From bad to worse…

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Well, if you think it was bad last week…Lord, this was worse. To think 1900 Hatters made the journey to watch that.

What made it worse, despite all of the booing and the chants to “sort it out Harford” and “what a load of rubbish”, Mick actually thought we deserved to win.

I do wonder sometimes if he watches the same game as the rest of us. According to him “Tyler didn’t have a shot to save” – well Mick, what about the two fingertip saves he made in the first half to keep them out? Why was Tyler the only one applauded and not booed off the pitch? Missing something? It worries me that if he is that poor a reader of a game how is he able to watch what is happening and to make changes? Or is it just spin?

So, to the team…Donnelly didn’t start, Mick started with the successful (irony) Craddock-Gallen axis which has just been scoring for fun. Craddock looked as if his dog had died all game. He missed a sitter at one point when Roper (remember him?) and their keeper got mixed up and he nipped between them got the ball and with an open goal in front of him 3 feet away managed to slice it past the post.

The back four was Murray, Pilks, White and Keet’ (ah – he managed to squeeze him in somehow, at the expense of the guy who has been picked for England’s C team this week) in the middle was Nico holding, which he did well, passing he did not, and Jarvis who was in Hall’s position of behind the front two (Rossi’s favourite position) or he would have been if he ventured out of his own half occasionally.

What was apparent to me from about the 5th minute was that under pressure at the back they would panic and make mistakes. Each time we harried them or chased them or even just closed them down they made errors which we could and should have pounced on. Did we close them down? No. We sat back and let them play. So Jarvis was anonymous.

The wingers were Burgess (on the left for a change) and Newton, returning after injury.
Burgess was mostly invisible before being substituted for a hamstring tweak (got a lot of booing from the anti-Rushden crowd) amazingly – an inspired piece of tactical substitution meant that Mick brought on Blackett at left back and pushed Freddie Murray into left midfield. Rarely has a player looked more out of position and hopeless there since Robbie Winters. I presumed that Howells was not on the bench – but no, Mick brought him on later on in the game in the 92nd minute to make that big difference in the remaining minute left.

I kid you not. You couldn’t make it up.

So – we played the majority of the match with a left back looking woeful in left midfield whilst we had a decent nippy left winger on the bench. Okay, enough said. Anyone going to their first game today would have bellowed “What are you playing at Harford?”

In the second half we had a few more chances as Kettering sat back. None of them clear cut and most of them (most? both of them) coming from shots outside the box, one of them a blisterer from Nico.

Donnelly came on and looked lively in the 17 minutes he was given. Not just a big man to hoof it to (if any of the players were accurate enough to find him) but showed a decent turn of pace too – well quicker than Craddock and poor old Gallen. Donnelly looked keen anyway which is more than most.

The daft thing is, we are bobbing along playing utter tripe and still not losing. In this division we can play as bad as we ever have and still sides aren’t beating us. Perhaps, and I hate to say this, we have found our level under Harford.

Roper was their main threat at set pieces and so we ensured that on more than one occasion he was left with a free header. Conversely, when we had corners, we ensured that Ropes had a free header on several occasions.

At one point I counted seven successive hoofs forward, all of which went unchallanged to Ropes. Now we know how to play against him, because we know he loves to head it away all day, but can be turned really easily and left for dead. Unfortunately this would require tactical nous and a midfield capable of threading a through ball (on the ground) for someone to run on to. We had neither.

Mercifully, after 93 minutes the ref put us out of our misery. We wouldn’t have scored in 930 minutes.

At the end the players and manager (sans Tyler) were jeered and booed. Nico came to the fans as he always does, in order to applaud us, and got another boo for his trouble. People were shouting “rubbish” at him and he made a gesture that looked like a shrug of the shoulders or a “what can I do?” sort of gesture.

If there is a repeat performance on Tuesday night I predict a riot.

P6 W3 D3 L0 Pts 12 Pos 3rd (amazingly)

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If he’s tall enough, he’s good enough

So Adam Newton is back tomorrow, presumably putting dear Rossi Jarvis out, Keet’ Keane is back – however if you think that Keano’s best position is holding midfielder then presumably Nico will get first nod.*

However the biggest news of the day is that Big Mick has finally got a big man up front for a month on loan from Plymouth. The footballing giant (well 6′ 2″) George Donnelly (who?)has come to play for us. Now, you may not have heard of George. This may be because he has spent most of his career at mighty Skelmersdale after being kicked out of the Anfield academy. Plymouth signed him in March I think, but he has only played two games since then.

So Mick now has a tall bloke to pump the ball up to, let’s hope in his two senior games he has learnt how to hold the ball up and lay it off.

Surley though, Mick wouldn’t just stick him in because he is tall, ahead of Gallen just because he is 3″ taller. Surely Mick will have him training and playing with the team for a week before he plays him for the Hatters?

But, if Mick does stick him in it will be because of his height, not his experience.

So – the all important prediction. Presumably the team will be something like: Tyler, Reynolds, White, Pilks, Blackett (should be Murray) Nico, Gallen, Newton, Burgess, Craddock, Donnelly. Basically, Plan A minus Hatch, Hall and Porno.

If Donnelly is any good then I can see us winning tomorrow, just because of the fact that Newton will have a big bloke to cross to and we would have won the occasionally restart fromt the keeper. If he has a mixed game or if Burgess starts on the right to accommodate Nico and Keane* and…oh…madness, madness, madness – then we will lose.

* see previous posts – all the rest of the team could be played out of position tomorrow to accommodate Keet’.

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Target Man

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Today’s news is that Big Mick still hasn’t had any joy in finding a target man to replace the injured (and much anticipated) Liam Hatch. The search is ongoing…

Mick says* “Obviously not having Liam is a huge blow, because it is important to hump the ball up to a tall strong bloke up front. Don’t worry though, if we have no joy in recruiting one, we’ll still lump it up to the two 5′ 11″ guys anyway.”

*possibly

As an aside – if my memory serves me correctly Big Mick replaced Trevor Aylott another big bloke up front in 1984. Me and my Dad were good fans of Aylott, and I remember when Mick arrived my Dad described him as the “poor man’s Trevor Aylott”. Says a lot about my Dad’s appreciation of footballers!

Now – do not get me wrong. Luton always play best with a big man up front to get on the end of corners, crosses and to make a general nuisance of himself. I was in the Steve ‘offside’ Howard fan club, much to the annoyance of that idiot woman who used to sit next to me behind the goal at the Kenny End, and Big Mick was a top player for us in more ways than one. A legend. I just don’t think that it should be the only tactic for us. I don’t think we should be completely hamstrung just because Plan A (Hatch) got injured and there is no Plan B.

The first, most important and overriding dictat should be “Hatters play football”. That is it. Plain and simple. Quick passing. Are you telling me that the collection of Championship, League One and League Two players we have are unable to do that in this division? If Mick can’t get them to do that then he should stand aside/move upstairs for someone who can.

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Kettering

I’m off up to Kettering on Saturday for the first and hopefully the last time in our history. I must admit when I booked the tickets I was full of early season hope that this was to be our year and that things would be alright. I was looking forward to this season more than most, I couldn’t wait. And yet it isn’t even September and I am already hacked off and yet we are third!

I have no idea what the team will be on Saturday yet, but then again neither does Mick, and certainly the players won’t. I guess we won’t have an update on Hall, Newton et al until near the game on Saturday. I’m rather worried, because we have scraped and scrapped wins against Gateshead, Forest Green and drawn against Chester none of whom had a point between them when we played them. Kettering are doing well and are in 7th – so I fear the worst…

On the news side of things there was a mild pagga between West Ham and Millwall which no doubt the BBC will make a big thing of in the absence of any other news. 10 arrests? 10 too many – but there are thousands of arrests at football games each year.

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Something’s not right somewhere

Well, I predicted 1-1 against Chester – I was wrong, 0-0 was the score and I was crediting our strikers with the ability to score with my prediciton – on Saturday they wouldn’t have scored with a sackful of scag.

They were booed off again (3 games on the trot) after a performance which was – at best – piss poor. Thank God for Mark Tyler, as he kept us in the game, and deserved the man of the match award which went to Nico I think.

The day started well, I had a nice drive up the M1 listening to the cricket (more of that later) and then as I parked in Crawley Road, who should park next to me? None other than the very Keet’ Keane I was writing about in the blog last week. Rio Charles and Lewis ‘Porno’ Emmanuel also pulled up alongside Keet’ and me.

I should have said something or ‘hello’ but I get terribly star-struck and Keet’ would probably recognise my voice as the bloke who used to should “Too slow Keane” at him from the stands.

That, my 12″ Subway and the fact that they had the cricket on in the bar behind the Kenny were as good as it got. Once the football started it went downhill.

Mick started with three strikers on the pitch, though it soon became clear that Gallen was playing in midfield in Asa Hall’s place. Not that there is anything unusual or wrong about that because Gallen’s intelligence and good passing enables him to boss a game from there. Newton was still injured so Rossi Jarvis moved out to the right and Burgess was back on the left. Nico came back in the midfield and Shane Blackett started at left back. Unfortunately Blackett failed to cross the half way line in the first half and so Burgess had no support. Fortunately he was substituted after an hour (I have my worries about him) and Freddie Murray came on and looked okay, but couldn’t link up with Burgess on the left again (in the way he had successfully vs Mansfield) as Burgess moved out to the right to accommodate Jake ‘Mascot’ Howells on the left. To be fair to Howells he did a couple of good runs and looked very lively, but not with any great success.

Nico got booed at the end, and he can probably understand why some people did it. Personally I think he had a reasonable game for him. Okay, so most of his passess went astray, but he did do what he does best and make some critical challenges and blocks and shouted at people and kicked some of the opposition. Defensively he is excellent.

Craddock did put in more effort this week, but didn’t look terribly bothered. Basham was anonymous and was out-jumped by their centre half when we lumped the ball to him. Basham came off after 59 mins and Gallen moved up front with Craddock, and Jarvis played alongside Nico in the middle. Gallen did two brilliant examples of holding the ball up and then turning but alas his passes and runs came to nothing.

So what went wrong? There was no spark, no inspiration, no drive and no skill. We played the long ball, with no width and barely two passes along the ground or to our own players. Chester got what they came for and generally ‘managed the game’ in the second half, eg players going down and staying down to disrupt the flow of the game. Chester had enough decent chances to win the game and can feel aggreived that they didn’t get 3 points.

Now, what was Mick’s excuse at the end? I think that he was very realistic in his comments and didn’t try to make it sound as if 0-0 was a success. He said:

“We are short on bodies. But we never got a foothold in the game and to be fair we got worse as the first half went on,” he said.

“We’ve kept chopping and changing the side and haven’t been able to field a settled side week in, week out.

“But having said that we’ve got a more than adequate team out there that should be capable of beating Chester or any other team in this league.

“But we just weren’t good enough today. To not have a shot on target in the whole of the 90 minutes is very disappointing.

“We couldn’t get to grips with it. People were making the wrong decisions, we weren’t moving the ball quick enough, the midfield couldn’t support the front two and defensively at times we looked all over the place.”

My only comment on Mick’s are that whilst we do have injuries and on Saturday Hatch, Newton, Hall and Keane were out, there has been no reaon to muck around with the tactics and the formation as much as he has done.

Newton’s out – okay so play Jarvis there or Gnapka and stick to the decision. Okay, Hall was out today, and his understudy should either be Jarvis or Gallen. Keane wouldn’t have played because Nico was holding and we’ve know that Hatch has been out all season and will be for two more months and should have a plan B.

Train and play with the same formation and with the same roles. Our players don’t know from one week to the next if they are in or out, what formation we will be playing and which side of the pitch they will start.

It should be easy (it is for other teams) so why should it be so hard for us?

On a more positive note, we won the Ashes yesterday and I was there. I had a marvellous weekend and met four old mates from Uni at various times and in various Pubs in London. Since Thursday I have had one Japanese meal and three curries.

And yes, the windows to my office are wide open.

P5 W3 D2 – Pos: 3rd.

Ashes: P5 W2 L1!

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Jinx

No sooner did I predict that Keet’ would be squeezed into the side whatever happens, Mick announced today that he (and Asa Hall) are unlikely to play tomorrow because of injuries. Well that’s one headache sorted out…

Now Mick wants an attacking midfielder who can support the front two. Goodness knows who he will choose, but he should choose Rossi Jarvis, whose natural role (as opposed to winger) it actually is.

Mick is in the market for a target man, which to be fair, in the absence of Liam Hatch is what we need. The last two games we have been pumping the ball forward to the non-existant Hatch and poor Kevin Gallen isn’t quite the ticket, not that he doesn’t give 100%.

What I like about Mick is that when he goes for experience, the experienced players bring something to the team. This is in stark contrast to the series of worn out dopes Kevin Blackwell insisted in bringing in such as Peschisolido, Perry, McVeigh, Furlong and Currie. McVeigh wasn’t worn out so much, but he was certainly a bit of a dope.

Oh the nightmare of Blackwell, Mitchell and Pinkney – the corrupt, moronic clowns they were. I’d swap a season in the conference for those dark days in the Championship any day.

At least now, thanks to 2020, we have a club with no debt, with the costs greatly reduced, with the community and fans re-engaged and a youth policy in place. I’d rather have the agony of hanging on to a win at home to Gateshead than the utter turmoil we were in with the corrupt, greedy property speculators in the boardroom, dirtying our club.

If it wasn’t for those pesky kids…

Prediction for tomorrow vs Chester? 1-1 draw. I hope it will be 5-0 of course, but my head rules my heart!

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Keet’ Keane

On Saturday Kevin Nicholls returns from his 5 game suspension. For Mick, Nico is a shoe-in for the holding role in front of the back four. This means (conventionally) of course that Keet’ will lose his place to Nico. But of course Mick being Mick, I am sure he will find a way of accommodating Keet’ somehow, even if it means changing formation or playing everyone else out of position. Mick’s nice like that.

Keet’ has been with the club now longer than anyone I think, certainly continuously. I must admit I wasn’t a fan of his when we were in the championship and he was Kevin Foley’s flat-footed deputy. I used to regularly say how he was a fish out of water on the Outlaws message board. He was the weak link in that team at the time, or so I thought until that super goal against West Brom. Since then my attitude to him has softened, as we have slid down the leagues and his loyalty and determination are unquestionable. I even campaigned for him to be skipper before Nico came back to the club, and for once management saw sense.

One thing you do get from Keane is 100% every time. Whilst occasionally he has a bad game with his passing, or gets turned once in a while, no one can question his committment to the cause, and at the level we are now playing at his abilities should stand out a mile.

Last season when we were playing 4-3-3 for a while him and Nico formed an excellent partnership in the heart of the midfield and both played out of their skins at Wembley in April. Keane actually played the through ball which set up Gnapka/Gnakpa/Claude for the winner.

Of course Keano has played most of his career out of position. I’ve already mentioned that he was Kevin Foley’s understudy for years at right back, and poor old Keet’ kept insisting that he was a midfielder really. I think he has played in most positions in the back four, central midfield and on the right. But it is the leg-biting holding role which I think he is best at and which Mick gave him the opportunity of playing in last year.

So it will be interesting to see what happens on Saturday when Mick is picking the team using his random player selector.

If fit, I suspect Newton will return on the right. Murray should be left back, but I suspect Mick will stick with Blackett.

So I think the team, injuries permitting will be: Tyler, Reynolds, White, Pilks, Blackett, Hall, Nico, Newton, Burgess and Craddock and Gallen up front.

It should of course be a hatful on Saturday. Chester are in the direst of dire straits, and have shipped 4 in both of their games so far. But then again we should have had a hatful against Gateshead and Forest Green Rovers. I suspect a draw.

Of course Mick trotted out the line “there are no easy games at this level” which was Sven Goran Eriksson’s excuse when we used to draw at home to unpronouncable sides from Eastern Europe 100 ranking positions below us. Fabio Capello put paid to that myth of course by demonstrating in a straightforward way that in fact, yes there are easy games at this level which we should win easily. I fully expect to hear the words “It was their cup final” on Saturday at 5:45 and also “when you are in trouble often it makes the team work harder and pull together and Chester demonstrated that today”. Not that it happened for us last year of course when faced with a huge points penalty.

I must sound unrelentingly anti-Mick in these two posts – the guy is a legend at our club and will always be. Let him have control of everything on the playing side apart from team selection and tactics…

Must go – I’m supposed to be working…

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