A damp and cold December 0-0 to forget

I guess we could have predicted the outcome of the last two games: dominating – but ultimately losing to – a better team, and then struggling against a weaker team. It is the way of the Luton world. What didn’t help was that the strikers left their shooting boots on the coach.

I was one of not-very-many who turned up in the shivery December cold this afternoon, and my attendance afforded a queue-free opportunity to get a beer before the game and at half-time. Every cloud has a silver lining they say.

Richard Money had promised us changes aplenty, and changes aplenty is what we got. What we actually got was 11 footballers who looked as if they hadn’t played together before, which is in fact what they are.

What does it say about our performance that young Alex Lacey a centre-half making his first team debut was the sponsors man of the match? I had hoped that we would go about breaking some records this afternoon but we really failed to dazzle. Well, no, that’s unfair. At times in the second half at least we were back to the old ‘hot knife through butter’ scenario where we were attacking for fun against a weaker team. But could we finish? It was one of those days when we could have played for another 90 minutes and still not scored. I understand we fashioned 16 chances with only one or two of those being on target. Same old same old – lots of opportunities, no one to stick ‘em in.

Big changes from the Charlton XI:

Tyler in goal – who was made skipper for the day, being the obvious and most experienced option in Pilk’s absence. He had a handful of saves to make after a couple of harum-scarum defensive lapses granting opportunities for Welling in the game.

Ed A-A – at right back, good opportunity to shine today, but didn’t really. Perhaps it was the cold, perhaps it was the lack of games. Ed did get forward and support where possible, though some of his passes went astray down the line. He was sound enough at the back, and that is after all what he gets a paid to do.

Craig Hinton made his debut at centre half and had a tidy but unspectacular game at centre half.

Alex Lacey – had an excellent game and on this account at least looks a good prospect. Made some important and cruicial challenges and looked unflustered on occasions when you would have expected a young chap to be flustered. A cool head and good in the tackle are key attributes if he is going to make a living in the game which of course we all hope he does.

Jake Howells – who was my man of the match today. He did look like an England C player and stood out. His drive, determination, ambition and frankly, pace, looked at times like a man playing with boys (if you excuse the expression) which is ironic bearing in mind Jake’s age.

Dan Walker started on the right, swapped to the left and then went out to the right again. He came into his own more in the second half and made his excellent pace tell on a couple of occasions.

In the middle were the unconvincing partnership of Poku and Besta who sound to me a bit like a Norwegian children’s cartoon. ‘On fire’ Godfrey still has a bit of convincing to do as far as I’m concerned. Against Charlton I think his Blue Square South pedigree stood out like a sore thumb, the only player really to be outclassed by Charlton and again today, apart from a lot of huffing and puffing and chasing around his passing was generally poor. He improved in the second half when he seemed to push forward slightly more rather than wholly sitting in front of the defence. I wish him well and given time and opportunity, clearly he has something about him – but sometimes energy and the ability the run and run aren’t enough on their own.

Besta again failed to impress. He seems to chase the play around in the way that Keano doesn’t. He’s the sort of player I who I think could come in for the occasional game to cover for absences, but I don’t think, on the appearances I have seen so far this year that he can seriously challenge for a place.

On the left was Alex Lawless which was a bit surprising as a) he is pretty one footed and that foot being his right and b) Dan Walker has played more on the left and Lawless had played on the right previously. Perhaps RM wanted to see him in action on the left. In any case after about half an hour he swapped with Dan Walker and in the second half played in the middle when Besta went off. When he was on the left he had to cut back onto his right foot, and when he was in the middle we did improve, but he didn’t show me any of the class I know he was capable of at York. Early days.

Up front we started, and finished with, Atieno and Jason Walker. Atieno must have missed five or six chances, by far the most of anyone in the team. He was getting gradually closer nearer the end but by-Christ he had folk in the Kenny End diving for cover in the second half. The ball was banging around back there like a game of pinball – the empty blue seats being the flippers.

Jason Walker seemed to be involved in lots of interchanges and held the ball well on occasion – but how many chances actually fell his way? He had a header from a Dan Walker cross but he had nothing to pounce on which must have been very frustrating. If he’d just had half the attempts that Atieno had, Walker would have snatched a hat-trick.

Welling for their part came, saw and closed us down. Fair play to them a good effort from them, but they did strike me as an unspectatular team, other than their slightly ramshackle but effective keeper Gareth Stewart.

I can’t say too much about the first half because there wasn’t much to report on. Our first proper shot on target came on about 45 minutes.

I’ll list the chances – Atieno missed one which was easier to score when a Howells cross found him in space.

Lawless then shot after some hard work and a cross by Jason Walker after a good pass by Howells, but his shot was blocked.

Some hot chocolate and a tasteless hot dog later and Poku had a good chance running on to a short corner by Lawless but endangered nothing but the kids playing in Oak Road.

Ed got forward for the first time just towards injury time but his weak shot was easily held by Stewart. 0-0 then, and disappointing. Nothing too adventurous and clearly the players had been instructed to have a good run out, but nothing more than that.

But shortly after half time a brilliant diving header from a lovely cross from Lawless brought off a fine reaction save by Stewart. Alas, it was a full length defensive dive by Sambrook who presumably was just trying to head it behind rather than give his keeper a coronary. Smiles all round though as they saw the funny side. Would have gone into the top 5 all time own-goals though if it had gone in. It might have broken the net too. I think Lacey headed the ensuring corner over the bar.

A while later Dan Walker was played into space and showed his pace when he drove down the wing, cut inside and shot just wide of the far post.

Cue the sequence of Atieno howlers, probably the best chance came up first, presumably draining his confidence and our hope of seeing a goal from him today (or ever again?) Stewart’s kick went straight to him but alas the Kenyan saw fit only to whack the ball wide. Next chance a few minutes later – Atieno himself created the chance with some good skill on the edge of the box but put the ball the other side. Another confidence sapping effort was missed shortly after when a good cross from Jake Howells saw him glance it wide, when it might have been easier to score.

JJ O’Donnell had entered the fray by this point, replacing Besta. The last time I saw him my memories were of a player who liked to get a cross in and put the effort in but was knocked off the ball slightly too easily. Nothing really happened to change that impression this afternoon however he did have a couple of good efforts too – he popped up at the far post from a deep cross by Ed but had the crowd ducking rather than the keeper. The better effort was when he found himself in the middle just outside the ‘D’ and drove a shot which would have gone in had Stewart not made a full length stretch to palm it onto the post and out for a corner.

Other than another couple of Atieno half chances the only other incident was when Dan Walker had the ball in the net only for it somehow to have been offside. Howells had found him in room and he shaped up and thumped a shot to Stewart’s right. It would have been a good goal to win any game, but somehow by then it would almost have been wrong to break the deadlock, such was the very nature of this game.

Scores on the doors:
Tyler: 6
Ed AA: 5.5
Hinton: 6
Lacey: 8
Howells: 8.5

Dan Walker: 7
Poku: 5
Besta: 4
Lawless: 5.5

Jason Walker: 6
Atieno: 2

O’Donnell: 6

Uninspiring and a bit lacklustre, but with the occasional glimpse of brilliance, this was your archetypal 0-0. “Remember these games” I keep telling my son –“ when you are thirty my boy and the likes of Man Utd and Liverpool are coming to visit us in our new stadium, remember this awful 0-0 on a freezing cold December day against a bunch of part-timers from somewhere you can’t find on the map.”

When I am having discussions over a pint, one day in the future, about the worst striker to have played for us, and friends suggest to me the regulars of Peter Thomson and Tresor Kandol – I will say “yes, they were shite – but did they ever struggle to score on against the part-timers of Welling when we were in the FA Trophy?” It is only when you contextualise where we actually are now do you realise the true horror of a gallery of missed chances against a sixth tier team.
Oh well, such is life. York at home on Saturday lunchtime next.

All comments welcome – not just about my post but all things Luton Town.

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