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.