flicks and appeared to have trouble standing. The first attack from either team started with a long welly down the Town right touchline by their left back. Livingstone was beaten for pace and then muscled off the ball by Smith. The ball was worked across the Town penalty area to their right winger (Hall), about 8 yards out near Coyne's left hand post. Fortunately D Smith nipped in and flipped the ball away for a corner.

The Blades continued their muscular, basic football but without much effect for the next 10 or 15 minutes, during which Town had their most effective spell of the match. Town were most effective down the left with D Smith marauding freely, and often drifting into space. Town had reverted to the old Buckley way of attacking, with Lester and Ashcroft taking it in turns to try be Tony Rees, whilst Smith and Donovan attempted to be Gilbert and Childs. It worked, to a point, the point being about 10 yards from goal. Sheffield were opened up very easily, but not very many shots went in. In Town's first threatening move of the afternoon McDermott knocked a diagonal ball along the ground to Ashcroft, who dummied, allowing the ball to roll on to Lester. He held the ball up, allowing Ashcroft and Donovan to run across him, and he played the ball in between the right back and centre back. The cross was blocked. This move happened 2 or 3 times on the right, but ultimately came to nought through Blade blocks. However, on the left D Smith was having a field day, knocking in 3 or 4 dangerous crosses which resulted in corners. After quarter of an hour D Smith, from the Town left, floated a corner to the near post, where it was half stopped. The Town player (I think it was Groves) returned the ball to D Smith outside the penalty area, near the corner of the box. D Smith floated a cross into the centre of the goal, about 8-10 yards out. LESTER was unmarked and nodded the ball down into the 'keepers right hand side netting.

For the next 5 minutes Town were generally untroubled, though there was one slight panic when the centre forward Bent was allowed to advance down the Town left into the penalty area and hit a fierce cross shot from a narrow angle. Coyne pushed the ball into the centre of the penalty box and Groves/Livvo cleared. Town were then caught out by a Blade counter attack down the right. The ball was fired over the top and Lever struggled to match the centre forward as he surged towards the edge of the box on the right hand side. As the forward cut in Lever stopped him in a sort of falling rolling tackle, with Lever emerging with the ball at his feet. It did not look elegant, but it was effective. Lever cleared for a throw-in in front of the Findus/Lower Stones, about 25 yards out, which was taken short. The ball was crossed into the centre of the box, about 8 yards out, where BENT rose above Livingstone to send a looping header gently over Coyne into the top centre right of the goal. Livingstone barely challenged, nor attempted to head the ball so, in effect, it was a free header. Another soft goal given away through lack of concentration.

Town's general play was very erratic after Sheffield scored. There were short bursts of fluent passing and movement, but only one shot (a 20 yarder from D Smith, from the left, which went straight to the 'keeper). There were two appeals for penalties, both after fouls on Lester. From 100 yards away, and after years of watching Lester "fall", neither looked like a Lester dive. The first was when Lester attacked a loose ball near the left edge of the area and got to the ball before the defender. Both Lester and the ball ended up outside the area. The second was after Lester had turned the defence in the D outside the area and advanced on goal. Again a defender came in from behind (180 degrees) and Lester ended in a heap. The referee gave a corner to Town. From this corner Lever headed narrowly wide.

Town didn't do too much to harm the Blades apart from those incidents. There were many promising situations which were wasted through poor decisions by Lester, Ashcroft and Donovan. One particularly promising position was after 35 minutes when Lester received a clearance just in front of the manager's bench, turned and whacked a right foot volleyed cross field pass to Donovan, unmarked down the right. Donovan advanced to the edge of the area and..stopped. The ball eventually ended back with Lever.

On the other hand Sheffield United became increasingly dangerous as they abandoned any pretence at football and started to play for throw ins and corners. It took them half an hour to realise that we may be vulnerable to long throws, but when they did decide this it became their goal for 20 minutes - turn the defence and get a throw in. Unfortunately, Lever and Livingstone were only too willing to knock the ball out about 25 yards from goal. Oddly enough Coyne dealt with these potential hazards quite well, coming out and firmly punching a couple, and actually advancing off his line and catching a couple of crosses. He must have been practicing during his Christmas holiday.

There were a few moments of panic and disaster in the centre of the defence. Lever got his traditional mis-clearance out of the way early - he headed a routine, unchallenged clearance in a high loop behind him to set up an attacker right in the centre of the goal, near the penalty spot. The shot was hit straight at Coyne. A cross from their left went between Livingstone and Coyne, with each looking at the other, and a midfielder ran down the Town right, got to McDermott ,who forced him across the face of the penalty area, where he miss-kicked his shot weakly across the face of the goal. This doesn't sound potentially disastrous until I tell you he ran 15 yards across the box, almost all unmarked and his shot was very badly miss-hit and very weak, the shot dribbled between the legs of three defenders and past two attackers, none of whom moved and neither did Coyne. The ball missed the post by an inch. On 2 occasions Gallimore and D Smith allowed Bent to advance 10 yards into the penalty box and glide between them. Fortunately Coyne was quickly off his line to block.

Town were booed off the pitch by a handful of the more miserable. There had been some sustained periods of Town-like attacking and play, interspersed with some inept and timid defending. D Smith was Town's most effective attacker, being a constant menace to Sheffield United. Donovan looked "up for it" and was even tracking back to help out the struggling McDermott. Coldicott was omnipresent and the Lester/Ashcroft partnership was causing some difficulties for the United defence when the ball was on the ground. The referee declined to book anyone. On three occasions a Town attacker (usually Lester) was hauled down in rugby fashion after turning a defender, free kicks only were the result. The referee took no action to hurry the Sheffield players as they were blatantly, and without any subtlety, time wasting from the first minute. On one bizarre occasion the referee stopped the game to allow a Blade to receive treatment even though that player was already off the pitch. Apart from these quibbles the referee had seemed to be quite competent.

Grimsby Town
D Smith



Half time: Grimsby Town 1 Sheffield Utd 1

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