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Heroes & Willems

By: Tony Butcher
Date: 03/12/2000

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that the sun was up and the sky was blue. Everyone (except the players, of course) was wrapped up in winter woollies and was, therefore, a bit hot. The crowd looked to be acceptably average, with few obvious gaps in the Town sections

Grimsby Town 2 Crystal Palace 2
02 Dec 2000, Nationwide League Division 1

Palace seemed to have brought 4-500 who, as the Pontoon wryly observed, "only have one song" - "Ee-gulls, Ee-gulls".

The pre-match entertainment appeared to be the allegedly Mighty Mariner hopping (or perhaps bopping) vaguely in time to an anodyne pop record, barely audible over the tannoy. It sounded a bit like the Norwegian national anthem "Take On Me" by Ah-ha, perhaps in honour of our latest left back. A younger member of the crowd insisted that it was not by Ah-ha but some bunch of kids called something or other. A minor detail of history, I am sure. As things turned out "Take Me On" would have been more accurate for the alarmingly large Norwegian.

Both teams formed a guard of honour for McDermott, captain for the day, who eventually ran out to receive very warm applause (curiously no chanting of his name, just very loud applause. It was respect, rather than adoration).

Grimsby Town


D Smith

Town lined up in a 4-3-1-2 formation. Willems played as the left sided centre back, Burnett in the centre of midfield, flanked by Coldicott on the right and Campbell on the left. Donovan played behind Nielsen and Allen and appeared to have "licence to roam". Well he did have the number 7 on his back. You have licence to moan at that.

Willems looked to be the same build as Groves, which led everyone to say, almost in unison, "why is Fostervold at left back". Prior to the guard of honour, Jeffrey had been practising his shooting against Croudson. He scored every time. You can guess the cynicism in the Pontoon at this display of marksmanship, such was the belief in him. Palace lined up in a 5-3-2 formation with most of the same personnel as a month ago, with the exception of their back three who, this time, were Fan Zhiyi, Ruddock and Austin. A lipsmacking defence for a decent attack. Palace wore an all yellow kit with dark flashings. Oo-er fashion. They were a goon squad and they came to Town. Beep beep. And the referee wore a deep vibrant green shirt which contrasted nicely with the Palace kit. What a colourful day.

1st half

Town kicked off towards the Pontoon, to universal dismay. Within 30 seconds McDermott had been given a stern lecture by the referee for clattering the Palace left winger, T Black, in front of the Palace dug-out. Ahhh good old pro McDermott clobbers their best player early and in an unthreatening position. The game started at a right old pace, with some hefty challenges flying in. It was noticeable that Town were playing very narrowly, with no-one at all standing wide. Donovan wandered around in a big space between the attack and midfield, picking up rebounds and short passes from our slick passing midfield (that isn't irony, Town did move the ball quickly between defence and attack with short, one touch passes).

Donovan caused Palace a lot of problems with his desire to run at the heart of their defence, in fact he seemed to be hell bent on recreating last week's goal against Fulham. Burnett dropped behind Campbell and Coldicott, to a position between midfield and defence, picking up everything outside the Town penalty box. He acted like an old-fashioned play maker and ran the game in the first half. Palace failed to mark him and were very fortunate not to pay a heavy price for this folly. Palace attacked on the break, but were very dangerous on the few occasions they managed to get the ball off Town. Within the first 10 minutes both sides could have scored. Campbell was played in behind the Palace defence on the right of the area, after a one two with one of the Town strikers. The 'keeper came out to the edge of the 6 yard box and Campbell, instead of shooting with his left foot, stopped and played the ball back across the area with his right. The ball was scrambled away by what seemed a thousand Palace defenders, but was probably Ruddock and one other. Palace broke away and had two players unmarked beyond the far post, on the Town left. Black ended up slashing a drive into the side netting as several Town defenders threw themselves at him. But their most woeful miss was entirely down to the Town defence, or rather the strangers within. A "channel" ball was played between McDermott and Willems towards the right edge of the Town box. Willems strolled across and, as Coyne raced out to collect the ball, put his foot on the ball and tried to trick his way past Forssell, who simply took the ball from under his boot. Forssell knocked the ball past Coyne and hit a shot onto the top of the crossbar.

The next 10-15 minutes were all Town, with Burnett caressing the ball around the park, playing 30-40 yard cross field passes behind the Palace left back (the badly haired Harrison). His first attempt zipped off the grass and went out for a throw in, missing Nielsen by a couple of feet. The next went straight to foot, perfectly weighted, and I cannot recall a bad Burnett pass after this. He'd found his range and Palace were definitely under intense pressure, which made it all the more surprising that Palace midfield enforcer, Pollock (by name and by nature) failed to clog. Perhaps he was awe struck and was admiring the masterclass.

Despite the domination, Town didn't get any shots on target, it was all "moments of danger". Palace were definitely wobbling and only the fact that they had so many bodies back in their own box (and a couple of huge ones at that) stopped the ball travelling towards the goal. Donovan and Nielsen ripped the left side of the Palace defence to shreds with one-twos and spins.

Nielsen was clobbered twice after turning his marker, Donovan twice got behind the defence. His first cross rolled gently into the 'keepers hands, the second went to Allen at the near post. He turned one defender, but another came across to block. Donovan had a couple of direct dribbles at the centre of the Palace defence which were only stopped, yet again, by the number of players around him. It was taking three defenders to bundle him off the ball, which is encouraging as it normally takes one on the team sheet before the game to cause Donovan to lose the ball. Oddly, Donovan seems to have taken on Kingsley B's role as "King of the Pirouettes". He did it every time, which tended to break up the momentum of attacks, though often resulted in him running at the centre of the defence, causing some mild panic.

It was all very exciting, if unproductive. The ball was rarely more than 30 yards from the Palace goal. It was total domination. The one problem for Town was the lack of width, which cramped the attacking style (and made it easier to defend against) and, when Palace did get the ball, they had huge spaces in which to whack the ball or dribble with it. After about 20-25 minutes Palace missed a sitter. Black twisted and turned past McDermott on the bye-line, on the right corner of the Town penalty area. He advanced 5 yards and drilled in a low hard cross to the near post, a few yards out. Morrison ran in and, from 4 or 5 yards out managed to side foot wide from a position a couple of yards inside the near post. It was a fantastic miss and brought that high pitched whistling "Whooooow" noise from the Town support.

And then we had another quarter of an hour of Burnett and Donovan. But still very few chances. Allen was set free on the edge of the area, to the left of centre. He twisted past three defender and, when about to shoot from 10 yards, Fan Zhiyi flew across from nowhere and blocked the shot. Coincidentally this occurred just as our Chinese player was walking past the Pontoon. He received a warm standing ovation as he waved cheerily to us, some supporters ran after him to shake his hand and ruffle his hair in that macho manly way to say "you're one of us". The noise of the applause and cheering seemed to perk the players up. Perhaps that should be a club tactic - wheel old and/or new players in front of the Pontoon every time Town attack. Burnett played a superb 30 yard diagonal ball behind the left back for McDermott , who sprinted past his marker and whipped in a cross, cleared at the near post.

Oh yes, then there was the one real Town chance in the first half. Some interplay between what seemed like most of the Town players saw the ball worked across the pitch from left back to right wing, under the Police Box next to the Main Stand. The ball was eventually worked across to Donovan by way of one-twos. Donovan spun past his marker, shimmied past another and, from about 8 yards out, just to the left of the goal, smacked a shot high just to the left of the 'keeper. The 'keeper just managed to get a finger tip onto the ball and it went about an inch over the bar. As far as Town shots go that's it, unless you count Nielsen's header from the edge of the penalty box which went 10 yards wide, or Nielsen's wildly extravagant and hopeful volley from 20 yards, way to the left of goal, which went out for a throw in in front of the Findus/Stones/Smiths stand. Four Town players looked extremely dismayed at Nielsen as they had sprinted up to join him on a break and were all unmarked. Oh yes, then there's Burnett's attempt to score the goal of the season. He received a bouncing ball on the edge of the area, to the right of centre. As two Palace players rushed at him he flicked the ball over their heads and volleyed the ball almost vertically on to the roof of the Pontoon.

ForssellI've been putting this bit off. Palace scored with 3 or 4 minutes to go tohalf time. Campbell was disgracefully hacked from behind by the right back, Smith, in front of Town's left hand corner flag. Fostervold wellied the ball up field, where Palace intercepted and switched the ball back out to their right to Smith. Fostervold didn't try to close him down, allowing Smith time and space in which to decide exactly where to curl his cross. He duly curled in a deep cross to somewhere central about 8 yards out. FORSSELL (pictured) out-jumped whoever was supposed to be marking him and nodded down into Coyne's left hand corner, the ball hitting the side netting. Outrageously against the run of play, but not totally surprising as Town were not playing as a defensive Unit, more like 4 blokes who'd just met each other. Which, of course, they had. A deep sigh emanated from the Pontoon as Town just didn't look like scoring, despite the pressure, the vigour and the enterprise. It just looked like "one of those days". Town were cutting them to little pieces, shots.

The game dribbled away to half time and the usual forlorn conversations in Stu's toilet. The toilet consensus was Town were playing well, Burnett was back, Donovan was "on fire", Town had no width, Palace were "no good" and that we were going to lose. That isn't a bad summary of the first half. Willems looked a fine footballer, if not a central defender. He reminded me of Ronald Koeman - a playmaker playing at centre back, with all the problems that can cause. Fostervold continued to look big. He rarely went forward and had a distinct aversion to crossing the ball. He showed one trick - a shuffle of his feet to go past a player, but was not interested in getting too close to opponents when defending. The overall impression was that Willems and Fostervold were the wrong way round.

Still, there was always the second half. Perhaps Neil Ruddock would get his wish and be given the referee's whistle.

Half time: Grimsby Town 0 Crystal Palace 1

The report continues in the 2nd half

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