A Hell of a Week

A lack-lustre surrender at the hotbed that is Haig Avenue. Crawley move further out of reach. Richard Money clears his desk. The new boss, a former night-club bouncer, promptly ejects Owusu and Claude. Unremarkable Barrow grind out a goalless bore. Crawley move even further out of reach. We lose LT comrade Pearcey. Yes, it’s been one hell of a week.

But wait! The clocks have come forward and it’s spring. Lawless is coming back and MBH is itching to score at his old stamping ground. We’ll be smiling by Saturday night won’t we?

:-/

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More of the same, but early days…

Different manager, similar performance. I had hoped that the Luton players would, liberated from the shackles of their former tactical approach, suddenly burst into creative life. However we were more like baboons bred in captivity, taken to the Outback and let out of the cage for the first time. It’s as if we were blinking in the daylight, not knowing what to do with our new-found freedom. I am hoping that in the next few games we will start to run free again, unfettered by the recent past.

On the way back I thought we were a bit like the fledgling democracies in Tunisia and Egypt. The concept of freedom suddenly dawning on the people there and thinking “Shit, we’re in charge now, it’s down to us, what on earth do we do?”. Well at Luton suddenly the Wicked Witch is dead and the players were actually gradually realising that the future is in their hands, with the yoke removed from their shoulders. It is up to Brabin to show them how to use that freedom to make them enjoy playing attacking, creative football and scoring goals in non-league for fun. Brabin, has a blank canvas and an opportunity (albeit only over the next month and a bit) to allow the players to play his way with his methods.

But last night it was not to be. We came up against an in form Barrow team who knew how to close down and to pass along the floor. What Barrow lacked in ambition they more than made up for in energy and belief. You can tell that they were a side confident in their own company. Whereas on occasions we did look as if we had just met half an hour before kick off.

I’ll not do a match report as such, as other than a handful of chances there isn’t much to report. We came pretty close on a couple of occasions, and a bit of luck or a deflection would have given us the victory. It wasn’t to be. There were some spippets of great play and good touches – a couple of excellent overlaps from Murray and on one occasion he got to the byline and pulled the ball back after a lovely weighted ball inside from Howells. Not a typing error – a Luton player got to the byline.

The best bit about the game was at our first corner when, surprise beyond surprise, we actually left not one but two players up. Ironic mirth filled the stadium with relief. Those days are behind us. This tactic nearly bore fruit immediately. Crow and Wilmott were left up, but stayed wide apart and having made a quick save from the corner, Tyler whacked the ball down the middle of them and their markers allowing the strikers the opportunity to outpace their markers. On this occasion Crow was outpaced by Edwards (I think it was) who snuffed out the opportunity. What a good counter attack though – that’s when you are allowed to punt it upfield with impunity.

One man who I was surprised was missing from the starting line up, was Saturday’s super-sub Dan Walker (his namesake Jason couldn’t play against his old club). He was about the only breath of fresh air on Saturday and surely would warrant a starting place. Perhaps Brabin is going to give everyone a chance to show what they can do? Perhaps he was injured?

One player who did play was the pedestrian Carden who did manage a forward pass on a couple of occasions, but coupled with Keano in the heart of midfield means we had as much creativity as Darwin’s Origin of Species. Never has a returning player (Lawless) been more guaranteed of a place in the first team on Saturday. There was no spark in midfield. When Carden was clattered by Sheridan (I think) in the second half, it was the first time I’d heard a groan from the crowd when a Luton player got to his feet and resumed playing.

Claude came on after 70 minutes in what should have been a much more common role this season as a flair player to put tiring defenders to the sword for the last half an hour or so. For the first time in weeks he tackled back and indeed went back at one stage, but also got forward well and put in a couple of crosses – he looked a bit livelier and less shell-shocked.

My man of the match was Freddie Murray. But Pilks was given it by the sponsors, and he had a pretty solid game, despite a mix up with Tyler who passed him the ball when he was clearly having a little snooze. Fortunately – it came to nothing.

In the second half we played with much less width for some reason, Howells tucked in, as did Wilmott. Our build up was slow – by this I don’t mean we were knocking it around casually like Barcelona – just that our players are generally slow, laborious, and there isn’t really too much lightening pace, which is why Dan Walker looks so lively when he comes on.

So – I’ve run out of time, time to go back to work.

Scores on the doors –

Tyler – 7 – looked to roll it out a couple of times after realising that punting it towards MBH and Crow was not going to bear too much fruit. He also made a lovely save from a Curtis drive heading for the top corner.

Newton – 5.5 – played at right back. Didn’t set the game alight, and was a little slow to close down on occasion (was caught out of position too).

Pilks – 6.5 – soundish, a couple of passes went very astray.

Kroca – 6 – poorer game than usual, spent plenty of time up front, but managed to get penalised each time by the ref.

Murray – 8 – welcome back.

Wilmott – 6.5 – showed attacking intent in the first half but drifted out of the game in the second.

Keano – 6 – in dire need of a long rest poor bloke. Tried his heart out – also a lazy pass played in Curtis for that shot that Tyler made the good save to.

Carden – 4.5 – and that’s being kind.

Howells – 6.5 – sparkier in the first half – tucked in and less dangerous in the second.

MBH – 7 – worked hard with little result.

Crow – 7.5 – harried and parried, huffed and puffed and was knackered at the end, had a number of half chances which would have made all the difference.

Sub

Claude – 6.5 – hopefully on the upslope of the form curve now, having bottomed out recently.

Yesterday was pretty ropey – ‘something to build on’ as my teachers used to say if I was near the bottom of the class. Big improvement needed for Saturday, but a big test too: away to the buoyant Kidderminster. I’d be happy with a point there at this stage to be honest. Though if we play like we did yesterday Kidderminster will be kicking themselves if they don’t waltz to all three.

So, not too much to write home about. It’s early days in this accelerated honeymoon period that Brabin has. It’s a win – win for him surely though? Get us up and he’s a hero. Fail in the play offs and he can claim that he needs a whole season and that he hasn’t had long enough to turn the team around.

Over the next two games I’d like to see a spark, a suggestion that there is a chance that we can pick up some form, and that the liberated Hatters can stop licking their wounds and express themselves again.

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions

Here is PDW’s report on last night’s ‘match’:

A point in the bank with the Money withdrawn with a very low interest rate, not the best way to start yet another ” bright new era”. Still, on a positive note, our performance was like vintage Barcelona compared to the Southport shambles. Neither game was a barrow of laughs.

After an OK start with some more thoughtful approach play, we faded badly, it was soon back to the Raggy Arse Rovers routine. Rarely looking like troubling the jittery looking Masters in goal, almost a year to the day, he conceded a mere 8 (eight) at his last visit to Kenilworth Road for Hayes.

We are what we are: a team chronically lacking form and confidence. Same old story, lack of creavity in middle of the field. At least Lawless is back at Kidderminster, well I say that if Brabin can manage to drop his missus from the team. Easy target aside, where was Dan Walker tonight? Looked by far our best attacking threat on Saturday and not even in the sixteen. Appreciate most in professional football are utterly clueless, but bloody hell, going on Saturday’s oasis of delights, Walker should have been one of the first names inked in.

Had we gone Howells and Keane in the centre, with Walker and Willmott down the flanks it may have given us more thrust. May not have worked, but it’s a tad more attacking than two defensive midfielders(AGAIN) at home against a team in the bottom eight, with all due respect to the Cumbrians, who are in decent nick, Bath pulling the plug on them, breaking a four match winning run.

To be fair to Brabin, although far from convinced by him, given he that was the man brought in to identify future new players when Money came in, that hasn’t be a rousing success. He probably could have done without the game tonight ( him and me both). He will live or die on the play offs, given both his and our success at failure in them, the omens aren’t good. Not going to judge him on one game and maybe two training sessions. Need a lot of hard graft to turn us around, presently. Starting with attacking corners, all low flat to the near post would be a place to begin. With some difficult looking away games in the near future, it may well get worse before it gets better again.

Barrow were worth their point, put in a very determined defensive performance, and had they supplied their left winger Almond more service to run at Newton, could have nicked a win. Barrow looked to have improved significantly (or is it we have got far worse?) They are a barber’s nightmare, more slapheads in their team than in a Telly Savalas lookalike competition. The most famous baldy of the lot, Darren Sheridan, now a 856 year old veteran, good to see he he can moan as well as ever though he refereed the game quite well. Although his little legs can’t run. Can still pass the ball, relatively well. They defended well as a team, willing to put blocks in and bodies on the line. In particular Bolland and Spender have an unfortunate habit of always being in the right place at the right time.

The longer the game went on, the less we looked than scoring, with the exceptation of some pinball mayhem in their box. Once again, few out and out chances created in open play, yet another goalkeeper put under not much pressure. Despite having plenty of the ball, most of the passes were going sideways and backways, hardly hurting Barrow. Hoped they would have been a bit more of a reaction from the players.

There was more green on the green than mud, after the pre-match watering. Murray, Willmott and Crow all returned to the side in place of Graham, Gnakpa and Owusus. Murray , back at left back, Howells pushed one place ahead of him, Willmott straight swop for Gnakpa, ditto Crow for Owusu.

Start was OK, passes popped around well, Crow put himself about, and was involved in our best two moves. However was dead on his feet at the end, why Owusu wasn’t given the last ten minutes , just in a bid to put some balls in the box, was very strange indeed.

Most of our decent football was down the flanks, Howells tucked inside, with Murray giving us attacking threat than Howells at left back has done recently. Barrow it was whom had the first attempt on goal, ball played out to the left by Ferrell, Almond, fed Curtis, playing up front on his own, hit the ball low and Tyler made a comfortable stop.

Decent give and go between Barnes-Homer and Howells, saw the latter chase into the box, a potential mix up between Spender and Masters, was only averted by Spender probing the ball behind, with his keeper glued to the line.

Talking of corners, the biggest cheer of the night, was we left two men forward on defending a corner, Crow and Willmott. Some quick thinking by Tyler, saving a weak effort from Bollard, immediately belted the ball forward, Crow denied by a fine flying intereception by the speedy Edwards.

Crow controlled a high ball very well, but his second tried to loop the ball beyond Masters, but merely got under it and poked it wayward of the target. Considering he scored twenty odd goals for a mid table Cambridge last season, he has shown little of that goal scoring ability in a Luton shirt.

Crow with his back to goal, found Howells, lovely weighted ball towards the byline, Murray knocked it across, Crow losing his marker Bollard, stabbed the ball towards the near post, but Masters managed to deflect it wide.

In terms of any promise, that was just about it, Keane played an awful flicked pass to put Kroca in all sorts of trouble, Curtis managing to find Smith, the drive was destined for the top corner before Tyler got up well and tipped it over. Fine save to keep the game level.

Barrow look comfortable in possession, taking advantage over a lack of closing down, had they noticed the amount of times Ferrell run from midfield unopposed and gave him the ball, we could have been in trouble.

Attempts from Crow and Willmott threatened the scoreboard and Keith Keane’s guttering more than the goal. We were beginning to run out of ideas, slightly, although Crow winning a loose ball from Sheridan, playing his pass out to Willmott finding Barnes-Homer snatched his strike as Barrow defenders waded for the block.

Barnes-Homer chesting down the ball into Crow’s path, neat flick over, Willmott on the shoulder of the defence, raced through, Masters was fast as well off his libne and Willmott was cramped for room asnd his shot hit Masters and bounced away.

Barrow, in the first half anyway, were more positive than I expected, and again looked dangerous as Almond got the better of Newton bfefore shooting/crossing which rolled past the goal.

Second half, we didn’t really get going. Would have preferred if Brabin had used his subs quicker than he did, even then it was only one.Considering three of our subs were attacking options, it was slightly negative of the manager not to react when you saw how the second half was developing. Barrow were happy to sit back, soak up pressure and counter attack with pace when needed. It was very frustating, as we didn’t use the ball well enough, not using the flanks as much as in the previous half and our build up was fairly slow and predictable. With little movement, we made it easy for Barrow than it should have been for them.

Crow and Barnes-Homer linking up again well, MBH’s attempted return pass for Crow, was intercepted by Howells, who ended up knocking the bll away from Crow. Pearson shoved Crow to the deck. Keane’s free kick, was headed across gaol by Kroca, Pilkington neatly finished with his head past Masters, but the flag was up for pushing.

Willmott on the end on a cruching tackle by Edwards, following through on him( not very hygenic), and was correctly cautionly. Willmott was full of running, but didn’t get enough service. He definately offers some hope. But with the left back on a caution, admittedly he was fast, no one bar one Gnakpa attempted run at him to bring about the second caution. Fine wing play by Murray, losing Rutherford well before dispatching the centre, Crow only only prod his header at Masters. . Murray and Howells got in each other’s way from keane’s free kick, the ball dropped to Crow but was unable to turn it in.

At the other end, almost a terrible misunderstandingbetween Tyler and PIlkington cost us dearly, Tyler rolled a short goal kick to Pilkington not looking, Rutherford picked up the loose ball, luckily his pass was to an offside positioned Curtis, who to Tyler’s credit blocked a fierce shot, not aware of the raised flag.

More huff and puff towards Barrow’s goal. Keane’s pass out to the right, found MBH, decent ball in, Howells outstretched leg hardly making any connection to cause Barrow problems. Apart from the chance created to them by Tyler and Pilkington, Barrow ‘s nearest moment came after a rash, late tackle by Murray on Spender, Ferrell’s deep free kick drifted, but no one moved.

The first much neede change came with Gnakpa on for Carden. Whose main attribute seems to be shadowing opposition players. Howells went central, Willmott swopped wings and Claude entered stage right( wing). Kroca up like a tin of John West, couldn’t keep his header down after Howells’ short corner from the right found Willmott.

Keane was starting to get the better of the midfield, beating Sherdian to the ball, finding Willmott, Masters smartly off his line, lumbered into him, the ball dropped for Crow, the angle wasn’t the best, nor was the finish, chest trap and sending the ball in the crowd. Gnakpa had one of his trademark, elephant charges, past Edwards, low and hard towards the afce of the goal, a semi block by Pearson, but again it was a white and blue shirt following up to hack clear rather than an orange one.

Time was ticking away, our passing was going astray, scuffy chances were the name of the game, Keane’s ball into the box ( everyone piling in at the back post….is that the most creative we can be from free kicks) Masters made a right old hash of it, dropped for MBH , almost slipping but managing to find the target ( something that some be celebrated given the past two games), but Spender on the line cleared away.

Another free kick belted into the box, Pilkington won it, MBH took possession but his shot cannoned off Edwards. On the break, we were short on defensive cover, as Curtis found Smith, but his attempted curler was well over and never troubling Tyler.

As the match reached it’s not so thrilling conclusion, a couple of things did sum up our play , a huge , horrible slice by Kroca which would reached Caddington but for the Mian Stand. His distribution in the opening stages was fine, even coming out of defence with it a couple of times, but went to pot and in the final seconds of injury time, Murray taking an age to dry the ball with a towel, before lobbing it gently on the name of the first defender.

Mark Tyler 7, Adam Newton 5.5 , Zdenek Kroca 6, George Pilkington 6.5, Freddie Murray 7.5 , Robbie Willmott 6.5 , Keith Keane 6.5 , Paul Carden 4, Jake Howells 5.5, Danny Crow 6.5, Mathew Barnes-Homer 6.5 .

Subs not used – Luke Graham, Amari Morgan-Smith, Kevin Pilkington and Lloyd Owusu. Booked – Murray

Barrow – Masters, Spender, Pearson, Bollard, Edwards, Rutherford, Smith, Sheridan, Ferrell,Almond( Nicholas), Curtis. Booked – Edwards, Sheridan, Almond.

*THE DISCLAIMER* The above ratings were picked on a whim and very rarely are an accurate reflection on the player’s performances simply to annoy the reader. Today’s fatous comments about happy as larry Ricky Ponting’s resigning from the Australian captaincy. In his honour, Im going to say ” Yeah look” before sniffing loudly without the aid of a handkerchief, repeatly for a minute whilst chewing gum without closing my mouth, like someone dragged up from the gutter in honour of the ( Gary) Pratt.

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Another one bites the dust

Farewell then Richard Money – my pick for the job when Mick went, but who didn’t lead us to the glory we needed. The performance on Saturday was dire and things had to happen. Fair play to RM that
he didn’t stick it out to the bitter end.

I’ll miss his press conferences – I’ll miss his complete re-interpretation of events I had witnessed with my own eyes. I’ll miss his incessant tinkering and his predilection for buying countless strikers and wingers. I’ll miss everyone having to come back for corners without leaving anyone up.

I won’t miss the dross we’ve been playing recently. He had – to use the common parlance – ‘lost the changing room’. The players weren’t playing for him or for anyone really.

They need a kick up the backside from an angry Scouser – fortunately, we have one waiting in the wings.

What I’d like to see:

Hatters play football: fast, high tempo passing football, closing the opposition down in their own half.

Some goals
A settled team
A settled formation
Some creativity in midfield
Some decent wing play and crosses
A genuine poacher in front of goal
Youngsters blooded instead of going into the market place.

But most of all promotion.

Money’s record was: P83 W45 D21 L17 – too many losses and not enough wins – even though that ratio is very high in the scheme of things. But let’s remember he inherited a team that was evicted from the league – not because we weren’t good enough but because of the arbitary and unfair points deduction by the FL and FA. We should have murdered this league, and perhaps now we will.

One final point, will they have changed the programme notes in time for tomorrow’s game?

I wish Richard Money well. As I said before he is complex, sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, slightly antagonistic man, but a man who I think is honest and likeable and passionate. Whatever he did on the field, at least he was man-enough to fall on his sword off it.

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions

Here is PDW’s excellent take on yesterday’s less than excellent performance…

Horse manure. It’s available for a bargainlicous 50p just outside Ormskirk and it’s also an accurate summary of the mighty Hatters performance at Southport. A feeble, pathetic shambles. Out played and out battled by the hosts who wanted it more. Talk about going through the motions. Whether tiredness set in or what, I don’t know, it was lacklustre in the extreme. Absolutely abysmal.

Three shots on target tells it’s own story ( MBH’s goal. Cracking strike it was too, McMillian parried out AMS drive, which Crow could only tap back to him when he was on the ground), tells it’s own dismal story. Harold Macmillan could have been in goal today and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The only positive was apart from the game had little riding on it from our point of view. It helps our play off chances if we finish fourth or fifth to have the first leg at home. However we will need to improve an awful lot on what we had shown in the past two months to win them. Possible of course, but wouldn’t lump on.

Trouble is since Drury left (good job we weren’t a one man team. Oh.), we have stumbled around like a drunk in Hampton Court Maze, aimlessly drifting but going nowhere quickly, despite the results being adequate. You can get so far playing badly. That performance and result has been coming, however whilst the management and the board come up with PR rubbish in the media about catching Crawley, they must have a nice view with their heads up their bottoms. Can’t say Im overly chuffed about Cauley Woodrow going to Fulham. Excellent fee blah blah, waste of time developing players if they are going to be flogged before they have even made an impact in the first team. It’s setting for mediocrity. Bollocks to that. Apart from going nowhere fast, where exactly is the club heading?

The writing was on the wall when the starting line up was announced. After a reasonable performance at Rushden, to reshuffle the team just to accommodate a player wildly out of form, is clearly nonsense.

Graham came back at right back, with Newton moving to the left wing (all that does is narrow our play and have a defender out of position. Doesn’t Money ever learn from previous mistakes?)
Also Crow unlucky to be omitted in favour of Owusu, who has scored a lot of goals since he arrived, but personally don’t think he should be an automatic pick in every game.

Fair play to Southport, the better team by far. Got around the pitch better, won most of the second balls and were generally sharper and brighter in all areas. It’s galling to get turned over by a side filled with players from the North West Galácticos of Skemersdale and Burscough. One thing they did well was go for it and unlike most teams when they play us. It’s lucky that teams are scared of us and don’t attack. In Kissock and Moogan, they had by far the best two players on the pitch. We couldn’t cope with Kissock playing in the hole, nice head band dear, full of back heels and flicks. Considering he was supposed to have broken his leg, then severe bruising on Wednesday to playing on Saturday, was it maybe a paper cut? Or likely the medicial people in this country are very pleasant but utterly hopeless. Still Blackett will be available next week, won’t he?

We defended the goal in front of the away terrace, pre-match the lap of honour of the impressive Outlaws flag (it’s big, but never seen the point in flags really or scarfs in the car windows when travelling on the motorway. Smacks of desparate insecurity to me. Being so happy that keeps me going). Southport are quite a big side,who always looked to find the head of the human lighthouse in McNeil ( height wise about as tall as Kroca), although they looked a better side when Moogan got on the ball and passed it wide.

We struggled to cope with them. After an aerial collision between Graham and Ledsham, which Graham needed lengthy treatment for a bang on the nose, came back with the old crowd favourite of looking like someone had shoved a Tampon up his hooter. A free kick from the left by Kissock, Owusu won the header but wasn’t cleared, Kissock receiving the ball but took one touch too many and wasted his shot.

Southport dominated, we strung three passes in their half. They did close us down quickly, but played too narrow. Claude and Newton on opposite flanks isn’t the answer. Would prefer AMS and Willmott on the flanks, if they aren’t available, give a O’Donnell a trundle down the left when he is back from St Albans. Or Howells when Frederick stops malingering. Southport’s two centre halves were big units, Davis in particular built like a brick outside toilet, and his centre half partner Marsh-Evans was no shrinking violet. Owusu was fouled often by Marsh-Evans but one only got a decision. There was no flow to our play, no movement, very stale and stagnate. We never got started.

Despite them being on top, they didn’t create that many good chances, always dangerous at set pieces (varying them as well. How novel), a few Tyler flapped at under his own bar. Their best chance came after Kissock, played an inch perfect pass to Ledsham taking advantage of our square non moving backline, should have done better than to drag a shot which hit the outside of the far post.

A good run by Whalley to the right sent in a deep cross to Ledsham, which Kroca hoofed away. Up to this point, a a body swerve by Claude to beat McGinn, rolled the ball to Owusu, with Davis patrolling the area, Owusu took a shot which cannonned off Davis and back off him for a goal kick.

It showe you how badly we were playing that Money, usually so stubborn and inflexible, changed it tactically after half an hour. Crow on for Graham. Shuffle houses. Newton right back, MBH out to the left, Crow on just behind Owusu. However that failed to change the obvious, Keane and Carden were being outnumbered and out manvoured in midfield.

One player who was excellent was Pilkington who put in numerous tackles, blocks to contain the Merseysiders. Brilliantly timed tackle on the lively Whalley after Turner’s clip down the left channel. A real ‘AVE IT clearance by Lee went skywards and backwards, causing brief panic in the Southport rear guard, unfortunately Marsh-Evans kept his composure nodding back to his keeper McMillan.

Crow’s introduction brought a brief, vague improvement. Well, we had a shot, Newton’s long throw finally for MBH to strike cleanly but Moogan blocked it. AMS replaced Gnakpa, possibly the slowest walk of in the history of the game. The regular selection of Claude in the last six weeks is scandalous and gross incompetence by Money.

Southport ended the half as they started it on top, pressing us Kissock running at Howells and only managing to loop the ball at Tyler.

At least we got to half time 0-0, however pathetic the performance. We managed to get worse. Weird formation, three up top AMS, Owusu and MBH, with Crow behind. So apart from being wide open down the flanks, it was still four versus two ( correction with Carden make that one and a half), so the midfield two could serve the front men.

Southport continued to take the game to us, Whalley whipping in a cross from the left which Ledsham couldn’t get on the end of. A raking pass from McGinn found Turner, who in turn gave Kissock a run which saw his bandy legged run finish with a strike which hit the side netting of the near post, Pilkington on the cover to make the angle a tricky one.

A cynical body check by Carden on Whalley, which the referee very lenient chatted him up but didn’t take his name, a free kick by Kissock floated in, good movement by Marsh-Evans, but his effort wayward.

Another Southport corner, Davis climbed above Keane, but Ledsham got his header all wrong and the ball sailed tamely over. A big boot by McMillan (who could have easily sloped off home and not been missed), found the head of McNeil, Whalley hooked over.

Our final chance saw Dan Walker on for Owusu, who could do with a game or two off. At least walker run at the their defence and on sixty eight minutes forced McMillan into action, a cross fired fire in which was neatly handled by the keeper.

It looked like Southport were running out of ideas in open play, Kroca made a mess of a corner, but Pilkington bailed him out of trouble clearing before Marsh-Evans could pounce. Excellent punch clear from Tyler, Howells inadvertently flicked on and Tyler reacted before the man mountain Davis.

Against the run of play (under statement of all time), we took the lead with a well crafted and finished goal. Walker running at McGinn on the right side, pass into AMS sent up MBH on the edge of the area, to drive sweetly past McMillan into the corner of the net. Excellent clean strike.

Turner’s hit lacked power to trouble Tyler, after a nice combination between him and Kissock. A long hoof downfield, saw AMS get into the box, and get bundled over by Davis, however the referee played on. A couple of Southport subs helped turn the tide. Barratt on the left had far too much pace fo Newton and Gray upfront, continued to control the ball and fire it into Barratt’s path.

Whalley was allowed an all too easy path into the area by AMS, his cross splendidly positioned into between Tyler and our defence for Moogan to head in unchallanged in front of the goal.

We went down the other end and should have retaken the lead. Some good composure, movement and passing between MBH and AMS, the latter’s hit his strike hard and low, which McMllan blocked but only to Crow but with the goal at his mercy could only hit the ball at McMillan. Crucial miss.

As Barratt was felled for a soft free kick, ten yards in from the left wing, about 35 yards from goal, good flighted free kick to the far post, Lee got around the back and nodded in beyond Tyler. Two free headers in the box, sums it up really.

Justice done on the balance of play. If we had got anything from that game, it would have merely papered all the yawning cracks. Ten games to sort it out.

Mark Tyler 6.5, Luke Graham 5.5 , Zdenek Kroca 7, George Pilkington 8, Jake Howells 6, Claude Gnakpa 4, Keith Keane 5.5 , Paul Carden 5, Adam Newton 5.5, Lloyd Owusu 4.5 ( Dan Walker 7) Matthew Barnes-Homer 7

Subs not used – Godfrey Poku, Kevin Pilkington. Booked – Crow

Southport – McMillan, Lee, Davis, Marsh-Evans, McGinn, Turner, Moogan, Ledsham ( Barratt), Kissock ( Gray), Whalley, McNeil

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions

Sorry these are late – been stuck in bloody Leeds. My thanks to PDW – as ever:

Bearing in mind the efforts which could have easily taken their toil from Saturday, a very good start to our dozen in season friendlies. Showing good character to record a victory against a side on a decent unbeaten run. This ” Team Luton ” moniker can bally well do one though – is somewhat trying. Not the greatest footballing performance, but that has been the case with the vast majority of our away matches this season. With no pressure now until the beginning of May, Im fairly demob happy. Would be better just to cut to the chase and get on with the play offs.

Not the most sparkling display against the Diamonds, but at least their had the joker in the pack, Huke having a horrendous game and socialably assisted the winning goal , rather than intercepting Pilkington’s long ball forward deciding to pass the ball to Willmott, whose lively performance desrved a goal, instead of his goalkeeper, Willmott finished well, despite the best efforts of Jamie Day between the sticks.

Second half we rode our luck slightly, plenty of the pinball in our box but defended well against an aerial assault by the team managed by a pinch faced commoner with a dubious taste in knitwear. We rarely controlled the ball in the second half, rarely got out apart from Willmott’s pace, had a couple of opportunities to kill the game. However, once again on our travels had to rely on our increasing stoic defence. Only at set pieces, not to mention Johnson’s huge throw ins, were we troubled. Tyler making a wonderful reflex save to deny Gash (his name still makes me laugh) to preserve our clean sheet, after Mills powerful drive had been seized upon by the York loanee.

With Pilkington making a quick recovery from the hole in this foot( what a brave little soldier) resuming his place. There were a number of changes from Mansfield’s World Cup Final victory on Saturday. What’s that phrase modest in victory , humble in defeat. Still you can’t buy class, but you can buy elocution lessons. Something EVERYONE in the East Midlands should take note of. Tyler back in goal. Newton at right back for Graham. He looked comfortable enough and if he has to play better there than anywhere. Willmott and Carden replacing the suspended duo Gnakpa and Lawless, with Crow in for Nando’s favourite client Owusu. Crow played slightly deeper off Barnes-Homer. It’s not a bad idea, but relies on giving him the ball, which as the match progressed was less and less.

But considering we down to skeletons the team wasn’t as weak as could have been. Although two defensive midfielders are never particularly edifying viewing, two natural wingers counteract that, would have been nice to use the width more on a pitch which looked in excellent nick.

Without Owusu or Gnakpa, it was nice to not to get neck ache, watching the ball pumped up. Our ball retention was better and at times knocked it around reasonably. More width would have been nice. Although, as outstanding as Pilkington was at the back, sometimes a simple rolled ball into midfield would suffice rather than looking for the Glenn Hoddle style fifty yard chip.

Keane had another decent game, breaking up the play and covering the ground (liked the quote in the Luton today website), where he stated he felt like a 48 year old, he looks like a 68 year old) and Carden was at least better than he was at Cambridge and even had a shot (which started wide and went wider), but considering Rushden had man extra in the middle, they both coped OK.

Rushden boldly electing to play one up top, Gash. His ability to back into defenders illegally without being penalised was poetry in motion. But a negative formation for a side who have to go on an unlikely winning streak to have any chance of nicking a play off spot. Five in midfield, which included Ryan Charles. Poor bugger, playing for another manager who sees him as a wide player. The long you watch football you realise the vast majority in the game are idiots who haven’t got the slightest idea what is going off out there. Apart from one good run doing Newton for pace before a low centre which Pilkington played a lucky ( or clever)pass off Gash for a goal kick, seriously it could have ended up anywhere. Charles didn’t really got involved in the game. Hope his luck turns around and manages to fulfil his early promise at Luton.

Rushden were competitive, solid and generally nothing special. Their best player was Oshodi at centre half, who looks rather too good considering his parent club is Watford. The start of the game was even and fairly undistinguished. Few chances were created.

Not a great deal occured before Willmott’s winner. A strike taken early by Porter, comfortably saved by Tyler. Newton getting the better of Mills, sliding the ball to Crow, who could only help the ball into the arms of Day in goal. Corcoran’s header was a tad weak after Huke’s cross.

Our goal was courtsey of a terrible error, Pilkington’s raking pass looked to be going nowhere, as Huke appeared on the scene, to tidy up and make an easy back pass. Instead he had a right old hash of it, Willmott gleefully took advantage breaking clear and having enough on the shot and into the far corner.

We should have pressed our advantage home, but as often the case, we shuffle back and play for the 1-0. With MBH being well marked by Oshodi, most of best play came through Willmott and Crow linking up. We rarely attacked down our left, as AMS had a quiet evening, but if he hasn’t got the ball, what can he do?

In the first half, we looked the better side in possession, there was a certain amount of hope and hit about Rushden’s play, looking like a side lacking confidence. A powerful burst forward by Power, tried to play Gash in, but for a vital touch by Keane. Tyler kept out Power’s optimistic free kick from thirty yards if not further out. Pilkington cleared Huke’s long straight free kick across goal, Johnson hit his volley sweet enough, but sailed across harmlessly across goal. Crow did superbly on the far post to keep out Jamie Day’s vicious inswinging corner from the left.

The Northamptonshire side continued to press, but we held out with a degree of ease, after Corcaran’s free kick hit Carden and went behind. Mills drove over with a dipping strike from Power’s corner.

Charles had an opportunity to get a shot in but was let down by a poor first touch.Kroca felled Jamie day just outside the box, decent delivery, Kroca headed behind, at one stage he appeared as if he got his angles wrong and was heading into the net.

The second half, whilst defending very well again, dropped too deep and simply couldn’t hold the ball up. Which unless this is altered could well cost us. As you can’t defend well forever. It was an open game, which got very stretched even in the early stages and we couldn’t take the opportunities to kill the game rather like at Newport last month. Rushden started the second half quicker and got stuck in by fair means or foul. An awful two footed scissors kick by Jamie Day took out Keane, followed by a late tackle on Willmott by Huke. Both cautioned, but though day’s attempt was worthy or a red card.

However once again, Rushden’s best moments came from set pieces, they forced an awful lot of corners. They would bang it into our box, Pilkington and Kroca dealt with most very well. Corcoran was the first to have a crack at goal, Jamie Day floated the ball up to him, some neat skill to get the better of Howells but as with most of their shots Tyler barely had to move, down to his excellent positioning. Then a needless foul given away by Willmott on Power, Huke thumped the ball into the box, only for Gash unbalanced to flick his header off target.

The pressure continued a miskick by Jamie Day was sent into the box, Pilkington being fouled by Gash (not given, naturally), Kroca had to hoick behind. Morgan-Smith was brought off to be replaced by Jason Walker . His pace and tigerish attitude at least gave us a much needed out ball. But when opportunities came his way in the box, he is lacking confidence. Got to say in the times Ive seen Walker play for Barrow against us, never thought sign him up, he’s the bloke to score us the goals to win promotion, in a way which Tubbs would have done.

His first contribution was to chase down Keane’s throughball, wonderfully missed by Huke, Oshodi closed down the angle and the ball dribbled through to Joe Day, he dithered with his kick out , Willmott managed to get the ball, looping high into the nightsky and his namesake jumped higher than Willmott to head the ball over his own crossbar.

For a spell, we did get back to passing the ball on the deck, Newton’s square ball, gave Howells the opportunity to play a neat one two with Walker before smashing a left footed low into Huke and the ball dribbled back to the keeper.

Tyler proved his worth again, a fantastic flying save to his right, to deny Gash whom got decent contact from Mills’ strike after a corner have been half cleared. Poku appeared for Crow, strange one that as he played in the same position as Crow. Now, as much I admire his work, he is as comfortable there as a a goldfish on the moon. Quite why he couldn’t have played fifteen yards deeper and just matched up Rushden’s formation will remain a mystery.

Another decent save from Tyler, Jamie day’s free kick, flicked goalward by Corcoran, Tyler slightly off his line, readjusted his feet to tip it over.

Willmott’s pass into Walker held the ball up and found Willmott continuing his run down the right, a cross which come down with snow on it, found MBH, simple lay off which Howells belted not that far over. Walker then ran directly into their box, an obvious trip by Oshodi, ” play on ” waved the ref. Erm….hang on, it was penalty or if Walker dived (which I don’t think he did), that’s a booking then.

We had seen out the danger and the last chance was created by Charles on their right, getting the better of Howls to deliver onto Gash’s nut, which Tyler , as he had all night dealt with well.

So onto Southport, scene of many a famous sporting venue. The Royal Birkdale Golf Club, the beach where Red Rum was trained on from time to time. Not to forget the club where poor old Steven Gerrard’s clenched fish was headbutted by a DJ.

Mark Tyler 9, Adam Newton 7, Zdenek Kroca 7.5, George Pilkington 8.5, Jake Howells 7, Robbie Willmott 8, Keith Keane 7, Paul Carden 6, Amari Morgan-Smith 5 ( Jason walker 6) Danny Crow 6 ( Godfrey Poku) Matthew Barnes-Homer 6.5

Subs not used – Luke Graham, Dan Walker, Kevin Pilkington. Booked – Poku

Rushden & Diamonds – Joe Day, Corcoran, Huke, Oshodi, Jamie Day, Johnson( Sharif), Mills, Porter, Power, Charles, Gash.Booked – Jamie Day, Huke, Mills.

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9 v 12

Mr Money asked for passion, and passion he got from both the fans and the players. As ever, in adversity, the players, fans and manager were drawn together, and the atmosphere at times was as good as we’ve had for many a year. Certainly since the Oxford win last year. Typical Luton: we only start playing with intensity with our backs to the wall.

Yesterday in his press conference Money called for us fans to put all of the angst and the reasons for our frustration (which I conveniently listed for him in my last piece) behind us and come together to wholeheartedly get behind the team. Whilst Money’s press conference was quite surreal in its own right, the fans did what he asked and got right behind the players from the off. It was quite reminiscent of times gone by. And wonderfully refreshing.

Whether this is a new start, a new covenant between the fans and the manager, or a temporary cessation of hostilities we will have to see.

It depends entirely on the players. If the players can continue to pull together and fight and demonstrate that they want to progress in the league as much as they wanted to get to Wembley then poor form aside, the determination will see us through. Today, the Town fans came together and collectively said “well we are keeping to our side of the bargain”, and, egged on by the increasing noise and support, the players responded. We were indeed the 12th man – or more accurately, after the ref had had his say, the 10th man.

And it will be the ref’s actions which get remembered about this game. Already hell-bent on penalising Luton for challenges that he was happy to turn a blind eye to for Mansfield – he did himself no favours when he dismissed Claude and Lawless in quick succession within final six minutes of the ninety.

Ironically, the first time Claude showed a bit of effort for a long time resulted in him getting his first card. The ball was running out on the right hand side of the goal, the Mansfield defender was attempting to shepherd it out behind the goal. Claude dashed across and put a challenge in, right on the line winning the ball fair and square but bundling the Stags player over in the process.

Unfortunately the ref saw it differently and booked the Frenchman, and it was this booking which was his ultimate downfall because when he felled Spence with a late challenge on 84 minutes he deserved the yellow card, but got a second yellow and a red for his troubles. What was very frustrating was that Morgan-Smith (who was sub) had already stripped off and was ready to come on when Claude got his red card, ensuring that instead of making the substitution we had to quickly reshuffle the pack and tactics. In hindsight of course we should have taken the opportunity to sub Claude a minute or so earlier, but I think either we waited until the Luton corner was taken or the fourth official denied us the chance. But it was too late to do anything about it after that.

Five minutes later that well-known dirty-player Alex Lawless was given a straight red for – well I’m not too sure. I think he made a sturdy challenge on Nix I think . The meal Nix made of it you would thought Lawless had wrestled him to the ground and given him a good shoeing too. Nine men now then, and time to hang on.

Extra time was truly backs-to-the-wall time. Each kick and clearance by a Luton player was greeted with a cheer, whilst every time a Mansfield player was on the ball they were roundly booed. The support reached fever pitch when Danny Crow chased down a Mansfield player in possession of the ball dallying by the goal line at the Kenny End. Crow sprinted (yes, not a typing error) twenty five yards to close the player down. All it meant was that the ball went out for a goal kick but that demonstration of the never-say-die attitude ratcheted up the noise to another level and brought the home fans to their feet in a paroxysm of support, appreciation and fervour.

This brings me to a fundamental part of supporting Luton and an important point which needs to be noted at this stage. Crow’s charging the ball down when he could quite easily have not done so wasn’t the only example in the game of a Luton player putting in an extra effort to sprint and close down a player or the keeper. But it is the sort of effort that all fans notice, appreciate and applaud. If all Luton players did that, every game, never again could us fans walk home and decry a lack of effort or commitment to the cause. We love players to put it about, and to charge after a lost cause and to show that they care. And to be fair to Crow his first few games he was synonymous with this. If Matthew Barnes Homer had spent his entire Luton career charging about and chasing things down it would be ludicrous to imagine that anyone could ever accuse him of a lack of effort. Running down balls that appear a lost cause and by closing players down it demonstrates the sort of passion and commitment we expect from players. It creates a joint sense of purpose and unity between the players and the fans (whereby the players commitment matches the fans’), and what’s more it puts the wind up the opposition. My point is this – if it is so easy to win fans over by demonstrating that you will give your all in a Luton shirt (like Nico and Sol always used to) why don’t players always do it? If Money had wanted to get the fans on the players’ side notwithstanding all that has gone on this week, a simple instruction to chase everything down, however seemingly pointless it might be, would always, but always, endear that player to the fans.

Anyway – on with the summary, if you had any doubts at all that the ref had money on Mansfield to go through he saw to it that Mansfield got a penalty just before the end of extra time. The ball was crossed from the right hand side to Briscoe who hit it hard on the edge of the box and the ball cannoned off Pilks arm behind for a corner. Ball to hand surely? Yes the arm went up, but did he deliberately play the ball with his hand? Only Pilks will know. The Mansfield players didn’t spot it. In any case, it was a sickener and only compounded the Luton fans’ belief that the ref was bent. Put it this way – the referee did nothing in the game to delight and surprise us into thinking he was being even-handed. Briscoe managed to blast the ball at Kevin Pilkington, who saved it but parried it and Briscoe was first to the ball and banged it in. The police and stewards who by now were surrounding the perimeter and were en masse in front of J block twitched nervously as fans spilled onto the playing area in disgust. Fortunately we didn’t give the FA an opportunity to throw the book at us, though I am sure they will try, as the ref was no doubt pelted when he ran off the field, looking as frightened as a paedophile in Portsmouth.

The players were called into (another) huddle at the end by Money and no doubt he told them to bottle the spirit and the passion they had shown, and furthermore if they showed that spirit and passion from here on to the end of the season, they would have no worries – which is surely true. Following on from the huddle the players split to re-applaud and acknowledge the home fans who responded by intensifying their appreciation.

Kevin Pilkington started the game in goal – as he has done throughout the competition. Whilst he made some good saves (and saved the penalty) and made some easy saves looked good, he let himself down with some shocking Emberson-esque kicking. And whilst his kicking was inaccurate he did also opt to lump it far too often, especially when the better pass was the build up from the back. Towards the end of the second half he started playing it out a bit more. However on one occasion he threw the ball out to Jake but the ball lost all of its energy on the damp and bumpy pitch and merely served to play Mansfield in. Says a lot for football at this level – he didn’t have a great game, but if it wasn’t for the penalty he would have kept a clean sheet.

Luke Graham slotted in at right back as Dan Gleeson is injured. It was Graham’s long ball which played in Owusu for our goal. Graham was occasionally outpaced on the wing – but then again he is a centre half. One or two of his passes went astray too which gave away possession needlessly. He supported in attack though – didn’t overlap and covered pretty well. We also have to remember that he is doing the job of two players at right back, as dear Claude rarely does the hard yards these days. He had one excellent chance to put us in the lead from a great free kick from Keano – forcing the goalie to pull off an excellent save.

In the middle Kroca had an effective game, but was slightly less sure of himself than in recent games. He went up front once we had gone a goal down, but it was too late.

George Pilks had a pick up in form today. Okay – he gave away the penalty but I don’t think fans are ever going to record the game as ‘that one where Pilks lost it for us’. He showed that underneath his cleancut Captain Perfect exterior beats the heart of an angry man when he shoved Istead who tried to push him out of the way when he was standing over the ball when they won a free kick 2 yards outside the box. I suspect he’d had enough by that stage, having had no protection from the ref when the aforementioned Istead studded him. The way things were going he was lucky to stay on I guess – but perhaps reducing us to 8 men would have made the ref’s partisanship a bit too obvious. Istead didn’t get a talking to on either occasion though, which in itself was ludicrously poor refereeing.

Jake was back to left back with Murray’s hamstring gone. He had a good game, closed his man down well, showing a lot of commitment in the challenge and getting forward and supporting play very well. He deserved to go to Wembley.

I have mentioned Claude already. He put in a tad more effort, but was largely ineffective – he put in one good cross and three weak ones from what I can remember. He did have some urgency about his play, but was the obvious choice to be subbed before his dismissal.

In the middle of the park Keith Keane was hard work, drive and effort personified. Continually putting in ball-winning challenges his work rate was incredible.

Alongside him Lawless played well, without perhaps showing all of the brilliance he can do . He actually had to work very hard in the middle of the park. I recall one lovely through ball he played to Claude. Presumably with a straight red he will miss some games – the challenge was not made with malice, it must be worth an appeal, the alternative is having to start with Carden for up to three games…

Adam Newton started on the left and had a really good game. He was involved in almost all our attacking play and showed us the player who scored against us for Brentford in our last game in the league. His effort and work rate went unrewarded but epitomised our spirit and performance this afternoon. He was substituted after 70 minutes, which was fair enough, because he has not long come back from injury. Presumably with Claude missing Tuesday’s game now with suspension, he will slot in on the right. If he performs like he did today he would deserve to keep his place and to relegate Claude to the bench.

Up front were Lloyd Owusu and MBH. Owusu had a great chance where his not quite cleanly struck shot beat the keeper but trickled across the line. Once again, not a shred of luck. He scored our goal with a thumping shot from LG’s long ball but missed a sitter shortly after. He worked hard whilst he was on but didn’t get the service from the back that he would expect. He was replaced by Big Hips Danny Crow after 77 minutes, which was fair enough, because the old boy does get a bit tired.

MBH – a man transformed since the Kidderminster game. He harried, chased and pressed. Got into good positions and heart-warmingly didn’t drift out to the left or right all the time but stayed in the middle. When Jason Walker replaced Adam Newton, Walker went up front and MBH moved to the left, which made sense, because MBH can cross a ball and Walker is a hustling bustling goal poacher. When we were down to nine men he led the line on his own, with Walker and Crow playing behind him in a sort of midfield with Keith Keane on his own behind them. Like a sort of Christmas tree formation – not a real Christmas tree of course but a plastic Christmas tree that has been in and out of the loft a few times and seen better days and lost a couple of branches.

Walker had much longer in this game than his usual 30 seconds, albeit in an unfamiliar position for most of it. He worked hard and looked dangerous when on the ball. One day, with a bit of luck, and a run in the side, he is going to knock out goals for us like the Royal Mint prints notes. He has even shorter legs than Mr Crow – at no point was there flesh showing between the tops of his socks and the bottom of his shorts. It would be easy to spot if there was because his torso is whiter than a Scottish prisoner who has seen a ghost.

Danny Crow – I have already mentioned him – he worked hard and looked hungry – again, like Walker he performed in strange circumstances but gave his all for the cause.

Amari Morgan-Smith. A much discussed player in the forums this week. A player who was talismanic when he came on board at the start of the season. A player whose recent career had involved scoring for fun, but after his injury had been a shadow of his former self, the flame extinguished. He came on for the knackered MBH with 8 minutes to go and did look sharp and did chase things down.
Circumstances meant that this wasn’t a game where he would be judged on performance so much as effort when our backs were to the wall.

So, as a game it will be memorable one in the fans minds. There wasn’t a ton of great football played, but it will be remembered as a good cup tie, blighted by the sendings off and the penalty decision.

Quick scores on the doors:
Pilks K – 6
Graham – 6.5
Pilks G – 7.5
Kroca – 7
Gnapka – 5
Keane – 8.5
Lawless – 7
Newton 8
MBH – 8
Owusu – 7.5
Walker – 6.5
Crow – 6.5

In the scheme of things it was just an FA Trophy game – which counts for nothing other than a chance to have a splendid day out at Wembley and an opportunity to win another cup 3-2. The same FA Trophy we were prepared to risk playing the youngsters in in the first few rounds as it was considered a nuisance. The same FA Trophy we will be embarrassed to remember that we were competing for, when we are eventually back in the league (in the same way that Watford always pretend they don’t want to progress in the League cup, because it is a meaningless trophy, apparently).

But what this game might be remembered for is far more important. There is a chance that this game was the turning point in Richard Money’s relationship with the fans. He has the same foibles and faults that he had before – but there is a chance that the passion and commitment shown by his players and also the fans, has reignited the relationship between the two. Yes, there is a chance that Tuesday’s game at Rushden might be the same-old same-old; but what is exciting is there is a chance, just a chance, that today we saw the start of a new contract between the players and fans: we will sing and shout and create an atmosphere that most clubs but for the top few can only dream of, if you will always give your all.

Will the re-engagement last? Only time will tell.

Thank you for all of your excellent comments after the Richard Money piece. During the week the hundreds of people visiting the site tipped the ‘page view’ total over the 100,000 mark, which is both amazing and humbling. My thanks for your continued support.

Come on you Hatters.

DM

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions

Here is PDW’s excellent report on today’s match:

Personally, can handle losing but can’t cope with being cheated out, even of a minor cup competition. Wonder whether the Darlington v Mansfield final will be all ticket with all the hoardes coming down from Durham and Nottinghamshire. Best start at 8am to control the 20,000 crowd ( may have added an extra zero, mind).

A referee performance of Kettle-esq propertions handed Mansfield the opportunity of a stag party at Wembley. Fair dos, he was consistent, he got everything wrong. The referee’s performance will deflect away from the fact a Luton Town team had a gay huddle before kick off. 10/10 for fake unity, gentlemen, wasn’t long before the bickering started amongst themselves again.

We put in a heroic rear guard with nine men following the sending offs in quick successive of Gnakpa and Lawless. Claude already on a soft booking, was foolishly to dive in and catch Spence near the Mansfield bench. ironically he was about to be hooked in favour for AMS, but the fourth official took an age to work out how to use the board. We should appeal and try and get it extended to a five or even better a ten game ban! Lawless did catch Nix in an aerial collision, but looked nothing worse than a free kick and a booking. Mansfield themselves could have easily lost a player or two, Istead ‘s stab into George Pilkington’s foot with a studs up tackle, then Pilkington was penalised for barely a foul on Istead outside the box, Istead shoved him into the face, Pilkington retaliated and which one of the two players do you think the referee lectured?

However the team recovered to manage the game rather well, kept their shape and gameplan, showing grit and determination rarely seen recently, even Danny Crow was charging the ball down in lost causes. If we can replicate that spirit on a more regular basis, there is still hope. Mansfield had long since ran out of ideas, being reduced to scraps from set pieces and long range pot shots, before an incredibly harsh looking penalty for handball, which few of the Mansfield players appealed, after Istead had found Briscoe on the left channel, his shot charged down by a Luton player (not sure who), at worse at was ball to hand and how the hell can you get out of the way from point blank range?

Briscoe took the penalty, not a great penalty but a fine save for K.Pilkington raising a hand, after diving to the left, with the luck we are having currently, it went straight back to Briscoe to score into the empty net.

If the team can use this disappointment as a catalyst to drive themselves forward when the play offs come along and win the bloody thing, then something good will have come out of the day. As our crowd tend to get the blame for everything, the support today when the team were down by two men was excellent. When they see the team putting in some effort, they will always back the team, but won’t when the team fart about. After all, the team are the ones getting paid for being there, we have to stump up for the privilege.

Before the sent offs, it was a largely bog standard fare. We went far too long again in the first half and apart from a five or ten minute goal, struggled to break through. The second half got off to a perfect start, Owusu slotting home a fine strike to level the aggregate scores, we pressed on, but a combination of solid Mansfield defending and us not creating many chances for our play, Owusu taking far too long after being the recipient of a poor offside call. Generally once again, we didn’t get enough men in the box. Over committing is one thing, but only have a maximum of two men forward is a bit too cautious.

Four changes from the turgid tripe at Cambridge on Tuesday, Pilkington for Tyler, Lawless for Carden ( Cambridge’s best player on the night by far), Gnakpa for Willmott and finally MBH for Crow. Would have gone for AMS for Newton personally, as Mansfield’s weakness is down their flanks and would have been good to have any width in the side. As Claude spent a lot of the first half wandering infield and playing as a third striker. As Newton tucked in, the pitch was squeezed and it was hoof time.

Mansfield themselves were unchanged including the subs from Sunday. Their league position is an accurate reflection on them. Defensively they are OK with their outstanding young Hungarian in goal from Notts County, look decent on the counter attack through their width, but their final ball was little short of hopeless.

The pitch had more than a hint of green, the third of the pitch nearest the Main Stand was softer, but it’s getting better now. We started the quicker, but it didn’t take long to become a nervy, tense scrappy game.

Gnakpa opened up them up down our right, finding MBH, in return finding Newton who screwed his drive off target of the near post, without much convinction. MBH holding off the close attntions of Naylor, probably should have cracked in an attempt at goal, elected to roll the ball forward to Owusu, whom failed to control the ball with only Grof to beat, but Spence on the cover cleared away.

Mansfield created little all afternoon, even against eleven men. Although the strong running Briscoe cut past Lawless and thumped a low effort which was comfortable for K.Pilkington to gather in. Our first attempt on target was unfortunate not to go in. Lawless’ flighted free kcik towards the far of the area, Graham powered a header at goal, which Grof repelled. MBH on the left swept in a cross, which Grof incepeted before Owusu.

Cain pulled up with a hamstring strain, a pace or maybe two from the touchline, rather than rolling him off for treatment and resuming play. But, oh no, lets have a drinks break. Cain was replaced by Smith, another direct wide player, who caused Graham a few problems, some help back by Gnakpa would have been nice. But naturally none was forthcoming.

Had a small purple patch, and almost took the lead, after Keane passed forward to Owusu, the strike wasn’t clean but beat Grof across him, hiting the far post and dribbling across goal, but not in . Typical! It was identical to Mitchley’s goal at Mansfield, except that shot struck the far post and rolled in. Soon after Grof blocked a sweetly hit volley by Gnakpa to preserve the Notts side clean sheet.

Claude lost his marker to smash a header over from Lawless’ corner. For a corner (erm..). From which Mansfield cleared, Lawless played a poor pass ( not one of his better games) across to the breaking Mitchley, with only Howells to beat for a one on one , however Mitchely could only casually lob into Pilkington. They came closer, after Sandwith nodded down Briscoe’s corner from the right, for Naylor to stabh goalwards , blocked by lawless, the rebound smashed over by Connor, after pressure by Kroca.

Long ball by Silk, intelligently guided down by Connor into the path of Mitcheey, his shot from outiside the box was tame and no danger to the goal. Receiving a pass from Lawless, MBH stood up a fantastic centre which Naylor headed away from Owusu.

We took the lead in the second half, in the opening moments, a poorly directed header by Spenceh, was pounced upon by Owusu who thumped a clincal effort past the previous unbeatable Grof, into the left hand corner, after steadily himself. Despite getting on top, we struggled to create many opportunities.

Mansfield flattered to decieve on the break, Smith had the beating of Graham with ease, although he’s out of position with no cover and also on the right through Briscoe. But, apart from sandwith heading weakly wide from Spence’s corner, Pilkington wasn’t exactly over tested against his former employers.

Howells travelled forward well , his cross sat up and appeared to hit Naylor on the hand. With this referee it was hardly worth appealling.

Owusu should have done an awful lot better than scoop over, after Gnakpa running past Silk, could have hit it, elected to past, Owusu looking miles offside, stopped, but was slow getting the ball under control and rounding Grof, with his notorious first touch, managed to muscle through a group of defenders before turning and shooting over.

A few times we got the ball into decent areas but wasted it. MBH had a poor opening to the half. Keane drilling a ball at him, but a simple lay off to Newton rolled out for a throw. Another opportunity wasted. Newton and Barnes -Homer had space, but MBH could only hit the first defender with the cross.

The first change saw Walker for Newton, who had been running on empty. Walker went upfront, with MBH dropping back to the left wing. Briscoe brushing aside Lawless, passed to Connor, fed back into the path of Silk to fire in a centre, Graham cleared but only as far as Smith, setting himself up to whizz a drive across goal.

Mansfield were beginning to take control, nothing serious the “Pilkington brothers” almost had a lack of understanding which could have allowed Connor an opportunity.Nix’s nudge forward could have fallen again for Connor, Kroca allowing him slightly to much room, but K.Pilkington came out to the edge of the box.

Crow replaced Owusu ( good lord the manager has finally realised Owusu can’t complete ninety minutes) to go upfront with walker. Not that partnership had long together. As we lost two players in the space of five minutes. Claude chopped Spence in half, it was worthy of a yellow card, and despite the fact the first was dodgy, if you are on a booking, don’t dive in. From the resulting free kick, Spence lifted the ball into the bopx, Mitchely headed it towards Naylor who tried an acrobatic overhead but it sailed over the target.

Lawless whom had a lengthy dialogue with the referee all afternoon, caught Nix, in an aerial battle. He caught the man, if it’s deliberate then fair enough, didn’t look much to be honest. Worth the club appealing?

With a further seven minutes left, the nine men held out well. Barnes-Homer on his own up front, with an unlikely midfield trio of Walker, Keane, Crow. With Walker supporting MBH on the rare occasion, we had a break on.

We protected the centre of the pitch well, not bothering to go for the ball unless it was forty yards near our goal. Pleased the way the team kept the shape, and battled away. At times, mansfield looked to have an alarming lot of space, although without two men, gaps were bound to appear.

In normal time, except for Istead’s wild strike over, after Thompson had held up Spence’s pass we were untroubled.

Naturally Mansfield had the vast majority of the ball. It was like a training session attack v defence. We restricted them to a few half chances and long shots, but we never allowed ourselves to drop too deep. The first chance of the extra time spell was our, Walker won a good header, dropping to MBH who belted the ball with the outside of his right foot, not far away.

Smith a constant problem on the left, knocked it to Istead , gave it to Connor, but some brilliant running back by Walker (are you watching Gnakpa?), allowed the ball to drift back to K.Pilkington.

Naturally K.Pilkington wasted as much time as he could, one time Istead thrown the ball back to Pilkington and he merely wandered to the other side of the six yard box to eat up a precious few seconds. All very funny, but really he was taking the piss but the referee just watched on.

Mansfield continued to find chances hard to carve out, Connor turning into Silk’s pass, could only shot at Pilkington, and Briscoe was unable to turn in Spence’s cross at the far post.

The worts tackle on the day, was an awful late, high attempt to win the ball by Istead on G.Pilkington. A disgutsing tackle, not even punished. As the half ran out, so did Danny Crow closing down Spence, and then followed the ball to the byline. maybe he confused the ball with a burger? For the first time for a long time, there was more of that old Luton spirit about the team today.

Second half continued in the same vein, Mansfield headbutting an orange wall. Pilkington stuck his foot out to deflect istead’s cross over, lucky after the eralier challange he had a foot at all. Briscoe curled an effort wide and K.Pilkington got down well enough to stop Naylor’s toe poke from the edge of the box.

As Mansfield kept the ball, Briscoe slide the ball down the left, and Mitchely dived in an attempt to win the a penalty, Graham his marker was nowhere near him. Still, no booking mind. Istead awarded a free kick for a very soft tackle by G.Pilkington. Istead pushed the Luton number 6, who pushed Istead back in the face. Rather like at Cambridge when the ref ignored Partridge’s assault on Gnakpa , nothing was done. The free kick was in a dangerous position, Sandwith being a left footer, had the perfecter angle, his free kick drifted wide, but not by much.

As the game drifted to penalties, which I think over the balance of two legs was the least we deserved. Istead squared the ball to Briscoe, his shot deflected behind for a corner. Except the referee pointed to the spot. Brsicoe toiok the penalty, despte a marvellous one handed block by Pilkington, Briscoe followed up and Mansfield’s place in the final was assured.

What a coincidence the refree got as near to the tunnel as possible before whistling for final time.

Hopefully this new found spirit can be replicated in an twelve warm up games for the play offs begin. With the suspensions, injuries and tiredness after this game, not much recovery time before Rushden on Tuesday. After Cambridge, not sure I can cope with three matches of Cambridge Xavi, Mr Carden. Any chance of giving Godfrey a little run in the team whilst Lawless serves his ban? No.

Kevin Pilkington 6, Luke Graham 5.5, Zdenek Kroca 7, George Pilkington 8.5, Jake Howells 7.5, Claude Gnakpa 4, Alex Lawless 6, Keith Keane 7.5, Adam Newton 6( Jason Walker 6.5) , Matthew Barnes-Homer 6.5( Amari Morgan-Smith), Lloyd Owusu 6( Danny Crow 7)

Subs not used – Mark Tyler, Godfrey Poku. Booked Graham, Morgan-Smith, Crow. Sent Off – Gnakpa, Lawless.

Mansfield – Grof, Silk, Naylor, Sandwith,Spence, Cain (Smith), Thompson, Nix(Istead), Briscoe, Connor, Mitchley.

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Richard Money

Just a few thoughts and comments on our Mr Money, indulge me awhile. Before the Tamworth game a week ago Richard Money recorded an interview with Ian Pearce of 3CR which I hadn’t listened to, but I heard others refer to it at the game and Pearcey also referred to it in his post match interview. Things haven’t got much better since I drafted this article after the Tamworth game.

Having now listened to it I thought I’d post a reaction to his understandable comments about the unacceptable comments and behaviour towards him – but try to attempt put into context why it is so bad.

Before I continue I want to make the following statements lest my ramblings below get mis interpreted:

I still support Richard Money and his tenure as manager at LTFC, I don’t wish to see him replaced at this time. He is a complex, sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, slightly antagonistic man, but a man who I think is honest and likeable and passionate.

I do not support or associate myself with violent or foul mouthed behaviour towards an individual, apart from a few shouted comments at the ref occasionally borne out of frustration. Being a father myself, I never shout an offensive word when I know children are directly within earshot.

I think whilst RM appreciates that Hatters fans dislike being in the fifth tier and want to get out as soon as possible, can he truly understand or comprehend the deep-seated frustration and angst caused by our predicament? The actions, conduct and anger of Luton fans is magnified, enhanced and intensified by the fact that we, the supporters, are not supporting a team in non-league because of our actions, not because of the actions of the eleven players who have turned out and (mostly) given their all on a Saturday afternoon. But because of the actions of others. The others in this case being the crooks who ran the club before 2020 and equally the FA and FL whose unfair and unjust points deductions ensured that the 30 point deduction was just too much for a club down on its uppers.

A lot of people in life get dealt a bad card and suffer terrible misfortune none of which is down to them. There are others in life, the feckless, whose actions result in their own downfall. However neither of these scenarios applies to Luton fans. We have had to live with the consequence of the actions of others. We are the shop floor workers who are out of a job because the directors gambled away the profits and the taxman closed the factory down. It wasn’t because we weren’t working hard enough or putting in enough effort. We are enduring the punishment for someone else’s sins and a harsh punishment at that.

I think that it is because of this utter, utter frustration as to our position that the whinges the moans, the booing comes out like it does. We are desperate to get out of this and be able to start
to hold our heads up high again.

We want to know that it will be okay. We want to know that we can out of this. We want to know that it will be alright in the end.

If we knew that the FA and FLs punishment was that we had to spend one or two years in non league, but after that we would be back in the league, like a sin bin, then we would just ‘do our time’ and get on with it. But they have given us an open-ended sentence. That is the frustration. That is what it boils down to. An open ended sentence which we, the supporters, are powerless to do anything about – other than turn up in our numbers home and away (which is what we have done) and support the team, which is what the vast majority have done. It is this powerlessness and frustration and restlessness and heartache that we all feel, that sometimes boils over into the unacceptable actions of those less well able to control themselves.

Human beings have various outlets for frustration, anger being one of them. Humans also have in-built coping mechanisms for frustration too – one of which is to remove yourself from the situation that is making you frustrated. But unless you stop being a Hatter completely, or stick your head in the ground and just stop following whilst we are in non league, it is impossible not to endure our plight. We can neither control it nor remove ourselves from it. It is impossible to do anything about where we are, other than having to live through it.

We are enduring a nightmare. In future years we will refer to the dark days of non-league as if it was a nightmare which we by then will have woken up from. But right now we are going through it. Right now we are trapped in a situation which we all would do something about if we could, but are reliant on others, ie Mr Money and his team, to do something to extricate us from this sentence/nightmare/frustration.

Just think of the relief when we do go up, whenever it is. The curse would have been broken. The time would have been served, the abscess lanced. Once we are back in the league we can do something about getting us back to where we truly belong. We can start the process of moving up the league but on our terms and on a level playing field, not on the back foot.

So, in conclusion, whilst the anger and vitriol poured out at Money and the team on occasions is utterly wrong, the booing and general ignorance and dissatisfaction is borne out of frustration, not so much of the immediate performance of the team itself, but I think because of the circumstances we continue to find ourselves in. I suspect the anger will intensify before it improves – the boil will get bigger before it bursts – the coldest part of the night is indeed just before the dawn. Rightly or wrongly, if we get so near, but fail to go up again this year, the anger and continued objectionable behaviour will intensify and spill out like it did against York last year. It is not right, it is not excusable, but it will get worse and worse and worse until and after the point of not going up. Unfortunately it is raw human nature. Inexusable, but irrefutable.

To Richard Money, if he was sitting here with me over a pint I would say: “Bear with the fans, the majority of which want you to do well. They want Luton to go up, plain and simple. As the end of the season nears, if we are not strutting to victory, expect the nastiness to continue and to worsen. This is not right, it is not excusable, but I suspect it will happen. It will be fantastic if it doesn’t but I suspect it will. The agony of the play offs will be a nerve-wracking time for all concerned and that will mean that people will get louder and nastier with their actions and comments to you personally if you don’t delight them with results. Promotion will be an enormous weight lifted from everyone’s shoulders. We can breathe again at that point. We can start to put the embarrassment of the non-league years behind us and start to exist on level terms with others again. If you can do that then the easing of the pain and frustration will reduce the vitriol. You would be the manager who lifted Luton out of non-league. You won’t quite be a hero, but you will have a notch on your CV – you will have shown us that you can provide something to believe in. You would have given us that hope for the future. At present people are not quite sure. They want to believe, but until you actively demonstrate that you can deliver us from the fifth tier there will always be doubts. Get us out of non-league and the doubters will be on your side. They might still not trust you, or like you, but you will have shown that you can do it. You will have shown that you can achieve. If you can bear with us warts and all, we will bear with you. If you can deliver, the relief at the Kenny will be tangible, audible and worth (most of) the pain. Luton fans are fantastic friends but bloody awful enemies. ”

So I wrote this a week ago. Since then we’ve had two below par performances and only excuses not reasons for the poor performances. I don’t know what’s wrong with the team. I know there’s no proper wing play and that the ball is being humped up the middle. We can’t buy a goal. Something’s wrong.

We’ve brought in-form striker after in-form striker, good midfielders and wingers and turned them into toothless tigers. It’s like there’s a blunting process that goes on where all of the form and sparkle a player was showing is gradually squeezed out of him – leaving him a shadow of his former self. Somehow we’ve been turning Alfa Romeos into Citroens. With the squad we’ve got we should be tearing sides at this level apart. But we’re bobbing along, not playing well, scraping through, but managing to do just enough.

This form isn’t play-off winning form. I’m not sure that everything is all right in the changing room, it can’t be. It’s not clicking. It’s not just bad form, it’s something else.

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