Duds in the Mud?

A game of two halves on a heavy pitch on a cold day against a good team from the North East which we had plenty of chances to win. Unfortunately lady luck was not smiling on us today and presented Gateshead with two deflected goals.

It all started so promisingly Lawless had a shot in the first few seconds and shortly after that Claude nodded on Tylers long kick into the path of the on-rushing Danny Crow but whose shot dribbled wide of the far post.

Luton started with Tyler in goal. Tyler had a reasonable game and couldn’t really have done anything about the deflections. He rolled the ball out when he could which is always a good sign. Ed replaced Dan Gleeson at right back- and fortunately Gleeson’s injury is not a break. Ed had an okay, a few heavy touches on occasion but got forward well, though some of his passing let him down. Pilks ever realiable at centre half will be gutted about the deflection off his shin to give them the first goal. Kroca had a good game and since we’ve been trying to sign the violent McGurk has noticeably improved. In the second half he had no one to mark and sent himself forward in the last few minutes and very nearly got an assist. At left back Jake had a mixed game. I think he will be disappointed. Whilst he defended well, and showed his obvious class on occasions, his crossing was unusually poor.

In the absence of Drury, MBH started on the left. He’s an intriguing character. Some fans support him, some fans look for him to fail, some fans expect him to fail and give him no chance. Today he worked hard where he could but being an attack minded player left the left flank vulnerable because he didn’t track back very well, and when he did is more likely to block than tackle. He went inside when he should have gone wide and only got a couple of his normally pinpoint crosses in. Today, he looked like what he was: a striker playing in left midfield. What happened when he was substituted was disgraceful. I’m not sure if the fans response was ironic or genuinely meant. When he was subbed cheers rang out. He didn’t play too badly, there was a howler of a miss, and those around me thought later on that Crow should have gone off instead (progress for MBH). Like I say, I’m not sure if people were cheering because finally MBH got subbed and normally it is anyone but MBH comes off (some think he is Money’s bastard love-child) or because they didn’t think he played very well and don’t like him. I know he needs 10 chances for every goal he scores – but he is our leading scorer this year and some of his passes and crosses this season have been sublime. Poor lad, I don’t think he’s ever going to win some fans over – even if he gets a hat trick in the play off final. It’ll still be “For F*cks sake Barnes-Homer you’re sooooo lazy”.

Enough of such things – in the middle came in Lawless for Poku. I felt sorry for Godfrey. On Tuesday he was indeed “On fire” and did very well. Lawless however is more experienced and a more attacking player. Ironically, for the first half hour at least Poku is exactly what we needed – a defensive midfielder who could close down the close-passing of the Gateshead players because there were big holes where Poku would have been when they were attacking. As it happens, Lawless was given the sponsors man of the match award and had a good game, attacking at least. I did like the look of him at right back too when we were pressing at the end. One cross-field pass in particular was exquisite. His vision and ability to play a through ball would suggest that he will be a good player for us, and on another day and on a level playing field (literally) he would have torn Gateshead apart.

Keano was alongside him. Keano had a fantastic game on Tuesday, but I thought he looked a bit tired today. Some of his passing went astray and sometimes he was a big leggy when chasing down an opponent. Not his best game, but by no means a poor game. We are spoilt by his high standards – he is the beating heart of our team.

On the right was Claude LeGoal. Today he was a right mixed bag – he looked disinterested at times, failing to tackle back, track back or get in position to receive the ball. I know he wasn’t disinterested, but that is how it appeared. Strangely though for all his disinterest – he got the equaliser, tormented their defenders and towards the end put in four or five good crosses. Perhaps he is transmogrifying into my namesake Mr Moss? The further forward he gets the more interested he gets. There were a few Claude classics today. At times he is Lord Stumblebum, tripping over his own feet and contriving to kick the ball out. But at other times he is a real threat and our most dangerous player.

Up top were ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow, who got the first goal, but missed a couple of sitters, and Lloyd Owusu. Big Lloyd had another good game, or 61 minutes to be accurate and won the ball well and laid it off intelligently. He oozed experience. He did have a good opportunity to give us the first goal, but his header was surprisingly weak. A handful at this level.
We used three subs:

Poku for Owusu – Godfrey came on, pushing MBH alongside Crow, for 6 minutes, and Lawless to the left. He had another good game without the impact he had against York.

Atieno replaced MBH (to the cheers I described earlier) whilst he looked committed and lively he missed a couple of good chances which would have won us the game. If Barnesey is frustrating, and Claude infuriating, then Atieno is exasperating. I think Money signed him hoping he’d be like Lloyd, but instead got another MBH who is better at heading, but worse at shooting.

Watkins came on for Ed with 6 minutes to go – Lawless dropping to right back for his third position of the day (though he wasn’t ‘back’) with Watkins moving to the left. In the short time he had Watkins had more of the ball and looked better than on Tuesday, though on one occasion showed his inexperience when he cut the ball back rather than taking on a defender and shooting. Overall though he looks like an excellent prospect. Perhaps his advancement will cease Money’s predilection for purchasing wingers.

So to the match – yes we had a very bright start, and dominated the first few minutes. But what was this? An away side not only coming with an attacking intent, but playing, and beating us at our own game. For half an hour Gateshead out-Lutoned Luton. Neat passing, running with the ball and pressing from the front, playing in white and black it was like we had suddenly taken ourselves on in a hideously bizarre time accident. That’s where the comparisons stop – because they had tons of luck and we find fortune a capricious mistress at best.

After ten minutes Liddle made a mazy and unopposed run, cutting an un-closed-down swathe through our midfield and then shooting at Tyler. A shot Tyler would have easily saved had the oncoming Pilkington not managed to get a shin on it, cruelly deflecting it past the flailing keeper.
One down then but no panic – we were still attacking well and the game looked full of goals. Kroca nearly doubled his tally of volleyed goals for the week with a clever volley at the near post from a Lawless corner. He gently hung the ball in at that useless height that wouldn’t clear even the smallest of defenders but Kroca stole in and whacked it, but this time across the goal and past the post.

Worse was to come – two minutes later, again aided and abetted by our surprise at a team playing the ball on the floor Brittain got down the right and just as Jake Howells remembered to close him down, Brittain’s cross deflected off Jake and spun over Tyler and into the net. Two goals – against the run of play and a shocked crowd did an unusual thing. Instead of booing – cheering and applause rang out urging the Hatters forwards. For a while at least.

A couple more chances for Barnes-Home made me start to think that it was going to be ‘one of those days’ whereby we had tons of chances but never scored. But fortunately those fears were allayed five minutes later when Danny Crow got back onto the scoresheet. Owusu won the ball well, it dropped for MBH who played a lovely ball through the defence to Crow who had only the keeper to beat. This keeper (Deasy) didn’t bring him down and instead Crow rounded him well to get a goal back.
Next it was Owusu’s chance to equalise, but his header went straight to Deasy. Gateshead nearly broke to get a third, but Claude got the equaliser when Kroca’s head on from a Howells free kick fell to him and he stabbed it in. 2-2 and game on.

It got better still. Claude was played in down the right and cut inside running into the box heading for goal. Their skipper, Clarke felled him. I thought it was in the box but wasn’t. However Clarke had already had a card for clogging Owusu and for the second time in a week, we were going to be playing a substantial part of the game against 10 men. He deserved to go. I don’t know why Gateshead made such a bloody fuss. Deasy in particular gave the ref huge dissent when the half time whistle went. He should have got a card but didn’t get one.

So a four goal thriller in the first half. The game was open and unpredictable. The sending off was the worst thing that could happen with the scores level. In the second half Gateshead kept just one up front, and your proverbial two banks of four behind the ball. This meant that the majority of the half was bitty and disjointed. They sat back, time wasted, sat back some more. The duff ref made some dodgy decisions, they timewasted: you get the idea.

Other than the chances – not much to discuss. MBH blasted over sending the carers in the wheelchair section scurrying for cover.

Claude got behind the defence and put a decent ball in – this time it was Lawless turn to dent the roof of the stand. From the outside.

Again Claude got in down the right with a good run – his cross was too long though, but Jake managed to rescue things and put in a cross himself, alas Kroca couldn’t head it well enough to test the keeper.

Claude once more got through and gave Mr Crow a chance – which he put over. Got the theme here?
Into injury time and it was panic stations – last ditch stuff. Our man on the right Mr Gnapka got another cross in – it eluded the diving Atieno who should have got something on it. Seconds later Keane pumped a long ball forward Kroca, by now playing as a striker got his head on and knocked it down but the feckless Atieno stabbed it wide.

That was that. We should have won. On other days we would. On other days it would have been an unremarkable 2-0. Today it wasn’t. Disappointing but no one died. What it does show is that without Drury we certainly lack a bit of flair.

Overall towards the end we suffered from our old phobia of being frightened to have a shot, fannying around the edge of the box, trying to find an angle then playing another player in, rather than trying to actually get a shot in, on target. When you are playing against 8 defenders you can try to find the perfect position all day, but sometimes it ain’t going to happen, so you have to have a go – hope for a lucky bounce or a ricochet and hope that the rebound comes to a Luton player. Easy for me to say of course. The home fans got tetchier and more desperate as the half went on and this anxiety transferred itself to the Luton players.

The land of the tattoo, of shops without coats, and the lionisers of that awful Cheryl Cole could only spare 28 of its kind to venture forth into the God’s own town. Newcastle must have had a home game. Hats off to those hardy fans who braved Bury Park, it must be a culture shock to them. But seriously, half a coach-load is not good. If we were playing in Outer Mongolia I’m sure we’d muster more.

Money was upbeat after the game but not about the performance, which he said was not our best.

On another day we would have won easily, we had an off-day but all is not lost. It wasn’t a bad performance. We did well to come back and nearly got an equaliser. We got a point. Yes, we should have won at home and made up two points on Crawley, but all is not lost. And we certainly did not deserve the handful of boos that rang out or the shout of ‘disgraceful’ from the troglodyte who sits on the same row as me.

Some scores on the doors:

Tyler : 6
Ed: 5.5
Pilks: 6.5
Kroca: 6.5
Howells: 6
Claude: 7.5 and 4
Lawless: 7
Keane: 6
MBH: 6
Crow: 6
Owusu: 6.5
Subs: Poku: 6, Atieno 5

On to Grimsby on Tuesday and another enforced absence from me due to work commitments I’m afraid. I’ll be pleased when this month is over because it has been a pain and when work over-interferes with your home life (and blogging) then it is time to start considering whether it is worth flogging yourself to death for a company you have begun to hate. On Tuesday I’m going to be overnighting in Newcastle ironically, somehow I don’t think they’ll have Premier Sports on in the Red House.

As ever, I welcome all feedback and comments and would be delighted to hear what other Hatters thought about the game, whether present themselves or following from around the four corners of the globe.

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions

I’m going to try to do my report tomorrow night – however, in the meantime, here is PDW’s excellent report:

Booooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. How utterly beastly of Luton to score 100% of the goals. That is sooo unfair, if I were York I would protest to the dozy, incompetent sods at the Conference. A great night, as we win the first Bedfordshire-Yorkshire Chip on the shoulder Cup.The most satisfying victory, since Keet spotted the gap at the far post, in the two thousandth time of injury time against Oxford.

A riotous occasion against York, this time without a Oasis bottle or a mop in sight. Terrific team performance helped by a doze of Poku power put away our bogey team, not to be confused with their board of directors, who merely get up everyone’s nose. The visitors were left orange faced by the end.

After the pantomime, churlishness of the past few days, nice to let the football do the talking. The game was heavily in our favour, once Ingham (maybe the lack of snow got in his eyes), clipped Gnakpa in the midst of rounding the goalkeeper and would have had an open goal. Knowing Claude he could have easily spooned the ball into Beech Hill school rather than the net.

York rarely have their reserve goalkeeper, Knight, on the bench. So it was good night to York having to play eighty minutes without a goalkeeper. However, rarely seen a Luton team play so well and intelligently use the ball against a team with ten men. Kept the passing the ball simply, some excellent movement, used the flanks well to tire opponents on a hevay surface. The first replacemnet keeper Smith , appeared not to realise you can move your feet and use your hands when in goal. Never mind, eh?

The way we played in the second half at both Bath and Wimbledon suggested a hell of a beating on the cards. Didn’t think it would by York, but doubly sweet as it was them.

Different shape tonight, than our usual 4-4-2. Tyler and the now usual back four. Keane and Poku in front of the back four, Barnes-Homer on the left, Gnakpa on the right. Drury given a free role, just behind Owusu. A signing out of left field. He is what he is, a big lump with a decent touch and holds the ball up well. If used correctly, in the right matches, he will do a job in the short term. Took his goal well, diving header from Drury’s corner. Shame his gay celebration hasn’t changed since his Brentford days. He ran out of puff, no idea how much football he has played recently, but gave a good hour but not sticking a elbow in McGurk’s face for good measure. It’s hard to judge him in a falsely run race, but on the night did everything you could have asked of him.

Always thought Drury could play that role, mainly in away games. The main problem is now, all opposition are trying to clobbered him out of matches, it may not be long before one of them succeeds. Not helped by referees who make up the rules as they go along.

Tactically Money got it spot on, matching York’s formation, not allowing their to dominate the midfield as was the case in the abandoned game. Poku with his never say die spirit shone through. He’s like the Andrex puppy chasing a toilet roll, he always wants to either win the ball or be on it himself. The ground he covers is incredible. If he could only shoot, he wouldn’t be far off all round midfield player. He’s coming on leaps and bounds quickly since his introduction to the team at Barrow, which seems about a decade ago, but only four months. Helped by the manager giving him twenty minutes here, twenty minuites there. Good to see Luton again having some faith in some decent younger players.

As for York, since the change of manager, they have upped the physical nature of the game. McGurk lucky not to see red early on for a wild, high assault on Gnakpa. For a team who can keep the ball well, they all wild, crude mob. In the game up at York, bound to be a feisty affair, our players need to keep their cool and rise above York’s thugish nature. The only downside of the evening was Gleeson in great pain, after Raachi left his foot in and needed to be stretched off. It was very apt, the referee’s name was Bratt, apt summary of the visitors’ behaviour.

Even before Ingham’s dismissal, we were on top during the early stages. Poku let one fly from twenty five yards flashing past the post, after Keane popped a low square pass to him. York’s first opportunity came after till drifted down the left, swung in a cross towards Rankine, but Pilkington managed to flick the ball away. Kroca prodded the ball into Ingham from Drury’s from close range.

The turning point, was when Drury slipped a perfect defence splitting pass, for Claude to time his run well, the less said about the square defence the better, rounding Ingham on the edge of the box was felled. Professional foul, off went Ingham, they didn’t seem to know who would take the gloves. As it was in went Chris Smith. His first duty was to pick the ball out of the net. Drury’s deflected free kick, beat three statues on the line.

York changed personnel, Till off replaced by Young a very tall centre half, who made a far better fist of going in goal at half time. We used the ball well, mostly down the flanks, leaving York to do a hell of a lot of chasing. More than one move broke down on the left wing. Barnes-Homer didn’t look comfortable in that position. far more happy (if that’s the right word for him, he doesn’t seem the most happy go lucky person in the world) drifting wide from central areas. However he did put in two belting crosses which resulted in goals, plus a god raid down the wing.

Owusu managed to pass Barnes-homer the ball, he galloped past Parslow, but a heavy touch gave Smith the goalkeeper a chance to make ground. Being a big side, they would have been a danger from set pieces, Pilkington had to make a vital interception as Chambers’ free kick swung in across goal, which almost found Young.

Just as the Enclosure started to give MBH some friendly advise ” I say, please move your bottom Mr Barnes-Homer you idle swine” was the gist of it, he produced a fine cross, which Gnakpa outjumped Smith and his sky blue shirted defenders to plonk a header in.

Game over as a contest, York already going for damage limitation, another sub the speedy Meredith on for Mackin. McGurk allowed Owusu time to size up an opportunity which wasn’t really a cross nor a shot, although Jonathan Smith deflected it behind. The big man wasn’t going to denied his debut, showing some surprisingly fine agility to dive in and convert Drury’s near post set piece.

It was raining goals, the fourth wasn’t long in turning up. Owusu’s flicked header was only just wide from Keane’s corner. On the stroke of half time. Kroca scored a cracker. Keane’s free kick missed his intended target of Poku, but Kroca back to goal, turned and thumped home on the volley. A right old pearler. When your centre half is finishing like Van Basten in his pomp, you know it’s your day.

The second half continuing in the merry way the first half had. One change GregY oung went in goal, doing well in the progress. The old boy was diving all over the place, trying to save shots which were patently missing the target. The intensity went from our play, with the win long since being confirmed.

Drury cutting inside the box after Barnes-Homer’s pass, he fell to the floor, but McGurk went in fairly on him. Our first opportunity came involving Drury. His corner helped by Keane to the far post, Pilkington bent down and directed the ball across goal, inches wide.

York did at times get into our second half. How plucky. Good play by Rankine, getting the better of Howells, Pilkington only only get a touch on the ball, breaking loose, Gleeson put a strong goal saving tackle to deny Bouchard, who takes the Nestle saying “Have a Break” literally. It doesn’t mean opponents legs, you know.

Gleeson, who in recent weeks, is getting forward a lot more and even trying his luck to break his duck, his drive was half clear by Young, Kroca managed to turn the ball back out to Drury, standing up a cross, once again Claude his the highest jumper, cannoned a header against the underside of the bar, before a scramble resulting in York clearing their lines.

Whilst York were preparing to replace the injured Mcgurk, Howells waltzed past Chambers, following a run through the midle by Gnakpa before testing Young with a well timed drive. Owusu was replaced by Atieno as well soon after.

His first meaningful contribution was the fifth and final goal, another well crafted effort, Drury laying the ball off to Barnes-Homer dinked in a lovely cross, Atieno took advantage of his comical marking to bury his header past Young. He usually heads them over.

Barnes-Homer ‘s dazzling run down the flank, finding Drury, picking out Gleeson’s run, his strike didn’t trouble Young. Drury was victim of his fairly heavy handed tackling, Jonathan Smith booked for a foul on him. Wisely Money took him off, giving Adam Watkins another run out following his very promising performance against Uxbridge on Saturday. Baggy trousers Crow appeared for a cameo performance replacing Barnes-Homer.

The game appeared to be running quietly down, until Raachi fouled Gleeson on the near touchline, how both referee and linesman missed it is a mystery, as the ball broke loose. Jonathan Smith upended Poku, to receive his second yellow card. Poku, not surprisingly not happy, by the challenge by Smith and ignored his offer of hand shake. Why do players only shake hands during a game when they know they have done something wrong? Tyler spirited out of his area to calm Poku down, with a few words in his ear. Meanwhile Gleeson was on the ground, it took a long time to remove his boot and get him off the pitch. So it become ten versus nine.

A rank back pass by Rankine, gave Atieno a chance of repeating his double on Saturday, racing past Chris Smith, but could only fire at Young. In injury time, Atenio’s centre found Kroca to nod back to watkins, his early strike was bocked by Parslow.

Mark Tyler 6 , Dan Gleeson 7, Zdenek Kroca 8, George Pilkington 8, Jake Howells 7.5, Claude Gnakpa 6.5, Keith Keane 7, Godfrey Poku 8.5, Matthew Barnes-Homer 7, Andy Drury 9, Lloyd Owusu 8 ( Taiwo Atenio 6.5).

Subs not used – Edward Asafu-Adjaye and Pavel Besta. Booked – Drury

York – Ingham, Parslow, C Smith, McGurk (Racchi ), Carruthers, Boucaud, Chambers, Till (Young), J Smith, Mackin (Meredith ), Rankine.
Sent off: Ingham , J Smith.Booked: McGurk, Boucaud.

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions

Here is PDW’s excellent match report from yesterday:

A good workout and performance by our motley crew of young pups, ring rusty reserves (you can get cream from the doctors) and other selected guests, put away stylishly a spirited team from the nether regions of the Zambretto (is that on the way to Amarillo?), despite the handicap of playing Tweedle Dee and Tweddle Dum.

Although with some of the choice locations left in the competition (Blyth, Guiseley and Gateshead to name but three. Sorry have probably talked that in now! ), could be a long trek in the next round if we are drawn away. Although most of the better teams have been knocked out now. So, even playing the young guns we could challenge strongly in this tournament.

Fair to say, the great sporting public of the People’s Republic of Lutonia, are not exactly giddy with excitement with the Trophy thingy. Decent watchable game today. Uxbridge, granted their lowly status put in a good shift for the opening forty five minutes, Moore wasted a couple of opportunities to bring the score back to 1-1. Doubt whether it would have much a difference, as they run out of puff and the obvious gulf in class told in the end. But they performed creditably.

All change from the Wimbledon match. Only Mark Tyler survived the cull. We lined up as follows Defence of Lawless, Lacey, Edward and O’Donnell. Midfield four of Tavernier, Besta, Poku and Watkins, with Walker and Atieno up front. Tavernier looks slightly like and plays like Ashley Young. Without the objectional manner and pettiness. Quite fast, his awareness of what’s around him is very good, and performed excellently, you couldn’t have hand picked a better game to make your debut in. Fair play to him, a very promising start.

It says a lot about how opened we played, that two both are full backs were our best attacking options. Lawless gave a Rolls Royce performance against a team of battered second hand Skodas, O’Donnell not far behind. Made a nice change to see Tyler throwing the ball out to the full backs and building the attacks from there, rather than a big boot looking for Claude. With both Watching and Tavernier given license to roam off the flank. Our movement was very good, again in the context of our opposition, with someone always looking to support the man on the ball.

Poku and Besta sat in front of the back two. Poku had a few of his elephant charges forward, whilst Besta dazzled the watching dozens with his passing range, all backwards. Neither centre half was great. Edward is desperately short of match practice, but improved. Lacey struggled against Moore generally before pulling up lame. Not his day, but anyone can have a poor game.

As for Uxbridge, a few of their players had decent games, Fitzgerald at centre half, read the game well, Tomkins booted in a few good crosses from the left, also Costa on the opposite flank, complete with MBH boots, showed a few good moves. generally they tried to pass it and weren’t shy of going in strongly into the tackle. Their captain Carter was a Peter Kay lookilike, fair to say he maybe a professional pie eater, and if he fancied a sex change, wouldn’t need many Hormone tablets. In comparison his midfield partner Warner was tiny and looked like more of a starter. Made a nice change to see a team play f 1-11 with no shirt sponsor on their front. Reminder of the days gone by, when football was not ruined by money.

A strong start, we had plenty of possession, some decent crisp passing looking to use the flanks, O’Donnell flung a cross from the left, just too high for Tavernier. The same man was tripped by Dennison. The referee got that correct, but did his level best to spoil the flow of the game and also a number of players were booked for their first offence. Ridiculously harsh, in a match played in the correct manner. From the free kick, Walker limply drilled his shot into the wall. Such was our domination, the half towards the Oak Road end goal was starting to cut up, not a great sign with our home fixtures coming thick and fast over the next three weeks.

Whilst Walker’s free kick wasn’t anything flash, he showed great vision, innovation and technique by almost scoring from his own half. A corner cleared top Atieno (Luton in not sending everyone back from a corner shocker), waited for Fitzgerald to intercept the ball, the ball went to Walker who spotted Plwonski well over his line and had a pop, it looked destined for the back of net, but sadly landed a couple of inches wide. If a Premiership had tried that, Hanson, Shearer and Lineker would have been pulling themselves off in excitement, but as it was a mere non league player, no one will utter a single word.

Talking of Atieno, he showed his full repertoire of skills (or lack of him), scored two well taken goals, show nice touches. Also some poor finishing and touches of a rapist.

From Uxbridge’s corner, we broke away and broke the deadlock, the ball reaching Atieno turning into space, with Poku in support, gave it to him and continued his run. Godfrey than played a fine return pass, then Atieno, drew the keeper and slotted the ball past him.

Some of the football we played was of good quality, a neat triangle between Lawless doing extremely well to keep the ball in and return it to Watkins, a simple pass for Tavernier to ping his shot against the bar.

A shove by Edward on Moore, gave the visitors decent position. Clark had a bash, cannoned off the wall looped up and Moore was unable to convert with a header. Moore went closer moments later. A bad misjudgement by Lacey, Moore turned him and continued his down the left channel, he screwed his shot just wayward of the far upright.

Edward pinged a fine pass out to the left, a really good early cross by O’Donnell, Atieno denied by a trusty size ten boot of Plwonski. Walker tested the goalkeeper with a drive into his chest, after good one pass build up play between Watkins and Atieno. Lacey’s poor afternoon continued slicing horribly from Costa’s centre, thankfully Tyler outjumped Warner.

Poku motored him forward (as much as he can with a piano on his back), fed Tavernier, in return who found Watkins, once again shot on target but not troubling Plwonski.

Uxbridge’s golden chance came, after Costa breezed past O’Donnell, good chip across goal, Moore unmarked could only head into Tyler.

At half time, Cauley Woodrow replaced Walker. Another promising cameo, looks comfortable on the ball, perhaps could time his runs better, as is a candidate for offsides. But he is still very one, and hopefully the club can keep him for a period of time.

Uxbridge tired, they put in plenty of effort in the first half chasing the ball. It was just a question of where we could make the supremacy count. Keeping the ball well, Watkins fed O’Donnell, his cross swept in, Thomas knocked the ball behind with Woodrow the intended target. Atenio wasted a glorious chance to increase the lead, unmarked in the centre of the goal, he blasted a header over from Tavernier’s flag kick.

A pass from the back by Edward, Atieno knock down in the path of Watkins, getting underneath his shot and placing the ball miles over. Lawless was virtually running the show from right back, showing a fine degree of energy to get up and back, a low centre slide across but unfortunately the orange shirts in the box, were playing statues.

Our third sub of the afternoon, saw Tavernier replaced by Ann. A large chap, but fairly nimble and showed a few party pieces of back flicks, etc.

Edward booked for no more than a routine foul on Clark. He got up and fired a dipping free kick towards Tyler’s right, he was equal to the task. A simple square pass by Poku to O’Donnell, they seemed transfixed by him, judging by they way the let him wander into the box, this time, a clean strike whistled past the neat post. Good interplay between Lawless and Woodrow, the centre stopped by Fitzgerald.

Atieno was then pulled back by Dennison after Ann’s pass. Watkins stepped up confidently and dispatched the ball into the right corner, perfectly placed, as the keeper guessed right but couldn’t save it.

Watkins wasn’t far from adding to his tally, a stinging drive after once again lawless had galloped down the flank, a touch off by Ann into the path of Watkins. Woodrow shot straight at Plwonski.

The third goal came from O’Donnell, going into the box from the left, a slide rule pass and Atieno got the better of Dennison before shooting into the far post. The fourth was an absolute peach of a goal. Tyler collecting Fitzgerald’s hacked clearance, threw the ball to Lawless, once again making plenty of ground, playing the ball into Woodrow, touch back to Watkins who completed the scoring with a crisp drive.

At that point, Money waved them in, Poku carried the ball forward clipped a pass to the left channel Atieno, greedily looking for his hat trick, finished weakly.

Mark Tyler 6.5, Alex Lawless 9, Alex Lacey 4( Newman Carney 6), Edward Asafu-Adjaye 5.5 ( Jason Walker 6.5 ), Jonathan O’Donnell 8, Christian Tavernier 7 ( Alasan Ann 6.5), Pavel Besta 6, Godfrey Poku 7.5, Adam Watkins 8, Taiwo Atenio 6.5, Jason Walker 6 ( Cauley Woodrow 6.5)

Subs not used – Jordan Patrick and Michael Cain ( please insert your own gag as if I even wouldn’t go down that obvious path. Even my lowly comedy standards) . Booked – Tavernier, Asafu-Adjaye. .

Uxbridge – Plwonski, Brown(Hashi), Fitzgerald, Dennison, Thomas, Costa, Carter(Howe), Warner( Farrell), Tomkins, Clark, Moore. Booked – Brown, Moore, Farrell.

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Love all

When travelling to Kingston these days it makes me think as to how we have gone up in the world. These days we get to go to places like Kingston, Nailsworth and Bath, much better than Bristol, Leeds and the Rag’n’Bone homeland of Shepherd’s Bush.

As for the match: it wasn’t to be – another one of those games where we had chance after chance after chance, but the keeper and the woodwork intervened to save Wimbledon.

In the damp and rain the first half got off to a slow start and there was no hint of the pulsating second half to come. One recurring theme was that we played the ball too long, trying to get it behind the Wimbledon defenders, but instead of the ball stopping on the heavy turf it skidded on and invariably out of play. On a number of occasions a perfect through ball which on other days would carve up a defence would invariably be cut out by a Dons player.

Luton kept the same team and formation as for Bath – it was quite a different game – but the same result. Tyler started in goal. Gleeson right back, Kroca and Pilks in the middle, and Jake Howells on the left. In the middle Keano linked up with Drury and AMS started on the left, with Claude le Goal on the right. Up front was Big Hips Danny Crow and MBH.

Our first real chance came after 3 minutes when Gleeson broke down the right and put in a useful ball to AMS who was lurking on the penalty spot unfortunately for Luton he leant back and put the ball into the Thames.

From a corner Drury turned the ball into Kroca who was still up who seemed to play it with his back and it fell for MBH whose shot was charged down by Kedwell, their striker.
After 12 minutes Tyler made a wonderful save to his right from Hudson who shot from the edge of the box from Kedwell winning the ball. Tyler made a full length dive to his right on the 6 yard line.
A couple of minutes later Drury plopped a long ball from a free kick too long for either of the strikers to reach it.

After about 20 minutes Crow had a glancing header which went wide from a deep freekick from Drury.
There was a bit of a lull for the next period until we started to put some passes together. With ten minutes to go Gnapka won the ball in the centre circle, took it forward, put a lovely ball in to MBH who controlled it well and put a well weighted pass in the direction of Drury who ran onto it and stuck it cleanly with his right foot from the edge of the box pulling out a fantastic save from Seb Brown in goal.

With two minutes to go in the first half Drury (who else) drove down the left and cut a pass inside to Danny Crow on the penalty spot. He and Yakubu played keepy-uppies for a second before it fell kindly to Big Hips who blasted it directly at Seb Brown who saved well.

The ensuing corner saw the ball played in in front of the keeper the ball bobbled around in the box and Barnes-Homer was used as a climbing frame by Seb Brown – but no penalty.
Back at the other end – Hudson played Mulley in who turned and shot across the goal, with Tyler making a another excellent save to keep it out.

So the first half was stodgy in places but livened up in the last few minutes and gave us a glimpse of the second half.

The second 45 minutes was much more open, but much more Luton. But it was to be one of those days.
Gnakpa drove forwards down the right but couldn’t find Danny Crow.
A long ball was played into the Luton box and Kedwell fell over Pilks, claiming a penalty which it definitely was not.

Too many half chances and good moves to list here, as it is getting late and tomorrow I have to do yet more driving to add to my 1000 miles clocked up already.
After 53 minutes Crow came off for Jason Walker. Walker looks lively and transformed good possession into total domination.

A nice build up down the left saw Walker caught offside. Luton started to close Wimbledon down from the front and hunt them in possession.

On 57 minutes Keane played Claude in down the right with a lovely ball – Claude continued and put in a fantastic cross for Walker who clipped it straight at the goal – Yakubu blocked it – the rebound went straight to Barnes-Homer who drove it at the keeper from point blank.
A corner from the right on 60 minutes saw MBH head wide.

A long throw from Keano saw some head tennis in the box but Claude nodded wide.

A rare attack from Wimbledon gave an opportunity to the new Wimbledon replacement Jolley who headed wide of the goal.

A long ball forward went to MBH who held it up well and laid it off to Drury who took the ball into the box from the outside and whose shot was blocked for a corner. Annoyingly the corner was taken short with Pilkington completely unmarked lurking at the far post, like a lost goat in a field. As with many short corners it led to nothing – other than another corner. This time the corner went to Kroca who was being marked and the ball was headed out on the other side.

The third corner led to little, but when the play came back it fell to Drury on the right, who overhit his cross, alas.

Lawless played a good ball to MBH who ran the half into the box – he did all the hard word then overhit the ball which went behind for a goal kick.

The goal kick made its way back to Tyler who punted it right back deep into the Don’s half. Yakubu misjudged both the bounce and his position and the ball came to Walker whose anticipation was excellent. He ran onto the bouncing ball with the oncoming Brown running out to narrow the angle and Walker’s only choice was to volley it at the top of the bounce (a la Glenn Hoddle for those of you who remember) unfortunately for Walker it went straight to Brown. A little bit of luck would have seen that go in. Luck wasn’t with us on Wednesday night.

20 minutes to go. Keane took a free kick quickly and had the vision to pick out the unmarked Walker who was onside and on the edge of the box. Walker turned and controlled well and struck it hard, but only onto the bar and over.

Two minutes later a classy interchange between Walker and Drury played Drury in on the left – he took the ball into the box well and shot on goal. This time it was his turn to hit the cross bar.
At this stage Luton were completely dominating, coming at Wimbledon in droves. Wave after wave of attack was stopped only by either the woodwork or the keeper.

What didn’t happen today was Luton suffering from nerves, even though we had dominated. Too many times in recent history have we dominated a close game onto to be nipped on the arse at the last minute. None of that today.

On 75 minutes Drury had a free kick which he chipped in towards the goal. I thought it was a chip which was too deep and it troubled the keeper as it would have curled in had Brown not put it out.
Drury nearly played in Gnapka whilst the defenders went to sleep and stayed too deep. It wasn’t to be.

Lovely play down the left after a Howells throw saw a fine interchange between Walker and MBH – MBH played Walker into the box where he ran on and “went down a bit too easily” under pressure from Stewart.

Claude played a lovely cross into the box with a minute to go – but his cross was headed clear. The corner saw two chances – a header from Pilks and then a free header from Keano which floated wide.
Four minutes of extra time – the first action was a shot after a shimmy by Jolley down the far end which Tyler saved easily. The ball was played forward to Drury on the left who had a clear run on goal. Or he would have done if he hadn’t been scythed down. The ball ran onto MBH who was in a good position and ran with the ball into the box. The ref had blown – he should have let it run – it was a clear error on his part as MBH was in.

Apart from a duffed clearance by Tyler that was that.

It was a good game which got much better in the second half – made good by some good football and some not so good football on a heavy pitch. The second half was dominated by the Hatters. Our class man-for-man stood out – however we just didn’t get the finish in.

So, the scores on the doors:

Mark Tyler – 8 – back at his best, two outstanding saves and four clean sheets on the trot now. Rolled the ball out where he could. Hoofed it where he couldn’t.

Gleeson – 7.5 – tidy at the back and a couple of good runs. Linked up well with Claude, but with a couple of heavy passes forward. Much improved these last half a dozen games or so.

Pilks – 8 – apart from a couple of chances kept Kedwell in his pocket all night. One bad pass and caught in possession only once all night.

Krocha – 7.5 – sound game.

Howells – 7.5 occasional glimpses of England class

Gnapka – 8 – threatening down the right for much of the game – strangely less involved in the second half when we played best, but still did two good crosses. Lucky to stay on after a two footed tackle on Franks half way through the first half. Fair play to Franks, when he is in the Premiership he would have learnt to writhe around for ten minutes making a meal of it. As it was he dusted himself down and got up.

AMS –5 – tackled their no 7 on the half way line and got a kick on his ankle for his troubles. Went of after 18 minutes.

Keano – 8.5 midfield masterclass tonight. Great tackles and some wonderful through balls.

Drury – 9 masterclass again. At the heart of every decent move we had hit the bar, blistering shot etc etc etc. Just hope we can hang onto him.

MBH – 7.5 – lively and involved.

Crow – 6 – big hips worked hard at times, but the ball is just not falling for him at the moment. He had his best chance just before half time but a great save kept him out.

Lawless – 7.5 – replaced AMS on the left in the first half, then swapped to the middle (more logical position) in the second half and had a very good attacking half.

Jason Walker – 7.5 – only on for half an hour but looked lively when he came on – had three good chances. Wins this weeks ‘Claude Award’ for the most obvious penalty dive.

A word about the ref – he did try to let the game run where he could, which did allow the occasional heavy challenge and he let the play run where he could. Apart from right at the end of course where Jason Walker was felled and the ball ran to MBH in a good position, but the he had blown too soon.
I suspect today’s game, which was slightly disappointing not to win – would have been a massacre were we not playing the top team. We actually played pretty well and our sheer weight of superior ability allowed us to carve up Wimbledon. Had this been anyone else today it would have been another hatful. Just like last season, surely the uber-drubbing of one of these teams must be on the cards sooner rather than later.

Perhaps starting with Saturday. I know the 2nd XI will play – but there must be an argument to start with Crow up front (or even Walker) so that one or the other gets to feel the ball in the back of the net a few times. It will be interesting to see. I won’t see it because of work – but I’ll post PDW’s report on here as soon as the electronic postie delivers it.

Chance then to break some records against a side struggling in the depths of a division so far down the football league pyramid that they are the equivalent of a deep sea diver with lead in his boots carrying a sackful of gold whilst carrying a wardrobe full of iron bedsteads.

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions

My comments to follow shortly – and here are PDW’s excellent comments:

A stalemate in an away game against the League leaders, would be normally considered an exellent point, although the main winners were those lot in M23 land. Quite how AFC Wimbledon have been the top dogs all season says more about the quality ( or lack of) in our current division. Would have taken a point before ( nice of me), with our run of home games upcoming. **OBVIOUS AND PREDICTABLE COMMENT ALERT** The Dons were given a footballing masterclass.

However after flippin’ murdering them in the second half, but either finding yet another opposition keeper in form (far too many attempts were too close to him),not helped some pretty ordinary finishing meant another golden opportunity to put some pressure on Crawley went begging. However I bring some good news for some of our more suicidal followers, we are a win away from retaining our status. Say we are staying up!

An excellent second half performance deserved to take the points. Someone somewhere soon will take a hell of a beating, although if we fail to win the league by between one to four points, failure to turn supremacy into goals in the last two games will be an obvious starting point for the reasons why. The game followed the recurring pattern. We didn’t play in the first half an hour, mainly playing too direct, looking for diagonal balls to hit Gnakpa with. However once again, Money sorted out the problems out at half time. Not sure why this can’t be done at the start of the game, rather than half way through. An electric cattle prod may focus minds.

It’s not difficult to spot, when we get the ball on the deck, and use the flanks, we look a decent team. But utterly hopeless, when we launch the thing. So in future, please don’t. A tactical switch, Lawless on for Morgan-Smith (last seen limping off on crutches) went into the central midfield, with Drury on the left.

The introduction of Walker (a mere 55 minutes too late), helped matters, running the flanks, giving us more options of running beyond the Wimbledon defence. Until then we showed little up front, except Daniel C in full bloom, eight months gone now. Crow’s rapid weight gain is no longer a laughing matter. The management of the playing staff should sort it out now. If he can’t kept into shape as a professional athlete should be, the door is over there (if he could get though it, maybe a squeeze). Being paid good money to keep himself in good shape, at the moment it’s professional negligence. However in his defence, when the ball is lobbed up six feet above his head what can he do. With Barnes-Homer drifting aimlessly wide, when he stayed central his ball retention was poor, generally well below par and one of his nights on Planet MBH. I blame the mohican hairdo. Knowing him, he’s likely to bang in some goals the next game. He is what is he, excellent sometimes, anonymous other times.

It’s no secret none of our strikers are particularly good, consistent finishers (if they were they won’t be wasting their time in the fifth grade). But nevertheless, it is very galling to see chance after chance after chance spurned, so the rest of the team don’t get their just deserts.

As for Wimbledon, playing one up front, in a home game when they are top, time wasting with well over a half an hour to go. Tells you a point is a well regarded result for them. They have added some steel to their play, since we bullied them at home in September.

Another example of the balance of power in the match. The much vaunted Kedwell, was only spotted as an auxiliary centre half at our corners, which is did very well in the same manner Steve Howard used to help out at corners during his time with Luton. They do have some good, little promising players, Gregory can pass the ball and run from midfield, Luke Moore on the left, shapes up as a decent little winger. The three named would shine in a team full of good players. Oh well never mind. They would be better off, playing someone like my old chum Nwokeji up with Kedwell, with his pace and Kedwell’s aerial ability, not much Nwokeji’s penchant to throw up during games, it’s a winning combination. Waste of Mulley to play in the hole, whereas against us for Hayes he caused mayhem on the flanks.

After slagging off our defence fit much of the season, they seem to be a far better organised unit these days, does help playing against some powder puff attacks recently. Kroca has rediscovered his promising form of the early season seems to be taking more responsibility these days. Perhaps he is coming to terms the nature of English football? Gleeson, although he always looks awkward is doing a job. He will never be great (the comment that he is the best right back in the division is clearly laughable), but at least has found a level ofalmost being adequate. Although backing off every time a forward runs at him, does grate somewhat.

The first half was a mess to be frank. Neither team having the urgency to press the other, rather sitting back and waiting for a football match to break out. Very even, the Wimbledon players having their own contest as to who could boot the ball farther out of the ground. They would do well to invest in some John Dreyer nets there, as all four sides of the ground, have very low roofs.

It was a pretty poor spectacle not helped by a bizarre referee who was either too whistle happy (the advantage rule appears to have past him by) or seemed to make up the rules as he went along. Wimbledon played the better football, although as the half went along, we had slightly more of a goal threat.

After a few wayward crosses by the hosts, looking to hit Kedwell, odd tactic with little support for him, as it was, most of the centres were wayward and overhit.

The first opportunity came during a foray our right flank, Gleeson popping a pass over to Morgan-Smith, whose optimistic attempt was nearer Wimbledon the place than Wimbledon’s goal. Then from a throw, neat quick turn by Drury, Kroca helped the ball on to Barnes-Homer, Kedwell managed to deflect the effort and the ball looped skyward and away.

Wimbledon’s first opportunity, was carved out down their left side, an excellent early crossfield pass by Franks, found Kedwell chesting the ball down, Pilkington who was guilty of allowing their man too much space, made up from the error by winning an important tackle, the ball indadvertly played into the path of Hudson, a low strike, which Tyler got enough of a glove to divert it behind. We coped well with corners, as Hatton, their right back, put in some decent deliveries, as they have a few big chaps in their side, Kedwell, Yakubu and Stuart.

Gnakpa looked our biggest threat in the early stages, given time to run at their defence, but unable to shoot accurately enough to trouble Brown, following some good interchange football between Drury, Barnes-Homer and Gleeson.

After Morgan-Smith being on the end of a rudimentary tackle by Hatton, couldn’t continue for long. Lawless replaced him on the left, but causing an imbalance in the team having a right footer on the left. As the half went on, we did improve, two main faults being a shooting opportunities was often denied and the final ball not up to stratch.

Fine reverse pass by Gnakpa, Drury leaving Wimbledon players in his wake, options left or right, elected to smash the ball into the not inconsiderable shape of Yakubu. A good parry low down to his left by Brown denied Drury, after Gnakpa and Barnes-Homer had set him up.

Kroca’s pass, who moment before put in a good block tackle to deny Luke Moore, sent the ball up towards Barnes-Homer, pass inside to Gnakpa, whipped low cross with no one able to get the vital touch. Crow getting the better of Hatton in the box, drove a shot across goal which Brown produced another decent stop. A Drury corner, looped up off a combination of a couple of players, which Brown fisting wildly, somehow missed the far post, Crow attempted to return the ball, put Brown was equal to the task.The final chance of the half, acme when Luke Moore was allowed to drift the ball to Mulley a decent chest trap and hit, Tyler, saved the shot well, the rebound coming off Gleeson and behind.

All change in the second half, far more urgency helped by Jake Howells, pressing Yakubu, producing panic and saw the centre half hoof the ball out for a throw in. A leson to some of our lazy arse players, the opposition are never as good when you put them under pressure. Although the Londoners had the first sight of the goal, Gregory’s right footer, whizzing past Tyler’s near upright, not far over after the opportunity was made down the right by Hudson and Kedwell.

The introduction of Jason Walker helped matters too, with his pace and willingness to run off the ball gave the team more thrust up front. He did miss some very good chances. Although things seem to happen when he is on the pitch. His lack of opportunities since arriving at the club is palin stupid. Sure it’s all part of the Money master plan. * COUGH*.

Walker almost scored with his first meaningful contribution, Gnakpa who faded in the second half (perhaps he needs a game or two off now, as his form does up and down like a bride’s nightie),once his form does go, he does tend to need a game off , Walker got in front of Stuart, side footed the ball at Yakubu, from the follow up Barnes-Homer’s effort was straight at Brown on the floor. Oh, well done, you silly arse. Methinks if he wore less gay boots, he may score sitters (just a thought, like).

The second half was a game of who could either hit the woodwork or kick the ball straight at Seb Brown. One of those nights, when had we got one we may well have won at a canter.

Drury revelled in the extra space on the flank, cutting in, often double marked, but that didn’t stop him either. Lawless is a good player, perhaps over elaborate at times, the switch around helped markedly.

Drury’s corner wasn’t dealt and barnes-Homer bicycle kick was more banal than Brkovic and drifted wide. As ever is the case with our current crop (that’s crop not crap, although….) when Drury plays well so do the team. On the left, he managed get a cross in, running with the ball, that Stuart managed to enough of the ball to flick it past Walker and concede a corner.

A big boot by Tyler, no defender attacked it, Stuart allowed Walker an all too easy sight at goal, but couldn’t get enough purchase of his lob, to lift it over Brown. Wimbledon throw on a couple of subs to try to change the game, although Yussef and the marvellously named Jolley, both produced effort but little else.

Quick thinking by Keane, playing a free kick just inside their half to Walker on his lonesome in the box, how much time (lots), how much space (lots). The angle wasn’t the best, towards the left channel, but he had time to get into a better position (he had time to drive his native Barrow and back), but poked a shot against the bar. A farmyard animal and a musical instrument anyone? On a positive note, if they bring back the crossbar challenge back at half time in home games, old Jase is a shoo in to win the thing.

The bar slapped again, this time was unfortunate, Walker laying the ball out to Drury, eased past Yussef and from outside the box, pinged his strike agianst bar with Brown, a spectator.

Wimbledon got a second wind, they hardly had a first one, mind. Luke Moore jinked inside the box, good delivery to Jolley at the far post, unmarked but straight at Tyler. The last ten minutes Wimbledon’s defence managed to hold out without too many further problems. Hatton. tested Tyler with a long rang, pearling strike from a free kick.

The game drifted, with little other opportunities, a great cross by Gnakpa was dealt with by Yakubu, and a rare poor cushioned header by Pilkington, gave Yussef a chance to find Jolley again but Gleeson saw out any danger.

Mark Tyler 7 ,Dan Gleeson 7, Zdenek Kroca 8.5, George Pilkington 7, Jake Howells 7, Claude Gnakpa 6.5, Keith Keane 6.5, Andy Drury 9, Amari Morgan-Smith 6 ( Alex Lawless 7), Matthew Barnes-Homer 4.5, Danny Crow 5 ( Jason Walker 6.5 )

Subs not used – Edward Asafu-Adjaye, Alex Lacey, Godfrey Poku. Booked Gnakpa.

AFC Wimbledon – Brown, Hatton, Yakubu, Stuart, Franks, Hudson, Gregory (Jackson), S Moore (Yussuff ), L Moore, Mulley ( Jolley)Kedwell.

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions

As I said on here on Saturday – I was stuck in Scotland last night and so missed the game. PDW didn’t though, here is his report:

First of all, a quick apology-am using my abject ability to touch type this load of ill-considered drivel whilst I watch the cricket. Doubt whether you will notice any difference!

What a way to celebrate to the V.A.T. rise, a night out in the bright lights of Hayes, where all that glitters isn’t gold, it’s dog poo. Still, personally got a lot in common with the place. Vile, few if any redeeming features and best viewed in the dark. wandering past the masses ranks of the plod, some in riot gear. It was their benefit match, despite the fact they should be more gainfully employed than looking bored at an irrelevant non-league football match. Not sure about the crowd being 800 (70% of it Luton fans, if not more), some creative accounting by their bean counters, methinks

Like so many away games this season, we nicked a win but continue to fail to convince on our travels. We are picking up points which is obviously the object of the exercise, but it’s been fortunate the sides we have played recently lack a finisher.

Unlike the eight past Masters match last March, we rarely looked like kicking their head in, but merely caressed their cranium. Once again Claude showing his fondness for this opposition, showing good patience before turning past Ferrell and lashing a shot into the far corner beating the immobile figure of Harrison.

The first half, was in truth a bit of a shocker. Outplayed by a purposeful Hayes & Yeading side, who played some enterprising sweeping football, but for Mark Tyler making a couple of superb stops and some ale house finishing, we could easily have been behind.

Rather more worryingly, was our performance in possession. Generally flat and slow. We gave away the ball so easily not under pressure, plenty of over hit passes. Their impressive young centre half, the unusually named Wassmer, who was excellent in the air. We gave him another practice. As out of form and lacking confidence, which Crow is, what can he do to passes miles over his head when he is giving his marker a good eight inches advantage (ooh Matron). Jake Howells, never seen him give the ball away needlessly as has the case in the first half. Only Keith Keane held the wonky ship together.

However just like Saturday, we improved (we couldn’t really have got much worse), H & Y flagged badly, defended deep, was their turn to waste decent counter attacking opportunities with wayward passing and eventually in patches we got the ball down and looked slightly better. The one shining positive, is this current Luton outfit can play some pretty ordinary fare and still win games, which in some part is due to some moderate opposition. In past seen us play very well and come out of games with nowt to show for it.

An unchanged team which hurried past Rushden, with the unchanged subs bench as well. Hayes’ resources tested with their loans returning, throw in a couple of suspensions as well, were down to their last few players. Fair’s fair, they looked to knock the ball around, in the first half Pritchard and Holm’s had the better of the midfield battles, Hyde up front linked the play intelligently. Given their meagre resources and league position, they weren’t too bad.

Although Crow had a drive blocked from Barnes-Homer’s knock down. Hayes started the brighter, and we looked fairly loose at the back, unable to get much of a foothold on the game. Hyde shovelling the ball to allow Pritchard a pot shot with his left peg, which sailed harmlessly wide of Tyler’s far post. Again Hyde and Pritchard were involved, the defence opened up, Pritchard’s clever pass, needed Kroca to be alert to concede a corner, taking the ball away from Buchanan in the inside left channel.

Holmes (an unlucky player. Given the last couple of years he’s been at Ebbsfleet and this lot, he’s better than that), given an age to deliver from the left wing, Yiadom reacted the quickest, chesting the ball down, losing his footing before scooping the ball into Tyler.

They were starting to put a prolonged spell of pressure on our goal. A throw in by Ferrell was collected by Hyde, shifted the ball back to Holmes, who tried an early strike which proved no bother for Tyler.

Pritchard felled by the right corner by Howells, Holmes found the forehead of Wassmer to thump a headed which Tyler kept out well.

It was open, but in the first half, we hardly tested the teletubby Harrison in goal, even from corners, most of Drury’s set pieces were flat to the near post. Some variety would have been nice. At times, we are a very robotic side. When playing well, full of ideas, but when not on a going day, very predictable side to play against.

Barnes-Homer missed a sitter, Gleeson hoisted the ball into the box, with the Hayes back line having a cheeky power nap, Barnes-Homer had time to do whatever he wished, but elected to nod the ball wide in very limp wristed fashion. Morgan-Smith wriggled clear of his right back marker Ferrell, Crow showing some good movement to defeat Wassmer only could head over. Which was better play, so too was the build down the other flank, Gleeson held the ball patiently found Gnakpa who dig out a fine centre, the angle against Barnes-Homer was unable to turn it in.

The key to the match then unfolded, fine sweeping move by the Middlesex team down the left, Green plugging forward finding Pritchard waltzing past Gleeson, his pull back, neatly controlled and quick turn by Hyde, Tyler reacted well and made a tremendous block.

As half time approached, we at least passed the ball better, Drury, managed to get into the game. Morgan-Smith, reaching a half cleared Drury coirner, smashed a strike into Cadmore. Chances continued to come and go. Crow’s unmarked flicked over from Drury’s floated corner. Keane’s accurate pass found Morgan-Smith, his clip deflecting off Bygrave, and Harrison managed to get his sizeable bulk to the ball to flip it over.

A hopeful long punt forward by Holmes, almost caught out our square defence, Buchanan unselfishly squared the ball to Green to fire wildly across goal.

After the turnaround, brought about an improvement. We upped the energy in our game, used the width better and took the game to the home side. Although after a period of lousy passing from both side, Buchanan had a glimpse of a chance, finding room to deliver a cross which Tyler caught low down well .

Morgan-Smith was unceremoniously dumped to the deck by Bygrave, Drury’s flighted free kick, was played centrally by Claude, but unable to divert it into Kroca’s path.

Drury produced a beautifully weighted throughpass to Crow, his boots seemed to stick in the grass, was unable to force any power to his low strike to trouble Harrison, the rebounded off the keeper, but with red shirts around the goal, Crow was unable to take the second opportunity. He does need a goal for his own good.

Credit to him, he kept showing for the ball and not hiding. A long punt downfield by Tyler, flicked on by Gnakpa, Crow bright enough to spot the keeper off his line, went for the lob, but failed to get enough purchase on the ball and trouble Harrison.

Hayes were struggling to contain us, Yiadom following Bygrave in the book, for a nasty looking and sounding challenge just below Gleeson’s knee. Yiadom was involved in a rare good Hayes second half move. Finding the ever attacking green from left back, low ball into Buchanan turning Kroca, and like Crow at the other end, attempted a little lob, comfortable for Tyler.

Our best attacking play came from Howells and Morgan-Smith. Although he had the beating of Ferrell, AMS kept going for the spectacular shoot from unlikely angles and rarely came off, although Harrison had to palm over from one of his left wing crosses, soon after he swopped wings with Claude, which proved a good move. Howells, like the team doing better as the game went on, knocked a cross which Claude lost Cadmore to glance a header wide.

Walker replaced Crow, and soon after, the deadlock was broken. A hopeful lob was played into the box, fell nicely for Claude, ably assisted by some dozy marking, turned took aim and via a deflection found the corner of the net.

Talk about relief, to drop four points against Hayes over the season could be the difference between winning the league and going into the play offs again.

We shut up shop, rarely looked like adding to our lead, but looked unusually solid at the back, although that is something to do with the fact that H & Y had gone by this point. Money went for the what we have we hold policy withdrawing Barnes-Homer and adding a fifth midfielder to the team with the introduction of Lawless.

Hayes started getting stuck in with some tackles, Morgan-Smith upended by recently arrived Appiah, Drury taking a fast bowlers run, smashed in a thirty yarder, which pinged off a defender.

Buchnanan fed Green with a fine pass, Green took the shot on early, but fluffed it as it dribbled wide. Decent hit, but just lacked direction. We did have a chance to kill the game stone dead in injury time, Keane’s pass releasing Gnakpa, lovely ball in, Morgan-Smith unmarked in front of goal, managed to miss the target. Just as well, the game wasn’t still goalless.

Mark Tyler 8 ,Dan Gleeson 5.5 , Zdenek Kroca 7, George Pilkington 7, Jake Howells 6, Claude Gnakpa 7, Keith Keane 8.5, Andy Drury 6.5, Amari Morgan-Smith 6, Matthew Barnes-Homer 6 ( Alex Lawless), Danny Crow 6.5(Jason Walker)

Subs not used – Craig Hinton, Edward Asafu-Adjaye and Godfrey Poku.

Hayes & Yeading – Harrison, Ferrell (McLean ), Green, Cadmore, Bygrave, Holmes, Pritchard, Yiadom (Appiah ), Wassmer, Hyde (Wishart ), Buchanan.

Booked: Bygrave, Yiadom.

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Luton sparkled, Diamonds didn’t

Happy New Year to you all – today’s game provided a pleasant start to 2011 in a game made more difficult by some strange refereeing.

Other than the ‘show in the snow’/Dancing on Ice this was the first proper call to arms in the league since the victory against Histon at a time when Wagner and Ann Widdecombe were still very much contenders. We had our own version of them running the line and blowing the whistle this afternoon.

We made one change to the York game with Dan Gleeson returning for Ed A-A – and so the line up was: Tyler in goal, Gleeson – Pilks – Kroca – Jakey Howells at the back. On the right wing Claude, with Keano and Drury in the middle and Amari Morgan-Smith with the bionic faceplate on the left.

Up front was ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow, who looks as if he had a very good Christmas (once again Santa refused to bring him an exercise bike) and MBH who had found his shooting boots over Christmas.

Before the game there was a minute’s silence for the Rushden keeper Dale Roberts and inspirational former Luton skipper Terry Branston. The Kenny End was impeccably silent. No change there then I hear you cry.

The first half I thought we were a bit ring rusty, which I suppose is not really very surprising. But though we were a bit lacklustre at times we didn’t concede a silly goal or anything like that and so made it easier for ourselves when we did inevitably pick up. Scoring the goal just before half time made a huge difference to our approach, confidence and performance in the second half. I think at half time Richard Money must have done a bit of reminding of what we are about, because after the break we played much faster football, much more on the ground and further up the pitch, and playing against a side who were now chasing the game made this much easier.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Rushden. Clearly they came out all guns-blazing driven on by the loss of their teammate, but there is only so long that such resolve can act as your raison d’etre on the pitch without bringing results, and over time, without any long periods of
meaningful domination their resolve was diluted and finally diminished by the goals we knocked in.
The bloke behind me wasn’t sure Rio Charles was playing, such was his non-involvement. He was largely anonymous which must have been hugely frustrating with him wanting no doubt to get one back at the club who let him go, but he was stuck out in left midfield rather than up front. It was somewhat surprising especially as their attackers seemed about as threatening as one of Santa’s little helpers and you would have thought that they could do with a Rio up front.

We made a bright start looking to knock the ball around nicely but mainly basing everything around balls up to Claude – who had a strange day. Often on here I go on about the Claude you get on a particular afternoon depends on the roll of a dice – roll a 6 and you get a world beater – roll a 1 and you get Monsieur Disinterested not willing to go for anything or track back. Well today Claude confounded this theory a little by actually being both brilliant and frustrating at the same time. Hardly jumping for the ball on occasion but giving us a sublime finish on a disallowed goal. Not getting stuck in but supplying the cross for the opener. Limping around and looking to come off before getting a taste for it again and knocking the third in – but more of that later.

We looked the best for the first 15 minutes without really carving too many chances out. The game was too crowded in the middle of the park and we were unable to get the ball down as much as we would have liked. I daresay Justin Edinburgh has made this point to them, let Luton get the ball down and knock it around and they’ll murder you – keep them frustrated by making them play head tennis and you still have a chance.

I have to give Rushden the epithet of ‘well-organised’ which is a bit like saying a movie was ‘well-filmed’. They were hard working but not inspiring. Giving little for their surprisingly low turnout of away fans to cheer or enthuse about and thank goodness that we managed to quell the drum banger as early as we did.

The first major chance fell to Rushden, surprisingly, the clothes-peg seller Power demonstrating that he had the shot of a mule and bringing a good save out of Tyler.

I seem to recall we had a couple of sort of half chances shortly after Danny Crow with one of them and AMS the other.

Shortly after, what surely would have been the goal of the season (all five divisions) was sawn off by a flag-eager lino. Drury picked the ball up on the half way line and weaved his way in and out until he reached the edge of the R&D box whereby he plopped the ball in the path of Claude who accelerated onto the ball on the left and chopped a glorious right footed shot across the keeper Day into the right hand side of the far post. Oh what a goal that would have been.

From then on we seemed to overplay the ball on the edge of the box rather than putting a foot through it and whacking it towards the goal. Not quite overplaying to the extent we did under poor old Mick, but we took too many touches, tried to dribble it in on too many occasions.

Gnapka troubled only the man who fits the bulbs into the scoreboard after a good lay off by AMS.
Barnes-Homer having done all of the hard work in the inside right position cut inside and weakly shot straight at Day.

The last few minutes of the half really got the crowd going. Claude found some space on the right and played a great ball across the goal to find MBH to the left of the penalty spot. His header appeared to be mistimed because the ball looped off his head slowly, slowly, slowly over Day and into the net for the first goal. Perhaps this old cynic does him a disservice. In fact I think I do – it was a beautifully cushioned and weighted header.

Into extra time in the first half Drury went on another mazy run, this time from his own half down the wing only to be met by Osano (I think it was). There was the briefest of contacts. Drury was the man with the ball and running forward, but in doing this somehow he managed to foul Osano accordingl to the ref. I must have blinked and missed it completely. What antagonised the home fans further was that Rushden forged a goal scoring opportunity down the other end from the non-free kick. Fortunately O’Connor passed to Johnson in an offside position.

The half time whistle brought a volley of boos – but not for the mighty Hatters but for the ref who made some ‘random’ decisions (to use the modern parlance). He seemed to be over reliant on his linesman who was having a poor game himself. Never good to put too much weight on a broken crutch.

The second half brought out a different Luton team. Afforded more room initially by Rushden pressing forwards and not pressing us, but latterly in the half by us exploiting the gaps on the break. We found more gaps, played more one-twos and initially at least looked like the potential world-beaters we always do when the ball is on the floor and we are allowed to play. For about ten minutes at least Danny Crow, who had a fairly quiet first half bossed the attacking play and drove the ball around to either side of the pitch and through the defence bringing MBH, Claude and AMS on and into threatening positions. Claude fizzed at first then took a knock and switched off, then having run off the knock suddenly looked bothered again.

Of course the biggest sitter of the day fell to none other than MBH who was played through beautifully by Gnapka with only the keeper to beat and he managed to scatter the people in the upper tier of the Kenny.

Shortly after Rushden had their finest opportunity to make it 1-1, Smith I think it was picked up on a good pass by Gash (formerly of York and Ebbsfleet?) and sizzled the ball wide and slightly high of Tyler’s left hand post.

So typically of MBH – having missed the sitter he then sticks away a much harder chance. I’m delighted for him. I would imagine it would be so easy to knock your confidence missing an easy one – but thankfully MBH seemed undaunted by it. Perhaps that is the difference between a striker and someone like Adam Newton whose season dissolved after missing the sitter against Southampton last January. Strikers get on with it. At least MBH knows he is always going to get plenty of chances playing in this team. Anyway Drury (or Keano, can’t remember which) dinked through a lovely ball for MBH who held off a defender, stayed on his feet and finished left-footed past the diving keeper.

One comment on Rushden and Diamonds I haven’t mentioned is that there was some pretty brutal tackling going on in the middle of the park. I can’t think who they might have coaching their first team there…a couple of cards were needed when I think only one was dished out. Another yellow appeared in the second half when Drury slipped and went under and was caught by one of the Rushden player’s flailing arms. In surely only the very loosest of imaginations was it violent conduct by the Rushden player. Having seen it from pretty close up if Drury hadn’t slipped he wouldn’t have had his head whacked. As it happens I think the ref chickened out by giving a yellow. It either wasn’t violent conduct or it was. If it was then surely it was a straight red. Strange guy.

A good ball from Drury on the left went over the head of MBH – but he wasn’t going to allow that to defeat him today – he tried a spectacular Brko-esque overhead kick which he connected with but which fluttered wide. Now that would have been a great goal if he had caught it right – and fair play to him for trying. Though it wasn’t the case here, and perhaps this is the wrong place to put this comment – I’m all up for strikers being greedy. If a player can think he can get a goal for Luton Town by having a shot well that’s fine with me. Too many seasons went by with us having strikers who would rather fanny about rather than try to stick one in, I’d rather have a glory-hunter any day. And anyway – if the striker can get the shot on target and trouble the keeper, then he will often make chances for his colleagues from blocks, deflections or cock-ups by the keeper – especially at our humble level.

The third goal came in a slightly comedic way – MBH put a ball into the box on the 6 yard line to the left hand side of the goal. It was such a good ball that he actually put two players in – Danny Crow and Claude Gnapka they both muscled each other for the ball for a moment before Claude took the ball and carried on and fired the ball across the goal left footed into the side of the net. Much to poor Danny’s visible irritation.

Off Claude went to do some sort of bizarre gay samba in front of the enclosure.

Rushden did come back at us a bit – there was a brief period where they threatened to threaten, but it did strike me that for them it was ‘one of those days’ where they could try to score all day but nothing would drop. One thing that did impress me was their crossing and corner taking. On more than one occasion a sharply swerving and in-dipping corner troubled Tyler (a bit like one of Jimmy Anderson’s deliveries troubles most of the Austrialian top order) on one occasion drawing out an excellent punch from MT which only went as far as a Rushden player whose shot was cleared off the line by Keano (I think).

Time yet for more fun, Day, the Rushden keeper picked up the ball outside his area but cleared only as far as MBH – who, had he been sharper would have lobbed him straight back over his head. However, he took perhaps a touch too many and did the non-selfish thing of trying to play Danny Crow in, but the ball was poor and by the time Crow had won the ball back, was only in a position to blast the ball over.

There were other chances by both teams, but I think I have got most of them. I’ve managed to exclude a rasping shot by Dan Gleeson which went just wide where he had been found in space and drove forwards – but it was a good effort and Gleeson had a sound enough game – not sure what that says about either Dan or dear Rio.

And so – onto the scores on the doors:

Tyler – 7.5 – handling was good, kicking was fair, rolled the ball out where he could, positional sense and communication is starting to worry me a little. I know it can’t be easy having a Czech lump playing in front of you who probably doesn’t understand everything you say but sometimes MT performances this year suggest that we saw the best of him last year. I’m only talking fractions here of course, he’s still a brilliant shot stopper and of course by far the best keeper at this level, but over time you come to notice these things. Nothing to worry about at present, but most players careers are somewhere on a bell-curve and perhaps MT has just started the beginning of the downward journey. Am I being unfair? Perhaps I am. I don’t mean to do the guy a disservice.

Dan Gleeson – 7.5 – like I said above was tidy and had a good game and had a good shot.

Pilks – 8 – I thought he had a brilliant game – broke up what few attacks they had and was always in the right place at the right time.

Kroca – 6.5 – I watched him closely in this match. He was a bizarre mix of some brilliant tackles, some brave headers but some poor touches and passes. Par for the course at this level. Sometimes at corners he didn’t pick up his man at all and presented more than one free header from crosses.

Howells – 7.5 – in the first half where the play was a bit stodgy Jake’s abilities shone out like a beacon. Less so in the second half as we mainly attacked down the right and not the left. He was the sponsor’s man of the match – which was quite amusing because whilst he did play well, and as you know I am a huge JH fan, I’m not sure he did enough to warrant that today – especially when MBH got two good goals.

Gnapka – hard to score really – sometimes 3 sometimes 9.5. Overall perhaps 8.5 he did after all score a good goal and created the first one.

Keane – 8 – all over the pitch closed down really well in the second half in particular and ran and ran and ran.

Drury – 8.5 – I’d be happier if he was on the wing – but there were some flashes of sheer brilliance from AD today.

AMS – 7 – looked very lively on occasion and overlapped repeatedly with MBH on the left so that MBH was often the widest player picking up the ball.

MBH – 9 – should have had a hattrick – worked hard – not a phrase you traditionally associate with MBH but was all over the pitch, particularly in the second half when the game opened up more. Unselfish in his passing and got a good couple of crosses in. The crowd has a dig at him when he doesn’t really jump for balls played up to or over him, but who can blame him. Good header for the first goal and lovely finish for the second.

Danny Crow – 7 – seemed a bit anonymous in the first half, but came good in the first part of the second. Bit unlucky not to get any clear cut chances, mainly got bits and pieces and half chances from Claude’s knock downs. Chased the ball when he lost it though and demonstrated a good work ethic. I think he was a bit cheesed off towards the end though but should put this game behind him. Big pressure on him now though with Jason Walker on the bench and MBH seemingly with a season-long berth up front. Let’s see how he responds to the pressure.

Walker, Lawless and ‘On fire’ Poku all came on briefly for their appearance money after about 90 minutes replacing DC, CG and AMS respectively.

Overall a good win. I’d like to say we didn’t really get out of second gear – but that wouldn’t be true – we had to work hard in the first half and dominated large sections of the second half where I think we were pretty much in fourth gear. A sound enough start to the year, with no injuries or bookings and with the mighty Hayes and Yeading on Tuesday night which I will miss because I’m going to be in Scotland. Certainly an annoying decision to move that from the bank hols to the Tuesday night.

And so, after the first game of 2011, our record is:

P21 W13 D3 L5 F44 A20 Pts 42 Pos 3rd. Two points per game is normally good enough to ensure 2nd place, but not usually first. However, this year with three teams pushing for the top place it is less likely that someone is now going to run away with the title and get 100 points. But let’s see.

Happy New Year everyone.

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