Damn

As some predicted, and as Richard Money denied – Tommy Craddock has gone to Oxford. The lure of the league proved too much, and a second season in non-league was too much to bear. I know how he bloody feels.

Losing him to Oxford hurts too – I consider them to be a smaller club than us and for them to be doing better AND poaching our players rankles. So, I’m not in a good place right now – but I guess I wish TC well.

The fee we received was ‘undisclosed’. I don’t know what that means, but I do know that when I spoke to Gary Sweet a year or so ago he hinted that he’d only be sold on for approximately four times what we paid to him, which by my reckoning is in the region of £250k. I suspect it won’t be anything like that though now.

I suppose that any cash plus the reduction in the wage bill from Nico and White leaving will all help to balance the books.

In summary – Money wasn’t happy with a player wanting out. TC wouldn’t sign an extended contract so he would have been off for free in the summer. He wanted to play in the league so he’s sold to Oxford. Cash in your chips now, for an asset that would be worth £0 in June.

Best of luck Tom Craddock, many thanks for the goals. Just as my little boy learnt the words to his song…

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Five Saves, Four Handballs and Eight Yards

Strange old game today really, I think we played it as if we expected to win and then had a nasty shock when after half time Hayes came out believing that they could.

I was pleased to see the reception both the team and Richard Money received when they came out. I guess no one was quite sure what it might be like – but of course the overtly negative fans are in the great minority in the greater scheme of things, so we needn’t have worried. A nice, but over the top touch was that Money walked to the centre circle as he came out and performed a ‘we’re not worthy’ supplicant bow to three sides of the ground – as a cheeky mea culpa.

I think our tactics trying to out-fox Hayes ended up confusing ourselves and in the end it was only Gallen’s arrival that made a significant difference and led to our improvement and goal. Hayes strung five across the middle to counter our midfield four, but seemingly to counter their five Gleeson and Blackett took their wide two players and Howells and Drury tucked inside which effectively meant that we had much less width than we are used to playing with, ensuring that the middle of the park was even more congested and that any pass made by the likes of Keane and Murray had to get past or beat two Hayes players. They sewed us up and closed us down like gooduns. We fell between two stools – seeming to forget that we play best when pushing up and closing down from the front, yet time and time again getting caught pushed up too far and were very vulnerable to their neat counter attacks.

The ref. Another character who only appears to have recently taken up the sport as a hobby. He missed four potential handballs in the penalty box, when most refs (even Kettle) would have given at least one of them. The other point to note was an incident that was laughable if it hadn’t indirectly led to Andy Drury being sent off. The ref, not the sharpest tool, struggled to count beyond eight, at least when marking out the distance a wall should be.

We won a free kick on the right hand edge of the Hayes box. Drury stood beside the ball and watched as the ref made to count the steps away so as to direct the Hayes wall where to stand, seemingly marked ten out but did nothing when the Hayes wall refused to retreat beyond eight. However Drury pointed out to him that the wall hadn’t retreated to the required distance and proceeded to mark out the ten yards himself, making it patently obvious that the refs distance was inadequate but got a booking for his trouble, because clearly he was demonstrating dissent, despite being right. Subsequently the ref had another go at marking out ten yards, this time the crowd helped him to count to ten and again it was painfully obvious how wrong he had been with his earlier attempt.

Richard Money made five changes from the team that lost to Tamworth (it pains me to type that words) continuing his rotation or ‘keeping players fresh’ policy. Besta (bless him) was rested, but that was always on the cards bearing in mind Money’s comments after the match, ie that he was knackered.

As we have two first-teams worth of players I can see why RM has the confidence to chop and change at will, and perhaps six games in this first three weeks is a bit much for professional footballers, but I seem to recall that last March we had eight games, kept a largely settled side and thrived. I do hope that the side begins to settle a bit now. As the team gets chopped and changed our confidence seems to have waned. I do think you can try and keep everyone happy and everyone involved, but sooner or later we must stick to a group of players who can gain the confidence and experience of playing with each other each game. We haven’t got that at the moment and it showed today.

Tyler started in goal this time, and in my opinion was the man of the match. He made five excellent saves, including one from point blank, which, in effect, kept us in the game.

Save 1: Mulley crossed it from the left and I think it was Malcolm who turned and shot – Tyler saved from only about a yard and then snaffled the ball when it pounced free. Brilliant instinctive save.

Save 2: Just after half time that man Mulley again struck a rasping shot towards the corner which had MT full stretch to keep it out.

Save 3: A minute or so later he had to pull off another cracker from Yiadom (the names get stranger the further we plummet down the leagues) which was a volley about 10 yards out.

Save 4: With about a quarter of an hour to go our old friend, and now Hayes skipper Peter Holmes (we liked Holmesy) had a long range effort which needed a good tip over.

Save 5: Into stoppage time MT makes a good save down to his left from Malcolm as we are caught napping when pressing forwards.

Dan Gleeson played at right back and I felt that he was a bit off colour today. Perhaps RM would suggest he’s feeling the effects of six games in sixteen days, but it is the same for all the teams.

He didn’t get much cover on the right from Drury because he was tucking in, or from Claude because he’s, well, Claude, and so was exposed on a number of occasions. Apart from one occasion I can hardly recall him overlapping or getting a cross in. He did try a sneaky shot early on in the first half which whacked into their left back and went for a corner.

George Pilkington was in the middle – he was busy nodding the ball away and picking up the pieces but his distribution was disappointing today – largely because there was hardly enough room to pass to a player in space. His header on about 25 minutes drew a most fantastic save from Harrison their first keeper, full length stretch to tip it over.

Kroca played well and put in some excellent challenges – once again he was key at corners, but didn’t manage to turn one in today. At one point in the first half he drove forward into the box a la Alan Hansen but drove his shot well wide sending the stewards and both of the Hayes fans diving for cover. He also hit the crossbar with a header at one stage and we had a couple of chances from the ensuing goalmouth melee – but as happened many times today Hayes chucked bodies in the way and blocked shots which were goalbound.

Shane Blackett started on the left – I’m not sure if it was to give Freddie Murray a break, or if Murray took a knock against Tamworth or if he just played badly against Tamworth and was dropped. Blackett played well enough, he didn’t get outpaced down the left as much as Murray does, and fortunately didn’t succumb to one of his occasional clangers. Being full back he got to take his fair share of throws, which is an advantage of playing him over FM, as at least Shane doesn’t foul throw each time – unfortunately the downside is that whilst he can throw he regularly missed out on actually throwing it to a player in orange. In the latter stages of the game when we were bombing forward all the time he seemingly wandered up field at will and nearly got onto the end of one cross, heading just wide. He made one outstanding tackle from Holmes to deny him a clear chance on goal.

Jake Howells was left midfield – as I mentioned earlier he was dragged inside all the time, and when he did go wide no one managed to get the ball to him. Because of this he had a quiet game for him, and didn’t get to play the characteristic one-twos and drives into the box we have been used to last year. More than most Jake appears to be suffering from not having a regular place in the team, whereas last year he built an excellent understanding with Craddock and Gallen.

Jake made way for Claude Le Goal after about 57 minutes, in between the goals. Claude was in another strange mood today. Like the Pakistan cricket team you don’t know which one is going to turn up. I felt he played better going forwards than he did against Newport, but his cover at the back was ponderous and dangerous. He got a number of crosses in from the right, but again often had two men on him limiting his opportunities. Almost his first touch was a header at the far post which dropped just wide. His next header on goal towards the end of the game was much further away. At least he gives Tyler something to aim his kicks at, knowing that Gallen will be running into the space behind him.

Keano and Adam Murray were in the middle. Whilst both got in the requisite number of tackles, they suffered from a lack of space and were regularly closed down themselves. They were able to spray fewer passes out to the wings and so play was more condensed. Murray wins the award for miss of the month when he appeared to have alot of room after a cross from Jakey got nodded clear – he had the whole goal to aim at and drove it miles over. It was one of those where you go – “Aaaargh, my Mum/Granny/Auntie/childminder could have scored that ” etc etc [delete as applicable]

Adam Drury started on the right but immediately swapped with Claude once he came on. Again, devoid of space he made fewer runs down the channels and cut inside. He did get some decent crosses in, especially from free kicks. He did also have one excellent snapshot with his left foot that went just over, and of course on 60 minutes scored the equaliser. A high cross by Keane was played diagonally across the defence, cunningly, but accidentally over the heads of the two on rushing Luton players (Blackett and Krocha?) and it then bounced perfectly for, and conveniently into the path of the incoming Drury at the far post, a couple of yards out, who showed an instinctive eye for goal and headed the ball at the top of the bounce past the diving keeper. 1-1 within 6 minutes of conceding and, just like Newport we got back on level terms before too much of a panic set in and with time to spare to win convincingly. Alas, despite dominating play for long periods after that, and with much last ditch defending from Hayes, it was not to be.

Drury became the second Luton player to be dismissed in successive home games when he picked up a second yellow in extra time. His clumsy challenge against Mulley when exposed on the left was always going to get a card and off he went. Presumably he will miss the Grimsby game now.

Up front we started with MBH whose shooting boots have gone missing (possibly they were in with the youth kit that got stolen) and Danny Crow. MBH was popping up all over the park in their half, I don’t know if this was deliberate or if he was told to have a free role by RM, but he was definitely not running up and down in a narrow channel in the middle of the pitch. Up he popped on the left when Jake was dragged inside – back he popped making an interception in the middle of the park, on the right he popped covering for Drury when he had cut inside. All to no avail alas. He worked really hard but it was lots of effort without actually doing the things that got him his goals early on like popping up in the box and getting onto the end of the crosses. His positioning today meant that when we did manage to get crosses in there was only usually Danny Crow on the end of it. MBH scuffed a shot early on in the first half – presumably he was wearing his orthopaedic brogues again? I do him an injustice of course. He did also have a very good snapshot from a corner which he only just missed. A bit of his early season confidence dissipated when he fluffed that penalty on Tuesday night.

MBH was replaced by Kevin Gallen seconds after their goal went in. Now there was a tangible change. Suddenly balls were played up to KG whose trademark holding up and laying off meant that more passes were connected in the Hayes third of the pitch he made a real difference in being able to bring his team mates into the game.

Danny Crow also worked very hard, looked very committed and seemed to be loving it. Didn’t get too much service today and was too often the only one near to the box when a cross came in and was often snuffed out when he got the ball in dangerous positions. MBH played a great ball to him not long to half time, and (as I was making my way down the steps to answer a call of nature, brought on by an excess of pre-match Bank Holiday ale) Crow headed it sweetly towards the goal and Harrison brought off an outstanding save again. Harrison is clearly on piece-rates per save because after another couple before half time he was promptly substituted and replaced by Lennie, the club not being able to pay him any more bonuses, for this game at least.

As the first half drew to a close we were getting more and more into the game, and it was one of those periods that if half-time hadn’t come when it did we might just have got that elusive first goal.

However, after the break a different Hayes took to the field, presumably energised by some of Claude’s Mum’s soup or something similar taken with a large chunk of self-belief with a dollop of spring-in-the-step for good measure. They pounded our goal for the first 10 minutes (see saves 2 and 3 above) and it was completely with the run of play that they scored the opener. Green it was (I think) who crossed a ball from the left, Mark Tyler half punched it clear, but only as far as Prichard who deftly lobbed MT from about 20 yards out. A lovely finish which wouldn’t have been out of place tons of divisions above our humble level.

RM quickly made the two substitutions and made the difference, the last quarter of the game was characterised by us pressing forwards and giving it everything but nothing quite coming off – only to be caught out by Hayes at the other end requiring yet more saves from Tyler.

So as a game it was a frustrating but not unpleasant spectacle. Hayes weren’t a dirty side, other than the usual pushes and nudges at free kicks and long balls forwards. It is probably just as well because I’m not sure if the ref would have coped. They didn’t time waste as obviously as Newport, and on another day wouldn’t have seemed out of place for the win. I’ve seen plenty of games where the opposition has done a lot less but come away with a lot more. They were a good passing team, which is just as well as I don’t think any of them is over 5’5.

Scores on the doors:
MT 10
Gleeson: 6
Pilks: 7
Krocha: 7
Blackett: 6.5
Drury: 7.5
Keane: 7
Murray: 6.5
Howells: 5.5
MBH: 6
Crow: 7

Subs:

Gallen: 7.5
Claude: 7

Strangely Mr Craddock didn’t make it off the bench despite his goal on Saturday. Is it too early for this old fuddy-duddy to be clamouring for the Craddock-Gallen axis to be reinstated?

So, for some reason our high tempo passing game has dissolved and was replaced today with a much more bitty performance. This is only a blip and I’m assured that normal service will recommence against Grimsby. It had better, because we’ve got some (relatively, for non league) ‘tricky’ games forthcoming in the next month. Time to regain the confidence, shape, pace, passing and belief. No excuses – this time we have a whole week to regroup and get our breath back. I’m talking about the players of course, not the crowd.

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Toys and Prams

I don’t know – I go away for a couple of days and spend a day at the cricket and all hell has broken loose.

I was following the match on my phone yesterday whilst trying not to miss the clatter of Pakistani wickets. Though the Luton result was very disappointing, and frankly unexpected, there appears to have been a bit of a hoo-hah following Richard Money’s comments and actions.

My understanding is that dear Pavel Besta, a bit knackered at having to play three games in a week, cocked up for the second goal, when he was substituted he was booed (yes booed) by a group of Luton fans and Money turned around and had a verbal pop at them both at the time of the substitution and then ‘went into one’ at the end.

After game he said:

“I will continue to be fiercely protective of our players. I don’t have favourites and I don’t think supporters should have favourites either, they are their players.

“Pavel was very upset he had given the goal away and the reaction of our support was very, very disappointing and I will continue to be fiercely protective of our players.

“We saw it last year with (Adam) Newton and I’m not going to have it this year with Besta.

“There were a lot of clever comments. They’re here to support the players, every single one of them as far as I’m concerned.

“Football amazes me. Keith Keane gets sent off for a second yellow card on Tuesday, absolutely totally irresponsibly and he knows it, and he gets applauded off the pitch by 6,500 people. How crazy it that?

“Because of that, I’ve had to play Besta the third time in a week, when he’s missed all pre-season, not used to playing three times in a week I would suggest. He’s just arrived in the country two weeks ago.”

I’m told that there were also another incident with Money and the Hatters fans at the final whistle.

He continued: “As I said, they can boo me, they can hate me as much as they want, I really honestly do not care.

“So if they want to boo me, boo me, because they do it anyway. Last year we won 10 and draw four and we don’t go up in the play-offs, and I get booed.

“Half time against Oxford last year I’m getting called all the names under the sun, and we win 2-1 and I’m still getting booed.

“So they boo me anyway, carry on, do what you want, I really don’t care. But I’m not having it with the players, they’ve been fantastic up to now, this is just one indifferent, one poor performance and we’ve lost a game of football.

“Today is the day I suggest they need the support the most and I will continue to be fiercely, fiercely protective of that dressing room.”

Now I think a manager should be protective of his players, he has to keep them on an even keel, he has to have them in the frame of mind to perform each week and therefore has to act as a buffer to external influences which may affect their performance.If a group of fans, obviously frustrated and disappointed by the players and teams performance take it out on the player, Money, being a passionate man is going to give some back. Fair enough.

I had a look at the Outlaws site this morning and they were baying for Money’s blood and demanding statements from the club. I must admit, though I wasn’t there, it all seemed a little touchy. As if Luton fans are above having a few home truths told to them by the manager. Have we suddenly turned into Scousers? Can we do no wrong?

Perhaps I’m missing the point – again – I wasn’t there, so my objective opinion is only formed from that information I had read.

Booing individual players must be wrong. They are Hatters for God’s sake. Richard Jackson was one of the worst players I’ve ever seen, but I didn’t boo him. I shouted at him on occasions but never booed him. His lack of talent and commitment perplexed and frustrated me. But I couldn’t boo him. I did boo the corrupt board who were in charge before 2020 but never an individual player.

So imagine my surprise, with this in mind, when the club issued a statement earlier today. This reads as follows:

CLUB STATEMENT
Posted on: Sun 29 Aug 2010

After the Hatters’ 3-1 loss at Tamworth yesterday and Richard Money’s subsequent altercation with supporters, the Luton Town boss would like to apologise for his conduct to all Hatters.

Richard Money said: “Yesterday, I over-reacted and was wrong to do so. There are no two ways about it and I should know better.

“I would like to unreservedly apologise to those supporters who were on the receiving end of my frustrations after the game and I’d be happy to provide that apology in person to anyone who personally felt directly upset by my comments

“Whilst I have no excuses for my behaviour towards a few, I allowed my frustrations get the better of me and most certainly shouldn’t have done so. The last few days at the club have been very emotional.

“For everyone to see someone leave after such a long period of committed service was upsetting.

“When I heard some of the things being directed at our players I wrongly erupted instead of ignoring it, as I should have done. I suppose it touched a nerve and brought to the forefront of my mind when even Kevin Nicholls was verbally abused by a minority when he was playing through pain by those who considered him as a legend.

“I reminded me of when some were being over-critical of Matthew Barnes-Homer without giving him a chance and when his father was gravely ill.

“Yesterday, I had a brand new player trying his damndest, in a scrappy game in a foreign environment to him so I snapped when I should have been bigger and more professional.

“We can all see what happens to certain players like Jake Howells and Matthew when they carry so much confidence and I’m desperate to maintain the spirit we have in the squad because this is such a hard league to get out of.

“That said, I understand that such comments are only made by a small minority and I accept the vast majority of our fans are incredibly supportive, loyal and committed, for which I am very grateful, as are my coaches and players.

“For the benefit of those supporters, I have no excuses for the intensity of my actions yesterday and I appreciate that I will have to learn to temper my frustrations under such circumstances in future and ignore the minority who may continue to abuse our players and show more respect to the supportive element who may have mistakenly been in the firing line yesterday.

“Everyone here at the Club prides themselves on how we treat our supporters and I know I have let people down for which I’m sorry and I won’t let it happen again.

“Luton Town is important to me – I love it here and I’m 100% committed and confident that we are capable of winning this league this season, starting tomorrow at home to Hayes & Yeading.

Luton Town managing director Gary Sweet also commented on yesterday’s events.

He said: “Whilst I wasn’t close to the off-pitch incident yesterday all members of the board were very concerned and surprised that an official of Luton Town behaved in such a way particularly as it was so out of character and not in the spirit of how we want ambassadors and officials to act at any time.

“As well as myself, Stephen Browne and other shareholders discussed the situation with a number of supporters both at the game yesterday and since, as well as talking to Richard about the events in some detail.

“We are dealing with any verified issues of dissatisfaction with those supporters personally, directly and in confidence.

“Richard is a passionate and proud football manager who wears his heart on his sleeve. Whilst, as Richard respectfully admits, his conduct lacked the dignity and decorum we expect and insist upon from every member of staff towards all supporters we must acknowledge that it is a single-minded character such as his that will get Luton Town promoted this season.

“That does not mean we condone him overstepping the mark and Richard is clear on what we expect, but we must all realise and appreciate that we are not going to get what we all want without Richard Money.

“What is of paramount importance is that we will not achieve this objective without a greater spirit of unity at our club. A club of players, coaches, staff and supporters. We all have a part to play.

“As genuine and long-standing supporters ourselves we all know football is a game of opinions and frustrations but, mark my words, we shall not be in League Two next season if a certain element of attendees of our games continue to berate individual players with the venom we have witnessed.

“I have looked Richard in the eye and I can assure you that he is genuinely remorseful for what happened yesterday and he knows it showed a lack of respect to the majority of genuine supporters that follow us through thick and thin.

“On behalf of the board, I’d like to put this issue to bed, allow us to sensitively deal with those affected and positively focus on football and appeal to everyone; players, staff and supporters, to get behind the team tomorrow to get our promotion charge back on track.”

So what it doesn’t say is more revealing. Clearly when Money responded angrily to the fans yesterday, what he said and did was over the top and wholly unprofessional. Certainly passionate. The directors of the club, mindful of the furore and of the complaints received say to him “steady on old chap”.

Do I see it as being un-supportive of the manager? Yes, I do a bit. It’s a hard (impossible?) balancing act between keeping your paying public happy and keeping the manager and staff in line, but it smacks me of perhaps being a little over the top. Yes, when Money swore and over-reacted for the reasons he gave in the interview then fair enough he was wrong to do that, but I am sure I’d also be pretty sick of some of the ill-informed Neanderthal behaviour he has to put up with. Just because the fans support the club both verbally and financially, it doesn’t put those who step out of line beyond reproach. Then we do get like Liverpool FC, where the fans are blameless can do no wrong regardless of their abhorrent actions.

I’d rather the board lambasted the fans for booing the players rather than posting a statement putting the manager firmly in his place for putting the fans firmly in their place.

I’d love to have some comments from those who were there. As I say, my feelings on this are only informed by what I have read. I’ve got a temper, Richard Money’s got a temper. I know when mine goes (not very often) I lose control completely, perhaps his did because he knew how unfair and unjust people were being. I’m afraid to say I suspect I would have probably reacted in exactly the same way.

Right enough said. Let’s get eight against Hayes tomorrow….

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They came, they saw, they wasted time.

Richard Money was full of praise for Newport County in his post match summary – must admit I had a different opinion of them from where I was sitting.

In their defence they were a well organised side who didn’t spend the entire match with 11 behind the ball – conversely though, they took every opportunity to time waste and break up play and looked happy to accept the draw as soon as it was 1-1. They were aided and abetted by a referee who seemed to gleefully allow them to do this despite it being blatantly obvious, so they took the mickey even more, knowing he would allow them to get away with it. Once again we played against a team happy to writhe around in pain at the slightest knock, ably supported by the ref. Amazingly they took the ball to the corner flag to run things down 13 minutes short of the final whistle blowing – mind boggling.

You can’t win them all – but we could have won this one – Barnes-Homer lumping his penalty effort right into the arms of the keeper who had moved to his right. Crow (I think) had gone down under a heavy challenge from their right back, and he certainly made it look as if he had been shot, but a penalty it was.

We started with Tyler in goal – who was not at fault for their goal and who had a quietish game with only a handful of saves to make, readily choosing to play the ball out to a defender rather than hoofing it. He made an excellent save half way through the first half after a cross/shot from Henry on the right.

At right back was Dan Gleeson, who, under greater pressure in this game had fewer chances to dazzle and shine and was in fact caught out of position on a couple of occasions when Newport broke quickly he was caught between a rock and a hard place, not knowing to cover the left winger or the forward as he was back pedalling. Other than that he was pretty tidy all game.

George Pilkington was largely dependable at the back. He spent the game marking their big lump (Reid?) and will know he’s been in the wars tomorrow. I must admit, it did strike me as odd that he was marking the huge bloke, whilst 6′ 27″ Krocha marked the relatively small Matthews. Krocha got our equaliser, just 5 minutes after their opener when he jammed in a scuffed shot from MBH. Other than that the big man played assuredly well at the back against what might be the best strike force he gets to face in the division.

Murray played well at left back. He got outpaced in one of Newport’s first moves down the right, but as he so often does, seems to adjust his positioning to cater for the pace of the oncoming winger. He got forward more and more today playing his part in plenty of interchanges with first Drury and second Howells on the left. I think I counted at least a couple of crosses from him too.

On the right was Claude le Goal. Today he was a bit Claude le snooze and it was partially his failure to both pick up and then close down his man that gave Henry the opportunity to burst into our box and score after 25 minutes. Sometimes we get dozy Claude, sometimes we get world beating Claude. Today we got the one who was in dire need of his dear old Ma’s soupe again. More often than he has been recently he moved out of position, drifted inside and fluffed passes. However, for all of that, this version of dozy Claude is nothing like the one we had at the start of last and for the 08/09 season: he still overlapped well down the right and put 2 or 3 excellent crosses in. He was the odd man out though and I thought it was pretty obvious he would be first to be substituted. I suspected half time, but RM gave him 10 minutes in the second before he brought on Howells, moving Andy Drury onto the right.

In the middle Besta and Keane paired up again, Murray having been Tom-Dick for a couple of days. Besta had a better second half I thought than first. He did pepper the game with excellent challenges, but once or twice failed to find his man with the pass. That’s not meant as a criticism by the way – comparing to what we have had in the midfield in the recent past he’s a vast improvement, but he wasn’t quite on his game – probably not used to being chased by Welshmen.

Keith Keane was sent off in extra time minutes for a reckless tackle on Matthews as a broke quickly. He had already been given a booking twenty minutes earlier when he clonked the mascot-sized Morgan on the edge of the box (Henry curled just wide from the freekick) and so got another yellow and a red, which means he misses Saturday’s game at Tamworth. Murray (if he is better) is an outstanding replacement. Money hinted that Poku would come into contention too as he has been ‘on fire’ in recent weeks. Apart from a couple of misplaced passes and a heavy touch Keano had an excellent game and fought and battle really hard – giving nothing away, one devastatingly hard but fair challenge in particular stands out.

Drury started on the left and then swapped to the right when Jakey came on, and swapped into the middle when Keano was sent off. He had a marginally quieter game than against Alty, but was given much less room. Don’t get me wrong by the way – I’m not having a pop. Our boys played some surreal sublime passing football at times – some cracking one touch stuff reminiscent of the club at its very best, and some interchanges and lay-offs and running which would wouldn’t have been out of place many, many positions above us in the football league. What is not in doubt is Drury’s touch or vision, he played some excellent through balls this evening. With ten minutes to go he cut inside and had a left footed shot which went across goal and would have slotted nicely into the far corner, Thompson made an excellent save to deny what would have been a class finish. He was well marked though, our friends from the valleys having done their homework.

Up front was Kevin Gallen and MBH. Gallen had an excellent chance in the first half to get onto a Claude cross but didn’t quite connect. His passing and hold up play was up to its usual high standard but his impact on the game faded into the second half and he was replaced with Big Hips Danny Crow after about 65 mins.

MBH. Oh Matthew, Matthew. How many chances did you have tonight? Hats off for getting into so many goal-scoring positions but blimey you didn’t half fluff some chances tonight. I swear someone had swapped your shooting boot for an orthopaedic brogue. On another day, MBH would have had another hat-trick, even without the missed penalty. He worked hard, interchanging positions with Claude on occasion, but without being quite a bright and incisive at he was allowed to be on the opening day, courtesy of some much cannier marking. After about 10 mins he hit a fierce shot straight to their keeper from outside the box. He missed a header from a Howells cross just before he was subbed. Looking less sharp than against Alty and Kettering he was subbed for Craddock after 80 mins. TC got an excellent welcome when coming on (just like at the weekend) but didn’t really have enough time to have an impact.

Though we played some fantastic footie at times, in the second half I think we lost our shape and our way a bit. There was width at times, but too often the break through the congested middle of the pitch appeared to be the route forwards, rather than the more cultured wing play in the first half.

A couple of comedy moments to note – when their keeper, Thompson received the ball in open play he was always wont to stand there with the ball at his feet unless made to pick it when when an oncoming Hatter ran him down. The first time this occurred, on the right hand side of their box both strikers Gallen and MBH looked at each other as to who should charge him down. Though he was much further from the keeper and after a second or two of looking at each other, Gallen ran in as if to say “I’ll go then shall I?”. The Second gem was a lesson in how to turn attack into defence. Receiving the ball from a throw in deep into our half Henry (I think it was) passed the ball back to his keeper to retain possession, but managed to mis-kick it which had Thompson sprinting from his box to try to prevent the ball from running out for a corner. Needless to say he failed.

So, in summary, once again we played a high tempo passing game and dominated a match which we certainly deserved to win. At times our class and passing were made Newport look like Sunday league duffers, which they weren’t. I was very disappointed that we didn’t manage to get a second, and think that Thompson, their keeper deserved man of the match for them. I was also disappointed once again that the referee was so naively blind to the blatant tactics and attitude of the visiting team. I know, I know, I should expect it – we are their cup-final and all of that.

Oh, before I forget – my scores on the doors:

Tyler: 6.5
Gleeson: 6.5
Pilks: 7.5
Krocha: 8
Murray: 7
Claude: 6
Besta: 6
Keano: 7
Drury: 7.5
MBH: 6
Gallen: 7

Howells: 7
Crow: 7
TC: not on long enough.

1-1 then, on another night 3-1 would not have been out of place. Off to Lords on Saturday, so I’ll miss yet another game (part timer). We are still top – three wins and a draw from the first four games which is not a bad return. Looking at the early table there are some surprising names in the top few: Eastbourne, Forest Green and Southport, whilst York and Kettering are in the drop-zone. Early, early days.

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Barnsey the Hat-trick Hero

The boy Barnes-Homer done good. Hot on the heels of his winner on Saturday he produced a hat-trick tonight. Two games and we are top.

I didn’t manage to go to the game because I was driving back from the north west, but I managed to catch it on the radio from half way through the first half and the remainder of the game. I did have my first chance to hear the golden ticket of the excellent Simon Pitts from Diverse FM, and seasoned summariser Ian Pearce from 3CR, with the coverage unpeppered by Neil Roy and very good it was too. Pitts (as he showed against Oxford) is totally passionate and goes potty when Luton score – just like I do, very dangerous when you are charging down the motorway.

The Kettering team contained four former Hatters. Sol Davis, the legend; Paul Furlong the forty one year old target man who played for us under Blackwell. Tanny Abbey – (need I say more?) and Ian Roper the big lump. Alarm bells should be ringing for the fans at Kettering. I know we are a bigger club, and no disrespect to those players but I’m pretty sure none of them would be signed by RM now, even as reserves for the reserves. Perhaps a sign of how far we have come, or of how poor we were. But on quality of players alone it would suggest there would be a big gulf.

Richard Money had promised some changes before the game, we have six games (13% of the entire league season) this month alone, and so he wants to ‘keep everyone fresh’. Out went Mark Tyler and Jake Howells, in came K Pilks and Claude Le Goal. I was disappointed to hear that Jake didn’t start, but he came on in the second half and his introduction heralded the second goal. Craddock wasn’t even on the bench and it emerged afterwards that he has been ‘tapped’ up by a league club which was always going to happen. We will see if anything develops on that today.

As for the game – our first goal came when Ropes felled Kevin Gallen in the box.

Gallen was not running directly towards the goal at the time so Ropes only got a yellow. MBH whacked the ball down the middle and we were 1-0 up.

I missed the second goal due to a comedy of errors with the FM frequency – needless to say I was annoyed when I got the signal back and we were 1-1. It sounds as if it was from a corner again – something to practice in training chaps – that’s two in two games.

In the second half it sounded as if we pressed and pressed and the stats show that during the game we had 16 shots to their four. Something had to give and just after the hour things started to get interesting. On came Jake and Danny Crow for Claude and Kevin Gallen. Shortly after that Christie had the ball in the net again, but it was offside – then there was some sort of incident between him and Kroca because he received his marching orders and Kettering were down to 10 men.

On came Paul Furlong, playing for his eleventh club – presumably to hold the ball up and to make a nuisance. However, he had hardly been on the pitch when Crow started a move by passing to MBH who sprayed it out to Drury who ran into the box and blasted a shot at Tanny who parried it only for Barnsey to poach and pop it in.

It was all Luton after that. Not a case of hanging on but trying to get a third and it duly came after Roper upended his second Hatter of the night, this time ‘Big Hips’ Crow. Roper duly got his marching orders for the second yellow card offence – down to nine men and 3-1 when MBH netted his second penalty . Tanny then joined in the fun kicking the ball into the Hatters fans, presumably no one at that end had been engaging him in witty banter and reminding him of his six years at the town. Then there was a bit of a ding dong on the pitch and Besta came on for Adam Murray, to make his debut – having got clearance that afternoon from his national board to play. He even had time for a shot. Then – I didn’t hear it myself – Simon Pitts said that the PA announcer said declared the ref was the man of the match, sponsored by Spec Savers. I fear a fine coming on.

So, the match that had everything – a hat-trick, two sendings off, a disallowed goal and comedy moments galore. Furthermore 1,600 Luton fans travelled to Kettering on a Tuesday night, making up more than half the crowd. There’s a few Championship teams who’d wish for our travelling support. Shame I missed it.

Well done to MBH, four goals in two games, a start he couldn’t have dreamed of. His confidence must be sky high and credit to him for his turnaround and Richard Money for sticking with him.

Always good to get an away win and always good to get three goals away from home. Top then, after only two games. Saturday (when I’m at the Oval) Luton are away to Fleetwood – who are third (I know it is early days) they beat Mansfield 3-0 tonight and so clearly are not compete mugs. Saying that we beat them 4-1 last year…

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Welcome back M B-H.

The real Matthew Barnes-Homer turned up today, the one we thought we had signed last season, and he scored a cracking strike to grab a deserved win.

I was chuffed to bits for him, because the positive attitude in interviews he has given this term shone out and he seems determined to put his troubles and his poor season last year (nothwithstanding a cracking winner against Stevenage) behind him.

On an August day which reminded me more of a damp and showery April, the Hatters took to the field in their classic pink’n’purple historic celebration shirts. Richard Money didn’t surprise us with the make up of the defence and the midfield, but chose probably the least likely combination of MBH and Gallen up front. I thought he’d start with Barnsey after the excellent pre-season, but I did think he’d give the nod to Craddock, last season’s top scorer, despite his lack of goals in pre-season.

Rarely have we gone into the start of a season in such good shape: strong squad, confident manager (who we have confidence in), finances on a relatively even keel, no points deductions, good coaching staff. No question marks – just stability. Full credit to 2020 to get us to this solid, sound platform to build on.

The team was Tyler – who played pretty well, didn’t have too much to do and nearly saved their goal. His kicking was mainly on target, as per the normal game plan aiming for the right winger, Drury with his long kicks.

At right back was Dan Gleeson – who I was very impressed with. His link up play with Drury was very sound, and he got forward when he could. He played one weighted, swerved pass which was a joy to behold and which I hope to see time and time again this year. He played it with his instep and it went wide round the oncoming left winger but then swerved perfectly back into the path of Drury. It was like a whipped forehand passing shot by a tennis player, a swerve shot by a snooker pro, or like one of Jimmy Anderson’s booming inswingers: absolutely the perfect weighted pass.

In the middle was Mr Kroča (pronounced Crocha) making his debut and the ever reliable George Pilkington.

Kroča showed that not only is he going to tower over the majority of strikers this year as he is a man-mountain but he has a bit of pace, but also doesn’t have the turning circle of a tank unlike Mr Kovacs last year. What a turn up for the books! He scored the Hatters first goal today after a corner on the right hand side by Keith Keane it went outside of the far post for George Pilkington to nod back in (a la Chris Coyne) and Kroca nodded it in. Good goal, great debut.

Pilks, apart from the ‘assist’ had a solid game, keeping their strikers in his pocket all afternoon. Apart from one misplaced pass in the first five minutes, I can’t recall him putting a foot wrong. They defended really well – pushing up enough to ensure that almost all of Altrincham’s passes in the first half were too long, evading the strikers or wingers with an uncanny regularity. Whether it was free kicks or passes from the midfield the balls played were always too heavy for the strikers to get near.

On the left was our friend Freddie Murray – who hasn’t learnt how to throw-in over the summer. He had a good game – other than being outpaced with Altrincham’s first attack down the right. He even got forwards and had a shot! He played well with Jake Howells but the ball seemed to go down the right hand side for most of the second half and so had less involvement.

Jake Howells started on the left wing. Jake had a quiet game, for him, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t play his part. There were plenty of good touches and neat movement, but he didn’t seem to get the chance to get too many crosses in. One thing I noticed and a number of others around me was that dear Jake being only 5 foot tall is going to have to try to jump and reach an awful lot of overhit crosses from Drury this year which have evaded the oncoming strikers. Should’ve eaten his greens.

He nearly topped poor Gallen at one point when the ball came to him in the box on a rebound, falling over on his left hand side he struck it pretty cleanly, and volleyed it full pelt with his right foot, at head height. The striker ducked rather than trying to head it (wisely in my view) and the ball flew wide of the post on the full. Just before half time, having exchanged positions with M B-H who crossed it from the left he was well placed to get on the end of it but their defender (Densmore?) nodded it clear.

Jakey was subbed in the second half by Claude Le Goal, not for the last time this year I suspect, not because Jake isn’t up to it, far from it, but because if Drury continues to play as well as he did today, and they need to add a fresh pair of legs on the wing – or a target man – then Jake will be the obvious choice to make way. One thing I noticed from Howells today was that if he lost the ball, he would then go all out to win it back, wherever it took him.

In the middle were the twins, Keano and Adam Murray, numbers 4 and 14, physically alike, bloody hard to tell apart on occasion from 100 yards. Besta’s not going to help either as he is in a similar mould to those two – shortish, cropped hair. They should have pity on my poor old eyes by putting their names on the backs of their shirts or something like that.

Both players had excellent games, in fact they played so well you sort of didn’t notice them. But if you looked out for them, they were always harrying and closing down. Murray made some excellent intricate passes and two or good crossfield balls to set up his team mates. What a summer snaffle he was. Keane’s corner of course set up the first goal, twice his excellent tackles prevented a counter attack.

Onto Andy Drury, no 11. A brilliant acquisition to get Stevenage’s best player, who would rather play at this level for a proper club, with a decent crowd, than in the football league for a tiny team. It says a lot about the guy, because I have no doubt he would make a big difference to any team in the two divisions above. Compare him, for example, with that waste of space Darren Currie, supposedly a ‘quality’ player when we were in league one. After only one game who would you rather have in the team?

Drury had a sublime game. One of the best debuts I can remember. Perhaps in recent memory bettered only by the debut by a certain Mr Valois. Though I seem to recall that last year Simon Heslop’s debut was outstanding too.

Drury’s positional sense, his running on and off the ball, and his crossing were a breath of fresh air. As I mentioned already, he linked up well with Dan Gleeson, but also linked well with the midfielders and crossed well for the front two. He exchanged position with M B-H on a number of occasions and his one touch passing was a joy to behold. Outstanding, but still with more to give.

Up front we started with Gallen and M-BH. I was surprised that Gallen started, but perhaps it was to counter balance the youthful impetuousity of Barnes-Homer. He did what he usually did, laying off the ball well, good balls into space and a couple of shots, but without quite hitting his straps today. He didn’t look as sharp as he did at the end of last season, but perhaps it takes a few games to get the old legs working. He missed a header at the far post from a couple of yards out after good work from Drury. It was one of those that it was almost harder to miss!

Barnes-Homer had an outstanding game. He was everywhere in the front four, he completely dominated their defence. At one point he had two chances to extend our lead – an excellent shot from the edge of the box which was parried and came back to him and he nearly headed in the rebound.

Anything else? Oh yes, he scored a marvellous winner. He picked up the ball on the left hand edge of the box, he took a couple of touches and whacked it hard to Coburn’s right who was a full stretch, tucked just inside the post at a decent height which made it difficult to stop.

I couldn’t believe it. The game had followed a familiar script to so many before: Luton dominating, don’t get an early goal, finally get one in, continue to dominate but don’t get a second, then up pops the opposition with an equaliser against the run of play making the game look as if it would be 1-1 (which would have been a ludicrous result) but unlike previous seasons, seemingly having torn up the script, Barnes Homer comes up trumps with a well-deserved winner.

It was a bit of a surprise really, and it was a goal out of nothing. When the first substitutions were made, I felt that we lost a bit of shape and width – with Gnapka and Drury (eventually) swapping sides so that Claude was on the right. Danny Crow looked lively and up for it when he came on. He is a strange looking chap – long body and short legs and naturally broad making him look chubbier than he is. An excuse I use too. ‘Big hips’ I call it. Danny Crow has big hips. He also has a good eye for goal and a hunger to do well which was pretty obvious when he came on.

I was expecting less and more from Altrincham. Let me explain what I mean. They played with two men up front and weren’t quite as defensive as I seem to recall. They weren’t quite as hoofy as I remembered, but then again didn’t show any quality at all. What was disappointing was that once again they seemed to time waste and break up the play from the off, and went down far too easily, regularly hoodwinking the ref Mr Thompson, who looked like Adrian Forbes’ older brother. The ref was a big lad actually, you don’t get many refs as bulky as that. Presumably he gets less dissent because of his size. He was pretty prone to giving Altrincham easy fouls, but because our players didn’t go down as if they were shot at the slightest brush, we hardly got any free kicks at all – not stooping to their level. He booked Barnes-Homer when the score was 1-1 when his frustration boiled over a little.

Their goal came out of nothing, completely against the run of play (never has the phrase been used more appropriately), Reeves (their number 8) headed a flick-on past Tyler who nearly kept it out just failing to hook it out of the net.

In the first half after their keeper, Coburn had sliced a clearance in to the ‘Beech’ Huts and got some stick from the Kenny End and an ironic cheer the next time he managed to find a player from a clearance. He turned around and grinned to the home fans which was a nice touch. Plenty of keepers in the past have taken the bait and made all sorts of gestures and hand-signals to the crowd.

Right time for bed now. One thing I haven’t emphasised enough in this report is that we had chance after chance after chance, we dominated the possession and dictated the tempo of the game. On another day we could easily have had four goals. On other days this year we will play worse and score more. We played some fantastic attacking football at times, in the proper Luton Town way. We didn’t quite click all the way through, but hey, it was the first game and I’ll take a 2-1 at home any day. Start slowly and build up unstoppable momentum gradually.

So the scores on the doors:

Tyler….6.5
Gleeson…7.5
Pilks…7
Kroca…8
F Murray…7
Howells…6.5
A Murray…7.5
Keane…7.5
Drury…8.5
Gallen…7
MBH…9

Gnapka…6.5
Crow…7
Craddock – not on long enough, but whose moon-ball at the end took so long to come down that the ref blew for full time with it still 50ft up in the air.

The next real test comes on Tuesday when we are away to Kettering, whose tactics last year bored us to death and whose stultifying antics were enough to send to sleep a hyperactive kid who has been fed only a diet of Panda-pops and Haribos. Mind you that was under Cooper and Kettering are nothing like as ‘good’ without him. However, they appear to be reverting to type with a 0-0 at Gateshead today. It’s good to get the first away win as soon as possible, and I have no doubt that if we play as well as we did today that the three points will be on the way. Unless I can get out of an annoying meeting in Manchester I’ll have to miss it. Next Saturday I’m spending the day at the test match, if Pakistan manage to stretch the game to four days, so I haven’t bothered to even look up where Fleetwood is. Sounds like the name of some motorway services to me.

Thanks for reading, if you got this far and, as ever, I’m always grateful for your comments on the game.

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Ahead of the Big Day

The start of our assault on the BSP begins tomorrow with the home game against those perpetual spoilers Altrincham.

We will have to find a way to unpick their defence, as I recall they are big , brutal and very defensive.

So what team do we select – who will RM go with?

Trying to second guess is a dangerous game, but for the record I think he’ll go for:

Tyler

Gleeson (Ed not match fit yet perhaps?)
Pilks
Kroča
Freddie Murray

Drury
Keano
Adam Murray (over Besta)
Howells

Craddock
M-BH

Subs:
Claude Le Goal
Besta
Blackett
Gallen
Crow

Strikes me as a very strong team indeed. Let’s see how many I get right. Unfortunately as you can’t hear a bloody thing at the Kenny End (eg announcements, team news, evacuation arrangements, golden gamble) I’ll have to put my pint down and have a squint at the team on the scoreboard.

Predictions? Heart says – 1-0 – which I’ll be bloody pleased with; Head says Alty will come and frustrate us and it’ll be a 0-0.

Betting:
Luton win 1.44 on Betfair (I’ll lay)
Alty 9.6
Draw 4.6

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