So – Charlton escape with a draw in their cup final, they were out-sung and outplayed. Apart from the occasional non league fluff we didn’t look out of place against a side two divisions above us.
For my part I have enjoyed a day with four meals and plenty of ice-cold booze on an ice-cold day. Stopping at the O2 with many other travelling Hatters afforded me the opportunity to feast in the many different restaurants there. With all that food and seven layers of clothes I was probably being mistaken for Happy Harry. I shan’t eat for a week.
Only just got to the ground in time, but in time to hear the team announced, each player’s name greeted by an extra huge roar from the Hatters faithful. Tyler in goal, Howells at left back (wot no Murray?), Pilkington, Krocha, Gleeson at right back.
In midfield Claude started on the right, Drury partnered Keano in the middle, and Amari Morgan-Smith returned on the left.
Up top a welcome return for Danny ‘Big Hips’ Crow who partnered MBH.
So much action to describe, as so often against ‘better’ teams we played well – some of the interaction, interplay and one touch passing was reminiscent of years gone by. They did us, and Mr Money proud.
After some positive in moves initially, boisterously cheered on by the Hatters fans. Our first chance came from a Drury free kick which was tipped over by the Barbi-pink clad Elliot. But then calamity! With their first attack Reid, their left-winger tormented Gleeson without a thought, who stood off him too far and allowed him to cross perfectly it for an unmarked Anyinsah to head past a stunned Tyler. Unusually, for both fans and players alike this early goal didn’t dampen spirits or performance. Luton pressed and passed and passed some more. MBH and Gnapka interchanging positions up front.
Poor Jake got shoved over when shepherding the ball out at the home end, that big bully Benson got a booking for his trouble and a lot of stick from the fans.
The buzzing and lively MBH had a snapshot from 25 yards after collecting a ball from Danny Crow – the shot hit the post and bounced wide. Crow’s turn to have a 25 yard shot, but easily saved by Elliot. We were getting caught offside regularly by a twitchy linesman on the far side – who seemed to wait for the Charlton appeals each time before raising his flag, like a Pakistani umpire in the 80s.
It was all Luton now and Crow had a good chance with a one-on-one with the keeper but was forced wide. A couple of minutes later Keano found his name in the book for deliberate handball as a flick from his arm prevented a break forward by the home side.
Amid more offsides, suddenly the Gods smiled on us for once as not only was there a foul on AMS as he drove into the left hand side of the box (well, I say a foul, his heels were clipped) but the referee spotted it and awarded it. Drury stepped up, with my heart rate going through the roof and drove it down the middle, it catching the keepers legs, but fortunately the rebound off the legs went straight to Drury who headed it home – to a much relieved and jubilant away end. It was 1-1 and certainly no more than we deserved.
Glorious footy and passing by the town saw Claude put the ball in the net, only to be the victim of the flag yet again.
Alas, we were behind again shortly afterwards, after another knife-though-butter move, Charlton’s second chance of the game leading to their second goal. A cross from the right came to Wagstaff who turned and shot saved by Tyler but the ball ran clear and was headed back towards the goal by Jackson, deflected off Gleeson and trundled past the flailing Tyler into the corner.
A corner from Drury found Crow’s head but for the last five minutes Charlton had chances to extend their lead Anyinsah shooting wide, fortunately.
Three minutes extra time produced more pressure from the town but no equaliser.
No changes at the break, but two minutes in Tyler had to earn his money by tipping over a Francis shot. A minute later he made a more comfortable save from the strangely named Llera. Again a good save from a cross by Reid, after Dan left a hole in the right after progressing forwards.
Gleeson got his name taken a second or so later when he blocked Reid, who had been tormenting him all afternoon.
Great tackle to dispossess Jackson by Krocha relieved some of the building Charlton pressure at this point.
Just to make a point here – Keane and Drury had great games in the middle – Keane breaking up the play and laying it off nicely or passing it out to the wings. Drury was creative and much harder working in the middle than I’d imagined. Even Pilkington got in on the act with a Hansen-esque tackle, dribble and pass out to Morgan Smith on the wing (who fluffed it).
On came Atieno for Danny Crow, who, bearing in mind hadn’t played recently, had a great game. Atieno himself put himself around and layed it off nicely – he looked a threat, and I didn’t think I’d ever type that. We didn’t change the game plan and just whack it long when he came on which was pleasing to see.
Still 2-1 down the Town still stuck to the task and from this point onwards dominated the game. However, Charlton were good at getting bodies behind the ball and too often we got into fantastic positions on the edge of the box (it was like playing Histon and Corby again) but this time passed around the edge of the box without taking – or perhaps more fairly getting – the chance to shoot.
Three more chances came and went – Jake shot into the side netting, Morgan-Smith headed wide and Atieno beat a couple of defenders before the ball was shovelled clear.
On came Dan Walker to replace AMH. Oh it would have been good to get the ball behind the right back for Dan to run onto to demonstrate his pace – we didn’t quite manage it – but he was key in the equaliser. With Charlton sitting too deep and letting us dominate the play Dan swept it right to Gnapka who had MBH in tow. MBH overlapped and Claude cut inside run out of room and ran into one of the defenders. The balls momentum carried it to Drury who was unmarked and about 25 yards out who struck a perfect curling shot-come-chip (the sort of strike you dream of) over Elliot’s head and into the top corner – unsaveable and an absolutely fantastic goal. A goal which matched our performance and which merited at least a Luton draw.
Still time for MBH to have a shot, two corners in extra time and a penalty appeal by Claude. He twitsted and turned, mocking the defender, cutting in and out with the ball at his feet. The defender put his arm across him and Claude needed no second excuse to perform his dying swan routine. Was it a penalty? Well the defender did impede him, so strictly it was, but you see that sort of thing all the time and games would be won 8-7 each week if refs always gave those. Perhaps Claude didn’t help himself by going down i) at all or ii) in that ‘I’ve been sniped’ fashion. Anyway we can pontificate for hours here – the ref didn’t give it.
A loud roar greeted the final whistle. Hopefully the players appreciated the fact that we sang from beginning to end (their applause at the end would suggest so). What a shame that the spirit, mood and noise generated away can’t always appear at home. I know it can – I was there for all of the games in the League one winning season when the atmosphere in the last few games was as tangible a force as having an extra couple of players on the field. Perhaps it will surface if we carry on drubbing the Blue Square Premiership’s finest. Messrs Money and Brabin came to the away end to applaud us fans at the end which was good and they got an excellent response back.
As for the difference in the two teams, I saw it like this – their players were marginally technically better than ours – they made fewer mistakes in controlling the ball, they were more faster, and quicker at breaking, they were more incisive man for man – pound for pound. But they were not better. We played more as a team, had more passion and drive and played some cracking passing football which regularly tore holes in their defence. I suppose you could say that it was the same old story – dominating a game where we had lots of chances and should have put more away. But 2-2 was fair. Apart from the technical differences and their pace we didn’t look out of place playing against them, in the way we didn’t look out of place against Rochdale and Rotherham last year and of course we were only narrowly beaten by Southampton when we had a weaker team and squad.
It was a really good game a good advert for cup football and I bet ITV wish they’d picked it.
One benefit of the draw is that we will replay them under the lights at the Kenny which will hopefully be another magical night with the unique atmosphere that you only get on a Tuesday (and the occasional Wednesday) night at Kenilworth Road. They won’t fancy it much, that’s for sure.
We are in the hat for the third round again. Who would I like to see us drawn against? Well obviously Watford at home or away. Liverpool is almost inevitable of course as we haven’t played them for a couple of years. Arsenal would be good and would give us the room to play. Harry’s Spurs anyone? Failing that, hopefully a crappy League two team at home, Dover look like too much of a banana skin to be a bye.
Scores on the doors:
Tyler – 7.5 – made some good saves to keep the score decent when we were still 2-1 down.
Gleeson – 5.5 – only player who looked out of his depth (though he did make some good runs and overlaps) and Reid and Charlton soon picked up on this.
Pilkington – 7 – a rock at the back – came forward well too – but has been making more mistakes than before recently. For example he was nowhere near Anyinsah for the first header, left for dead he was.
Kroca – 7 – two good last ditch tackles. Think he was a bit nervous initially but these nerves dissolved.
Howells – 7.5 – dangerous linking up with AMH on the left – whereas he started as a defender he is clearly a much better winger or central midfielder now. Not pushed off the ball as much as he was when he started at left back. Not outclassed today and looked at home, even though he was playing in a (now) unfamiliar position against a team 40 places above.
Gnapka – 8 – though caught out of position occasionally and not tackling back as much as he might – he drifted and remained forwards and so was still in a much more threatening position when the ball came back to us as it did time and time again. Always a threat.
Keane – 8.5 – played brilliantly all game and dominated the midfield.
Drury – 9.5 – hard working, two goals, pulled strings. Too good for them.
AMH – 7.5 – bright but understandably not as sharp after his lay off. Got in very good positions though and was a thorn in their side. If he can be like this after a month’s lay off and against Charlton away, I genuinely think that the record books might have to be dusted off against the likes of Forest Green Rovers.
Crow – 7.5 – usual hard-working effort backed up by good play off the ball and lovely passes with it in his possession. A bit of luck and he would have got a goal today.
MBH – 8.5 – looked very dangerous today – involved in so many moves and looks more confident than at any time in his Luton career. A constant threat to their centre-halves and when he swapped to the wings got 4 or 5 crosses in.
Atieno – 8 – looked confident when coming on and posed a threat.
Walker – not really on long enough to give a proper rating, but involved in the goal and looks good.
Thanks for reading – greetings to those Hatters reading from abroad. Unless you are reading from the Arctic circle I suspect wherever you are was warmer than south London this afternoon 7 layers and beer coat notwithstanding.
Onwards and upwards – Wimbledon on Tuesday….weather permitting.