Well, the cricket is back on and that helps me to take my mind of the agony of last Saturday.
I knew it was going to be a bad day when my dog died at 3am, my Betfair account was hacked with my money stolen, and one of my boys was sick on the train. When the winning Wimbledon penalty went in I just shut my eyes and held my head in my hands for half a minute, listening to their noise. It hurt. But there is nothing we can do now, other than dust ourselves off and get on with next year.
300 minutes of football against us and Wimbledon didn’t manage to score a goal. We neutralised their threat all season and particularly on Saturday. I thought Pilks and Kroca were immense. Well, Kroca is immense, but you know what I mean. I thought the pair of them plus Keano were outstanding all afternoon, especially when you consider that this Wimbledon is not terribly different from the old one: eg full of big lumps trying to kick you to bits. We did have a few wobbles, but to keep a clean sheet for 120 minutes against the team in 2nd place was no mean feat, especially when we were trying to attack.
I think we traded blows during the game, and to be fair had plenty of chances to win it. If you watch the game again (which I did with a heavy heart) we put some really excellent football together at times. We couldn’t dominate – but we were against a relatively good team. I think it is encouraging in itself. Unless Fleetwood spend millions a la Crawley in the summer(as is the rumour apparently) then that will nominally be our toughest game for 12 months. That’s not to say we won’t have tough games or indeed that we will waltz round sides, but frankly the two best sides have been promoted – a load of rubbish has been relegated from the FL and so next season (Fleetwood ‘millions’ notwithstanding) it is ours to lose.
But let’s beware – a number of teams finished strongly last year and there are some good managers in the division who will make average teams into competitive ones.
I hope Gary Brabin stays. I think he is what we need. He attacks, likes his sides to score goals, and tries to play it the right way. I’d be happier if we played further up the pitch, eg closing down in their half not ours, but that does leave us vulnerable to counter attacks so you can’t have everything.
If Pilks, Keano and Kroca were outstanding last Saturday then I thought Jakey Howells and Ed A-A were just below that.
Howells played on the left of the three, when we were playing 4-3-3 and then as a winger in 4-4-2 when MBH came on. As he has done throughout the season he showed us glimpses of brilliance and occasionally is far too good for this division. It was a key game for Ed. I thought he was a bit too exposed at left back against Wrexham, once they had sussed he was a right footer playing at left back. I was a bit concerned that Wimbledon might do the same, but I think he stepped up a gear and had an excellent game. Some of his passing was spot on and apart from one or two early touches he was a threat to them and sound for us. It will be interesting to see what happens next season. Assuming Murray is fit, I’d say that Dan Gleeson has a bit of competition at right back now – though of course he was Brabin’s pick and we brought him from Cambridge.
I thought Dan Gleeson had a weak game on Saturday. He seemed to spend the afternoon escorting the oncoming wingers into the box by backing off far too far. In fact the one time he did put a challenge in he sold himself completely and put us under pressure – so perhaps that’s why he’s tackle-shy. He’s been doing it all season so I’m not sure why I’m that surprised. Remember the first game against Charlton? Ouch. In his defence he is of course covering for Claude who spends/spent his time in the never-world of not quite right forward and not quite covering back. In fact on one occasion when he did venture back and clear the ball there was a surprised cheer where I was sitting. Dear Claude – he tried on Saturday, but he didn’t have the impact he would have liked or that Luton needed. An on-song Claude would have posed sufficient problems for us to be pretty confident that the game would have been sewn up long before extra time.
Willmott and Lawless had reasonably anonymous games – for them. We know the influence and skill they have at this level, so it is a bit disappointing that they didn’t stamp more authority onto the game. Again, if either of those had really clicked then we would have been home and dry.Lawless’s piledriver in extra time would have been a fitting winner. It doesn’t make up for the penalty miss though.
Mark Tyler made some crucial saves and ensured we kept a clean sheet. The only downside was that his kicking was a bit wonky. But his kicking has always been a little bit wonky, so that’s nothing new. He is as good a keeper as we can reasonably be expected to have at this level and we are lucky to have him. He deserved his player of the season award.
Lastly Jason Walker. Played on his own up front until MBH came on – and then, to be honest, still played on his own up front when MBH was on. Worked hard – hustled and bustled – was kicked to bits. And was involved in the three key incidents in the game.
Firstly – the penalty decision. Walker got into the box, passed it (didn’t shoot) and the keeper bearing down on him, impeded rather than deliberately fouled him as Walker jumped over him. A penalty it was. A Stone-cold certainty (not stonewall as everyone seems to say. Stonewall means to delay or not to cooperate – a pedant writes…). We’ve all seen them given countless times, and we’ve all seen much less given countless times too. So quite why the ref didn’t have the balls to give it we will never know. Perhaps it was because he didn’t have the balls.
Secondly – after a cracking move where Keano won the ball, Claude played an intelligent ball out to Howells, who played a gorgeous cross from the left which was met by Jason Walker’s head, leaping like the proverbial spring-salmon in between two big lumps, timing it exquisitely, or so we thought: the ball hurtled towards the corner of the goal, we all got to our feet, it struck the post, it struck the inside of the post – where’s it going? Where’s it going..?
It’s bouncing out back to the keeper. Thanks for nothing Lady Luck. You owe us big style. And that was with a minute to go. Walker couldn’t believe it hadn’t gone in. We’ll never fail to score a better or more crucial goal. So, in a couple of minutes we should have had a penalty and we very, very nearly got a goal. Things don’t change around here do they?
Thirdly. The penalty miss. I’m not going to say anything. It’s all been said already.
Oh go on then, I will:
a) what an idiot
b) he’ll regret it for the rest of his life (or should do)
c) hopefully he’ll never do it again.
So that was that – we cancelled each other out in extra-time with Wimbledon finishing stronger. Then the dreaded penalties and then despair. Another season of bloody non-league. Alfreton, Bath, Braintree. For God’s sake.
My scores on the doors:
Keane: 9.5 (How much did he want it?)
Rob Hadgraft wrote about his premonitions on here previously. I had a dream in August 2009, the night before the Forest Green game. I’ve not shared it on here before. I do hope it doesn’t come true. It was unthinkable at the time. In the dream we went up in our fourth year of tier five. It was almost against the odds and unexpected. In the dream we had all stopped expecting to be promoted and given up and the team delivered when the pressure was off. Let’s hope not eh?
It was ultimately a disappointing season as well as a season that ended in disappointment. We had a weaker team this season than we ended last season with, and a weaker one than the one we started with. But we shouldn’t be toobdowncast. Unless our best players are lured elsewhere, we have a good young squad which can only get better and better and I’m hoping that Gary Brabin is the manager to add to that squad, build on this year and deliver us to the promised land next April, or preferably by March…
Things to come over the summer/next few weeks:
First of all I hope Rob H is going to continue to post on here over the summer. PDW has also promised to keep the articles coming over the close season which should be good.
I’ve done an end of season report which is presently embargoed (nothing dramatic, it is just likely to be published elsewhere first.)
I’m going to be posting some ‘Open Threads’ whereby readers can post their thoughts on the season and the summer, as well as some ‘Best ever…’, ‘Worst ever…’ general posts that everyone can contribute to like last year.
So – until I post the end of season report I’ll spend a few days watching the cricket and trying my best not to think about LTFC every couple of minutes.
My thanks to all of my readers, wherever you log on from around the world; to those of you who take the time to post such thoughtful comments and encouragement and kind words; and also to PDW and Rob Hadgraft for their time and efforts in adding their opinions and some much needed colour and interest to the blog.
Here’s to season 2011/12 – what’s the betting we get Braintree away first up?