Dodgy Keeper

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“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.

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London Buses

You wait donkey’s years to see one thrashing and then two come along at once.

Not quite sure what to make of it all. I was pinching myself ten minutes before half time and we were 7-0 up. If we had carried on scoring at that rate all sorts of records would have been broken. At half time double figures were very realistically still on the cards. Well, we had scored 7 in the first half, surely another three was a walk in the park. Alas, we had to be content with 8.

Where to start? What can I say? The overall impression of the first half was that once again we were attempting a high tempo tactic, pressing Hayes and Yeading from the front, which worked tremendously well. Winning the ball back and forcing errors from the opposition was the key to getting so many goals. And good finishing too played its part!

Having found what our best XI is we stuck with it again with Hatch returning to warm the bench. Tyler, Ed, Pilks, Kovacs, Murray, Gnapka, Keane, Heslop, Howells, Craddock and Gallen. Consistency of personnel and formation is a wonderful thing.

Hayes tried to play decent football, but a passing game is not very successful if the opponents are not letting you play. In effect, they played wholly the wrong tactics against us. Perhaps they hadn’t had us watched. Perhaps they know no other method of playing. Time and time again in the first half Keane and Heslop caught the Hayes players in possession and then were not pressured themselves and were able to play the ball forward, or more likely out to the wings.

We could have gone one up almost from the start, Craddock drilling a shot wide, having linked up with Claude. But we were oozing with confidence, we were playing like a side who had scored six goals in the previous 45 minutes. Murray got well forward and crossed from the left it was headed out but only to Gallen who turned and picked his spot and popped the ball into the bottom left hand corner, a welcome start 1-0.

Hayes attacked us then and I think it was Allen-Page who had probably their best shot of the game from just outside the box which was saved effortlessly by Tyler.

It wasn’t long before the ball was down the other end and Claude missed a chance to put us two nil up by putting a header from Keane’s free kick, wide. He only had a matter of seconds to wait before making amends, after a Heslop challenge (I think) the ball was played forward to Gallen who nodded the ball on superbly to Gnapka who slotted the ball into the far corner from outside of the box. It was a class finish from a player in fine form. 2-0.

We had barely taken our seats when a fantastic footballing move set up Howells, who was given far too much space and got into the danger area before playing a perfect cross for the unmarked Gnapka to head in (again) at the far post. 3 up after 13 minutes and the game already as good as over. We were entering fantasy land. I expected Roy of the Rovers to turn up any second. To think, Gnapka could have had a hatrick inside the first 15 minutes. 3-0.

A brief non-scoring interlude when we did our best really to allow them a little spell. Keane, who had missed a chance a few seconds earlier was caught out of wholly out of position, unusually for him and he sauntered rather than motored back. Hayes had a man over, Ed had two men to mark and chose the wrong one, and a deep cross from the unmarked Green found unmarked Marwa at the far post but he completely misconnected his header and it flew wide. Please note, Stevenage wouldn’t have let us off that one.

Anyway back to the goals, and after 23 minutes we went four goals up, though the scoreboard stayed at 3. A glorious through ball from Kovacs – which initially looked like a hopeful hoof, but was as measured a touch as a centre half has ever made – played in Craddock who had more room than a Muslim student on a train – he ran into the box and played it back for Gallen who neatly slotted home. A cracking goal. 4-0.

We even had a goal ruled out: Heslop crossed from the left, Craddock and Gallen played a one two and Craddock shot home. However someone was deemed to be offside (not sure how) and we were denied the fifth.

Not for long…the hot Luton knife carved more holes in the buttery Hayes defence.

Keane intercepted a poor ball out/clearance from the Hayes defenders, he eased forwards into the acres of space afforded him by the obliging Hayes defence and he drove a blistering curling shot into the back of the net, thus saving the Oak Road guttering from further Keane inflicted damage. 5-0.

Half an hour gone and time to enter the realm of the surreal. Now we were in complete and utter charge and everything was going in. This time Claude walzed into acres of space and drove a cross at Craddock who wrong-footed the hapless Masters with a sharp header to his left. 6-0.

Tyler then had to earn his crust. A weakish shot outside the box by Fitzgerald (I think) brought off a tidy save. Then a slice by Ed following a slice by Pilks allowed Ides to bear down on goal, but again he shot weakly at Tyler.

Like an avaricious child tearing his way through a mound of presents on Christmas morning we wanted more goals, and it was time for another one.

Craddock put Howells through to play in Gallen whose neat shot cannoned off both posts, and with Masters still flailing on the floor Howells got a toe to it on what must have been the goal line and poked it in. I think Gallen had thought he had scored, with the way that he started to celebrate, before someone must have made it clear that Jakey had actually completed the act. 7-0.

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Believe it or not we had two more chances. Claude breaking down the right had the opportunity to cross in the middle but blasted a shot over instead, going for his second hat trick in a week, and who can blame him? Everything else had gone in. Heslop had a chance which he shot straight at Masters.

Some wag behind me shouted “This is rubbish, bring Harford back”. Big Mick’s start to the season seemed a long way away this afternoon.

So that was 7 in the first half. Not sure when that was last done by anyone. In fact, if you think about it, Luton had by that point scored 13 goals in the preceding 90 minutes. Jeff Stelling must have been doing his pieces on SkySports. Armchair followers sitting at home following the scores would have thought a rugby score was on the cards, folk must have been sitting up and remembering that poor little Luton still existed and were going to clock up double figures. I remember saying at half time “I’d take just three in the second half as long as we get to 10”.

Alas it was not to be. The second half was a less dramatic affair, Craddock’s goal notwithstanding. Town took the foot off the gas a little, not pressing Hayes, sitting back, playing on the break. It makes sense I guess. The game was already long since won, we have two important games in the next week and it was important that no one got injured or indeed got a card.

Kovacs was subbed at half time for Blackett, giving Shane another workout. Or at least a jog around, as he didn’t have too much to do save for a few headers and a panic or two at the end.

Because we were now in effect playing on the break and the balls forward got necessaily longer we got caught offside what seemed like half a dozen times in the second half. Very frustrating, especially when you are anticipating a further hatful.

Craddocks second goal gave us a wonderful comedy defending moment. A super ball down the inside right position by Ed played in Craddock, who had lots of space, as usual. His chip hit the post and bounced out. Craddock, still completely unhindered by defenders pounced on the rebound and then, seemingly in slow motion dribbled the ball back from the goal line around the keeper to back in front of the goal, he paused, looked up, checked his watch, made a couple of calls, and then blasted the ball home. All of this unfettered by the arrival of any Hayes players.

Claude and Gallen didn’t get any more chances to grab their hat tricks as they were withdrawn (to standing ovations) in favour of the lively MBH and the not so lively Liam Hatch. Now I knew Hatch was in the match day squad and was warming up, even before I took my seat. How? I hear you ask. Well as I walking up the steps into the stand I heard various shouts of “heads” and “watch out” and the crowd was diving for cover. Hatchy was in town and peppering the back of the Kenny End, in the way he always seems to do when practising his shooting. Saving his shooting boots for the game itself. Or so I thought, as it wasn’t too long before he was called into action, Heslop playing MBH down the right wing who played in a wonderful cross right onto the toe of Hatch a yard out. At least he managed to miss the back of the Kenny End this time but managed to hit the roof instead, scattering the fans once more. That would have been nine.

A Craddock cross to MBH gave him a chance to score but his shot was blocked. From the corner Hatchy had a clear header which went over. Tommy Craddock then had a chance to score his hat trick after being put in after a good move and a pass from Howells. Unfortunately he emulated Hatch’s effort and the ball went high into the air.

Apart from a few mad panics at our end when Hayes pressed forwards at the end, that was it. We had been outstanding and full credit to the team, manager and coaching staff.

I’ll do some player ratings again for those of you in the far flung corners of the planet, but who take the time to read my reports:

Tyler (didn’t have much to do – but saved competantly when called into action. Some accurate kicking 7
Ed (some good link up play, good crosses, and not much defending) 7.5
Pilks (sound enough at the heart of defence, one outstanding tackle and a little run at one point) 8
Kovacs (only got caught once, otherwise defended stoutly, and played that excellent ball to Craddock) 8.5
Murray (still can’t throw the ball. Once good cross, sound enough)7
Gnapka (murdered them down the right, imperious at times, two goals, only a couple of Claudisms) 9.5
Keane (outstanding ball winning and fantastic goal) 9.5
Heslop (was everywhere, some fantastic challenges) 9
Howells (goal, crosses, hungry even at the end) 9
Craddock (fantastic first half, foot off gas apart from the goal in the second) 9.5
Gallen (two goals, sublime link up play) 9.5

Blackett (didn’t have too much to do but sound enough) 7
MBH (lively, played down the middle then swapped with TC) 7.5
Hatchy (looked as if he needs a game or two, but dominant in the air) 6.5

This was a team wholly without the indulgencies of Hall, Jarvis and Nico. With such a hard-working midfield now, and a high tempo approach, I’m not sure where they fit into the scheme of things. Surely Money will be trying to get Heslop on a permanent deal. He has slotted into our team as if he has been playing here all his life. Most people will be gutted if he doesn’t start next August as a Hatter.

So, we didn’t make double figures. We didn’t get to see if the cheep’n’cheerful scoreboad could do double figures and in a way, it was a little bit flat at the end if I’m honest. It was still a marvellous celebration, but failure to score more than one in the second half was a bit like being at a new years party which ran out of beer before midnight. We greedily wanted more in the second half, rather than being satisfied with 8 (eight).

But eight it was. Incredible. I’ve seen an 8-0 now. My previous record must have been the seven past Shilton. I know it was only the part timers at Hayes – but you don’t get to score eight very often, even against non-league teams.

For the record the scorers and times were: Gallen 7, 23; Gnapka 11, 13; Keane 26, Craddock 31, 56; Howells 35.

Well done Luton, the football and form you’ve been showing us in this wonderful run of wins has been the best certainly since the heady days of the title winning season five years ago. Long may it continue.

Salisbury on Tuesday, which is another ‘must win’ as is the Easter Saturday local ‘derby’ with Hertfordshire’s second best team. St Evenage are so strong and consistent at the moment (I think their winning streak is even longer than ours) that failure to win any game by us, makes the task of catching them at all very difficult.

They now have 78 points to our 73. They have a game in hand, which is being played on Tuesday, and which happens to be against those perpetual wobblers Oxford. A win against Oxford would put them 9 points ahead of us going into our game. Things will be made more interesting if Oxford win and move to 76 points, and then if, if, we beat Stevenage then it could be 78-76-76 which would make it interesting. But that interesting scenario only occurs if Stevenage slip up at home to us and Oxford. Stranger things have happened mind, like being 7-0 up at half time for instance…

Many thanks once again for taking the time to read this and for all of your comments.

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…and another one

Gavin Caines, who played against us for Kiddy not so long ago, has joined us until the end of the season. If I remember correctly he is a central defender, and he formerly played at Cheltenham.

Money said that he is covering all bases for all eventualities between now and the end of the season, which, to me, is a euphamism for “Look guys, I’ve realised that Kovacs has the turning circle of a tank, I don’t rate Blackett much, and I’ve got to play Stevenage at Easter.”

I say: another good move. Strengthening an already strong squad can only be a good thing.

One of our former players Les Hall has passed away. He played for us for 13 years, making 79 appearances at centre-half. A local man, he continued to watch the Hatters until he became too frail fairly recently. RIP Les.

Come on you Hatters. Can’t wait until Saturday. I’m off to do my moderating duties elsewhere….

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The World’s Gone Mad

As if we didn’t have enough strikers, today we signed another one!

Just as we had discovered a successful strike partnership, we put them under pressure with another guy.

We have signed Kenyan international striker Taiwo Atieno on a full time contract until the end of the season.

The 24-year-old arrives at Kenilworth Road until the end of the season. Apparently he has spent the last three years playing in the American leagues, but has played at a host of clubs here and abroad and scored 34 career goals.

The official site says he is 6ft 2in. A Hatch replacement?

Taiwo played for 90 minutes in the Hatters’ 4-0 friendly win against MK Dons win on Tuesday, when he got a hat-trick.

Bad news presumably for Hatch, MBH, Nwokeji, Rio (and Liam Toomey?) as they all move back one in the queue.

Anyway, welcome aboard Taiwo, may you have a long, successful and productive Luton career, and if you don’t, please bang in a few goals between now and mid-May.

Presumably RM is looking forward to next year. With Hatch and Nwokeji gone – and with Gallen on the transfer list, presumably he is looking to build for next year which is laudable. 8 games to go – 8 wins needed to be Champions…

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Six of the Best

Well, it has been coming for a while. The eventual drubbing of one of these teams was only a matter of time, and yesterday we put Ebbsfleet to the sword.

Sod’s law of course – and perhaps there’s a hint here – I missed the game. Running the annual school quiz evening means that I have to forego one match a year, and alluring though a trip to this particularly grotty part of our Sceptered Isle might be I envisaged that this would be the best spring game to miss. D’oh.

Oh well, I’m delighted for the lads and also the excellent fans who made the way round the M25 to drizzly north Kent.

Wonderful for Claude that he got Luton’s first hat trick since November 2004. Can you believe it? Well done to Claude. Reading the reports, he had a shocking first half and then a brilliant second half. Like only Claude can. He’s a good bloke and a nice man and rather enjoys playing for our club in front of our fans – so I am chuffed for him.

Wonderful for Matthew Barnes-Homer to come on as sub and get a goal, after the horrible week he has had. I wonder who he dedicated his goal to? Poor lad, full credit to him. As I said in my last report, I suspect it might just be the turning point for him. He has, as it were, a fresh start and a clean slate.

Good for Kevin Gallen – up to 12 for the season now, and also another one in the bag for Craddock, taking him to 15 for the year. All other things being equal, if we are to continue on this run and continue with this success at this end of the season, I suspect he will add plenty more.

If you look at some of the bare statistics coming out of this season it suggests that things are moving in the right direction.

Doubling the club’s record for unbeaten games away from home. Setting the record for consecutive clean sheets away from home. Six wins on the trot. First hat trick for 5 1/2 years, first six goal victory since the Crewe game and first time we have scored six away from home since 1964. All of these ghosts have been dispelled. I’m sure there was another one I have missed.

I was trying to remember if I have ever seen a 6-1 – then of course I remembered by first ever game back in 1978, where we were also 1-0 down at half time. That season was the very beginning of what was to become a golden era. Let’s hope that the same is now true.

Now some of us will be thinking, ‘well it was just Ebbsfleet’, and indeed it was just Ebbsfleet and many will be thinking that we should be winning all of these games by that sort of margin. But as I said a couple of weeks ago our club has gone through severe trauma over the past few years and we are just about recovering. We have bottomed out. We are no longer going down, we have passed the nadir and are now on the way back up. How steep that ascent is depends on the quality of the playing staff we can retain and the desire of the board and the ability of the manager and coaching staff.

Another thing to mention of course is that this successful run has largely coincided with the absence of a certain K Nicholls in the midfield. As you know, I have said in the past about Nico’s character, determination and utter loyalty to our club and the cause. However, just like Big Mick, having LTFC written through the core of your soul doesn’t make up for a lack of ability. Which, regrettably poor Nico now demonstrates. I can imagine howls of protest from those fans who thinks the sun shines out of his behind. But it doesn’t, it really doesn’t, and Simon Heslop has demonstrated how effective we can be if we have two proper midfielders in the centre of the park.

Now, what next for Nico? He’s crocked at the moment and out until September. He’s on the transfer list, and I am sure Money will want to get shot of him in the summer, not least because allegedly he takes up a big proportion of the wage budget. Does Nico see out his remaining years in non-league? Does he change to centre-half? (which I think he would be much better at now he is too slow to chase people down) or does he prematurely go into a coaching role somewhere? It’s difficult for some people to swallow I know but we are a better side without him. Loyalty and passion alone doesn’t guarantee you a place in the team, otherwise I might as well go and get my boots on.

So – back to the fantastic victory – where does this leave us? Well, we are actually second now, but that’s because Oxford play today, and St Evenage were playing in the FA Trophy. It means that both sides have lots of games in hand on us, however, all we can do is create pressure and doubt in their camps by still winning. Oxford play Stevenage on the 30th March, the Tuesday before they play us on the Saturday. That week will be the key to their ambition. Should they lose both games, the league could well be wide open and a true three horse race for the title.

Unusually, we don’t have a game on Tuesday, which is a pity when a team is on such a good run: you want to and need to keep playing to keep the momentum. The next game is Hayes on Saturday followed by Salisbury on Tuesday. We really need to keep our form and focus for those two games to keep up the impetus and put us in the strongest possible position to take on Stevenage at their patch.

The league table this morning:

St Evenage…………P34…Pts 72…GD+41

Luton……………..P36…Pts 70…GD+22

Oxford…………….P33…Pts 68…GD+30

Rubbish & Dustbins….P35…Pts 63…GD+32

York City………….P35…Pts 61…GD+16

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Kettering………….P35…Pts 59…GD+11

One interesting development which could yet affect things are those 10 teams who are appealing the Chester City points removal. Richard Money described them as “messing their pants”. I expect the worse. We never seem to get much luck with these sorts of rulings, so as far as I am concerned we much assume that the appeal will be successful and that we don’t have those four points we gained on the others. More news on that this week, if there is any progress on the appeal.

So – well done Luton – a well-deserved thumping of Ebbsfleet. Let’s hope it is by no means the last one this season!

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The K Factor

Four in a row for the first time in five years and we are beginning to get up a head of steam, without quite hitting our straps yet. A good performance nonetheless gave us a deserved win.

Goodness, at one point we were 2-0 up at home and it seems like forever since that sort of scoreline.

A couple of strange phenomenons were seen at the Kenny this evening. Firstly at times in the first half it was so quiet that you could hear the players from the back of the Kenny stand, something I’ve never been able to do. It was as quiet and as flat at the start as it was when we played (and lost) to Crewe about 6 years ago. The day the PA failed completely and there was less than no atmosphere. Fortunately three goals in the first half raised the volume and some shocking refereeing and blind/ignorant linesman managed to ensure that tempers and voices were raised.

Secondly someone had nicked one of the bulbs from the airport runway and put it into the fourth official’s electronic board. From the sublime (laminated paper with red numerals written on) to the ridiculous: an electronic board so bright that pilots were dazzled on final approach to London Luton. I’ve seen dimmer lighthouses. The thing was propped up against and facing the advertising hoardings but you could read the programme in the reflected glow from it. When the fourth official turned around with a very bright ‘3’ illuminated at the end to signify a minimum of 3 extra minutes he turned all the way around including showing it to those in the beach huts a foot or so behind him. They ducked for cover.

The good folk of the Kenny had to duck for cover too later on when Kevin Gallen took a free kick and his mule-kick would have broken the net. Would have been a lovely way to get a hat-trick.

Yes indeed, Kevin Gallen got two of the three goals tonight to further demonstrate that his partnership with Craddock is working very well. Puts pressure on Hatchy for when he returns.

We started with the same XI as against Wrexham on Saturday, with the only changes being on the bench.

Craddock started at the same tempo that he left off with on Saturday chasing down and intercepting a Kiddy defender who dwelt too long on the ball. Craddock’s shot was blocked and we had a corner in the first few seconds. Howells took it from the right, but couldn’t quite get it over the first man.

Whilst TC might have started at a high tempo and pressing from the front, the rest of the team didn’t quite manage it to the same extent as they had done against Wrexham, which was a shame. It would have been more appropriate too as Kidderminster were a good passing team and closing them down completely would have had greater effect. Fair play to Kidderminster, they did want to play it the right way, and had they not been drubbed by St Evenage at the weekend they might have looked a bit more up for it. One element of their play I did like, which reminded me of us under Mike Newell was that their players didn’t make a meal of being challenged. They tended to get straight up and didn’t roll around the field like a shot dog, like some sides do.

I thought the ref had a shocker today. I do wonder where they get them from. To his credit he did manage to single handedly get the fans’ backs up and stoke up the support, so he wasn’t all bad. He continually missed pushes and shoves against our players, yet blew for any slight niggle agaisnt any of the Kidderminster players. There was an ironic cheer on 52 minutes when he awarded only our fourth freekick of the afternoon.

Before I go back to the match I thought I’d add that Mark Tyler ensured our victory tonight. He made 4 cruicial saves, and one outstanding save which effectively kept us in the game.

Also – again before I go back to describing the match, just another word about Heslop. Whilst he didn’t as much ‘headline grabbing’ work this evening, he still worked incredibly hard, putting in crucial challenges, simple passes and a couple of shots. He was up against a better team, but boy it is good to have someone else in the middle of the pitch with a workrate to match Keanes.

We did play some excellent attacking football tonight with some decent slick passing. One move to note was when Craddock was set free down the left – he ran and ran then cut inside and shot wide, alas. However ‘greedy’ it looked I’m always happy when the strikers are a bit greedy: it shows confidence, self belief and desire. None of which TC had much of earlier in the season so it shows how far he has come. We have seen too much fannying around on the edge of the box in the past too – shots are whats needed and I won’t critisise a striker for having one.

Claude had an excellent game down the right. He looked a little tired towards the end but he got plenty of crosses in, unfortunately we never quite had enough bodies in there to get on the end of them, but he roasted their left back all of the game. Furthermore he was the outlet for the long-punt restarts from Tyler and he must have won 90% of the headers he went for. He did have a little dreamy spell at one point in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to get him pulled off again.

The first goal came from Jake Howells. Keane had taken a free kick which was cleared by their centre half only as far as Howells on the left and he hooked it in. Not sure if it was quite meant in the way it happened but it flew into the far side of the goal and we were one up.

Gallen had four or five chances in the game. His first opportunity came when Craddock left a cross for him, but he shot wide.

Then we got a free kick right in front of their goal. From where I was sitting I couldn’t see the cause, but I presume someone was pulled down. I could see the wall line up and had a perfect view of the gap around the wall and the goalie’s placement. Heslop nudged the ball to Gallen who drove it, not quite cleanly along the floor, there was a little bit of curl on it, it went under one of the players in the wall and into the corner and the keeper saw it and dived so late so as to give himself no chance of saving it. There’s a link to a youtube clip here

2-0 and I was trying to remember the last time we were 2 up in the league at home. Needless to say it didn’t stay 2-0 for long.

2-0 gives you a platform to try things you otherwise wouldn’t and Claude tried a lovely chip over their keeper when he spotted him off his line, unfortunately he was tall enough to catch it.

We switched off for a moment, and stopped closing them down. A challenge free training ground move gave them their goal. The lively Smirkle beat Ed and crossed from the left, Goodfellow (I think) plopped it to Lawrie who tucked it away in the corner. He’ll probably never score a simpler goal all year. It was as if someone had pressed the pause button on the Luton team and enabled Kiddy to stroll one in.

Cue Mark Tyler – he made a hard shot from a free kick by their big lad Matthews look very simple indeed – the thwack as it hit his gloves would have been heard in the Arndale Centre.

Tyler then made another save from Lawrie who played himself in after getting past Pilks (which doesn’t happen very often).

Then came his outstanding save, a lazy pass from Kovacs stuck Ed under pressure from Smirkle who played in their number 7 to drive at the goal. Tyler slipped slightly, almost dived under it, but stuck out his left hand to divert it wide. A bit like Paul Collingwood’s catch here, but in reverse and without the leap.

In the second half I think our intention was to play at a higher tempo. Craddock had an excellent chance after interchanging passes with the excellent Howell.

Then it was time for goal number three, I absolutely loved this one. Wonderful how simple football can be if you play it well. Ed on the left played it nicely who popped a pass to Gallen in the inside left position. He ran into the box and cut inside onto his right foot and bang, whacked it in across the goal, giving the keeper less than no hope. I leapt up and shouted “what a f******, goal, what a f****** goal!”

Kiddy weren’t done yet they had two more chances which required good saves from Tyler. Ed caught Matthews after a hopeful break. Matthews thumped the shot and again Tyler was equal to it – another healthy thwack into his gloves.

Smirkle with the help of an undetected (by the ref anyway) shove put one of their players in (can’t remember who) and he shot and Tyler made a good save low down.

Time for the entry of Mr Barnes-Homer, just a few days after the death of his Dad, keen to play against his old side. I was very proud of our fans when, to a man, they stood up to applaud him on – a wonderful, spontaneous, friendly Hatters welcome. Much better than the reception he got when he last left the field. I hope and suspect, that his efforts henceforth with be viewed afresh and perhaps we will see the player Money signed. He will certainly be given a second chance. He gave his springy all in the ten minutes he had, and it would have been lovely if he had scored not just against his old club, but for his Dad. But life is never quite that perfect, and he will have to wait another day for that special goal.

Gallen had another couple of opportunities to get his hatrick, including the free kick I mentioned at the top, but alas it wasn’t to be either. 3-1 was a good and fair result, and respect to Kiddy as they never ceased to try to pass the ball. Shame the ref messed it up as much as he did.

For the record – here are my ratings out of ten for the team tonight:

Tyler (string of excellent saves, accurate kicking to Claude) 9.5
Ed (got caught a couple of times, but passed well and linked well with CG) 6.5
Pilks (the rock at the heart of the defence) 8
Kovacs (the weakness at the heart of the defence) 6
Murray (how many foul throws can one man do in a game?) 6

Gnapka (constant thorn in their side, cross after cross) 8.5
Heslop (everywhere all the time) 8
Keane (booked early on, but supreme in the heart of the midfield) 9
Howells (goes from strength to strength, got himself a goal, not bad for someone 5′ 1)) 8

Gallen (two goals, could have had even more) 9
Craddock (supreme work rate) 8.5

MBH – only on for 10 mins but worked well in that time.

So – there we have it four wins on the bounce and Ebbsfleet away on Saturday, where we can put right the unholiest of embarrasing home defeats. It is just coming good at the right time. A good time in the season to be hitting form. Two goals from open play – midfielders all playing well, and a settled confident team and a settled formation. Strange that.

On a final note, there was a lovely article by Nick Owen in the programme which warmed the cockles of your heart before the game. We are lucky to have Nick on board at the nominal helm. How many other clubs have got such a passionate and die-hard fan as Chairman? He is totally Luton through and through and comes from a proud Luton-supporting family. To think I’ll have to wait until 2029 to have watched the Hatters for as many years as he has now. A daunting prospect. Without 2020 of course there would have been no club to cheer in 2009 let alone 2029. And just think, in 2029 Watford still won’t have won anything…

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Slaying the Dragons

A game of two halves. The first half was arguably the best performance we have put in all season, whilst the second one was a little bit ‘as you were’ and didn’t quite have the same bite.

It was a real refreshing change. In the first half we harried them and pressed from the front, forcing Wrexham to play it longer than they otherwise would and pressurised them into making mistake after mistake. We picked up the bits and pieces and used them well forging many an opportunity from high tempo play.

Two changes were made to the team on Tuesday night. Barnes-Homer and Hall were dropped completely. New boy Simon Hislop (loanee from Barnley, played against us at Kettering in August) and Howells started, enabling Craddock to start in the middle (hooray).

Tyler was in goal, Ed at right back, Kovacs-the-nimble and Pilks at centre half and Murray on the left. In the middle Jake moved to the left, Hislop and Keane in the middle and our mercurial French friend on the right. Gallen and Craddock started up front in a traditional 4-4-2 (well, if it works for Man Utd, we might as well try it).

As I’ve said we chased them down from the off. Luton played with passion, drive and purpose, and the effect it had on the reaction of the crowd was very noticeable and fascinating. Even when things didn’t come off, the fans clapped and encouraged, because the opportunity had been forged from hard work. Normally, it is not always apparent that they are all trying so hard and so when passes don’t come off the fans groan. And that fundamentally is the difference. And Mr Money, you should take that first half performance and bottle it.

Heslop had an excellent debut. He is normally a defensive midfielder and so I was worried that his inclusion would mean that we were too defensive (ie a midfield partnership of two defensive midfielders) or that it meant that we would play 4-3-3 with the likes of Hall and Jarvis playing in the hole. Fortunately the formation Money played was hugely successful, and it was actually quite refreshing to have two central midfielders who could win the ball and pass it. It was, truly, a breath of fresh air.

Heslop got stuck in from the first minute, he put himself about, passed simply, covered large amounts of the pitch and ran and ran. From what I could see, the only weak part of his game is his ability to shoot, because during the game he had two or three chances but were all way off target.

All of the players impressed me with their effort yesterday, but two stood out in particular. Tom Craddock worked incredibly hard and chased and pressed their defenders. He popped up on either wing and ran and ran and ran.

Keith Keane was also excellent. He must also have had three Shredded Wheat for breakfast again because he was all over the pitch and his workrate, commitment and tackling was of the highest order. It is now hard to look past him for player of the season as his unstinting hard work has made a huge, largely unsung difference to the midfield. Let’s also put it in context, he’s been playing with a passenger alongside him in midfield for much of that time and so has had to do twice as much work. Our progress in the future is very much dependent on him signing a new contract, which I suspect is very much dependent on us getting promotion, which is very much dependent on him.

On to the match itself, for all of our good work and lively tempo, it was a few minutes before we carved out her first chance. Ed played the ball down the line and Tommy Craddock ran into the inside right position picking it up and laying it off to Gnapka who got past the full back Williams, not quite to the byline and played in a lovely cross, which was cleared by one of the two female basketball players Wrexham had playing at centre half and right back, beautiful braided ponytails flowing behind them in the breeze.

Howells (who had another excellent game) had a chance from a corner that was played short by Keane went past his man and shot, alas with his right foot, and the ball zooted past the post.

Our only goal came as a result of the pressing and chasing we had done for the whole half. The ball ran to Craddock who ran a fair distance, at pace, into the box and drove a left foot shot in which squeezed past Russell in the goal. It was good reward for all of Craddock’s effort in the first 45 mins.

Murray played Howells in down the left, Jake got a lovely cross into the far post, but dear Claude headed it over.

At about this point it was pretty apparent to me that the ref was having a bit of an off day. He had missed their skipper (Westwood?) who had already been yellow carded give Craddock a backhand in the face. The ref started to do the annoying thing of missing handballs and failing to spot pushes, but then blowing up against us for much less. He kept the game on a reasonably even keel though, despite all of the Wrexham whinging and moaning and occasional ‘afters’ behind his back.

So at half time we were very well placed. And for once I was relaxed. More fool me, as I should have known that something would cause us to play less well in the second half. Also – we have history of sitting back and relaxing against Wrexham, as anyone who attended the notorious game ten years ago will recall.

It was almost as if someone had interjected at the start of the game and replaced our usual team of players with a new, fresh set, who looked quite good. Unfortunately, clearly we weren’t supposed to have these new ones, because they were replaced with the originals at half time!

That’s a bit unfair. There were a selection of factors which affected the second half. We were unable to maintain the high tempo and the pressing from the front, possibly because Money told them to sit back a bit, or more likely, they were tired and couldn’t maintain it. This meant that Wrexham had greater opportunity to play and so came back into the game.

Craddock had the first chance of the second half though, Heslop (him again) won it and played it left. Tommy did his usual thing of running at them then cutting inside, but with a taste for goal had a shot whereas Gallen was unmarked in the middle.

Keane then had a fight with the corner flag, mistaking it for the ball, easily confused I know. His body language seemed to say “who put that there?”. The resulting corner saw Howells have a shot from just outside the box after initial cross missed Kovacs and was played out towards Jakey.

Claude who had been okay without being outstanding (he hadn’t fallen over his feet or been tacked by the invisible man today either) was replaced by Jarvis like for like. First of all I was pleased to see that it was a straight swap, rather than re-jigging everyone and the formation to accommodate the sub. It enabled us to compare Jarvis on the wing with Gnapka and to see how well he links up with Ed on the right. Actually, other than the cup final in April, where he played on the right, but as part of a front three, Rossi doesn’t usually deliver the goods at right wing. And yesterday he looked a bit out of sorts. It also affected our game at the restarts, whereas in the first half, the few goal kicks Tyler did went to the tall Claude to nod on (successfully) with Jarvis there he had nothing to aim for but Craddock and Gallen.

On to Gallen – he played his role really well yesterday, before tiring. In the first half not one long ball was knocked to his head, the only time he was used as a target, it went to his chest which he controlled and laid off nicely. He also showed us another of those excellent turns he can do. He did tire but was still there at the end, but definitely not defending from the front!
Wrexham had made a couple of changes which improved their performance no end, injecting a bit of skill and pace into their team with Sakho (why didn’t he start?) where previously there had been little.

Craddock had a chance to double his tally, one of the basketball ladies was lying on the ground in the right back position, clearly having broken a nail or dropped an earring. Play hadn’t been stopped and wasn’t stopped and when the ball came out to Craddock who dribbled it towards goal on the left he came across this tall girl lying in a heap on the pitch. For a fraction of a second TC thought about doing the gentlemanly thing and sticking the ball out, fortunately he then remembered the thing he is paid to do which is stick the ball in, however his delay albeit only for a split second meant that Russell was able to narrow the angle a little better and Craddock drove the ball at him.

Then they had their main chance of the game and it would have been Forest Green all over again, ie needing to go and get a winner right at the end. Fleming after combining with Mangan (I think) and Sonko volleyed the ball at Tyler’s goal from the left. It crashed into the cross bar and would have been a fantastic goal. I thought Tyler had got a touch on it, but was alone in that opinion.

The longer the half went on, the more tired Luton became and the more Wrexham pressed forwards. Nwokeji came on for Craddock, ostensibly so that TC could have a round of applause from what I could see, could think of no other reason. Nwokeji made one good run to out pace one of their centre halves, but the chance didn’t come to anything. What was peculiar is that he has all of this pace, which can be used to good effect, however, once he had broke through the defence or closed down the keeper, instead of using his lightning pace to get back onside he jogged back until he was level with play again. Strikes me as a bit odd, to say the least.

The ref awarded 5 mins extra time, which was unexplainable: 5 subs x 30secs = 2.5 mins where did the other 2.5 come from? The fourth official forgot his electronic noticeboard or the one that the club supplies had run out of batteries, so he had to rely on what looked like laminated bits of A4 with big red numbers printed on. Very professional I must say. How very non-league.

For most of that 5 minutes we were bombarded, with a couple of last ditch scrambles keeping them out.

But that was that. Another win and more points made up on Oxford ahead of us. Stevenage at the top didn’t play as they were too busy trouncing Tuesday nights opponents Kidderminster.

First half very good, second half understandably worse, and the first clean sheet at home (in the league) since September 12th vs Barrow.

Good news for Tom Craddock as he is now at 14 goals for the season. Just think how many he would have, had it not been for his goal drought between September 5th and 14th November.
Rushden scored eight. We are still to dish out that stuffing I have been promising all the season…
Anyway – who needs eight goals – you get 3pts whether you win by 1-0 or 8-0, they were just showing off.

One thing to explain MBH’s loss of confidence and form, and indeed his absence yesterday, is that his father died recently and that is probably enough to put anyone of their game. I bet the boo-boys feel a bit different about him now after his disgraceful treatment on Tuesday night. I trust when he is ready to play again he gets the chance to net one for his Dad.

So here is the table:

1 Stevenage 33 +40 69
2 Oxford United 33 +30 68
3 Luton Town 34 +15 64
4 Rushden & D 34 +32 62
5 Kettering Town 35 +15 59
6 York City 34 +15 58

6 points clear of the play off zone, and only 5 points behind Stevenage who we play away on Easter Saturday. We also have to play Rushden away the last game of the season. Undoubtedly if we just keep winning we will put more and more pressure on those above us. 10 games to play – 6 at the Kenny, all of which are against teams who are presently 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 16th and bottom.

It is the ‘business’ end of the season, and things are getting interesting…

Once again many thanks to those of you who are kind enough to leave comments on my posts. I continue to be amazed at all of the ex-pat Hatters living in far flung parts of the world who read my blog. You are all very welcome aboard.

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