Pitch Battle

Luton’s bog of a pitch has come under a bit of stick from Mr Money.

“If you want to play good football, you want good players and you want to see a proper game then you need a decent surface.

“Somewhere along the line we are going to be at a crossroads with that but the people who have watched Luton for a lot of years are going to demand a certain type of football. It’s why we’ve recruited a certain type of player and maybe the pitch is the last piece in that jigsaw to make it all come together.

“I’m not trying to make excuses but that’s the way it is. The top and bottom of it is that I don’t want to compromise my beliefs and the way that the club has built its history.”

Poor Richard Bird, he has done the best with the resources available to him, with all of the rain – then snow, then rain – our poor pitch is starting to resemble the boggy mess I remember before we put the plastic pitch down. What I can draw encouragement from is not necessarily his whinge about the pitch, as we can’t do too much about that between now and May but his desire to play proper football and also his acknowledgement that we are a footballing club and that he wishes to uphold that tradition.

PS The move went well – BT have been magnificent in putting in my new phone line, sad to say that Sky and their shoddy sub-contractors AVC have been worse than piss-poor. Clearly a month’s notice to get an engineer here to put a dish on the side of the house was not enough.

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Dons Teach Luton a Lesson

Another home game where we had most of the play and nearly all of the chances, but which ended in defeat. Today was our game in hand on those around us, an excellent chance to put pressure on those above us, especially in view of the swapping of hats once the Chester points come off. Having three points today would have made a real difference. We fluffed the golden chance.

I was fortunate to get to go to the game especially as it is the last weekend before we move on Tuesday. I’m kind of wishing I hadn’t bothered. Mrs Mosque said it was okay, but then Mrs Mosque laboured all day ‘boxing up’ entire rooms whilst I indulged in my favourite hobby, a hobby which unlike airfix kits or stamp collecting contrives to piss you off for days at a time.

Watching the players warm up at the start was the usual dodge-ball lottery behind the goal. Today’s winner was MBH who managed to get the ball at the back of the Upper Tier of the Kenny alarming an old gentleman enjoying a pre-match cup of coffee.

It was a peculiar formation – Money managed to incorporate all of his in-form midfielders, and played Nico too. It was 4-4-2, but I think it was supposed to be a diamond formation. The danger of a diamond formation is of course that it exposes your full backs too much if the opposition play two banks of four, and it makes a side prone to a counter attack, which we managed to demonstrate quite well. Hall was on the left of the diamond and Jarvis on the right, bizarrely Nico was the front of the four and Keane, (who was outstanding apart from a rubbish pass towards the end) was in the holding role.

Now Hall is no left sided player, and he was made to play the ball with his left or cut inside time and time again. Rossi Jarvis meanwhile is so much better in the middle – either holding or behind the front two. Keano plays well in the holding role, but poor Nico was a fish out of water behind the front two today. He started brightly and played an excellent couple of through balls, but it largely went to pot after that, apart from a splendid left footed cross in the second half. Once again poor Nico was slow to close down the Wimbledon players which gave them more room to play it out of defence and to put us into danger quicker.

It seemed so strange when you have two midfielders tailor-made for the role behind the front two (eg Hall and Jarvis) to play neither there.

Hall was often the target man for Tyler’s restarts, this I think worked quite well, he is good in the air and punches above his weight, and to be fair to Money, because he was playing more in the middle than wide on the left, his knockdowns and nod-ons often found a Luton man.

So, Tyler started in goal. Newton played at right back again, with Pilks and Kovacs in the middle and Murray on the left.

Newton is a curious fellow. Rarely have I seen a Town player at a lower ebb; his early-season cockiness and confidence dissolved by missing sitter at Southampton. He got forward more and more in the second half, he overlapped nicely too – good Lord he even got some crosses in, but too often fannied about with the ball on the edge of the box or when defending failed to close his man down. Some put Wimbledon’s second goal down to Kovacs’ inability to turn, which is true enough, but he would never have been put in that position had Newton’s saunter down the middle of the field on a promising run, not caught him so wholly out of position when the attack broke down. On one occasion in the second half, Newton overlapped got into the box and had the opportunity to cross the ball to MBH but instead chose to shoot and like so many of these opportunities ended up doing neither.

Up front came the returning Gallen, who replaced Hatch in the line up (Hatch having limped off in the last game) and Craddock played alongside.

Gallen had an excellent first half, linking up play well and holding the ball up well. He featured in every attacking move we had, though he faded when up front in the second half, and ended up playing ‘in the hole’ which of course he excelled at. But he was tired at the end.

Craddock worked and worked. Tireless effort. Full marks for the effort, not quite so many with the attainment. Yes he did get the goal – but in the second half when we were pressing forwards more and more, too often he fannied around on the edge of the box, looking for the clever one-two rather than bearing down on goal. Too many of his passes went to the opposition at the very time we could least afford them not to.

We seemed to revert to the desire to pass the ball into the net, which prevailed for the whole of Mick’s reign. Too many times today did we get as far as the 18 yard box, only to stop, turn pass the ball across the front of the defence – and then again across further, the ball making its way to the other side of the field, in stages, looking for an opening that inevitably didn’t quite appear and the attack would break down.

Enough of the whinging – how about a description of some of the play?

We had a couple of chances within the first two minutes, Jarvis heading close from a Murray cross, and then Hall just shooting over after being played in by Craddock. It was the start by a confident team, and you could tell that the chaps fancied themselves to do well. Wimbledon had started slowly and looked a bit flat.

Shortly after that we had a free kick on the edge of the box. Nico and Craddock stood over the ball, Craddock playing it to Gallen for one of his pile drivers which snuck on the nearside of the wall and would have gone in but for an excellent save by Pullen.

Kovacs then got onto a Nico corner but the ball was cleared without threatening the goal.

Gallen and Craddock linked up really well for Craddock to have an excellent strike, but again another excellent save from Pullen denied him a deserved goal.

After about half an hour Wimbledon did what so many have come and done this year, which is to score against the run of play. Taylor got round Nichols with ease and played a ball which managed to elude Kovacs. Elder (who I think is on loan from Stevenage?) fluffed his first go but poked his leg at it from the 6 yard box at and seemingly in slow motion the ball ran towards the line, Tyler got a hand to it but wasn’t quite quick enough to palm the ball out and sort of dragged it over the line with his momentum. The sequence happened in such slow motion that even the away fans were caught out. I think they only sussed that the ball had actually crossed the line when Tyler picked it up and disconsolately punted it back towards them, and then there was a loud, but much delayed roar.

Fortunately my decision not to go for a pee was the correct one – Craddock (who I had tipped to score today after we saw a character called Craddock appear in an old Dr Who movie this morning – omens are everything) nipped into poach a goal after Pullen palmed away Nico’s mis-kicked shot.
Wimbledon then had a couple more chances, both fell to Elder I think, and fortunately both missed, again poor old Nico was allowing them too much space to pass from the back. Tyler made a good save.

Just before half time Craddock was hacked down two footed by Taylor I think it was. It was at the very least a booking and a free kick. You’ve guessed it – we got neither.

Again in the second half we started brightly Murray shooting over and Hall mistiming a header and heading it over. Wimbledon wasted time, went down injured, broke up play and put more and more men behind the ball. Whenever they had a substitution the player about to be substituted first ensured he jogged over towards the opposite flank from the benches and thus contrived to waste more than the alleged 30 seconds the ref is supposed to add on.

Banana-boots MBH came on for Nico. Craddock switched to the left in a more conventional 4-4-2, Hall switched into the middle and Jarvis stayed on the right. MBH looked very lively today; in fact he looked the liveliest he has ever done for us. He was a breath of fresh air when he came on and his increased pace immediately paid dividends and Wimbledon had no answer for it at any time. He carved holes in the channels (I hate that word) and for once enabled us to play the ball through for a striker to run onto it. Unfortunately as soon as he would get into a good position inevitably the lay off would break down and so we never really capitalised.

Wimbledon then made us pay for all of the dilly dallying around their box. As I said earlier, after a laudable but out of position charge forward by Newton through the middle, the Dons got the ball out to Kedwell who had run into the inside left channel (argh – that word again) and Kovacs who turns like a block of flats was easily passed by Kedwell and he slotted an excellent finish past Tyler into the far post.

Hatch replaced Asa Hall (which was slightly odd when he is a goal-scoring midfielder) and played up front with MBH. Gallen slotted back into the hole and Craddock remained on the left. Cue more chances, more running at goal, but no actual shots on goal. Lots of huffing and puffing and drama, but no one could get into the position to knock one in.

Little Jakey Howells came on for Jarvis and played wide on the left. Craddock moved over to the right for his third position of the day. A bit of genuine width now on both flanks and again it gave us good positions, especially with Murray and Newton regularly overlapping now, as they had almost no defensive work to do. Howells played Gallen in – but he couldn’t get on the shot, Newton played Hatch in but the centre half denied him with a good defensive header.

I could see Money thinking – “ah – width – perhaps that’s the way…why didn’t I think of that first?”

The last counter attack from Wimbledon saw Kovacs a bit lucky to stay on the field, Taylor (who if you recall was himself quite fortunate still to be on the pitch) was in on goal only to be barged to the ground by Kovacs who was the last man. He got a yellow.

So a roundly disappointing afternoon which promised so much but delivered so little. Wimbledon weren’t the hoofing, cheating thugs of the crazy gang days, but they weren’t no angels either. And their fans have to be the ugliest in the league. What is it about that part of London?

We didn’t have the boos or the jeers of the Ebbsfleet defeat, because we had played well and some of our players had excellent games – but there weren’t enough clear cut chances.

Mind you listening to Money afterwards you would have thought it was our best game of the season. His comments about our performance were as peculiar as the Ebbsfleet ones were. Whilst Ebbsfleet was the worst performance ever, he had nothing but praise for the team for this afternoon’s defeat. To be fair to them, it wasn’t a clueless, spineless performance like some of the defeats were, earlier in the season – it was just all too inevitable that we would get caught on the break, against the run of play whilst doing our best not to score at the other end.

Our strikers are a funny bunch.

Craddock has good technique and a good eye for goal, but no real pace. He has spent too much of his career at Luton on the wing, I am sure if we looked at his goal scoring ratio for when he does actually start in the middle as part of a front two, it is not too bad.

Gallen isn’t tall enough to be a proper target man, but his skills and touch, experience and strength enable him to almost play like one. Again he doesn’t have the pace to outrun defenders.

Hatch has shown that he is a proper nuisance and a good target man. We are always a different side when we have a proper threat at set pieces or indeed there is a chance of winning a header from a long kick by the keeper.

MBH has more pace than any of the strikers other than Nwokeji, and is tall and seemingly strong but doesn’t play as a target man. He strikes me as less of a natural in front of goal than say Gallen, Rio or Craddock, but he must have something as he got all of those goals for Kiddy.

Nwokeji has real pace and showed in the cup game that he is a good finisher.

Rio Charles knows where the goal is and is goal hungry, but again doesn’t have real pace to trouble defences. I have made it clear in these pages that I think Rio has been quite hard done by the present regime and I would think it unlikely that he plays for us too many times again (notwithstanding his present injury). Which is a shame – he will get a hatful for some lucky team.

Therefore, unless we play Hatch and Nwokeji together, maximising two key attributes: a header-winning target man with a lightning fast striker – we don’t have the pace or the edge to make the most of Hatch’s holding up or nods on.

Or, if Hatch doesn’t play, then we don’t have anyone to aim for and either end up losing possession from long kicks played towards a 5’ 10 striker trying to out jump a 6’ 3 defender, or we have to try threading the ball through the defence onto two strikers who don’t have the pace to turn the defenders around.

What I think I am saying is that we have too many forward men who are too alike. Good finishers, but without real pace. It means we can’t play on the counter attack effectively, and it means we have to play a fairly slow build up to get enough midfielders forward to look to get in enough positions to get the front two in. If you have strikers who can get on the end of crosses then you must have two wing men to get the ball into the box for them to pounce on – today, we played a narrow formation which was the worst of both worlds, two slowish strikers without any wingers.

It is hardly surprising then that none of our strikers will ever be in contention for the golden boot award, especially with the styles we have been playing at home and the tactics we use away – ie playing 4-5-1 and pressing the opposition forcing them to go long and making it easy for our centre halves to pick up the pieces.

So, a frustrating day really. Again, I hope it is only a blip, rather than a trend. To use a cliché there is a lot of football still to be played this season – we have still got a third of the season to go.

Another home game on Tuesday and the instant opportunity to make amends. I definitely won’t get to go to that one as I will be in the new Mosque home that night, running around like a mad thing trying to decipher what Mrs Mosque has written on the boxes and finding a box of jumpers instead of the kettle. Sod’s law of course – we will win 6-0 and it’ll be the performance of the season. Let’s hope…let’s just hope…

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There but for the Grace of God (and 2020)…

It looks like Chester City is nearly dead. It remains suspended from the competition and the next few days/weeks are the final twitches from the near lifeless body.

A sad day for a proper football club recently run by idiots. Ring any bells? Is there a common theme?

How many more jokers (like Pinkney) are allowed to buy football clubs before the football authorities say “er no – hang on – you can’t control the club, because it will cost you x over the next 3 years and you only have access to y – oh and you’re an idiot as well so you are doubly unqualified”.

Even Chester fans are calling for the club to be killed off/put out of its misery so that they can start afresh.

The question is with the likes of Pompey, Cardiff, Southend, Crystal Palace etc in dire straits how long before another one goes under?

Makes you grateful that the pesky kids at 2020 were the successful bidders when we were in admin doesn’t it?



FOOTBALL CONFERENCE STATEMENT

The Board of the Football Conference today (18th February 2010); met with representatives of Chester City (2004) FC, when the club pleaded guilty to all five counts with which they were charged.

These included those in respect of failing to fulfil fixtures, non payment of Football Creditors, failing to attend satisfactorily to competition business and bringing the competition into disrepute.

At the conclusion of a lengthy meeting, the representatives were advised that the Board failed to be convinced with their presentation that the club were able to demonstrate the club’s ability to fulfil future fixtures in the competition and as a consequence informed the club of their finding in relation to Conference Rule 8.6.

In compliance with Article 5.2 of the Football Conference, the Board will recommend to its Member Clubs that Chester City (2004) FC should face expulsion from membership.

To facilitate this recommendation the Board are now legally mandated to convene a General Meeting of Member Clubs to, receive, deliberate and vote on the said recommendation to expel in consideration of Rule 8.6 and Article 5.2.

Until the meeting is held the club will remain suspended from the competition and their representatives suitably advised as to any future plans or presentations they may well wish to pursue against the recommendation of the Board to its Member Clubs.

The date and venue of the meeting is subject to final clarification.

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Another Trip to the Beach

Having not actually seen any sand whilst we were at Eastbourne, the pitch at York more than made up for it. I’ve known less sandy deserts.

Just a short report this evening, I didn’t get home until nearer three than two, having managed to get lost on the way back (for the third trip running) and then I couldn’t get off to sleep until Mrs Mosque’s alarm went off at 5:15am which, tuned to Radio 4 sent me off to sleep immediately. So in the end I had fewer than three hours kip and have been grumpier than a bear with a sore head who is being poked by kids with sticks whilst being forced to watch daytime television.

I thought, bearing in mind the sandy pitch cut up more as the game went on, we did pretty well. Both sides had plenty of chances, and the good Lord intervened a few times to prolong our incredible and surreal run of games away from the Kenny without conceding a goal.

The team was Tyler, the ‘settled’ back four of Newton, Pilks, Kovacs, and Murray – and a midfield five of Jarvis on the right, Hall, Keano, Nico, with Craddock on the left. Hatch returned up front.

The betting man in me made £20 on the night. A side who hadn’t lost at home all season were playing against a side who have been unbeaten away since God was a boy. For once I put a few bob on the correct score, rather than ‘laying’ Luton and 0-0 seemed the logical choice. If only all bets were that logical!

For a 0-0 it was a good game. Both sides played well. York had more chances than us, but we played the better football. York were a bit more direct, and bearing in mind the size of their strikers and their team in general you can see why. Hatch was marked very well and alas went off making a challenge to win the ball back in the second half.

In the first 45 mins, I felt we played the best football and had the best opportunities but failed to make the most of them (does this ring a bell?). We controlled the game because we were packing and the midfield. However, because the midfield was packed we failed to link up sufficiently with Hatch, who was isolated, and was being well marked.

Nico was doing what he does best and worst, again. His last-ditch challenges and clearances once again made a huge difference but he was running around well off the pace again. It says a lot for him that he manages to keep his temper so (relatively) well these days. It must be so frustrating for him, being made to chase the ball around the pitch by players who wouldn’t have been fit to tie his boots five years ago. Good for him anyway – I think Money is shaving off some of the dafter points to his game: we haven’t seen any match-losing last minute passes to the opposition for a while or indeed two footed lunges in the box in the last minute – but he is on the transfer list and has that hanging over him and yet he hasn’t allowed his game to drop because of it, in fact you could say that it has picked up in the last few weeks. Notwithstanding this, Nico was substituted for Blackett in the second half, shoring up the left hand side of the defence and giving him a run-out too. This meant Craddock moved up front with MBH who had come on for Liam Hatch. MBH seemed a bit more lively in this game than in the last, but still owes us a few goals methinks.

Gnapka had replaced Hall but didn’t make too much of an impact other than a nice move where he fed in Craddock who after a deft bit of skill let it run too far and the keeper picked it up.

The second half was largely York carving out chances, but our defence held firm time and time again. Pilkington and Kovacs were immense at the heart of defence. Keane played pretty well, closing people down where Nico didn’t; Jarvis was quiet on the right, but made a bit more impact when Claude came on. York had a number of opportunities but we held firm and the result was a fair one. I didn’t mind coming away from York with a draw, especially against such a well drilled and strong team who would look perfectly at ease in the division above.

For the record our away results in the league since and including Cambridge have been:

26/9 Cambridge 4-3 win (Harford)
10/10 Kidderminster 2-1 win (Neilson)
17/10 Altrincham 1-0 win (Neilson)
14/11 Grays 2-0 win (Money)
5/12 Chester 0-0 draw (Money)
23/1 Gateshead 1-0 win (Money)
27/1 Histon 2-0 win (Money)
6/2 Barrow 1-0 win (Money)
13/2 Eastbourne 1-0 win (Money)
16/2 York City 0-0 draw (Money)

That’s all I am writing for now as I am fighting to stay awake! How some folk manage to work nights goodness only knows, my respect goes to them.

I’m going to miss the next two games, which is annoying, especially as they are at home, and I can’t recall when I last missed a home game. However, for once, there are more important things at hand, we are moving home next week (further away from Watford) and so there is packing and moving to be done! My internet connection will be down from Monday until next Thursday and so I’ll be ‘off air’ until Saturday 27th. I’ll still post on Saturday, though it won’t be a match report as such (a bit like tonight I hear you say) just my impressions I suppose.

Right – off to bed – I may be gone some time…

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A day at the Seaside

About 80 miles to the west, Southampton and Portsmouth had been thrashing out a local derby. It was definitely the south coast’s main feature to our B movie. Quite surreal to be watching our club hoof it around a freezing cold and muddy field in Eastbourne when 25 months earlier we had graced Anfield.

A visit to Eastbourne meant three things: a detour to Lewes to meet an old friend, a chance to have a couple of pints of Harveys Ale and a trip to the brewery shop, and another opportunity to get completely lost in a strange seaside town I had never been to before. Fortunately I didn’t miss any of the game.

Just as well, because most of the best play was in the first ten minutes, capped by an excellent Asa Hall goal from outside the box, clubbed into the corner, giving the keeper Knowles no chance.

We started where we left off against Oxford, all drive and determination. Before he scored Hall had already brought off a good save by Knowles following a Craddock run and cross.

The first ten minutes were all us, but then Tyler was brought into action having to block a chance from their centre-half Pullen at the far post from a corner.

I made a note then there was a lull at this point and I think it was here that we transformed from the confident side that took on and beat Oxford, to the competent side which has gone all of these games away from home without conceeding a goal.

Hall had another chance from a Nicholls corner.

Taylor had an opportunity for Eastborne, Kovacs being caught square (again) but he shot wide.

After about half an hour Jarvis got a bloody nose for his trouble and wandered around like a window-licker with toilet paper stuffed up his nose.

A good move started with Craddock dribbling the ball into the box before crossing it to Gnapka, Elphick (I think) cleared it, only as far as Nico who then played Gnapka in for an excellent chance which the Frenchman drove wide.

Just before half time the strangely named but constant pain in the neck Enver-Marum had a chance to level it, before Tyler pulled off an excellent save.

Half time then, and as ever, we had had lots of half chances and ensured both Knowles and the little man who retrieved the ball out of the car park both earned their money.

Before I carry on I’d better name the team. Tyler remained between the posts, Newton stayed at right back, Kovacs and Pilks in the middle and Murray on the left. A settled back five then. In the middle a threesome of Nico, Hall and Jarvis, with Jarvis on the right of the three, and Craddock was on the left, but slightly further forwards, but not quite up front. MBH started up front in his ugly yellow boots, but took them off at half-time fortunately. It was tricky for MBH because whilst he was involved in much of the play in the first half in the second half he was increasingly isolated, and not being a Hatch, couldn’t get on the end of the long balls or hold the play up as well. That said, we did play some good intricate football today and often it was the pitch which confounded us.

Apart from the attempt just before half time the Eastbourne Borough threat had subsided as the half wore on. However, they almost equalised from the kick off – the lively Benjamin shooting wide.

Pilks then played a good ball to Hall who got it out to Craddock who linked up with MBH but the ball bobbled and it went into the car park again.

We started to kill off the game by pushing up and causing Eastbourne to go longer and longer, this meant that all Kovacs and Pilks had to do was to pick up the pieces which they ably did.

Craddock scrambled a ball to MBH who got it back to Craddock who crossed it wide to Gnapka who messed up again and tripped over his feet.

MBH laid it wide to Craddock, Hall tried to flick it to Murray who was overlapping (I kid you not) Gnapka picked up the ball and passed to our old friend Asa who shot from 30 yards this time – having mastered the 20 yard effort earlier.

Glenn Austin tripped Murray as he was threatening to go around him and got the first yellow card of the game.

Then is was Jarvis’s turn to keep the little man who retrieved the balls busy, by launching one out of the ground after a long throw by Newton found its way to Jarvis from a mass of bodies. The ball must have bobbled on a cowpat I think.

Hall won a header and found Newton on the right, who in turn played in Jarvis, Pilkington played it forwards but lost possession – however Eastbourne just hoofed it when a proper counter attack would have been more effective.

To be honest I started drifting off at this point and started thinking about work and what time I will have to bunk off to get to York for 7:45.

MBH got to the byline and a right foot cross found Newton however it looped up and Knowles scrambled it away. The resultant shot took a deflection and we won a corner. Which Nico fluffed. He had another bite of the cherry but Knowles gathered easily.

Eastbourne struggled to find their men up front, their play usually broke up of its own accord – but where it didn’t Luton invariably did the simple things well at the back.

From a Luton throw on the right Jarvis passed the ball into the path of Gnapka who won a corner. Nico managed to reach Kovacs this time and it bounced out to Craddock who played a horrible slice into the car park. Cue the little man, who was working up quite a sweat.

Someone who hadn’t been working up a sweat was Mark Tyler who thankfully was alert enough to make an excellent save from Enver-Marum whose shot was heading for the top right corner from about 10 yards out.

MBH was replaced by Nwokeji with about 10 mins to go – as ever he made a nuisance of himself in the short time available to him.

Gnapka made a poor challange on Benjamin which was later than a late bus, and picked up a yellow card.

Elphick did an impersonation of dear Brko with an overhead kick but it was well saved by Tyler.

As usual Nico made lots of last ditch tackles and excellent blocks today, however it’s all the rest that so often lets him down. If I had to pick a Hatter to put his neck (or indeed any other part of his anatomy) on the line it would be Nico. If only he were a centre half, he could nod stuff away and get in the way all afternoon, without having to worry about the passing and catching up with the nippy midfielders of the world.

Apart from another couple of ballooned efforts from Craddock, that was about it – I must admit, it was one of those games that once we were one up the result didn’t really seem in doubt.

Having watched the team away from home a number of times under Money now, this seems to be the theme, keep it tidy at the back by denying the home side the opportunity to pass it around. A sort of stifling play. Not very pretty, but it has proven to be very effective. In fact it is now over 700 minutes without conceding a goal away from home in the league. That must be a club record by some distance I would have thought. We seem to have discovered a (not very pretty) methodology. If by following this methodology away from home it means we get to trade the likes of Grays, Salisbury and Eastbourne for the likes of Port Vale, Bradford and Northampton then so be it. Mind you, even that doesn’t seem terribly enticing.

Six points in six weeks against Eastbourne then – I do hope they don’t go bust and do a ‘Chester’ on us. How those St Evenage fans must be twitching at the thought of losing six points.

What a bad position Chester are in. To be wholly fair to the Conference organisers they have bent-over backwards to accommodate them this year. Allowing them to start the season late and now they have missed the last two games. The first because their players went on strike and now because the Police wouldn’t police the local derby and so the council shut the ground. It’s not looking good for them I must admit. Somehow though, I think the authorities will still manage to find a way of preventing them going out of existence. Which is the right thing, of course.

Looking at the forcast now, it looks like more snow on Tuesday, so that might just decide whether or not I nip off work early to set off for York. It might just tip the balance.

So we remain 5th, level on points with Rushden, but with a game in hand on them. As I said before we still are yet to play Stevenage, York, Mansfield and Rushden away. It is those fixtures, and perhaps the Chester expungification that will decide how far towards the top we go. You never know…

My thanks to all of you once again for leaving so many positive and constructive comments on the blog. In addition to those Hatters living abroad who post on here (and no, I don’t include Wales or Scotland in that) looking at that widget thing on the page it seems that I have regular visitors from the US, Canada, Albania (Albania!!) China, Japan, Malaysia, Qatar, Singapore and one has cropped up from South Africa, in addition to Spain, Austria, Sweden and France a bit closer to home.

Welcome one and all. It makes me feel very humble to think that people thousands of miles away in countries I will never get to visit take the trouble to read my rantings.

Come on you Hatters!

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Oxford lose their Cup Final

I understand that structural engineers have been called to the ground this evening to put the roof back on the Kenny End. It certainly hasn’t been raised like that since Brko’s winner against Hull. The reason? Keet’ Keane’s last-minute-of-extra-time-winner-direct-from-a-corner. Certainly one to tell the grandchildren about, and correct me if I’m wrong, the last time it has been done by a Luton player at home since Mossy did it in our first season back in the top flight, right in front of me at the Oak Road.

I knew it was a good omen when I followed Asa Hall into Luton in the car in the early evening. I was right behind him all the way up the Dunstable road from J11, until he cheekily ducked into the bus lane to go straight across the lights. I pulled alongside him and raised my fist in a greeting of solidarity and encouragement. Unfortunately, from his slightly alarmed face I think he thought I was waving my fist at him for ducking into the bus lane and cutting up the traffic, (which actually did him no good at all). I felt a bit bad as I drove up Chaul End Lane. The last thing I wanted was for dear Asa to be put off his game because he thought he had a nutter after him for some bad driving. I’m pleased to see that it didn’t put him off his game, well no more than usual anyway.

It was nice to get to the car park in one piece – you would have thought that there was a war on for all of the police cars and riot vans, ambulances and two fire engines that whizzed past.
As well as the police helicopter thing.

Bloody hell it was cold tonight. I must be getting old – I put three pairs of trousers on and I was still cold. After having a couple of pints we made our way to the stand to watch the players warming up. Once they had gone in, poor Happy Harry was felled by one of the mischievous Oxford subs. To his credit he got up and did a sort of “come on” “come on then” gesture to the player as if to ask him if he wanted to make something of it. That alone was worth the entrance fee. Needless to say, the Oxford player wanted nothing of it.

It was clear at this point that there would be a very decent crowd in, many of the seats near me that are usually unsold were filling up fast and there was a buzz and an electric atmosphere. We always say that a Tuesday night under the lights is special and this one was no exception.

And so on to the game. Tyler started between the sticks. Newton started at right back which was a shock. Presumably he was put there because of his pace, and to be fair to him he did alright. He made a couple of errors in the middle of the second half, but did all that could be expected of him, especially for a right back at this level, bearing in mind he was playing against a club that was top (at the time). Kovacs and Pilks were in the heart of the defence. Pilks made a few uncharacteristic errors during the game, including a host of dodgy back passes, but to be fair to him also made some excellent passes and a wonderful last ditch tackle. Kovacs is beginning to worry me a bit too, but more of that on another day. Murray was on the left and I’ll mention him later too.

On the left wing, still no start for Nelthorpe, instead Craddock out there again and played well. He cut inside on a couple of occasions towards the end of the second half and one shot hit the bar and the other brought off an excellent save from their keeper. It was as if he was sending a big hint. ‘Look what happens when I get into the middle boss’. Keane started in the middle with Nico and Jarvis was on the right. Hall played just behind Hatch who led the line with strength, committment and desire.

Luton started brightly and were in charge for the first 15 minutes, Jarvis played a cross in but no one could quite get on the end of it. However after about a quarter of an hour the mascot/winger Potter was suddenly one on one with Mark Tyler. Once again, just like Pilkington in the last home game, Tyler made a terrific save and kept the match on track.

On the game went – one thing I noticed was that Oxford were only getting the chance to shoot from outside the box (always a good sign) and that we were actually tidying up at the back very well. This is also a good sign. We were doing the simple things well and confidently.

Potter was their brightest player and in the first half caused us the most problems down the left. Fortunately for us, he doesn’t consider shooting on target an important part of his game. He went on an excellent run in the ‘inside left’ position, only to bury the ball in the side netting.

Shortly after that Hall and Newton linked up delightfully on the right wing – Hall lost the ball but Nico followed up and put Craddock in with a good ball his shot went narrowly across the face of the goal. Oooooh.

We were closing them down well in the middle of the park – epitomised by Jarvis who was both tackling and winning the ball well as well as playing one or two georgeous through balls. He had a bit of a ding dong with their lad Bulman (I think) a bit of toe to toe/handbags for a second. Jarvis was provoked but reacted badly. Fortunately, on this occasion the ref kept his cards well stowed.

If my recollection is right it was about now that George Pilkington did his match-saving tackle from Potter again I think. Perfectly timed, gave Potter no excuse to go down for a penalty, for he surely would have done if he could.

Just before half time was when Craddock had his two excellent chances, cutting inside he played a one two with Hatch and shot and thwacked the cross bar (you would have heard it in the Arndale), as if it had offended him earlier. Then within seconds dribbled past two defenders and shot again, this time winning a corner from an excellent save by their keeper, Clarke.

We were playing some good football, and though it was 0-0 at half time, there was reason to believe that the bright open football we were playing would bring salvation in the second half. Clearly the crowd sensed this and sensed the effort the team were putting in. Something special was on…

Half time, and Richard Money made a change. Off came Nico, who had made some good passes, a couple of outstanding blocks and was putting lots of effort in. He was replaced by Claude who switched to wide right, and so Jarvis switched to the middle to resume his partnership with Keane. If you have been wondering who our best two midfielders are tonight answered your question. Jarvis showed why he is playing for England C and Keano worked hard, and did the scoring-thing at the end. Pilks took the arm-band.

We started even brighter in the second half than first, with an early corner, taken by Keane now promoted to corner taker in Nico’s absence.

Then after about 50 minutes the ref began to lose patience and started to get his cards out. First of all Keet’ Keane was booked for what I presume was a late challenge on Hargreaves. I actually thought he had got the ball, and that the Oxford player made a meal of it. Kovacs was the next in the book. I must admit I couldn’t quite see what he had done wrong, and so will welcome anyone letting me know what his heinous crime was. It was about this time that Liam Hatch, who to date had lead the line really well and who had been in the wars, started limping. After about 5 mins he was taken off, to be replaced by M B-H who was wearing horrific yellow boots. The sooner he gets rid of them the better.

Barnes-Homer looked lively and added another dimension to the forward line. Whilst he wasn’t a target man at restarts in the way Hatch is, his pace and drive were a constant threat. By this time most of the ball was still on the floor and on three occasions M B-H turned defender quite easily.

The next big chance was after some lovely one touch football. Gnapka was put in by Jarvis (a la Burgess through ball against Rochdale) and the ball came out and bounced nicely for Asa Hall who shot high into the Kenny End. At the end of the game Hall said that he would have hit the target but for being distracted by thoughts of a driving incident before the game.

Bugger – with 15 mins to go they scored, wholly against the run of play (how many times has that happened since Port Vale beat us 3-1 in August 08?) A ball was played across Murray to Potter, Murray falling asleep for a second allowed Potter to get to the ball which he duly crossed and the ball was poked in from the melee. It was undeserved. Oxford to that point had been a competant but niggly, nasty side whose shots on goal had all been outside the box. They had also been timewasting, more blatantly in the second half and this was a cruel kick in the teeth from a side quite happy to cheat.

I felt let down and disappointed, but inside I sort of felt confident that we were making enough chances to sneak one.

Straight after that Nelthorpe came on (at last) for Asa Hall. Asa had worked hard in the game, but it was time to bring Craddock into the middle with Barnes-Homer.

Then it was all Luton – if I could remember all of the chances I’d be working for the Telegraph or the Times. We pressed and pressed. I recall one of Newtons shots hitting a group of players in the box, but actually striking one of their hands before going out for a corner. I remember another chance where a shimmying M B-H was put in by Jarvis, who by this stage was pulling all of the midfield strings. I recall that Gnapka had a header as time ticked into the 5 mins the dodgy ref who had been giving throws the wrong way all of the second half allowed.

Then three minutes into extra time a corner, from a Nelthorpe shot which was charged down – Keane took it and I think Craddock nodded it on for Pilks who was standing right on the corner of the penalty box to nod it in over the defenders into the net. Cue Pandemonium a la Brko. Strangely their keeper had the habit of not being on the line at corners, so as long as you kept it away from him you were in with a chance. This we did very well and he was absolutely nowhere near where Pilks headed the ball in from. Ironically, Clarke, spending most of the set pieces off his line, managed to get further from his goal line in 90 minutes than dear Marlon Beresford did for the last two years of his contract.

So, I thought, 3 minutes of extra time down, however, we must fancy this even though there are only 2 mins left. It was all us, and had been for an excellent second half, and we were going forward. What if? No. That sort of thing doesn’t happen to Luton.

So – with 5 minutes already gone, we got another corner – again on the right. Keano took it again, and obligingly the keeper stood on his 6 yard line rather than the goal line. Keane swung it in from the right towards the far post and failed to find any of the heads of all of the oncoming strikers, and it also eluded the outstretched hand of Clarke their keeper (bizarrely diving to his right) and it curled into the top corner of the net straight from the corner.

Cue Pandemonium #2 only more mental. A game that had been lost two minutes earlier was now won. Incredibly. Keane was engulfed by the Kenny End and emerged to find that the ref was booking him for a second time and sending him off. I’m not sure what he was booked for – but I suspect the ref thought it was for excessive celebration though Keane could hardly have done anything about it as he was subsumed by the crowd. I also think that you have to be pretty clueless to fail to appreciate the emotion of the moment, and what it meant to the crowd. To book Keane at that point was just petty and childish.

He traipsed off, my little flat-footed hero, to a standing ovation (okay, we were all standing anyway) and with a memory which we will all be able to share for many seasons to come.

Seconds later the ref blew the whistle from the restart and we had beaten the top club 2-1.

I hope that my report conveys a little of the atmosphere and passion that the crowd demonstrated, especially in the second half. If you have not been there, then being at the Kenny, in the evening, under the floodlights with a big crowd and a magic win against a decent team is something truly special. It makes all of the rubbish and disappointment that goes before all worthwhile.

Lessons learnt: We looked much better with Jarvis and Keane together in midfield. Keane wins the ball Jarvis distributes it. A good pairing and our best pairing. Having Hall on the bench just makes us a stronger team. Nelthorpe looked good on the left, Claude was, well, Claude on the right. Having two up front is better – M B-H looked okay, but Craddock was outstanding. Poor Nwokeji didn’t even make the bench. I have my doubts about Kovacs. I think Kovacs is Hungarian for t.r.o.u.b.l.e but it hasn’t surfaced quite yet.

Not just for his goal but Keane was outstanding today, he was as good as that Halifax advert is bad. He was patting his badge this evening, which was not quite kissing it but as near as we get in Bedfordshire. I do hope he signs his new contract soon.

So – with that result we are up to 5th. We are 11 points behind St Evenage but have two games in hand on them, and are yet to play them away. 5 wins out of 6. If we continue this form we will be there or thereabouts. Just as we hoped. We have just got to keep on winning, keep on maintaining this momentum.

Eastbourne away on Saturday – presumably they will have a few more at home than the minibus-load they sent after Christmas.

All in all a good night for the Hatters, and we showed a consistent spirit, drive and determination that we haven’t seen for a long time.

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A Barrow Victory for Luton

The last time I visited Barrow I was eight years old and I remember two things about it. It was largely brown and it has an excellent toy shop which sold Subbuteo. Well, thirty something years later, I couldn’t find the toy shop, and little else had changed. My mood wasn’t helped by a dodgy satnav and getting wholly lost. I did get there in time to find surprisingly few changes to the team which lost against Ebbsfleet last time.

Tyler was back, and a welcome sight it was too, though his kicking hasn’t improved in the long break he has had.

Keet’ Keane was right back, Pilks and Kovacs were in the middle, and Murray was on the left.

In the middle were Pinky and Perky Hall and Nico, with Gnapka back on the right and surprisingly Adam Newton on the left. This was a surprise and a disappointment. Why play Newton there when he has been off form recently, had an absolute shocker last week and would be playing out of position? Nelthorpe has looked lively each time he has come on and is a left winger by trade. Oh well, ours not to reason why… Up top were Liam Hatch and Tommy Craddock. M B-H was off sick. His mum had sent a note.

The match started in sunshine and got increasinly foggy (at least I hope it was fog and not some radioactive mist from Sellafield) which was how the game was, but in reverse. If you see what I mean. The match started foggy, but with a sunny ending.

It was quite a familar performance to those who have followed the Hatters on the road this year. ‘Professional’ is how Mr Money calls them, but it basically translates as lots of huffing and puffing and plenty of half chances.

Apart from the first corner, Nico’s set pieces seemed to be clicking, a free kick found Pilks’ head nicely, but alas he headed over.

Newton had a sniff after a poor back pass gave him a chance against the keeper, but he was snuffed out and the ball ran to Tommy Craddock, who feeling sorry for the keeper, seemed to pass it back to him. Barrow were direct and physical, ‘typical’ non-league so it was a sort of justice when Bolland had to be taken off after clashing heads with Hatch, I think it was. Like a lot of northern chaps, good at dishing it out, but not quite so good at taking it!

A long hoof and a nod on, caught us out, just last last week and I thought “here we go again” as Chadwick strode into the box. Fortunately his shot ended up somewhere near the lakes.

Chadwick is one of those players who we seem to have been playing a lot recently. Perhaps his own fall from better days has mirrored ours, and he is working his way down the divisions too.

Craddock had another half chance and fluffed it, but at least he was getting some chances to fluff. Apart from an excellent run and shot by Claude down the right, ending up with Hall flashing wide/high that was about it in the first half. End to end with lots of stuff in the air, but not much to show for it.

We started much, much brighter in the second half and looked as if we wanted to take the game to Barrow at long last. Hatch, Craddock and Gnapka both having chances. But still no goal came.

Nwokeji came on for Newton with about half an hour to go. Along with the rest of us, the linesman would have been relieved that Newton went off because it meant he wouldn’t be flagging for offside so often. MN made an immediate impact with a shot from the edge of the box. We switched to a 4-3-3 and looked better for having the pace of Nwokeji troubling the part-timers defence. Jarvis came on about 10 minutes later and had a good game and looked in excellent touch and form.

Barrow had a couple of chances in a short space of time – Jones fluffed a chance after Pilks clashed with Tyler. Tyler then had to make his only real contribution in the game, which was an excellent block. Barrow were suddenly on top for the first spell in the game, as it got increasingly foggy.

Then one of those strange twists of fate that they make films out of. Hatch was ready to be substuited, not because lack of effort, but because the poor lad has just come back from injury and was flagging a little, with Nelthorpe ready to replace him. Claude had taken a knock from Jellyman their left back, and so hobbled off, leaving Hatch in place and Nelthorpe on the left.

This change brought the decisive spell of play from which we didn’t look back.

Jarvis played an excellent ball to Nelthorpe whose shot ‘okay lads, it was a cross’ forced Jones (I think) to clear off his line for a corner. Cue Nico to deliver the sort of corner he used to when he had Howie to aim at and BANG Liam Hatch got his second (well, third really) goal for the town.

A minute later Hatch charged down a hoof from the keeper and Nwokeji failed to make them pay. Another minute later, another corner and almost a repeat effort of the goal, another excellent corner sees the keeper touch it over from another Hatch effort.

He could have had a hat-trick as another minute later Hatch volleyed over. At the end it was all Luton and well deserved.

I must say though, once Money actually played his best players, eg Jarvis, Nwokeji and Nelthorpe, we were a team transformed. I have always avoided advising what my first XI would be on this – but it strikes me that Hatch and Nwokeji up front, with Nelthorpe on the left and Jarvis in the middle would give our next opponents, Oxford, a run for their money. Why can I see it but not the boss?

I was pleased to see Nico start connecting with his set-pieces, albeit long overdue. If he is going to give Hatch an assist every game or even two in every five games, like he did under Newell, then he becomes an important part of the team again.

I was overjoyed with the win. The long journey back would have been too depressing if we had been unable to beat the part-timers, or God forbid, lost. Once you get on the M6 Lancashire seems to go on forever. Once you get away from the damn county, you seem to make some decent progress, but driving through Lancashire is like wading through treacle. At least I had a bit of egg-chasing to listen to on the radio on the way back.

So, it rather sets it up quite nicely for the Oxford game on Tuesday. As ever, I absolutely cannot wait. It is Sunday night, and I’m already counting down the hours. This will be the true acid test.

Now, it seems to be a Luton tradition that we struggle against the weaker sides (or at the very least don’t put them to the sword in the way that we should) and often do well against sides better placed than us. I could list dozens of examples but won’t, because it is bed-time and work tomorrow. This would suggest that Tuesday night under the lights against the top club we will be in for a bit of a rip-roarer. Oh for a repeat of the Hull result when Brko got that header and the roof on the Kenny End lifted by a foot. Oh for the 2-0 against Brighton when Enoch tore them apart.

I hate to tempt fate, and I apologise if this now ruins our chances, but if we win our games in hand, and beat Oxford, and they drop another game between now and the end of the season we will be seriously there or thereabouts. However, a word of caution – we have still to play York and St Evenage away (both still undefeated) and Mansfield and Rushden away. I suspect that it is these results and the Oxford one that will really determine if we are serious contenders or hoping to sneak into the play offs.

Another fact that has crept up on me is our away form. Notoriously poor away from home down the years, this year it is the jewel in our crown.

Here are a few facts for you: Since the Wrexham away game on the 22nd of September – when we were oh so poor, and Mick rewarded the players with a night on the beers with the bus shelter incident – we haven’t been beaten away from home in the Blue Square Premier. This amounts to 7 (seven) away games without defeat. In fact we haven’t conceded a goal away from home in the league since October against Kidderminster, when we won 2-1. It has sort of snuck up on me, and I hate to say it, but it is the underlying away form of a team that is doing quite well.

If we are to kick on from here, and Money’s influence and style eventually takes hold and presuming we do actually hit our straps at some point then we have a very sound base to start from. However, if Oxford sit us back down on Tuesday, then we can reassess our goals.

Righty ho, off to bed then. Apologies if the match report itself was a little more truncated than usual, but I had typed it all out once and then acidentally deleted it, so I had to remember what I wrote.

Many thanks to all of you who manage to make it to the end of the post, and also to those of you good enough to take the time to leave a comment. All feedback is good.

Come on you Hatters!

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