A competent and all too easy first half performance, a ‘workmanlike’ second half and a some unsavoury party food which was hard to swallow at the end.
I can’t post a long match report today as I have to be up first thing tomorrow to drive up to the north east to attend a funeral. So it is going to be very short and sweet.
7000 fans attended the birthday party a good number turning out in pink as suggested by the club, and the team turned out in their snazzy pink’n’blue outfits. The two halves of the match mirrored the years I’ve supported the club so well. Some cracking passing football in one half, and some midfield-laden stodgy stuff in the second.
The goals? A cracking bit of centre-forward opportunism by Danny Crow for the first, managing to temporarily crock their embarrassed keeper in the process. A great header by Pilks from a corner for the second, and a first goal for Atieno for the third, after an outstanding exchange of passes with Danny Crow.
The second half saw Bath (who were as poor as any team we’ve seen in the first 45) plump more men into midfield and to close us down from the front, forcing us to play long hopeful balls rather than getting the ball down and passing it. Which, when we did, we looked fully dangerous again. Full credit to Bath in the second half because they frustrated the team and the fans and spoilt the party a bit.
And what must they make of us? I’ve always thought that our cousins from the West Country always sound a bit simple because of their funny accents, even though they are not. They must think we are simple – winning 3-1 at home comfortably, six wins out of seven, four wins on the trot, at a canter, and we boo the manager for substituting the wrong player and chant ‘you don’t know what you are doing’ at him. With friends like this who needs enemies?
Gnapka and Amari Morgan-Smith didn’t start and weren’t on the bench and so when the team was seen (I won’t say announced because we can’t hear the PA in our bit of the Kenny End) we were missing these two players. Now that puts the fans noses out of joint a tiny bit I think, because there was no mention of their injuries in the press conference and so what are the fans to think? The flair player and the form player are dropped? You never quite know what to expect with RM – but obviously when the dust settled and we tried to work out the formation we realised that they must be crocked.
So Barnes-Homer started on the left, Atieno started in the middle and Crow on the right of a three. I think. Drury was playing but I think he was supposed to be on the right of a three in midfield along with Howells and Keane. Anyway, despite it being an offensive formation and us getting three in the first half, I don’t think it worked very well. Drury and Howells seemed to be spare parts and neither had outstanding games. As I said Bath bogged up the midfield in the second and so we were outnumbered. Barnes-Homer worked hard in the first half on the left without being outstanding as he isn’t a winger – though I hasten to add he did put a couple of excellent crosses in to go with his pinpoint one last week. In the second half Money changed things around, experimented a bit with the game tied up, and put Besta on in the middle, switched Jake into a role behind MBH up front on his own. Now, as I’ve said MBH wasn’t getting much service, because the ball was in the air for most of the half, and, running towards the Kenny End MBH’s naturally languid style doesn’t go down well all of the time and his apparently half-hearted attempts to get on the end of the umpteenth punt down the middle were getting people’s backs up – especially as Danny Crow was still running around with his tail up. We were sharing MBH’s frustration. Time to bring on a fresh pair of legs and change things around. And so on comes young Dan Walker to shake things up – but who comes off? The obvious choice is MBH – without a goal, looking a bit listless because of his frustration – but no. Off comes fan’s favourite Danny Crow. Now some people think that MBH must have compromising pictures of RM because he has been ever-present and seemingly can do no wrong. Whilst Crow, not allowed to start the season on the pitch, but once he did gets goals for fun and charges around all game. And this substitution, to those who subscribe to the ‘compromising pictures’ conspiracy, just confirmed their suspicions. My thinking was that Danny had got a card already and it was good practise to bring him off just in case, though it wasn’t a dirty game. Richard Money said afterwards that MBH had taken one for the team by playing out on the left wing in the first half and so deserved the chance to carry on. This thought process, of course, Money can’t communicate to the crowd. And so we witnessed one of the most cringeworthy responses to a substitution I can recall for many a year. I watched Money’s reactions throughout. He was livid initially with the booing and reacted, and then went into a mega-huff when the chanting started. He’s a sensitive type. And we all learnt at school how to wind up the sensitive kid.
Afterwards in his interview with Ian Pearce on 3CR he said that you could hear the chanting in Watford. He was still furious and seething. He explained his thinking behind the substitution and that the prerequisite he set before signing a new contract was to have everyone on board. He now defined that prerequisite as basically having the fans on his side. He wants to be loved. Or at least respected. And last year’s performances require some respect, and six wins out of seven this year and only being three points off the top club demands some respect too. And that is fair enough. Conversely, I suspect if we had gone up at the first attempt he would be hailed a hero – and indeed,
if this time next year we are top of League One he will be a hero.
But he has a strange and spiky relationship with the fans, and I suspect lots of people he meets. He puts people’s backs up a bit. And in turn he allows his back to be put up by others. He wants the fans to be understanding and appreciative of what he has achieved in the short time he has been here and he wants us all on board. But that’s probably not going to happen with a fan base bloodied and bruised and frustrated and desperate to get back into a league we were evicted from by the FA.
I think he has to understand that he is in a relationship with damaged goods: a fandom who have been through hell and back, and he is expecting everyone, even the dimwits who would boo their own players, to react to his decisions rationally. He’s expecting his relationship with the fans and more importantly our reaction to him to be that of a naive, joyous, misty-eyed, newly-wed bride; rather than that of a wily, thrice-married old slapper who has been round the block a few times and who has the scars to show it.
He wants to be appreciated and loved by all and somehow, until he notches up a promotion, he’s not going to get that acclaim. Like I said earlier he’s sensitive. Not everyone is the same. I’ve probably not got too many fans in my workplace – but then again I don’t work to be loved, I work to bring home the cash. No doubt he’ll get a cracking bonus if we get promoted. He should get his head down and worry about that more than wanting universal acclaim when he’s not going to get it.
Win the doubters over Richard. The only way you can do that is to carry on getting good results, playing good football and us going up. Rather than expecting everyone to be on board, focus on ensuring that you eliminate the remotest possibility of mass dissent. Make it impossible not to be loved.
In case I’ve not made it clear in the text, I’m fully on board with Money, despite his occasional oddities and I genuinely don’t believe anyone else (other than Pleaty) could do a better job. I condemn those who boo him, or the players or the performance. We should support the team not jeer. However, our supporters have been through more than any other set of fans so I can fully understand the frustration of some – which doesn’t mean I support it – just that I can understand that some might react in that way. It isn’t right, but any manager of Luton Town has to work that little bit harder than he would at any other club to get the disparate, dizzy, battered and bruised elements on side.
Where does this all leave Richard Money? His comments to the papers after the game were increasingly despondent and he is either attention-seeking, or nursing a bruised ego, or pissed off enough to piss off (if you excuse the language). Who knows with him? He’ll either calm down or call our bluff. But as my Dad would say: pride doesn’t pay the mortgage Richard. Get on with it.
Now, that said, when Dan Walker came on he was another breath of fresh air, even though he was tucked away on the left.
What would I have done differently in Money’s position at the start of the game with AMS and Gnapka injured? I would have stuck with 442 for a start and had Howells or Walker on the left and Drury on the right, with MBH and Crow up front. Keane with Poku and or Besta in the middle (though Besta did look rusty and still worryingly off the pace). Today’s formation I think was a dangerously Harford-esque buggers-muddle of trying to squeeze every one in and move everyone around to accommodate Atieno up front and in the middle. Further tinkering didn’t help and despite the win, I have a nagging feeling that today’s performance will have done more damage than good to our confidence levels. Confidence levels that were so high at the start as to nearly bring us a goal within 30 seconds and a corner before a minute was out. I just hope that we haven’t caught a crab or missed a step because of the enforced changes to team and formation. If you recall our great run last year came to an end when the team lost key players and more importantly the on-fire Gnapka was missing and we began to believe in our own mortality again. I just hope that the second half against Bath hasn’t knocked our self-belief (like the missed penalty did against Newport) and knocked us off the crest of our wave. Fortunately our opponents next week are Corby not Crawley. It is as simple as this: if our self-belief is re-acquired we will hammer them, but if the manager can’t get us back to where we were (and I’ve no reason to believe he can’t or won’t) then the tie would have the whiff of banana about it.
So in summary then, it was party time at Kenilworth Road, but the hangover came before the party was over, and the birthday boy fell out with some of the guests. Let’s hope that everyone has made up before too long. Pass the cake.
PS – wasn’t it good to see Basher, Baynham, Black et al at half time?
What was up with their injured player? Running up and down the touchline and then limping on to the pitch sitting down and being ignored by the physio. Only to carry on playing and then being stretched off. Bit bizarre if you ask me.
Also – balloons are nice and fun and put folk in a party mood – but yellow ones? Yellow ones?!? Why didn’t someone pop ’em? No respect for tradition some people.