“Dodgy Keeper, dodgy keeper” the fans sang at the Salisbury goalie. It was the Salisbury fans that sang it first though.
Goodness me, the poor lad, Ryan Pryce I think his name is. He had a mare. His kicking was shocking, it struck me that he must be the bastard lovechild of Mark Ovendale and Carl Emberson. Surely the keeper shouldn’t be looking for nod ons from his own centre halves?
More on our friend Pryce later.
Luton played really well once again. Salisbury were shapeless and insipid and had less of a clue than dear Hayes and Yeading, the difference between the two games were that all of our chances were netted in the Hayes game, but not in this.
Even the pedantic fool of a ref couldn’t spoil another excellent performance. Amongst many other things, such as restarting the second half twice because of encroaching and giving Tyler the hurry up for time wasting (we were 4-0 up, and he wasn’t timewasting) having failed to do the same for their keeper, my personal fave was instead of awarding a blatant penalty he booked Jakey Howells for simulation. Watch it again on youtube if you can find it. Simulating he wasn’t.
There was a twenty minute spell before half time where we were unremittingly brilliant. The constant siblime attacking pressure leading to our second goal. Never has a goal seemed more likely than Craddock’s goal this evening.
Only one change to the line up this evening, Shane Blackett came in for Kovacs, who is on 9 yellow cards. Blackett had a really good game. Salisbury seemed to play a sort of 4-4-1-1, or 4-5-1 and Blackett marked Tubbs who was the furthest up of their forward players and was almost acting like a sweeper at the rare times in the game when Salisbury ventured into our half. He played well, twenty goal Michael Tubbs, their talisman, didn’t get a sniff. He didn’t even get a sniff of a sniff, such was our dominance in defence and mastery in midfield.
Other than the goals, it is very difficult to describe the game this evening. Luton dominated from beginning to end in an excellently entertaining game. The only two surprises being that we didn’t score earlier and didn’t score more. At times yet again – please take it from me – we played the sort of scintillating football that the ex-pats amongst my readers will recall from the Luton teams of their youth.
The nearest Salisbury came was at the start when Flood, their left winger, who started brightly but dimmed faster than a light bulb from pound-land, crossed in a ball, near to Tubbs which Pilks managed to muff but Freddie Murray hooked clear.
Gallen was full of neat touches and intelligent passing all night. Some of his link up play wouldn’t have been out of place divisions above. A couple of times before we scored he set Craddock up. Craddock also had an opportunity to head home from a Keane corner – his header was so close I was convinced there was a hole in the net. He came as near to scoring as I think it is possible to. In fact I’m not convinced it didn’t go in, because I couldn’t see how he could have missed. Was it wide or high? It was almost easier not to score from where he was. That’s not meant as a criticism by the way, once again Craddock sizzled from beginning to end.
Tyler earned his money with his one save of the night from a sharp shot by Shepherd, which he saved with commensurate ease. Despite dominating the first half we didn’t score before about ten minutes before the end of the half. Keane took a corner which wasn’t cleared properly, it went to Ed whose shot was blocked and it flew to Pilks who played it back in down the middle to Claude who rose and timed his header absolutely perfectly, I think it flew in off the bar.
We then moved into a period of total domination – a period of play whereby it wasn’t a matter of if but when. We drove forward continuously. A series of neat passes put Murray in down the left he crossed it and Craddock moved in and slotted it in off the post.
So 2-0 at half time and the result really wasn’t in doubt – we were playing so well that it was a matter of how many. After all the grief and angst our fans have been put through over the last three years it was lovely to wander around behind the goal at half time to see the relaxed mood and the feeling of anticipation and the smiles on people’s faces.
We won a corner early in the second half – Keane, ignoring the crowd imploring him to “shoot” played it short to Ed who crossed it to Claude whose header went over.
It was time for the third shortly after. I was deliberately watching Keane at the time to see what I could pick up from his positioning. We were defending a corner or a throw on our right, right in the corner. Their number 8, Clarke was unmarked as they lined up, and I caught myself remarking “watch your man, Keano”. Keane moved towards him as the throw/kick was taken, and sure enough the ball was played towards Clarke. It was fascinating to see Keane at first anticipate and then accelerate towards where the ball was played, he took the ball off Clarke’s toe and then sprinted up the right wing from half way in his own half to just inside theirs, he then played a wonderful crossfield ball from left to right in the path of Craddock who was on the edge of their box and not offside. He dribbled further, played it inside for Howells to strike home from where the penalty spot would be if it wasn’t so muddy.
With us three up it was time for Pilks to nearly-score to celebrate the birth of his son. I say nearly score, I meant, completely miss his volley, but it would have been good I’m sure, had he connected.
Off came Howells, Gnapka and Gallen for Nelthorpe, Newton and Gallen in the space of a few minutes. Newton was the first. One wag near me implored Salisbury to keep it in play so that Newton would be delayed in coming on, stating that we were only 3 up. No such luck as Pryce volleyed the ball into touch yet again, managing to completely miss both sets of players despite them being conveniently lined up on the pitch in front of him.
Newton started on the left and then swapped sides when Nelthorpe came on. Newton looked pretty lively bearing in mind he hasn’t featured recently, but didn’t demonstrate anything to suggest that he was threatening Claude or Jakey’s places. Nelthorpe looked very keen and tricky when he came on. But then again he always has. I recall him setting up Hatch to nod on to Craddock who stuck it in the side netting.
Ed played another long crossfield ball to Craddock on the edge of the box, our old friend Pryce came out to meet him, bizarrely when there was no need, much to Craddock and the crowd’s delight. What was Tommy to do – he could perhaps have dribbled it round the hapless keeper and had a pop himself. Instead cut inside keeping the keeper at an unhealthy distance from his goal and he played in Gallen who played it off to the right and in came good old Simon Heslop, Des Linton-like at the far post, to bundle in the goal. 4-0, which would have been our biggest win of the season until two Saturdays ago.
Poor old Salisbury really didn’t offer much in the game. Despite being outnumbered Heslop and Keane pressed and won the ball from them all game, once again playing the ball down the wings or the channels for the wingers or Craddock to run on to. Salisbury were timewasting from about 10 minutes in, so they got their just desserts really, not that they really pushed forward once they went behind.
I felt sorry for the keeper Pryce it can’t be fun when you have such an off game in front of so many people. Then my mate reminded me that he had actually played against us before where he did the same piss-poor kicking throughout the game.
So we won, convincingly, but unfortunately St Evenage – Hertfordshire’s third biggest club after that lot down the M1 and Hitchin Town – (I jest of course, Hitchin are a much bigger club than Watford) also won – their run of wins being 8 to our 7. A real clash of the titans in this league. In the event of a Hatters victory on Saturday we will be only two points behind them, but they will still have a game in hand as a reader correctly pointed out in a post last week.
If we get that close then anything can happen. If they can feel us breathing down their neck it only takes a couple of slip ups because of the pressure and we are in. They’ve got to slip up at some point and if we keep winning we will be in the position to take advantage when they do.
Here are my player ratings – for what they are worth:
Tyler 7 – had only one save to make, but his kicking was accurate
Ed – 8.5 – improving every week, creating chances now and only one slip in the game 8.5
Pilks – 8.5 one error whilst defending and one when attacking. Model pro and an assist.
Blackett – 9 – kept snuffed Tubbs out brilliantly.
Murray – 8 – still crappy throws, but an assist and much overlapping sound in defence
Claude Le Crosse – 9 – still imperious, great headed goal and loving every minute of it
Heslop – 9.5 – covered every inch of the pitch, again and got his first Hatters goal
Keane – 9 – three consecutive passing errors in the first half, but more than made up for it with the exquisite crossfield pass and brilliant tackles all evening.
Howells – 8.5 – lively the whole game, got even better as the game went on, another goal too.
Craddock – 9 – worked his socks off again, goal, again #18 now.
Gallen – 8.5 – intelligent link up play, deft touches and another assist.
Newton – 7.5 – attacked well in the spell he had
Nelthorpe – 7.5 – showed good skills and positive intent
Hatchy – 7 – much better than the other day, looked fitter, more than just nuisance value
So off to the most local of local derbies on Saturday with 2,800 Hatters in the away end, plus another one or two in the home end will hopefully sing us to victory. And, furthermore, another couple of opportunities for me to get lost for the umpteenth away game running whilst trying to find the one pub that is open and from there a car park in town.
Come on you Hatters, Saturday will be a true barometer of how far we have improved recently.