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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