Don Valley Wanderers 2 Hatters 2

Once again the Hatters defied their non-league status to compete on equal terms with a team a division above us.

Firstly let me get my northern prejudice rant out of the way. Visiting places like Sheffield in late November reminds me how lucky I am to live in the South. It is indeed grim up north. And bloody cold.

Strange place the Don Valley stadium, of course it didn’t help itself by having half the pitch looking normal and the other half looking as if a U2 concert had been held on it, with a muddy line along the pitch area at one end which would have made Eddie Waring feel at home in the seventies. Fortunately it played pretty well, considering. Another thing that stuck me was how short the pitch was. Bearing in mind you are in a funny looking athletics stadium wholly divorced from the action by a running track the tiny green bit in the middle reminded me of the small pitches you got to play on at school with the centre circle almost overlapping the ‘D’ of the penalty area. Okay – I exaggerate a bit – but it did seem a bit on the short side to me.

We started slowly and weren’t up to speed in the first quarter of an hour. In fact ‘comprehensively outplayed’ would be better suited, so all the more sweet then with our first attack Adam Newton ran down the left before moving the ball across the face of the goal to the on-charging Gnapka who was brought down in the box. He does go down pretty easily anyway, so I suspect Rotherham failed to do their homework there. Tommy Craddock made himself leading scorer again by slotting the penalty home.

Suddenly the game sprang into life. Newton looked lively down the left and Gnapka fluffed a couple of decent chances. We were (ahem) controlling the game quite well and frustrating the home side by taking our time and changing or complaining about the ball every throw in.

Sod’s law of course, just as we could have gone 2 up, their equaliser came just before half time, and I think we lost concentration a bit. They crossed from the right (Freddie Murray becoming increasingly anonymous) and LeFondre squeezed the ball past Pilkington (the keeper) at the near post. I often think that if a side is going to equalise – I’d much rather they do it just before half time rather than just after. This means that the manager can adjust the tactics accordingly at half time.

The second half could have gone either way at the start, neither team quite getting on top. Unfortunately after about an hour it was the Millers fans chance to celebrate when a cross from the right (spot the theme here) found Brogan (I think it was) who looped an excellent, but unmarked header over Pilks.

They then had a spell of domination until we brought on the lively Nwokeji (for Gnapka) who partnered Gallen up front and Craddock went narrow on the left whilst Newton was wide on the right, I wonder if RM has been watching Mr Capello’s England team? This changed things in our favour and I was always confident of at least another goal from this point. I didn’t have to wait too long.

It was at this point where the short pitch worked in our favour. I’m not sure if Nico had mad-mode switched on or not but he sprinted (yes, I know, I know, sprinted) in order to intercept a lose ball and performed a quite superb crunching – but fair – block tackle on their player, and the played the ball instantaneously to Craddock who had come right inside and who played a gloriously quick first time ball into the path of Nwokeji who controlled it well and finished it brilliantly lifting it slightly above their sprawling keeper. He then gave us a nice bow!

Despite a couple of scares in the last 10 mins we didn’t have a repeat of last week’s farce, and in the same way I did when watching the Rochdale replay, I had confidence from then on that we would be okay and a draw was on.

Pain the neck of course that we did get a draw as I won’t be able to attend as it is Mrs Mosque’s boss’s Christmas party on (what I presume) will be the night of the replay. I just hope that our friends at ITV televise it again or that it is played on the Wednesday rather than the Tuesday.

This does mean of course, that we are are in the hat for the Third round. At this point I can have that little bit of self-indulgence that this time of year affords. Who would I like to get? Allotments FC away. If we can’t get the scum then perhaps a Premiership club with a ground big enough to take the inevitable huge following, such as Arsenal or Spurs or Chelski. Or Man U at home. Who do I think we will get? Liverpool at home of course. Actually no, we’ll probably get Brentford away. Assuming we beat Rotherham in the replay.

So overall impressions from yesterday? Both of the Pilkingtons played tidily enough. White and Blackett were pretty sound and kept LeFondre quiet apart from the goal. Whitey perhaps at fault for the free header which led to the second goal. But of course if Murray had prevented the cross (and he was in no man’s land, leaving it to Newton) then there would have been no cross in the first place. Murray’s form has dipped, just at the right time for Porno to come back in, or the ever improving Jake Howells, who replaced Craddock briefly yesterday.

Keet’ Keane worked exceedingly hard yesterday afternoon, and I think he had a superb game, and fair play to Nico he was fully committed and played well too. Perhaps there is a left boot-shaped bruise on his backside after last week?

Newton was such a good capture by Mick – he really is one of my favourite players at the club. He’s always causing problems, as long as he manages to get given the ball and was a constant threat.

Substituting Gnapka was the right move, sometimes I think Claude’s mind has drifted away to the Champs Elysees and he plays accordingly. He was a bit hit or miss yesterday and caused problems for a while, but did miss his fair share of chances. If Cain starts on Wednesday then Gnakpa will be a handy player to have on the bench.

Up front Gallen had a good game without looking as if he was going to repeat his performance away to Rochdale and the rejuvinated Craddock scored for the third game in a row. As we always thought he would once his bad patch ended.

So who is Barnes-Homer going to replace? It is a difficult call because Gallen and Craddock have formed a nice partnership and assists aplenty for each other. I suspect it will be Gallen who misses out, but what a headache to have.

We could start with, Pilks, Pilks, White, Blackett, Porno, Newton, Cain, Nico, Keane, Craddock, B-H (look at that, I’ve tired of typing his name already, and he hasn’t even started yet) with a bench of Gallen, Nwokeji, Gore, Howells or Gnapka and Ed. Now that strikes me as a very strong team on paper. We really should start putting a string of wins together now to put pressure on the top teams. If we have been able to live with the high flyers in League One (two draws and a win and 7 goals in the process) then promotion this year is an absolute must as it seems to me that the squad we have, with the manager we now have, would seem very comfortable and not ill-at-ease in the divsion above.

First things first though, Kettering on Wednesday. Or rather Kettering mark II as I don’t think they have won since Cooper left, and their brief dalliance at the top of this division I am sure will be replaced with a relegation quick-step this time next year.

PS We are ball 53 according to the official site – the team in Hertfordshire are no 40. Fingers crossed….

UPDATE Southampton away – at least their away end will be big enough for us.

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Ins and Outs

Back from bonny Scotland, and ahead of today’s game at Rotherham I thought I would post my opinion for what it is worth on the players coming in and those leaving.

On Thursday we had three players leave, one (in effect) permanently and two on loan, whilst bringing in one player on loan and one (in effect) permanently.

Out first of all.

The biggest shock for me and disappointment too was Andy Burgess. Perhaps it is sentiment, but I did like the idea of a proper Hatter in the team, fulfilling his lifetime ambition for playing for his club. I agree that he is not the quickest left winger (not really a winger is he? More of a left midfielder) however we did see a glimpse of what might be when he played those gorgeous through-balls when playing in central midfield against Rochdale. To think that we had a player who could play like that, yet let him go to Mansfield – our rivals for promotion – cost me two hours sleep last night.

Now Richard Money is truly his own man. He truly knows his own mind, and that is refreshing and a very overdue and welcome change. We will have to go with him on this one because he obviously has a very clear view of how he wants us to play and the players he needs for us to play like that.

He was honest enough to make his thought process very transparent. There are two central midfield places up for grabs, and he had five players for those two slots. He said that Asa Hall had the ability to score 14 goals last year for us in the division above, whilst Rossi Jarvis had captained England C and therefore must have some ability. Fine – but what he didn’t mention was the elephant in the room. Nico. Once again he has assumed that Nico’s position in the team is a given. I’m sorry but on current form alone, Nico was very much fifth in that list behind the others.

In the last two games he has persevered with Nico in the middle with Keet’ Keane. Against Cambridge there was huge gap between the midfield and the front two, and of course Nico set his personal ship on a course to self destruct with 10 mins to go.

For my two penneth what would I have done? If you are going to play two central midfielders I would play Keet’ holding and one of Burgess and Hall attacking. I think he has missed a huge trick by getting shot of Burge. I would have loaned out Rossi Jarvis to get some matches under his belt. Perhaps he did try that and no one would take Jarvis (or indeed Hall?) or they wouldn’t go.

Rant over, on to the next two.

Rio Charles was an obvious candidate for a loan. He had been very marginalised since Money took over and is off to sunny Kidderminster. I wish him well. Of all of the players on our books he has looked the most lively and in form since getting back to full fitness.

Steve Basham – we saw a snippet of his finishing abilities in the first 28 minutes against Rochdale, he looked like he knew where the goal was, though short of fitness. Well he has gone to struggling Hayes to get some ‘games under his belt’.

Both of these players are due back from their loans in January, and RM says that they are very much still part of his plans. We’ll see.

On to the players coming in.

Matthew Barnes-Homer. Already commented on his name in this blog when we played Kiddy, but not his powers. When he played us he was a nasty bit of work, getting in our players faces and keeping them on their toes – not least Ed Asafu-Adjaye. He is quick and strong, and has scored 34 goals in 77 starts at Kiddy since July 2007. Money says he has always had his eye on him and we have in effect bought him. Though we can only sign for a month on loan in this emergency loan deadline, he will be coming on a 2 1/2 year contract from January I think the fee of £75k was mentioned too. If he continues his scoring rate of one goal every three games (to put it in context Steve Howard’s career record is similar at .3) then that will be very good business.

The last individual coming in was a complete stranger to me, Ashley Cain (a headline writer’s dream name) who is a nippy winger who can play on either flank here for a month from Cov, and rescued from a plastic stadium to a real one.

Neither of the new players will play today against the Millers, but obviously will be available on Wednesday night against Kettering.

Overall what do the new signings, plus Mark Nwokeji say about Money’s footballing style and ambition?

Since Enoch and perhaps Carlos Edwards left, I don’t think we have had anyone with pace in the team, and now we do. Two very nippy forwards, and a nippy winger. What does this say about the way we will play? I would suggest that we perhaps will be a counter attacking team, able to get the ball away down the wings for Newton and Cain or through the middle, catching out lumbering non-league centre halves pushing up for off-side.

As long as we play a fast, short passing game, I don’t mind. Having this sort of player would suggest this is more likely.

What does it mean for Craddock and Gallen up front? I suspect Nwokeji is the joker to be played from the bench to keep those tiring defenders on their toes, whilst Barnes-Homer will start – but who for? Craddock has just rediscovered his goalscoring boots and Gallen has had a fine season. Knowing our luck of course, this sort of selectorial luxury is just navel-gazing self-indulgence because based on previous fortunes, one or two of them will get injured shortly and so we will only have two available anyway.

What does it mean for Liam Hatch who will be available eventually? Come January and if Nwokeji stays we will have a total of Hatch, Gallen, Craddock, Nwokeji, Barnes-Homer, Rio and Basham available. A clear surfeit of strikers.

So onto the cup game today. Porno rejoins the squad after a long absence due to his pinky.

We have won the last five home games on the trot, a statistic I never thought I would type. Can we make it a cheeky 6? Stranger things have happened, and we need to be a damn site more disciplined in the last 10 minutes if we are going to win this sort of game. But it will be another good test against a side a whole division above us – galling though it may be to be able to say that about Rotherham.

I suspect RM will want to keep it tight, keep Nico and Keet’ in the middle of the park and hope for the draw. We’ll see.

Predictions? The optimist in me says a cheeky 1-0; the pessimist says a reality check of a 2-0 home win.

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Hoots

I will be in Scotland for the next two days and will miss the rumour mill and cut and thrust of the loan deals tomorrow.

There are various rumours about who is coming in and going out so it will certainly be interesting – if of course anything happens at all!

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Town 2 Gowns 2

I couldn’t believe it. Another farcical end to a game where we were in a comfortable lead. It’s becoming a habit.

Cambridge didn’t deserve a draw in this game, but our own self-inflicted indicipline brought them back into the game, and, just like against Rochdale in the 3-3, I suspect if the game had gone on for 5 more minutes we would have contrived to lose.

I was rather hoping, bearing in mind how we closed the game down at Rochdale, and how Walsall played under Richard Money that we had learnt our lessons. Oh no.

Nico was like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in this game. The net score without his involvement would have been a 1-0 win. It was his cross from a free kick which Gnapka forced home after an hour.

Tom Craddock made it two with a wonderful goal – he received pass in space from Newton and turned and blasted past their keeper, with me thinking he should have laid it off to the oncoming Gnakpa. It was a great goal and would have been a fitting cap to a good 2-0 victory.

Then, two minutes later it was time to send in the clowns. Nico decided that it would be sensible to pass to Murray accross the face of the goal, unfortunately it wasn’t Murray he passed to but Willmott I think whose shot was then saved by Pilks only to parry it to the sub, Danny Crow (who has hardly scored all season) and who couldn’t really miss. Righty ho, 2-1 – but only 9 minutes to go.

But, what now? More panic stations as Murray was then penalised for doing something naughty in the penalty area – but from the Kenny End, I’m blowed if I could tell you what it was. But, Kevin Pilks was too good for the penalty taker, he did the old trick of leaving two thirds of his goal exposed, having danced all the way across the line, tempting Holroyd to put it into the wider space, only for Holroyd to try to out think him (not easy for a footballer) and he drove it to Pilks. Marvellous – the runes were with us after all I thought.

Wrong again. On the stroke of normal time their keeper took yet another free kick which Murray opted to deal with and tried a defensive header away but it hit the top of his head and looped over Pilks and onto the post didn’t head very well and headed it backwards into the post it bobbled out from the post across the face of the goal and out to Cambridge’s right on about the edge of the 6 yard box. But who should come flying in to the rescue – none other than SuperNico who dived in and up-ended Crow who flew through the air with the greatest of ease. He grabbed hold of the ball and made no mistake with the penalty.

When you need cool heads to take control of the game, having hotheads like Nico means that our penalty area become panic central. Such a shame when we did all that work to get 2-0 up after a grafting first half.

So going through the team – there was a mild stir when Alan White wasn’t named in the XI or indeed the new boy Nwokeji. I understand Alan White had a head injury whilst Nwokeji was ill. Not sure about Asa Hall though, seems that perhaps he is a bit marginalised. Ironically of course Hall was in midfield for the Rochdale away game when we didn’t manage to throw a lead away. Actually, coming back to Nwokeji, he would have been perfect for this game – he would have sprung their offside trap with his pace and made their two lumbering centre halves look like zombies trying to catch a whippet.

Kevin Pilkington – apart from having two penalty saves to make and to parry Willmott’s shot, I can’t recall him having too much to do. He chose to throw the ball out on a number of occasions and whilst his kicking wasn’t terribly long it was pretty accurate without a gale.

Ed Asafu-Adjaye came in at right back, replacing George Pilkington who moved to centre half. Ed didn’t have a terribly outstanding game, he overlapped a coupleo of times and was felled for the free kick that led to the first goal. Pilks was very sound in defence – as usual and Shane Blackett who was impressive and dominated and was very tidy. Murray had linked up well with the forwards before his unfortunate loopy back header and the penalty he gave away.

Gnapka started well on the right and of course got the goal. Nico and Keane were in the middle and I think Money believed his own press conference too much. Orient Cambridge sat deep which meant that having two defensive midfielders ensured that too often there was a hole where a Hall could be linking up with the front too. On the left Adam Newton played well and was substitued towards the end for Jake Howells. We ended the match with 9 out of 11 players being defensive minded – two banks of four it should have been without captain chaos factored into the equation.

Up front we have mentioned Tommy Craddock who played well in between getting caught offside and Kevin Gallen who was instrumental to all of our attacks but who tired towards the end and who perhaps should have been subbed for Rio.

It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom, we dominated the first half without being very incisive but played some excellent football at times, and once we had scored the second goal started attacking really well, again playing some lovely footie.

The person who spoilt the game was the ref – who clearly still favoured a draw even though we were two up and did his level best to ensure it. I wonder if he is related to Trevor Kettle? He could be his twin.

The ref stopped what was not a dirty game for plenty of needless fouls – but didn’t award them evenly – Luton getting penalised for challenges that Cambridge were getting away with. He missed a pretty strong Luton shout for a penalty in the first half when Craddock was impeded but was happy to penalise Murray for something much less. He also can’t count to three as he failed to play the correct amount of injury time at the end.

On to Cambridge – they are managed by one of my least favourite managers Martin Ling. His teams are niggly, nasty little outfits, only too happy to play the offside trap and to go down if a Luton player appears anywhere near. It was easy to con such a poor ref. To his credit his team didn’t start timewasting from the off, but waited 15 minutes, which is something I suppose.

But it is one of those games where it is too easy to blame the ref or the opposition. Cambridge didn’t deserve to get anything out of the game, but we contrived to ensure that the last ten minutes were another farce.

7,458 fans watched the game, which would have been the second biggest attendance in the division above and 5th biggest in League One.

Where do the two dropped points leave us? We move down a postion to 6th with York, Stevenage and Oxford winning, Mansfield drawing and Kettering lost at home, commencing the start of their fall back down the table now that Cooper has gone to Peterborough.

For the record: P20 W10 D6 L4 F27 A20 Pts 36. In fact, since Mick left we have had only one defeat in ten games.

By the way I popped into the club shop before the game where the tills were ringing with joy now the new kit was in. I went up to one of the lads at the back who was minding the stock and said to him “Do you think people have noticed that the sleeves are black? Shall I tell ’em or will you?” He chuckled and said we have to get rid of this batch before we get the right ones in and they are hoping that no one will mind or think that it is a very dark blue indeed.

Mansfield away on Tuesday and what we would do for a repeat of the 4-1. I suspect that Richard Money is not too far off having a side that can string toghether a good number of wins. There’s never been a better time to start.

PS I was desperately trying to avoid the headline “Cambridge give Luton the blues”.

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Cambridge tomorrow

Richard Money has nearly got a full squad to choose from tomorrow, a luxury dear Mick never got. He said in the press conference that he is likely to pick a similar XI to the Grays victory and that stability and working towards a settled team is an option now that he has seen everyone play.

I suspect this means further marginalisation for Asa Hall, Rossi Jarvis and Rio.

Another thing he mentioned in his press conference was that Martin Ling’s teams like to play football the right way. Excuse me? I recall the Leyton Orient team that Ling brought here a couple of years ago. They were a dirty, nasty little team, constantly niggling our players and feigning injury. Presumably RM wasn’t at that game.

One thing in our favour is that chief scout Gary Brabin used to be manager at Cambridge and so should know most of the players inside out.

I enjoyed the “Time of their Lives” programme on Sky Sports earlier this week. Ricky Hill is my all time favourite player so it was good to see him, Bruno and Fozzie back reminiscing about the olden days and our glorious past. All of them appeared to be good mates and they were all at the club for long enough to create life long friendships. I don’t remember Bruno’s punch to flatten Alvin Martin, but it sounds like a good’un. I seem to recall the Steins were from a boxing or sporting family in South Africa, so it may be that Bruno was the wrong one for the dopey scouse to antagonise.

Back to tomorrow’s game. Probably time for a prediction. It would be good to keep up the winning ways and to control the game. I don’t think Cambridge have been much good on their travels so hopefully a nice, tidy 2-0 will do the job. Mark my words though, one of these days soon we are really going to click and one of these teams is going to get a real rugby score style hiding. Perhaps Forest Green on the 19th December? I don’t know, but someone is going to get stuffed one of these days soon.

Just checked the forecast and it is looking pretty messy for tomorrow – so I won’t be standing outside having a pint.

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Strange

I thought the new away shirts were white with dark blue sleeves and orange trim.

My new one has just plopped through the door and the sleeves are most definitely black. Now don’t be telling me it is navy. I’m wearing something navy blue. The damn sleeves are black I tell you.

Disappointed.

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Grays under Pressure

Six more changes for today, and in quite terrible conditions the mighty Hatters did a professional job on lowly Grays.

Goals from Craddock – yes Tommy Craddock – and Kevin Gallen six minutes either side of the break put Grays out of their misery. Grays were timewasting from the third minute and got their just-desserts. They are a weak team though, and I am quite sure that under normal conditions we would have put a load more past them. For the first quarter of an hour the game was just a matter of sloshing around in the surface water – we were lucky to get the game at all after the pitch inspection at 1:30 and the amount of rain that came down.

Kevin Pilkington replaced poor Shane Gore in goal. I suppose it seems daft that you would have a League Two keeper sitting on the bench, but I thought Shane did enough to keep his place. As it happens Pilks #2 had a good game with some important blocks. I think Grays only had one shot on target and Pilks #2 dealt with it all well enough. Some of his kicks were taken by the wind and were all over the shop – I swear one of them went through a 90 degree turn whilst another seemed to hold up and come back towards the keeper. Comedy indeed.

Pilks #1 started at right back, as he had last Saturday. Once again he was competant enough too.

Blackett started alongside White in defence and both were solid and sound.

Murray at left back played well against his nominal employers.

Gnapka started on the right and caused them plenty of trouble but to me seemed as if he spent most of the game being kicked. He was substitued by Jake Howells later on and looked relieved and the first thing he did was to check his shins to see if they were still in one piece.

The cup-final winning pair of Nicholls and Keane were in the centre of midfield. Keane being the more definsive minded of the too. He got stuck in and played well. Nico had a good game too – in fact it was his pass that set up the second goal. He ran and then threaded a pass to Gallen who worked for the opening then picked his spot perfectly and slotted it past the keeper.

I thought Nico had a much better game and perhaps having Money as manager was the kick up the backside that the skipper needed.

Adam Newton started on the left and had a good game. It was his run down the left passing it to Gallen who crossed to Craddock who scored his first goal in open play for what seems like months. Oh it is months… Newton also had a good shot at the end, he is having an excellent season for us.

Up front the same pairing as for last week and Wednesday, Gallen and Craddock continued their successful partnership. Craddock was brought off for the very lively Nwokeji who made a real nuisance of himself. As the wind died down for the last few minutes the Hatters were able to play their passing game and control the game.

The interesting thing was who was left out. Burgess, Rio, and Jarvis weren’t even on the bench. Forgotten men? Or tactical decision. I cannot imagine for a second that Burgess’s omission was anything other than tactical. The other two though, I wonder if they are being marginalised? Early days of course. Money has made out he is a ‘horses for courses’ manager, picking a side to
win each game rather than finding his best XI and playing that. Like I say, early days. The important thing is that we are winning games we would have lost or struggled to win under Mick. They are demonstrating a new found professionalism and in the last two games the ability to protect a lead.

Apart from Oxford each of the top eight won, meaning that all our positons stayed the same. Only eight points between us and Oxford now. Cambridge next Saturday, I’m not sure my heart could withstand another 4-3 thriller. One bit of good news is that Mark Cooper has gone to Peterborough so perhaps Kettering will lose a bit of momentum now.

When the PA announcer let us know the home man of the match we did the usual ‘who?’ – he repeated it, tongue firmly in cheek, and we all went ‘who?’ again and so he repeated it a third time. Greeted by another ‘who?’. Excellent. You don’t get that in the Football league.

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