Let’s all have a disco

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.


Charlton in the cup

I can’t wait for Saturday – it’ll be a litmus test of our progress this year, though we will be without Lawless and Walker Snr – though there are rumours of Mssrs Crow and AMS being fit-again.

I am sure that will mean AMS will be on the bench – I can’t imagine he’ll go straight in to a start.

So – presumably Crow or Atieno up top with MBH.

In the middle – Jake and Keano? On the left Drury – right Gnakpa?

Back four sorts itself out – for now.

Snow permitting we’ve got our route sorted out and it involves a culinary dream and a chance for some unrestricted “I’m not driving this week” beer.

Predictions? Well I seem to remember that last we played them was in the league cup a few seasons ago and we won in extra time. Very distant memory, willing to be corrected.

And – this week we drew Welling Utd in the mickey mouse cup on the 11/12. Presumably a good chance for Watkins et al to step up to the plate.

Bring on Saturday and the culinary delights glory of the FA Cup.


Roper, you’ve let yourself go!

A splendidly entertaining game that could easily have delivered half a dozen more goals saw the Hatters progress to the next round against Charlton.

The game had everything. Shots, goals, sending offs, the Corby mascot pretending to be manager, someone’s Dad lumbering around in defence, and an opposition keeper who when not retrieving the ball from the net, or making excellent saves seemed to have a predilection for the half way line.

Where to start? There’s enough material to write a small book.

It was lovely to watch a game in the sarf again – having been to Wrexham and Altrincham last week (sorry no Alty report, too much work on). Actually if I had done an Altrincham report I would have said that travelling from Wrexham to Altrincham is a bit like only having influenza rather than pneumonia – obviously offending any northern readers in the process, so it is just as well I didn’t put that*.

Visiting Bury Park at this time of year you get to see the attractive Christmas lights on your way in – a cunning collection of bright neon blue and white twinkling lights giving you the impression you are surrounded by police cars. Of course, at certain times of the day in Bury Park, you are surrounded by police cars. Perhaps it is to lull the local residents into a false sense of security.

Only 3000ish fans appeared last night 400 of those being a noisy bunch from Corby whose singing chanting and that blessed drum kept on all night – fair play to them. Ironically of course they shut up once they scored their goals.

The fans who did turn up were treated to a very entertaining game, the result of which wasn’t truly in doubt at any point in the match.

I don’t think most of the Luton players really got out of second gear and for large spells of the game our wingers were just queuing up to get an unchallenged cross into the box. It was for the most part our attackers vs their defenders. Our great build up play meant that we created the opportunity for goodness knows how many shots – but our lack of clinical finishing meant that only 4 went in. I don’t think we’ll ever get a better chance to break the nation’s scoring records unless we are drawn at home to Stockbridge Park Steelmen in the Trophy next week. If we had had a half-fit hungover Steve Howard last night, he would have scored a dozen. But there you go – we won and that was the important thing.

We started with Mark Tyler in goal, the improving Dan Gleeson at right back (material improvement in the last two games) Pilks and Ed A-A at centre half and Freddie Murray at left back.

In midfield, Claude started on the right. Well, I say started, other than his well-taken goal I don’t think he did start really. An onfire Gnapka last night would have caused football carnage that would have been embarrassing to watch it would have been so one-sided. He picked up in the second half and never gave up, but some of his play in the first was lacklustre and unenthusiastic to say the least. But that’s what you get with Claude isn’t it? You roll a dice before kick off – if it comes up 6 you get an outstanding display – and if it comes up 1 you get the impression that he mind is somewhere in the Dordognes. This is why, with Jake and Drury fit– I’d always have Claude as your berserker to bring on at half time or as a shock troop for the last 20 mins.

In the middle, with Mr Lawless cup-tied, was the aforementioned Mr Howells and Keith Keane. On the left was Andy Drury who was in sublime form this evening. I truly think that when on form he is the best player in this division. I actually suspect he is the best player in the division above too. Shhh. Howells too had an excellent game winning the ball well and driving forward. When he moved to the wing he was crossing it for fun.

Up front were MBH and Atieno. Well done to the pair of them for getting three goals between them, but I think in their heart of hearts they know that they might have had so many more.

The game itself was played in its entirely in missly cold November rain – the players were regularly losing their footing, but it didn’t detract from the enjoyment at any point.

Onto the game – I’ll not describe all 31 chances or we will be here all week and to have written them all down I would have needed to bring a second notebook. Actually how do rate us when we were playing opposition who the youth team would have beaten? (Liam Toomey would have got a few I can tell you.)

MBH had a crisp shot on target in the first minute which was really a sign of things to come.
Drury’s turn next with a shot which whacked into one of their players and went behind for a corner. From the corner taken by Drury, it fell conveniently to the feet of MBH who brutally tucked it away, we got the early goal we needed to ensure that the remainder was really a matter of how many whilst not exerting too much effort.

Pilks passed it wide to Drury who intelligently passed to MBH but who managed to shoot at the keeper MacKenzie. MacKenzie is a funny chap – he looks about as sporty as a social worker, untidy shambling gait and uneven arms – you really wouldn’t think he had made a career as a sportsman. In fact I can only think of one player who looks less like a sportsman I can think of – but more about him in a minute.

Murray’s pass into the box was cleared by their centre half, it only went as far as Keane whose shot his Ateino bumped to MBH who popped it home, albeit from an offside position. Alledgedly.

By this stage Drury was really enjoying himself and was on a one man campaign of humiliation. He picked up a wonky back pass, spotted MacKenzie who, just for a change was a mile off his line, and tried to lob him. Fortunately for Corby the keeper managed to grab it.

MacKenzie saved from Drury shortly afterwards after a lovely pass by Howells when he could have shot himself.

But it was Drury who really almost could have played Corby on his own. A wayward pass by Hall, was hit straight to Drury. He looked up, and went for a lob over the keeper. McKenzie managed to back pedal and catch the ball.

Claude went down under pressure by Charlton, nothing doing. A great piece of football, but lacked the finish between Drury and Howells. Howells on the edge, unselfishly, passed to Drury, who couldn’t beat McKenzie rushing him out of goal quickly.

Another lovely move saw some fine passing and a dummy saw Murray cross with Atieno missing it but Charlton (I think) blooked MBH’s shot.

Other than a little ding-dong between Jarman and Drury in the first 5 mins the game was a fairly tame affair – and so Jarman’s sending off was a bit odd to say the least. The ball was kicked off by a Luton player and happened to roll into the dugout. It naturally got stuck between some feet, and if he had waited a fraction of a second longer the ball would have popped out. However Jarman charged in after the ball a bit too keenly and then reacted with a swipe when it wasn’t immediately forthcoming. In a split second this rapidly descended into pushes, pulls, grabbing and punches. You know – the usual handbags.

Now Jarman stuck me as not a terribly pleasant chap early on, but he must also be as thick as two short planks because, if he had thought about it, for even a fraction of a second, he would have realised that there is a rather big and a bit mental scouser sitting on the Luton bench. Chucking a fist or two around with him in there is the equivalent to hurling a match into a factory full of fireworks, as he was to find out momentarily when none other than G Brabin esq, grabbed him by the throat in full scally mode and but for the intervention of the rest of the bench and half the players and the ref it would have been Jarman’s last act.

When he was shown a straight red for violent conduct he looked more relieved than anything. He didn’t protest half as much as he should have done, it had probably dawned on him by them that he had just had a brush with death.

Brabin was sent off too and hopped into box #15. Oh the temptation to go and speak to him to tell him that the box costs £2k a year would he mind buggering off. I hope someone offered him a cup of tea.

Corby are managed by Graham Drury who I genuinely thought was a small ball boy for the first 15 minutes. He took the incident well I thought, getting up on a box to consult with the ref once Jarman had gone but accepting the decision like a professional.

MBH had another chance to score after being played in by Keano. At the other end Corby had a brief sojourn into our half when Charlton crossed it and one of their strikers went down under a challenge from Pilks. A penalty it was not. However the diminutive Graham Drury hopped up and down like an angry elf.

Just to rub salt into his wounds Atieno scored to double the lead shortly afterwards. Howells passed to MBH who got into position to shoot but his shot would have gone wide, only for Atieno to crash in and stick it in.

Gleeson had his first decent chance for a goal soon after that and Claude missed a couple too. Pilks had a chance from a corner and shortly before half time Drury changed the pace with an aggressive run, cutting inside and trying an elegant drive cum chip into the left hand corner of the goal. Only an excellent tip over by MacKenzie prevented the goal of the season.

We had more extra time in extra time when Charlton went off to be replaced by Liam Dolman. Now what memorable physical characteristic does Liam have? What can I say? Erm, it’s hard to put it, he has a touch of the – now Dave, be PC, be PC, he’s a….no. I must be sensitive to people’s feelings.

Imagine Jonny Vegas in a Newcastle shirt. That’s what Liam looked like*.

Okay, so I exaggerate, but a fatter bloke I’ve never seen on the pitch at the Kenny. He made Jan Molby, Ian Roper and David Owen look positively waiflike. What is extraordinary is that he got away with it. In days gone by a certain group of songs would have been dusted off and sang in his honour. I can only think that people were too surprised to sing them or too cold. Or that they genuinely thought he had a problem and so spared his feelings. He did get plenty of encouraging comments, my favourite of which I used as the headline. I did think that perhaps he was the chairman or a lifelong fan paying his way to get a game. But no – he’s a pro or rather presumably a part-timer. I can only speculate what he does when he’s not playing football – but I suspect he doesn’t list ‘marathon runner’ as his favourite pursuits and has never had a paper round in a block of flats.

As for his performance, well he marshalled the back four well enough, puffed a bit and cleared it when necessary, getting his foot to it to hoof it out on occasion. When Dan Walker came on I thought it was just cruel, it would have been like the tortoise and the hare, but rather than stick him in a position for Dolman to try and keep up he was on the wing as usual and therefore didn’t have to mark him.

In the second half it was more of the same indomitable Hatters pressure. For the second time we had the ball in the net – this time Murray was offside before he crossed it for Atieno to stick it in.
Atieno had another chance for his second when after a lovely cross by Dan Gleeson was touched onto the right hand post by MacKenzie.

Corby went close when Mackay slashed a shot wide. If only he’d looked up because his colleague Diggin (a half time sub) would have had a straightforward chance.

Gleeson had another chance – so did Drury – and then it was time for the third goal. Remember by this stage the Hatters had the full run of the midfield and Howells played a lovely ball down the wing to Drury who was in space and unchallenged. Drury put in another fantastic cross low across the face of the goal to Atieno who tangled with the keeper and then poked in the rebound from about 2 yards.

On came Godfrey ‘on fire’ Poku and Dan Walker for the ideal opportunity to get more first-team minutes under their belt. Poku replaced MBH and Claude went up front and Walker replaced the excellent Drury. Jake moved to the left and Dan went to the right. Poku has energy, grit and determination and a good eye for a through ball. Needs to work a bit more on his positional side of things because and we have an uncanny knack of conceding goals when he is on the field – a coincidence of course – but if others have to cover and close down opponents for him, it leaves gaps that would otherwise be filled. Anyway, that is exactly why he needs first team experience. Walker played well too – for such a big lad he has genuine pace and is a real livewire and threat in front of goal. I just hope that the signing of his namesake from Barrow won’t limit his chances further.
Poku had a shot, Walker should have shot – but passed to Atieno who will never have a better chance to get a hat trick but who fluffed it to the keeper. Walker got his chance a few seconds later zooting past the tiring, slow and overweight defence like he was on roller skates, but shot wide.

Claude had a go, Walker had another go. And now it was time for another sub – JJ O’Donnell making his debut, replacing Murray. He played left wing with Howells dropping behind him. O’Donnell played brightly – he did look a bit nervous initially but showed that he can cross and take corners (albeit one curled out before coming back in), My only comment about him initially, other than he looked a good prospect was that he seemed a bit easy to bundle off the ball – needs to build his strength up a tad.

Walker had another go, I think Poku did too and then Poku played Claude in with a lovely ball and Claude drove into the box and fired a powerful shot under the keeper for 4-0.
Then it all went a bit funny and panic-stations. For some reason. Their Walker got a goal after Ed’s clearance bounced back off him from no distance after Diggin had got into the box from a vacant left back hole left by naughty Jake.

A corner two minutes later gifted them another goal (what is it with us an corners?) 11 men in the box against the tiring man-short Corby and we still couldn’t get the corner clear. The big lad Dolman was unmarked headed it towards goal, it was cleared off the line but only so far as Hope who stuck it in.

With them fancying their chances, we had another couple of late chances with Claude managing to hit the post and fluff another shot. And then it was all over with a convincing win. 6-0 wouldn’t have been unfair and so 4-2 paints a strange picture. But we are through off to the Valley in a couple of Saturdays time. They’ll think we will be a push over – and we will play well because we always do against the better teams. Should be a cracker.

So all in all we had tons of chances, dominated the midfield, and should have scored more, but I’m not beating them up about it because it was a good game of football and an excellent spectacle.
As far as the scores on the doors goes it is difficult to judge the absolute score or performance because of the weakness of the opposition. But here goes:

Tyler: 6
Gleeson: 7
Pillks: 6.5
Ed AA: 6.5
Murray: 7.5
Gnapka: 6
Howells: 8.5
Keano: 8
Drury: 9
MBH: 7
Atieno: 7.5

Walker: 8
Poku: 7.5
O’Donnell: 7

So – onto our new signing Jason Walker. I always welcome new good players – and Jason has an excellent record at non-league level. It’s intruiging that yet again we are recruiting from non-league and not the league itself, but good young non-league players have gone on to do well at level, so it is not necessarily a bad thing. Would you want a Jason or a Dan Walker as you progress through the leagues or a team full of old lags who are steadily working their way down the leagues as their career declines?

The only other point is we are back to where we were last year. How many strikers have we got for goodness sake? Let’s list them (in no particular order, ahem)

Jason Walker, Danny Crow, AMS, Dan Walker (who Money plays on the wing), MBH, Atieno. Not to mention Gallen out on loan to Barnet – destined never to return.

Goodness knows who Money’s first choice will be. Crow and Jason Walker? MBH and Jason Walker? When AMS is fit again will he be back on the left? Will this push Drury to the right and Gnapka on the bench? With Lawless around now, does this mean Jake will be on the bench? So many players…so few spaces…

What it does reiterate is this club’s ambitions to get out of this division this season. We are recruiting all of the good players elsewhere in this division. Between us and Crawley we are trading blows over the best non-league players. The good news from our point of view is whilst they may be able to offer big wages or signing up fees we can offer big crowds, a proper history and a sustainable platform.

Things are hotting up. Now to put that ambition into practise by stuffing Histon again tomorrow.

Come on you Hatters!

* my apologies to northerners and overweight people. Hopefully you took my comments in good spirit. Anyone knowing me would know that I’d give Mr Dowman a run for his money in terms of waist measurement, though I reckon I’d beat him in a very slow race.

** sorry for the late post, last night instead of finishing this I went to a beer festival in a medium size town in Hertfordshire. It meant I also skived off my Question Time moderating duties on Biased BBC. Tut tut Mosque, must try harder.


Gales in Wales

In the rain, cold and strong wind the Hatters flattered to deceive and went home empty-handed for the second year on the trot from north Wales.

We played in last season’s kit, and whilst the result was better than last season’s the performance was just as uninspiring.

Lawless made his debut and started on the right, Drury was on the left, and Howells in the middle with Keane. Krocha came back from his mystery illness and partnered Pilks in the heart of defence. Up front was MBH but this week his partner was….Gnapka.

We played with the wind with us in the first half not that it made any difference. After 3 minutes we had a corner, but by 4 minutes we had done enough to mess up the game when Murray and Tyler managed to contrive to deceive each other and Murray managed to perfectly cushion a header from their keeper Maxwell’s long kick into the path of Mangan who will never score an easier goal. That was all that was needed to lose the game.

As the half went on Wrexham played deeper and deeper allowing us some room to play and come back into the game. In the second half they closed us down giving us no room to play and played on the counter attack, and that’s all they needed to do. However, had we had two players in the middle up front capable of sticking the ball in the old onion bag then we would have come back and won comfortably, such was the number of decent balls into the box from Messrs Drury, Lawless and Howells.

Corners? We had lots of them. When the wind was with us did we drift them across the face of the goal to the far post? No – they were all short apart from the first one. Though a different sport, Richie Benaud’s old adage of “always do what the opposition wants least” was rarely more true.

Apart from the miscommunicastion with Murray, Tyler played well though until he found his range his kicks only troubled their keeper bypassing our strikers.

Murray – our most improved player of the season was due a bad game and duly delivered. He actually got forward really well and overlapped a number of occasions but didn’t complete a single cross – very frustrating after good build up play from his team mates.

Lawless had a pretty good debut – bearing in mind I thought he was a central midfielder and was half way through a whinge when he put in his first decent cross from the right, he looked very dangerous as a winger. Lovely curling deep crosses into the 6 yard area – if only we’d had a Crow or an AMS to be on the end of it. I have no doubt that if one or other of those had been in the middle tonight we would have won – such was the quality of the crosses, especially in the first half. Lawless demonstrated that he had a good shot on him in extra time in the first half when the ball dropped to him when a corner broke down and only Ashton’s body got in the way causing him to stay down. So we had extra time in extra time.

In the second half Howells moved to the left wing, Drury to the right and Lawless was the further forward of two in the middle. However, strangely, we were worse off with this set up. Because Lawless was further forward Keane was more exposed and overburdened in the middle. Lawless was closed down to the extent that he had very little room at all in the second half.

Jake Howells was most effective in the middle, but also at his best on the left. What can you do? We need to clone him. It was most surprising therefore when Dan Walker replaced him. A few wags near me thought it would be good to remind Mr Money that he didn’t know what he was doing again but they soon shut up after their open mouths filled with rain. Howells had a good chance early in the second half when a nice turn gave him a chance on goal only to drive the ball into the near post side netting.

Apart from a single run, long and quick down the right, poor Dan didn’t get much chance to show what he can do. I’d like to think that if he’d started he would have made a better fist of it than those that did.

Drury showed glimpses of brilliance and some good crosses. If only we could get the ball to him on the floor more often he could transform games on his own.

Dear Claude and MBH looked as if they’d never started a game together, which was true. They certainly didn’t finish it together as Atieno was brought on at half time. The wind didn’t help but they were too far apart on occasions, seemingly playing different games. Atieno made little real difference when he came on – the fact that we were being closed down so readily meant that that more often than not he only had bits and pieces to feed off.

MBH had one gilt-edged chance after 30 minutes after a gorgeous cross from Drury – but did the hardest thing of all which was to head it straight to Maxwell. He had another chance with about a minute to go before half time with a one on one on the keeper but I’m afraid to say no one built their hopes up and no one was disappointed when the shot only troubled the Welsh steward behind the goal who was more surprised than we were to find the ball at his feet.

Keane was the beating heart of the midfield and never gave up the ghost, he played with gusto in the strong wind. He struck a beautiful shot from about 30 yards with about half an hour to go. But I always think that if the closest a side is getting is long-range shots then the opposition must be doing something right.

So it was cold and wet and windy and disappointing. I’d like to have seen a better performance but neither the conditions, or the opposition permitted it. It was galling as a win would have meant we went second, only 2 point behind Wimbledon and with the season back in harness.

Speaking of windy games I’ve been to a few down the years. This wasn’t the windiest by far – but is up there in the top 5 I think. The most recent windy one I can recall is when Nico got sent off in a game where dead ball kickers had to have a second player to hold the ball still at set pieces. Plymouth I think it was?? Most of the other games that day got blown off, if you excuse the expression – but ours remained on.

Score on the doors:

Tyler: 5

Murray: 4
Pilkington: 6
Krocha: 6.5
Gleeson: 5.5

Howells: 7
Lawless: 7
Keane: 8
Drury: 7.5

MBH: 5
Gnapka: 5

Atieno: 5
Walker – not on long enough.

Onto Altrincham for the second leg on Saturday. In my last report I suggested that the second half against Bath might dent our confidence and clip our heels and so it has been – a dodgy draw away to Corby and a damp defeat to Wrexham. What better way to get back into our stride and into the groove than against the bottom club. Let’s hope that RM can trouble himself to get off his arse and encourage the team on Saturday in the way he would expect us fans to.

If only we had a Crow to fly in to the rescue…


On my way to Wales…

I have cunningly arranged meetings in the North-West today and tomorrow – so guess where I am going to go tonight? Heading off now. I hope to post from my hotel room after the game tonight. I’d better – otherwise there’s going to be no chance between tonight and Saturday.

Looking forward to seeing Alex Lawless play for the Hatters tonight. I hope he displays the lightning pace he showed in April sprinting up a terrace and along the back of the stand.

Come on you Hatters!