A poor night for the Stags

Quiet game this evening, nothing much to report, certainly not three missed penalties, certainly not two sending offs or two players getting their first goals, one on his debut.

First, a word about the Darlington and Gateshead results. I didn’t go – so I didn’t see it first hand, and can just comment on the reports and what I listened to. I was so furious at the results I couldn’t be driven to write about them. It strikes me though, that from the start of the ‘week of the long journeys’ Money was already preparing excuses for the bad performances.

If I heard it once I heard it a dozen times about the two long journeys in a week and how the poor loves had to spend 4 hours cooped up on a luxury coach before playing football for 90 minutes. From the off it was sowing a seed in the players’ minds that they had an excuse for failure. And believe me, 1 point out of 6 in the fifth tier is failure.

Let’s just remind ourselves for a second that we weren’t relegated because of poor performance. We’re not here because we were a rubbish team, so it is outstanding how quickly we have reconciled ourselves to being a non-league team rather than a league team temporarily evicted to the conference. Just as a test batsmen who is only playing county cricket eventually lowers his standards through not playing at the top level, or how the English rugby team would be if we never played against the southern hemisphere teams; so we have lowered our standards to the division we find ourselves in.

How quickly the fan base has grown used to being kicked in the guts – ten years ago if we had lost away to Gateshead there would have been a riot in the offing. We wouldn’t have just allowed the manager to shrug his shoulders and blame the ref and the long journey.

It so annoys me this business about the journeys to the north east. It’s only 250 miles, and it isn’t Outer bloody Mongolia. It’s the same trip that the fans have to make, in addition to their working day, and furthermore I hasten to add, it is the same length of trip that some of us have to do in order to earn a living. Last Christmas I had to drive to and from Scotland (in the snow and ice) down to Hertfordshire – it took a damn sight longer than 4 hours, and I had to get up the next morning and do the same trip again in the opposite direction, knowing the snow and ice, queues and disruption that awaited me. I had every excuse to pick up the phone and to call in a sicky, especially as hadn’t got in until late, but that would be giving in, and the mortgage doesn’t pay itself. That is why the excuse of the long journey gets my goat so much. So many people who watch the Hatters have to put themselves through so much more each week to earn a crust than the minor privation of sitting on a coach. It is not as if they are ten million pound highly-honed racing thoroughbreds, but non-league footballers.

It’s an excuse, not a reason, for poor performance, and I thought Richard Money was bigger than that.

I’d also like to take my hat off to the travelling fans who did make it to either or both games, not using the long journey as an excuse.

Rant over – but you can expect RM to start rehearsing the excuses for the ‘trek’ to Barrow on Saturday…

And so onto this evening – a noisier than usual home crowd I thought, perhaps some were here to witness the death-throes of Money’s time as manager, as another defeat would surely have (rightly or wrongly) engendered a mini crisis. As it was, the paying guests at the Kenny this evening were treated to a host of talking points, not perhaps the finest game of footie ever played, but certainly an entertaining one.

So, where to start? I’ll go through the team. We started with Mark Tyler, who actually had little to do this evening. He threw the ball out where he could and kicked pretty accurately towards Claude.

At right back was Dan Gleeson who had a tidy enough game, whilst still filling me with a distant doubt that perhaps Ed should be playing. Or even Adam Newton…

At left back was Freddie Murray, who now shorn of beard was also shorn of towel in the first half, and it (the brown one) only appeared on the right wing in the second and so no long throws tonight. How strange. It is like that particular tactic can only be used occasionally or Murray forgot how to do it already. In any case, Murray had a good game, getting forward and supporting debutant Amari Morgan-Smith and making a couple of crucial challenges. Murray has improved in this past year.

In the middle was Mr Dependable George Pilkington who had his usual wholly reliable game, and Mr Krocha who was equally inconspicuous by his presence. Blackett was on the bench, a tad unfortunate bearing in mind the sound performances he has been putting in.

On the right was Claude Le Goal. Claude, Claude, Claude. What can I say that hasn’t been said already? At times brilliant, at times frustratingly unwieldy and clumsy on the ball. And inbetween times tormented the left back and got cross after cross in. He became Claude le Stroppe for a little while after snubbed by MHB for the third penalty.

In the middle was Jake – yes, still in the middle – who had a more attacking game than against Gateshead, by all accounts. Apart from a quiet first 20 minutes he was a gem and a delight. No wonder Money is playing him out of position now, just to fit him into the team (a la Mick). He was at times back to his brilliant best last year, but combining it with a never-say-die tackling back bustling midfielder.

To those of us who hadn’t travelled up to the north east, it was good to see Keane back. Though his booking on about 6 minutes clipped his wings a bit, he sailed close to the wind with a few challenges in the second half, but he did have a good game.

Left wing was ‘new boy’ Amari Morgan-Smith, signed only earlier that day and popped straight into the team. Must be a bit galling for Dan Walker and JJ O’Donnell that the new lad got straight in, but there you go. He had a splendid debut. He harried and chased from the front, as well as linking nicely with Freddie Murray and Jake Howells. Not quite sure why he was played on the wing when he’s a striker but there you go. I can’t see him getting too many crosses in, but I guess he will cause anxiety when he picks the ball up on the left and runs into the box. Oh, and he got a goal – but more of that later.

Up front was ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crowe who started for once (hurrah) and didn’t let us down. He worked incredibly hard and played others in really well. Oh, and he got a goal (and missed a penalty) too.

MBH had a quiet game and needs a break. Whilst he did make some nice lay offs he did seem a bit off the pace and a bit distracted. He sort of got in the way a bit at times and his poor form was made all the more obvious by the fact that those around him were having cracking games. His penalty miss was legendary.

It strikes me that now we have two players (eg Crow and Morgan-Smith) who clearly know where the goal is that perhaps they should start up top and Jake move back to the left. If Drury’s fit then he can go onto the right, giving the Claude the chance to come on and dazzle them from the bench.

And so onto Mansfield. Never in the field of football conflict has a side so high up the table been flattered by so few goals conceded. It only shows how utterly rubbish this division is that a side like that can get to 2nd (second) can score 9 (nine) goals in its previous two games yet be so unutterably crap. Ten men or not, there were times in this game when you thought that the Mansfield players had been kidnapped on the way to the game and replaced by strangers who had never kicked a ball. It just shows how poor this league is – and if we don’t cream it, eventually, it will be a human travesty. And what a dirty, nasty little team they were. Newton was scythed down by Silk and Mills committed GBH on Morgan-Smith. They lost it completely after the second penalty was awarded and after the ball had been cleared a minor melee ensued right in front of the Oak Road end. We were all shouting “get stuck in” and “knock his head off” which is of course wholly irresponsible behaviour for responsible adults. Mansfield were rattled and lost composure. The lack of composure was epitomised by their skipper, Foster who had been booked when the first penalty was ordered to be retaken, leading the protests and then got his marching orders shortly afterwards for his part in the dust up. Whatever form or shape they had prior to this disintegrated and they became a disorganised, vicious rabble, giving non-league a bad name. This wasn’t helped by the manager David Holdsworth who demonstrated the calm demeanour and intelligent diplomacy imbued in him by ten years spent at the club down the M1 (which has still never won anything) and was promptly sent off and took his place in the main stand.

If you haven’t picked up that we got three penalties in the game then I apologise. We managed to miss them all, which must be some kind of record. The first one was awarded when Keano drove a long ball forward from a free kick to Kroca who rose well but headed the ball into Mills (I think) I can only assumed he handled it because the ref blew for it immediately, much to the annoyance of the manager and Mansfield players.

If that wasn’t enough, it was time for a repeat performance of the Howard incident at York all those years ago and the Pilks and Craddock quarrel last year. A sure sign of indiscipline and disharmony in the ranks. If you recall, MBH who had scored two penalties against Kettering, muffed one and deflated himself and the season against Newport.

Claude wasn’t having this and grabbed the ball and wasn’t giving it up. Presumably MBH was the nominated penalty taker but the indecision was obvious for all to see. I would have thought that before the game/in training the manager would say “right MBH is taking the penalties if one is awarded” and you would expect the on-field captain to back this up.

However, despite much confusing gesticulation and handwringing from the bench, Claude insisted on taking it, and Pilks stood on the half way line, not getting involved.

Needless to say, Claude fired a weak penalty to the goalies left which was saved. However, presumably due to encroachment, the penalty was retaken (cue uproar from the Nottingham end). This time, step forward Danny Crow. His penalty was much better, bringing off a fine save from the keeper. Pandemonium, astonishment, bewilderment, resignation and anger prevailed on three sides of the ground.

Shortly into the second half, guess what? We won yet another penalty. Gnapka was tripped in the box, but this was a genuine trip not a Claude special. The ball found its way to Claude, who grabbed it but needed to do up his laces. He knelt down with the ball in front of him keeping an eye on his prize like a cat keeping its still twitching prey close to hand. But no one can both double-knot his laces and also hold onto the ball and MBH with the sharpest move he made all night, grabbed the ball and plopped it on the spot, much to Claude’s annoyance. Claude sulked for the next ten minutes. Mansfield then did their predictably cheaty best to delay it being taken, but when MBH did take it, well, what can I say? I doubt if a penalty has ever been missed by a greater margin. Dozens of people in the town centre ducked.

Money hinted strongly afterwards that Crow was the nominated penalty taker. I know being rewarded a penalty is rare for our club compared to others, and I know, that not being experienced or employed on the playing side of things, who am I to suggest as to what the players should or shouldn’t be practising, however I’d like to hint that perhaps, just perhaps, in addition to the long throws and the far-post corners, Mr Crow et al might like to practice burying the ball in the old onion bag from 12 yards – call me crazy for suggesting it if you like.

Fortunately, after the third miss, we didn’t have to wait too long for the first goal. Goals were inevitable, not just because of how poor Mansfield were (to those of you who can remember think back to Huddersfield March 2003) but because we were pressing forward, closing things down and knocking the ball around nicely. Danny Crow, surprise surprise, rewarded his first start with a goal, from a pass from Howells from a short corner. He buried it with aplomb.

It became two up not too long afterwards ‘new boy’ Morgan-Smith showed some of the raw goal scoring ability that netted him 21 goals last season for the unfortunately now defunct Ilkeston Town, a travesty that a club can go out of business for £47k which is less than half some players in the premiership’s weekly wage. How can that be right?

Keane lobbed the ball into the middle from the free kick, the goalie punched clear and AMS (see what I did there?) whacked the ball in from the edge of the box with unnerving aplomb. MBH take note…

After that, we sat back after the substitutions and lumped more people into the midfield. I swear at one point we were playing a formation of 3-6-1. When Crow came off to an excellent, and well-deserved bout of applause he was replaced by Atieno reprieved from his weekend sending off. MBH was replaced by Adam Murray who played well and was sort of furthest forward in the midfield, and AMS by Newton, I’m still trying to work out where he was supposed to play. My feeling was that if we would have plenty more goals if Money hadn’t buggered around with the formation.

The intensity and thus I suppose the enjoyment of the game was ratcheted up by the actions of the ref. Whilst I think we got the rub of the green from him, he did himself no favours by booking a Mansfield player in virtually the first minute for the first challenge, and Keano shortly afterwards, and once you have set the bar so low you can expect plenty of bookings and/or red cards to follow. He didn’t disappoint us, and Mansfield delightfully played their part by being a bunch of dirty sods.

It was a good game and a good atmosphere, enhanced as ever because it was under lights, and enhanced further by the ref and by Mansfield being a bit rubbish, dirty and down to ten men. If all football games were as packed with incident and controversy I suspect attendances would be twice as high.

Off to Barrow then, more excuses for Money if we don’t get a result because clearly a journey up the motorway to Cumbria in a coach is the footballing equivalent of a blindfolded, barefoot trek to Kathmandu carrying sixteen times your bodyweight whilst juggling burning axes. Have I made my point?

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Luton Teach Dons a Lesson

Albeit for a short while, second then, having beaten the top side 3-0. That’s more like it. It was a good game with a great atmosphere, helped by a noisy turnout from Wimbledon.

I know I’ve said this before, but it is still slightly surreal to think that these two teams played each other in the top flight just 18 years ago, and it was only 22 years ago when both clubs were cup winners in the same year. How times change. We can but hope that the same thing befalls the respective winners in 2010.

With Keane and Gleeson out and Besta on parental leave (something I didn’t bother with) the side had a slightly different look to it.

Tyler started in goal and earned his money tonight. I’ll come on to his heroics in a while, but if there is a better keeper in this division or indeed the one above I’d like to see who he is. We are so lucky to have such an excellent keeper between the sticks. To think when we were two divisions above we had to put up with keepers such as Ovengloves and Emberson, neither of whom was fit to tie Tylers boots. Saying that there was one moment of comedy gold near the end when clearing the ball from the box, next to the dead ball line MT managed to perform an impossible slice somehow squeezing the ball off his left foot at 90 degrees and straight into the Wimbledon fans for a corner at almost point blank range.

At right back Adam Newton came in for Gleeson and looked as sound as a pound, apart from on only one occasion. Poor old Ed is third choice now (not terribly happy about it – just read his facebook comments) but on his performance tonight Newton should stay even when Gleeson is fit again.

In the middle were Kroca (him with the deft touch of a wrecking ball) and Sean Blacklett (for those of you watching it on the telly). Both had good games, Blackett especially, and Krocha scored the second goal of course.

At left back Freddie Murray played, shorn of beard. Once again whenever the ball went out his ball boy dutifully passed him his towel (tonight’s towel was white by the way, the brown one’s in the wash) whether it was for a short throw or a big boomer. Actually we had two towels in operation tonight (yes, we are a two towel club these days) and there was one in operation on the opposite flank, this time for use by A Newton Esq.

Claude Le Goal was the right winger and played well ‘offensively’, but lacked discipline defensively, before tiring at the end. Claude is Claude – hard to believe he was once a defender! I lost count of the number of crosses he put in. But his tracking back and covering were negligent to say the least.

Jake Howells played in the middle, which I can’t recall him doing before. Boy, did he have a good game. He had more opportunities and was more creative in the first half but his work rate didn’t drop and he beavered away in the middle of the park, closing folk down as if he was born to the role. What a headache for Richard Money when Keano is back.

Skipper Pilks reprised his role as a midfielder and also as goalscorer. That’s 8 goals now in 84 appearances – we’ve had strikers with worse records: step forward Mr Feeney…

On the left the ever-dependable Andy Drury played his usual creative game unfettered by Hatton the right back.

Up top MBH who was keen to get back on the goalscoring trail after five games without a goal and he duly obliged. The impressive Atieno played alongside MBH and had a terrific game. It really does make a difference having a big man to hold up the ball up front and win the nod ons.

I can see what Money has done with the team – basically he has ‘done a Mick’ by accommodating the in form players, even if it means playing them out of position. For example – Jake looked bright when he came on against Cambridge, and so stayed for Wimbledon, forcing Adam Murray out. Pilks had a good game in the middle against Cambridge and so kept the role. Newton looked good against Cambridge and Grimsby and so started against Wimbledon. Blackett was playing okay at left back and slotted back in well at centre half and so kept his place. A real headache for Money when Keano and Gleeson are fit again. But perhaps it isn’t a headache, perhaps they bide their time on the bench if the side keeps winning?

It could have been oh so different. Wimbledon camped in our half for the first three minutes. Wimbledon had a cross/shot bringing out a save from Tyler within thirty seconds, and they had three corners in the first three minutes.

However, we found our shape and style after 5 minutes with Claude bombing down the wing, which resulted in a long throw from Newton but a ‘foul’ by Kroca gave Wimbledon the freekick.

A word about the ref Mr Whitton, whilst he had a reasonable game he did seem to blow up for a number of pointless fouls which we couldn’t spot at our end. I can’t recall a recent game where I have said “what was that actually for?” when the whistle was blown, for both sides. He wasn’t whistle happy by any means, but blew for things we couldn’t spot.

Our first chance came after only 7 minutes. Drury played a freekick deep (too deep we thought) but it found Atieno at the far post who beat his man and nodded it back in from where the penalty area joins the dead ball line. The ball fell to MBH chested it and tried an audacious Brko-esque overhead kick which cannoned into the post. Things were looking up.

The following corner was the first in a succession, which just by the law of averages meant that we were going to get a goal off one of them. Drury took it, it was flicked on by MBH but flew out of the goalmouth only for Pilks to loft it straight back in to the dubiously onside Krocha who ran in and tried to get a toe on it, but was adjusted to have shoved the keeper instead.

Only a minute later MBH and Gnapka linked up well on the right, with MBH holding up the knock on from Glaude just long enough before playing him in down the right. Claude’s good cross was luckily headed away by Hatton giving us another corner. This corner found Gnapka’s head at the far post but it went just wide.

Another minute later and again good play on the right between MBH and Claude (after Atieno won the header) let him plump another cross in from the right, but this time Brown in goal snaffled it.

Seconds later Claude was in again but this time played a poor ball in, rushing a cross when he had more time and it went out for a Dons throw. The ball found MBH from the throw and MBH entertained us with a Geoff Thomas-esque sliced shot which only just dribbled out for a thrown on the beach huts side. 11 minutes then and it was all Luton. We came again, Howells floating a cross into the far post for the strikers to get on the end of but it was cleared by Wimbledon.

To be fair to Wimbledon they tried to play nice football – other teams would have sat back and broken up the play at this point, but Wimbledon, naively perhaps maintained their shape and their attacking intentions giving us to room to exploit them all over the pitch.

After 14 minutes, persistence by Barnes Homer again, from a nicely dinked ball down the wing by Pilks won a slightly unnecessary corner. How many’s that now? 3? The Drury corner managed to miss most of the players, but was aimed at Pilks.

A mistake from Wimbledon to hang deep anticipating a long Murray throw allowed him to play the simple ball to Jake Howells who swung in a low dangerous cross which was headed out defensively by Hatton. Newton’s long throw nearly got through to Claude. This was 17 minutes now all Luton still Wimbledon could only clear the ball long, they weren’t even getting a sniff of a sniff.

Drury’s turn next Jake intercepted a poor ball out of defence, threaded in Drury who drove at goal, cut in onto his right and struck a snorker just over the bar, which would have taken the keeper with it if he’d got anywhere near it.

On 21 minutes a great run from Claude played in MBH whose control let him down and he lost possession, the ball was cleared but only as far as Pilks who clipped the ball back into the box. Hatton (I think) was unmarked and unchallenged but still pulled off a spectacular diving header to clear it into harms way out for a corner.

Corner #4 went deep and was headed out by Wimbledon only for Murray to pop up on the right and to play it down the right hand channel for MBH whose cross was blocked and it bounced out for corner #5 on the right. This one was punched clear Drury picked it up again, played in Jake Howells whose cross/shot was tipped over by the keeper for corner #6. Still only 22 minutes remember. This time the corner from the left was plopped straight onto Pilks head and with a flick of the head forced the header in from the far side, just outside the 6 yard box.

It had been all Luton for 20 minutes and the pressure and corners had finally told.

The pressure didn’t let up – on 24 minutes Jake smashed a shot just wide after Atieno had won the ball and Drury played it through. It was similar really to the Hayes game last year – only in the Hayes game all of our chances had gone in by this time – but the domination was completely the same.

The next ten minutes saw a bit of a lull, not really surprising bearing in mind the non-stop attacking we had seen from the Hatters. The next shot was from Atieno who tested the goalie from outside of the box – but didn’t appear to strike the ball too cleanly.

As we sat deeper the Dons had a better chance to get forward and get into it and threatened briefly on 35 minutes with two corners. From the second one the ball was headed out all the way to Blackman at the back in the centre circle. He was chased down admirably by Claude and then slipped to give Claude a clear run at goal, however the Frenchman was easily caught and forced wide by the recovering Blackman, Claude squeezed the ball to MBH who played it straight back to Claude who was by now well offside – a comedy offside. Claude looked like the bad guy in an old black and white movie left holding the bomb as the fuse burnt down.

Then, shortly afterwards, Drury won a throw down the left, right next to the corner flag. Everybody was drawn back into the six yard box, anticipating an incoming exocet from Freddie Murray. The same Freddie Murray I hasten to add who couldn’t throw the ball up until a few weeks ago. Foul throw after foul throw, what has happened to him? I’ve never seen a transformation like it. In cricket it’s the equivalent of Phil Tufnell becoming a great batsman. Anyway – as anticipated by everyone in came the booming throw right into the 6 yard box and right onto Kroca’s waiting head. Simple as you like. 2-0 against the pacesetters.

Time for the Dons to come back – almost immediately from throw, we failed to clear the ball, it came back in, Claude sleepily lost it in the box and it fell to Gregory whose piledriver rattled the post.

The very next move brought off an outstanding, but unconventional save from Tyler. Now Mark Tyler has brought of many a fine save in his short time at the club, but this was possibly inadvertently his finest.

A fast paced break from Wimbledon saw a cross from Hatton which evaded his player but fell kindly for Kedwell off Newton’s shins about 8 yards out goalside of the penalty spot, he hit it first time, hard, low, straight at the goal, the shot was hit hard enough to go through Tyler’s arms, but hit his head and it deflected wide, somehow. Had it his his arms, it would have been comparable to Gordon Banks’ famous one in terms of quality. As it was we can only admire his reactions and reflexes to be able to get something on it at all from point blank.

Other than a few more chances (!) the only other incident was Drury getting another silly yellow card for kicking the ball away, clumsily. For some reason the ref felt he needed to lecture him as well.

It was an outstanding half of entertaining, breathless football. It would have been difficult for the second half to match it. Luton took ages to come out for the second half, keeping the Wombles waiting.

Other than Atieno nearly chasing down Harris on a through ball, and the goal of course, the first 15 minutes of the second half passed without the succession of incidents the first half had.

Our third came after 48 minutes, Murray won a strong header from a throw taken on the right hand side half way into the Wimbledon half, the ball ran to Claude who played in Atieno who instantly played a ball across to MBH who was in the middle of the ‘D’ he took one touch and swung his right foot and whacked it into the corner with the outside of his boot. 3-0 game over. It was a good goal after the two set piece goals. One for the purist perhaps. I was delighted for MBH who showed that the glut of goals at the start of the season on the back of the positive bounce from pre-season were not his total contribution for the year and that Crow would have to sit on the bench for another couple of games. Super, almost nonchalant finish. How he manages to score those, but misses chances Mrs Mosque might put in I’ll never know.

They introduced Yussuf and Wellard to give them more pace and attacking options, Yussuf showed his pace, but mainly seemed to dribble the ball into touch, but at pace.

Jackson ran into Murray on the left edge of the Hatters’ box. From the free kick Gregory was left entirely unmarked from only 20 yards but fortunately he scuffed his shot.

Newton’s long throw caused problems and the ball bobbled just before Drury’s shot which howled over.

At the other end Yukubu’s header from a tidy cross went straight to Tyler’s grateful arms.

On 70 minutes Newton reminded us of his quick turn of pace when he intercepted a weak run from Blackman who accelerated back to hack him down and got a yellow card for his troubles.

Drury took the free kick and drew a weak punch from Brown the keeper.

Two minutes later Gnapka was played in by Drury on the edge of the box his shot was blocked by Harris’ hand as blatant handball as Blackett’s was against Grimsby.

At about this point Blackman incurred the wrath of the Kenny End. I don’t know what he said or did, but I think it might have involved spitting. Poor lad got booed to death after that. In the handful of games he has played in his career he’s probably never experienced the spite and vitriol he engendered from the crowd this evening. Welcome to Kenilworth Road my old son – it was good to see the passion reignited behind the goal. I do think that what we have endured over these past few seasons has managed to water down the fundamentalist support we used to enjoy. Supporting Luton in the near past has been more of an addiction than an enjoyment. The passion and extremes of emotion enjoyed and endured by generations of fans bred a certain, yes, fundamentalist, non compromising approach, not seen elsewhere, other than perhaps the two Scottish clubs. As I say this approach has been compromised in the past few years as the fans have been shell-shocked from the succession of nightmarish controversies and body-blows the club has lurched between. It would be good to get back the full on focus, passion, desire and commitment our fans always used to have.

Newton won a corner which fell immediate victim to yet another random whistle blow by the ref.

Gnapka made a good run into the box, but his tame cross to the keeper was a waste when he could have laid it back to Newton.

With 13 minutes to go Hatton struck at 40 yard free kick which Tyler saved spectacularly by diving to his left. Thank goodness we weren’t using the beach ball they used in the world cup.

On 80 minutes a succession of Hatters passes drew ‘Oles’ from the Kenny End, ending in Drury scuffing a shot in the 6 yard box.

5 minutes left an on came Dan Walker (for MBH) the Bedfordian who we signed in the summer after he impressed against us in the friendly. Though he didn’t get too many touches, he looked lively, hungry and eager. Who’s to say in 4 years time he and Toomey are lining up together up front? Is life that sweet? Whatever life may bring, I wish him all the luck in the world with his Luton career.

Next event was off the field. Newton was announced man of the match, which was fair enough, and Money, who has already publicly defended AN made great play of clapping the decision over his head in front of the crowd. I’m pleased for Newton, though RM is a bit of a twit on occasions. The only two things that annoyed me about Newton’s performance last year was the miss against Southampton (which affected him for the rest of the season) and his singular failure to close down the opposing left back when he was playing right wing. Oh it was frustrating. But, as right back, at this level at least he is tidy and more than competent.

I think the difference between the two teams was that we were quicker, and invariably first to the ball. We pressed higher up – in the first half at least and that gave Wimbledon little opportunity for their midfield to get hold of the ball to play in the dangerous Kedwell. It takes two teams to make an entertaining game though and I wish them, and their long suffering but committed fans well in their long but inevitable quest to play against that travesty of a club based in North East Bucks.

It was the sort of performance and game which makes you want to go and watch them again on Monday and also on Thursday with another one on Saturday. Infectious performance and result.

Scores on the doors:

Tyler: 9.5

Newton: 8 (his shins put Kedwell in for the shot that Tyler headed away, otherwise 8.5)
Blacklett: 7.5
Kroca: 8 (marked Kedwell well)
Murray: 7.5 (assist with throw)

Drury: 8.5
Pilkington: 8.5 (worked harder than a navvy on acid)
Howells: 9 (ran, ran, ran and ran some more – how versatile is he?)
Gnapka: 7

MBH: 8.5
Atieno: 8 (nice to have a player who can hold it up and nod it on and be a general pain in the arse a la Harford, Howard, Aylott etc)

So, it is now off to the far flung reaches of the land for the next two games. As with last year there is no mention in the Mosque household that the Mighty Hatters are playing away in the depths of the North East, otherwise it would be used as an excuse to spend the weekend with my in-laws. Much as I love the Town, unfortunately the avoidance ear-ache and arsepains outweighs the trip up the A1. I’ll have to make do with Ian Pearce and Simon Pitts on the tranny. I’m sure you understand my predicament!

Many thanks indeed for all of the excellent comments to the last post. Please make yourself known if you are far flung. Personally I’ve never travelled further east than Italy or further west than Florida. So it is fascinating to think of people reading this in countries I can only dream of visiting.

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Cambs to the slaughter

A welcome win, if not quite a return to tip top form. After four games without a victory I was happy to take any sort of win to pop the train back on the tracks.

A messy week for the Town with contradicting statements coming from Money and Tom Craddock about TC’s departure, further contradicted I think by Gary Sweet’s comments in the programme today. All I know is what a player told me about the conversation between Money and Craddock after the Altrincham game. RM said to Craddock, and I quote: “If that’s how you feel you can f**k off”. This whole episode has given me the impression that Mr Money is not necessarily the world’s finest touchy-feely man-manager. Craddock didn’t want to go – he just wanted some assurance as to his role in the team. Completely understandable for someone who got 24 goals last year, but who had been deliberately marginalised this year. Money wasn’t going to pander to the player especially when he had three other strikers who he had to keep on board. And so TC felt unloved and moved on. One to add to the catalogue of great management decisions under ‘H’ for Huge cock up. Black mark for Richard. Right, ‘nuf said – time to move on. Hopefully we can welcome him back with Oxford next season in the division above.

And so onto today. We had to win today, it’s a little melodramatic to say that this early on in the season but I think RM might have been strung up after the game if we hadn’t won. As it happens it was a good game with, for once, a good ref who didn’t decide that we had come to watch him.

Not that we can hear anything where we sit so we had no idea until the players appeared, but the team was: Tyler, Gleeson (against his old club) Blackett in the centre of defence, back to where he was last year and where he plays much better, Krocha and the bearded Murray back at left back. Murray was followed around all afternoon by a small boy carrying a brown towel. The lad kindly proferred him the towel before every throw, even short ones. Murray’s throwing was a revelation. Just like Adam Newton who last week unfurled Delap-esque long throws, Murray has gone from performing foul throws each time he picked up the ball to hearty attempts to hurl it across the face of the goal. Some worked some didn’t – it’d be nice to have the players alert enough in the box to make something of them. However, perhaps I’m a bit of a snob, but I’d much rather our players aped Arsenal’s tactics than Stoke’s.

In midfield, Drury returned and started on the left, in the middle were Adam Murray and George Pilkington reprising his role in the middle of the park first seen against Grays last year. (How must Besta feel? What about Godfrey ‘on fire’ Poku?) and on the right was the mercurial Claude le Goal.

Up top were MBH and Atieno making his home debut and first start. Again – how must Crow feel? I know Atieno gave us a different outlet against some big defenders, and had a good start, but it strikes me that RM doing a good job of pissing off his strikers one by one.

The first chance of the game came when MBH put Claude through down the right and he crossed it for Atieno, but the keeper nabbed it first, the cad.

Adam Drury had the first shot of the afternoon after an excellent cross by Claude missed everyone – but drilled his shot over.

A minute later MBH had a one on one with the keeper having been put through by Gleeson (I think) when he sprung the off-side trap. I’m afraid to say I didn’t feel he would score at any point – I hoped he would of course, but I didn’t think he would, and he didn’t: drilling it at the keeper, even though he seemed to have lots of time.

Next jotting on the note pad was that sometimes dear Krocha has the gentle touch of a hod carrier after six pints. His heavy clomp back to Tyler was fortunately off target and went out for a corner. The corner was a curious affair, Drury I think it was pointing out to the ref that the two players taking the corner hadn’t managed to get the ball the quarter circle bit by the corner flag bit he was made to come back as if he were encroaching, but fortunately then the players contrived to somehow be offside.

After 15 mins it was Atieno’s turn to have a one on one with the keeper and unfortunately didn’t manage to score either, he went very close but hit his shot into the side netting.

Three minutes later Pilks, who had a good game in the middle hooked the ball back as Platt broke out of it from defence, it was a perfectly good tackle, though he felled him and as it happened hurt him too. Off Platt went on a stretcher, and disappeared down the tunnel of doom with some words of encouragement from our fans. The good men and women from the St John Ambulance bursting into action, dusting the cobwebs off the club’s gurney. I hope they didn’t take him to Luton and Dunstable hospital, as he may never be seen again.

I was slightly distracted for the next few minutes after Cleo Rocos jnr took her seat in the stand below. I was not the only one who noticed her, in fact I turned around and watched about a hundred men following her progress through the Kenny End. The good Lord himself could have parachuted naked into the centre circle and we would have missed it because we were appreciating the shapely and frankly hard to miss thruppennies the young lady was only too happy to flaunt. Dirty old men.

Saah hacked down MBH to give us a free kick on the edge of the box – I say edge – it was probably much further out – difficult to tell sometimes from the other end. Anyway without Gallen’s thunderbolts Drury was the only real option to take the shot and his effort sailed harmlessly over the bar.

Then, as is so often the way, after a good chance for one team, the other team goes down and scores. Fortunately lady luck smiled on us time and time again today (about bloody time too, she’s been noticeably absent recently, presumably Money’s pissed her off as well) and the first instalment came at 32 minutes when Wright had an excellent effort only to scoop it wide. He should have scored and is probably still kicking himself if Martin Ling hasn’t had a go first. Then shortly after Freddie Murray put Drury in with a header, Drury showed the class player that he is and showed the bumbling fools around him how it is done with a deft turn and shimmy and a cracking finish. The house erupted with relief.

Shortly after it could have been two – Gnapka with another cross in from the right gave MBH a fine chance and his snap shot hit the post.

The ref only added a minute of extra time which was slightly odd bearing in mind it had taken a good few minutes to get Platt off the pitch. Long enough for me to dash down and nip to the gents and back – either I can do that in a minute or the ref forgot to stop his watch. However, the minute was long enough. Drury’s corner found Pilks whose header failed to be cleared and we were two up.

Remembering that we were 2-0 up against Cambridge last year, we were not safe. And after the break it was lastditch.com for about 15 minutes. We failed to get out of our half and the fans got increasingly frustrated. Gleeson was substitued after about 10 minutes of the second half after he blocked a shot. He limped around for a couple of minutes but was soon replaced by Adam Newton at right back. Newton played soundly for the remainder of the second half.

Howells replaced Atieno after an hour. Pleased to see Jake re-included so soon. Atieno had played well in the game – B+, good start. He showed one touch of brilliance in the second half where the ball came to him from a punt out of defence and he trapped the ball dead, span and ran in one movement, a dazzling skill rarely seen at this level and much appreciated by the Hatters fans. Howells was not quite back to his sublime best of last year, but looked good and sparky and the game transformed somewhat with his introduction, in the same way Gallen’s led our revival against Hayes. With Atieno gone Claude moved up front a la Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final and was a target if nothing else. Whilst the first half of the second period was all Cambridge’s largely due to us conceding the midfield because Pilks and Murray played too deeply, the second half of the half was largely Luton. Suddenly – and this bodes well for the Don’s game on Friday we remembered how we play again.

With 20 minutes to go dear Claude had his shirt nearly ripped off at a corner – but the ref didn’t manage to spot it. It looked as if he’d been wrestling with a rabid rhino so I’d love to know how the ref thought it got like that.

Claude was taken off shortly after that presumably so that the seamstress could get an early go at putting his shirt back together. On came ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow – eager to get his first goal, eager to get a starting place and eager to put one over his former club. He looked lively and keen. And should start against Wimbledon. He had two chances, and was only denied by two excellent saves by the keeper Brown the second after being played in well by a fine ball from Adam Murray.

My man of the match today was without doubt Shane Blackett (or Sean Blacklett if you watch Premier Sports) oddly enough I’ve not mentioned him in the report so far. He was dominant at the back and made two clearances off the line to keep us in the game as well as a fantastic block. As has been recorded on these pages – Blackett regularly plays well at centre-half, but you do have to watch out for a couple of game-losing howlers he will make at some point in the season. But today he was brilliant and it is no coincidence that it was only our second clean sheet today with him there.

One last moment of comedy genius – Wilmott (I think) played the ball back to Brown in the Cambridge goal who managed to let it get past him and had to race back to prevent it from crossing the line a goalie’s nightmare.

2-0 then and, as I say a good game of football. Cambridge had one of those days when they wouldn’t have scored if they played for another two hours, despite dominating for significant periods. If Keano comes back on Friday then Money will have a bit of a headache. Blackett played well enough to be retained today so who would you leave out?

The win leaves still 6th with a record of 4-2-2. With the majority of the teams above us recording a win – a defeat today would have meant we were 9th.

The scores on the doors:

Tyler – 7 – kicked long again, but accurately, had little to do other than a few punches and saves low down. 7

Gleeson – 7 – before he went off he was having a good game.

Blackett – 9 – sound as a pound

Krocha – 7 – pest up front, rock at the back, apart from the clumpy pass back which rattled the hoardings at the Kenny End

F Murray – 7 – good defending and overlapped well without ever managing to be given the ball.

Gnapka – 7.5 – or rather 9 in some places 6 in others.

A Murray – 7 – diligent in the heart of midfield sat too deep at the start of the 2nd half

Pilkington – 7.5 – extra half point for playing so well out of position

Drury – 8 – classy goal and good efforts

MBH – 6 – chances a-plenty but no goals

Atieno – 7 – sound start – needs to get on some of those crosses.

Newton – 7.5 – coped really well – I think he looked better than Gleeson

Howells – 7.5 – bright, but didn’t quite get the run of the ball or the final touch – but looked fresh.

Crow – 7.5 – goals will come soon I’m sure

On Friday we take on Wimbledon under the lights and on the telly. I do hope that a) we continue to play proper football like we did in the second half of the second half b) rather than modifying our tactics to counter Wimbledon we stick to our guns and let them worry about us. I think MBH – who was lively in places but had a number of chances today – needs a rest and that Danny Crow should start. I would have Jake on the left and Drury on the right with Claude to come on as a beserker if need be. A win on Friday and we will be right back ‘in the mix’ and only 2 points behind Wimbledon. I think after Friday we will have a much better idea of our destiny this year.

Many thanks to all of you who read this blog, and especially to those ex-pat Hatters who log on from places as diverse as Oman, Chile Bermuda and Harpenden. As ever, all comments welcome.

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Grim Effort at Grimsby

That’s four games without a win now in the fifth tier. It’s as if our bubble of confidence was popped when MBH missed that penalty against Newport and our play since then has been poor. Today’s performance was well below the expected standard. Touted by the telly people as a footballing team, I was embarrassed at times by our inability to play anything other than long hopeful balls, gratefully nodded away by their centre halves. We appeared to have three teams playing for us – one in defence, one in midfield and another in attack – none of whom had played with each other before.

As the game was on the telly box I chose not to visit the land of the stinky-trawler and instead spent a rare Saturday at home with the family. The cat won’t thank me though as it took its fair share of stick and cowered in the shed for the second half.

We started brightly, Grimsby started slowly and we were the better team for the first 20 minutes and for the first ten after half time. However, this isn’t how Richard Money saw it as he reckoned we were the better team for the first hour. We weren’t.

The team today was Tyler – Gleeson, Pilks, Kroca, Blackett – Gnapka (replacing the suspended Drury), Keano, Murray, Newton (replacing Howells – Jake’s last two starts have not been good, so this was less of a surprise than it normally would have been) Gallen (replacing Crow) and MBH.

We had three chances in the first twenty minutes – a shot by Gallen, a rocket by Murray from 20 yards which hit the bar and a speculative hit’n’hope by Claude which slewed well wide.

Claude won a free kick on the edge of the box when he went down all too easily, the ref obviously hadn’t seen him play before. Unfortunately Gallen didn’t catch his intended pile driver correctly and it sailed gently to O’Donnell their on loan keeper.

Gnapka continued looking positive down the right and one run stood out in particular after about 25 minutes, where he was fed well from Newton’s excellent interception. Not long after this Keano fell awkwardly when getting to the ball first to drive the ball through the mellee.

After 29 minutes we went one behind. Hudson took a deep corner from the right, it went just beyond the penalty spot and was met by Kempson with a smart header which struck Blackett’s arm. Blackett had jumped with, but substantially away from Kempson for the header, with his arm raised, and as he came down his arm was still in the air when the ball struck it. Penalty said the ref. Why couldn’t we have had this ref on Monday rather than the visually-challenged fool we had against Hayes? We would have had four penalties then. Needless to say Connell slotted an excellent penalty past Tyler who dived the right way but would never have reached it.

It was ironic that Blackett was suddenly the focus of attention as the silly commentator had called him Sean Blacklett for the first half. He (Blackett not the commentator) picked up a yellow card for his infringement.

We seemed to abandon any pretence of neat passing football from this point apart from one move where Gallen moved deep to pick up the ball on a break and turned and put in a lovely ball MBH who broke well and put in Murray for a shot.

MBH looked very lively today – but just like against Hayes he was here, there and everywhere, but not in front of goal. Gallen was on his own for most of the half and when he was replaced by Crow he was isolated too. MBH turned up next to Crow for one move towards the end and surprised him by his presence – needless to say we looked more dangerous with two in front of goal, albeit fleetingly.

One thing that took me by surprise this evening was Adam Newton’s long throws. I don’t remember them last year. Where did they spring from? What was a pity is that it looked as if the players were taken by surprise too as they failed to do anything meaningful with them.

George Pilkington was tidy enough at the back, and in fact looked in charge and composed. However, one aspect of his game that I have noticed has deteriorated is his passing. He hit it long and direction-less today, time and time again, either missing our players completely or allowing it to be easily nodded away by their centre halves. I can’t imagine he enjoys just pumping it down-field – but as I said earlier, each section of the team seemed divorced from each other part, and so he had little choice I guess.

Keane and Murray worked hard in the middle, but again had little opportunity to dominate or dictate play. They were so deep that there was a country mile between them, the wingers and the strikers and therefore very little interpassing and one touch stuff was possible.

Just before the break in the first half we had another brief glimpse of what might have been. Gallen hassling and closing down their defender won us a corner – from the corner Blackett had two chances with headers to equalise – but it was not to be.

At the start of the second half we started brightly. MBH had a shot after Newton broke nicely down the left wing. I made a note that the TV commentator said “Richard Money doesn’t look happy” at this point. He never looks bloody happy!

Keane played Gnapka down the right, he got to the byline and was stood up by Ridley – however Claude being Claude went down as if shot and when caught on TV it looks even more obvious. This action failed to endear him to the home fans.

We won a free kick on the left, Murray took it and played a shallow ball to the edge of the box where Blackett jumped and fell backwards under pressure from Ridley (I think). The Hatters went up for the penalty, but I don’t think it was. It didn’t strike me as a penalty – though we’ve all seen them given of course.

On 53 minutes Murray played a good ball down the left to MBH. He ran at the right back and cut inside as if to cross – he then noticed that the Kempson had slipped and looked up and continued on and shot crisply and hit the post alas. He did well, and his pace and awareness deserved a goal.

Keane, perhaps still feeling the effects of his fall earlier, was replaced by Besta after 55 minutes.

Grimsby were now playing the ball long and direct in behind our defence and kept turning our defenders around. Kroca was particularly susceptible to this and was booked on 60 minutes when he made a very late challenge on Connelly (I think) but made no contact. It was just as well because he would have taken a very large chunk out of the Grimsby man if he had.

On 60 minutes Gallen came off and was replaced by big-hipped Danny Crow. Because the ball was played so long and there was such a big gap between the midfield and the front two he didn’t get much of a chance to get into the game, and I’m not entirely sure that MBH is the best choice as partner for him up front.

The next action, or Luton action at least was when Newton and MBH joined up well again on the left and won a corner. Murray’s cross found Pilks, but it was slightly behind him and he headed over.

On 67 minutes Gleeson felled Ridley, who had taken a leaf out of Claude’s book and went down that bit too easily on the edge of the box. Gleeson reacted angrily and showed a bit of passion. There was a bit of pushing and handbags but the ref wisely chose not to book him.

But as these things so often do the free kick led indirectly to the goal. The kick itself was played into the Luton wall and bounced out for a corner. The long corner found an unmarked Cummins deep on the edge of the Hatters box and he headed a strong and powerful header back across the goal and in. 2-0.

Taiwo Atieno made his debut when brought on as sub in the 78th minute. Remember him? He was the well travelled Brixton-born Kenyan international who trained with us last year, was signed on a temporary contract after netting three against MK Dons in a reserve game, and then got injured. He’s 6’2 and looks a reasonable handful. He formed part of a front three when he came on but I think we could have huffed and puffed for another 90 minutes and not scored. Atieno had his only chance with a header shortly after coming on, after Crow had won a corner.

For the last 10 minutes the play alternated between Grimsby running at us and Tyler whacking hopeful balls forward for their centre halves to head away. It was a limp performance really, we never got hold of the game properly even though we cobbled together some half decent chances.

I noticed that someone on the Outlaws message board predicted Money’s post-match comments and spookily was very nearly spot on. What worries me about Money’s post-match comments is that if he genuinely thinks we played well, dominated, and deserved to win, then not only is he fibbing or demonstrating gross misjudgement, but he may also say the same nonsense to his players. After that performance what they don’t need is a pally pat on the back and being told how lovely they are. They need a kick up the arse.

Sorry to sound negative this evening, but I was genuinely disappointed with our performance. We abandoned the close-quick-passing-and-pressing-from-the-front-high-tempo game that suits the team and the fans so well, and sat too deep and played too long for most parts.

So – scores on the doors:

Tyler – 5 – didn’t actually have many saves to make, but his long kicking was poorly directed for a change. Yes, Gnapka is the one he targets, but he didn’t find him very often today and too many were down the middle only for the lonely Gallen or Crow to be out-jumped.

Gleeson – 6 – turned a couple of times, and is a bit slow but his defending was very professional. Didn’t hardly get forwards though to my mind.

Pilks – 6 – defending good, passing poor.

Krocha – 5 – passing good, defending poor.

Sean Blacklett – 5.5 – one or two decent passes, linked up once or twice with Newton.

Claude – 7 – lively first half, mostly anonymous second

Keane – 5.5 – tacking good – but didn’t press them enough

Murray – 5.5 – as above, too many long balls

Newton – 7 – played well in places and was the most consistent danger for the first half

Gallen – 6 – involved at start, anonymous by 60 mins.

MBH – 7.5 – ran all afternoon and looked hungry – but popped up on the left too often when he should have been standing on the penalty spot.

Crow – 6 – didn’t get much service

Besta – 5.5 – see Keane and Murray

Atieno – not on long enough.

So, after all that, we are sixth with 11 points – on the same number of points as those footballing giants Fleetwood and behind towering Tamworth. Ye gods. After seven games last year we were still unbeaten with 15 points. I’ll not say a word… you know what happened next.

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