… said Mr Money, and that it surely was. On Friday I refused to even contemplate defeat. Perhaps not an unreasonable assumption based on having had three wins on the trot, the fact that we were playing a side at the bottom end of the table, and having lived with a team two divisons above us at the start of the month.
Richard Money described the result and the game as the worst in all of his years in football. I don’t think it was even the worst game this season. Clearly he wasn’t at the Kettering away game, and the home game wasn’t much better, or Wrexham. We’ve had a few stinking performances in the past few years, and whilst it was totally embarrassing to lose to Ebbsfleet, and the defending was woeful, I didn’t think that the performance in the scheme of things was much worse than just ‘piss-poor’. It was rubbish, but we’ve played worse. I’m not making excuses – just trying to reduce Money’s hyperbole a little.
At least we got three goals, only two of which were allowed. I was full of praise of the ref before the game, because it was quite obvious that usual corner of the ground was still frozen and, laughable though it would have been, some of the pedants we have had reffing at the Kenny in the past few years would have called it off. However, fifteen minutes before the kick off was the last time the ref endeared himself to me. His performance was as bad as Luton’s. He was happy to allow us free kicks in our own half, but not any in Ebbsfleet’s half. I lost count of the occasions when a blatant foul by one of their players was given against us. We were truly playing against 12 men. I find it hard to believe that someone can have such a bad game without being bent. If he is genuinely capable of being that poor he shouldn’t be allowed near a pub game.
So, the team for this epic journey was: Pilks in goal, Murray at left back, Keane at right back, George Pilks and new-boy Kovak at centre half. On the right wing Newton, in the middle Nico and Hall, and Craddock the left. Up front, M B-H and Liam Hatch.
Just as in the last two games we allowed the opposition to start brightly. Pilkington got a knock after bravely blocking a shot, whilst still in pain he brought off a world-class save (a phrase I use sparingly) from a cracking long range drive from Peter Holmes (remember him? We could do worse…) Unfortunately the next kick he did was his last, and on came Shane Gore for his league debut. I’m not yet aware of the extent of Pilk’s injury so I don’t know if we have to go and find yet another keeper. Next time I go on about it being a waste having a keeper on the bench, please ignore me.
Alarm bells should have been ringing as they soon had another couple of chances – their lad Ashikodi was getting more room than a tramp on a bus. It was almost as if the players had been told that they would catch something of they went anywhere near him.
The worst culprit of all was Adam Newton, he repeatedly failed to close down their left back who was passing the ball untroubled by any pressure. A bloke behind me shouted “We’re all bloody cold Newton, put some effort in”. He failed to heed the advice, and I’m of the opinion now that Mr Newton won’t be getting a second year at our club. I think there is more chance of a spotty schoolboy with bad breath getting a snog with the Queen.
Then, against the run of play, Liam Hatch scored his first goal for us. Hatch was the one of the few players who looked particularly bothered yesterday, I might count Keane and Ed A-A and probably Craddock as the ones who put some effort in, but Hatch was head and shoulders above anyone else. Literally. Craddock played him in and he powered his way into the box, we thought he had taken it too far and had to go past Charles, however he persevered and drilled a shot into the far corner with his left peg. A good finish from someone who yet again failed to get one into the net in the pre-match warm up.
Did we kick on from this? Did we build on our unexpected luck? No. We were still pedestrian and going forward were caught by their defenders pushing right up. I guess their equaliser was inevitable, but it was so simple. Viera I think it was, was played inside by the lad named Stavros (or something similar) and slotted it home. Never has the phrase “a hot knife through butter” been more apt. Until the second goal that is. Newton was the culprit for me as he failed to close Easton down, Keane followed him, then stopped when he remembered he was right back. Easton moved inside and crossed/passed for Shakes, who took out Gore, and crossed for Viera to poke it in again. Two goals in four minutes would certainly have changed Money’s half time talk and his mood.
It didn’t change the outcome, but he did change the shape. Newton, who by now should have been substituted was moved to right back. Keane was moved to the middle, where he should have started. Craddock stayed on the left, but M B-H was moved on to the right of a three. It was sort of a four, because Asa Hall pushed right forwards when we were attacking to make a front four. However, this meant that there was a whacking great hole behind where the midfield should have been. This made us completely vulnerable to Ashikodi’s pace when Ebbsfleet broke forward. Unfortunately it also meant that we knocked the ball long down the channels to our two strikers pretending to be wingers.
However, suddenly we were back on level terms with the sort of bits and pieces goal we don’t score enough of these days. Ed showed hidden talents with a Delap-esque long throw, nodded on by Asa I think and Craddock bundled himself and the ball into the net. Hurrah for Tom, well deserved.
The reason for their third goal had been hanging around and haunting us for a while now without anyone doing anything about it. It has been the elephant in the room for some time. It has been the occasion murmur in the stands as a point to note, but without causing great concern. It has been the whisper on the lips of those monitoring the tactics. It is this: for some unknown, unthinkingly dim reason, we don’t leave anyone up front when defending corners. We have all 11 players in or around the box. Most of you who read this, Watford fans excepted, will have enough brain power to realise that this leaves us with no ‘out’, no option to clear the ball to when we gain possession. Now, ideally, you need to leave someone up front who can’t contribute to the defence of the corner. Perhaps the shorter of the two strikers, or perhaps a Craddock. Or alternatively someone who can hold the play up and bring others into the game, though often this is a tall striker, who you may want to be marking the opposing centre-half, so traditionally it is a shortish striker, or someone who is really quick, a la Mark Nwokeji.
However, if you leave no one up, this means that, logically, the only thing we should do is to clear the ball into touch, to allow the team to reshape for the throw. But no, that seems to be beyond the thinking of our players and/or coaching staff.
And lo, it came to pass that the Hatters defended a corner and Pilks did play the ball out of the box, not into touch but into the way of the one known as Salmon, who unopposed did whack the ball back in for Mr Ashokodi who did smite the Hatters by cracking it past the goalie and there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth by the good folk Luton-by-the-Lea.
Schoolboy stuff. In fact, most school XIs would be embarrassed by some of our tactics and performance, and certainly by the third goal. Flowery embellishment by me aside, boy, has that goal been coming.
Cue even more booing and chanting. Money said afterwards that when fans started singing “what a load of rubbish” he was joining in. He certainly applauded those in the Kenny End who chose to sing it.
I didn’t. I was so stunned that I started to chuckle like a mad bloke. The scoreline was so shocking to my system that my psyche refused to accept it and so I started laughing like a fool. Perhaps my subconscious was protecting me from what should have been suicidal depression.
We actually scored a third, Craddock worked well down the left and played a delectable ball to Hatch who rose perfectly to power the ball into the net. We celebrated. The Luton players turned and started to run back to their own half. Time passed. The clock ticked. I sent a couple of texts amd composed some notes for this. I made a couple of calls. Then the linesman flagged for offside.
It was almost as it he was waiting for an appeal, as in cricket. He raised his flag, just after one of the Ebbsfleet players raised his hand. Now I sit behind the goal, and so have no idea if it was offside or not, but it didn’t strike me as a blatant one. The referee debated it with his linesman, though I suspect his conversation was something more like “I got Ebbsfleet at 9.4 on Betfair, what about you?”
We pressed and pressed for the last 20 mins, and had a succession of half chances. This is the reason why I don’t think this was our worst performance this year. Compared to some of the non-performances we have put in, at least we were in their half and trying to score for the last quarter of the game.
Nelthorpe came on for about 5 mins and looked good and lively, God only knows why he didn’t start.
And then that was that, final whistle after four minutes of extra time, largely spent by the corner flag at the Oak Road end. Cue booing and jeering and general disgust.
I have been trying to put the finger on our malaise. I think it is because we have almost too many players for each position. Too much choice. Think back to when Newell took over. I think we had 3 centre halves at the club, two right backs, one of whom was a youth player. We two first team central midfielders and two reserve midfielders in Leary and O’Leary.
Now, we have a lot of players, and a lot of players who can play in a lot of positions. We have more strikers than we know what to do with and appease as many as possible by giving them a game, but play them out of position. We have a captain who tries hard, but who is not really up to it any more.
Until we know who our best striking partnership is, who our best left winger is, who our best defensive midfielder is, whether or not we should play a central midfielder in the hole or in the centre circle (Hall can do one not the other) who our first choice right back is (should be Ed) who our best central paring is. Who our first choice left back is. We are spoilt for choice with players who can play in more that one position.
Take Jake Howells. Is he a lightweight left-back or a left winger? If he is a left back then why have we signed Murray for 18 months? If he is a winger then why play Craddock there, or why loan Nelthorpe. What about Taylor Nathaniel? What hope for him if Jakey can’t get a game?
Ed. Is he a centre half or a right back? He did a great job at centre half last season, including the Wembley final.
Jarvis – holding midfielder, central midfielder, attacking midfielder (his preference) or right or left winger?
Claude? Sleepy right back or nippy winger?
Porno? First choice left back or third choice winger?
Do you see what I mean? – It’s no wonder we have not clicked.
Based on the last two performances, injuries notwithstanding, my preference up front would be Hatch, who can lead the line and hold the ball up, with the nippy Nwokeji alongside. What? I hear you say…this means that £150ks worth of Craddock and M B-H would be on the bench. Yes I say. Let them fight for a place, by bagging goals when they come on as sub. Let M B-H score 4 goals for the reserves and insist on a place. No one should be getting a game just for the sake of it.
So, where do we go from here? Money said in his press conference that if he could bring 12 players in on Monday to replace those who appeared today (Hatch apart) he would. However, speculation ahead of the Barrow game is pointless this far out as injuries will have a big say on the team.
Now even though I couldn’t even begin to contemplate defeat in the pub on Friday night, I said that if the result was a draw or a loss, it would be a blip rather than an indicator of where we are. And I still think that is the case, however galling and hard to swallow the defeat was. Money will lead us to salvation, eventually.
Fair play to Ebbsfleet, they, like so many before them, stuck to their game plan, executed it well, and battled hard.
It can’t be so hard for us to do the same can it? All we need is a game plan, some players to execute it who are also capable of battling hard. Oh dear. We’re stuffed then….