PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions: Mansfield away

Last one back? Sorry for the delay. You just can’t get the staff these days can you?

Given the circumstances of a patched up team, missing key players notably in midfield, an excellent result against a very physical outfit who had no qualms about cynically breaking the rules, however when the boot was on the other foot, they confronted the referee like a baying mob. It’s the East Midlands charm, with that awful accent there isn’t any. In respect of their behaviour, they weren’t unlike Stevenage. It was a minor miracle that twenty two men stayed on the field. Green, the Oxford somersault King himself, should have gone . Beckwith penalised for trying to mount Dyer in Richard Keys ” hanging out the back of it” stylee, Green unnecesarily raised his arms towards Beckwith, Beckwith fell somewhat dramatically as if he had been shot. If only.

A rarity in this league, a well contested open game, both sides gave it their best shot . Probably about a fair scoreline, as either side could have pinched the winner. Whatever the limitations of our current motley crew, lacking spirit is not one of them. Third game on the trot, we have conceded first but come back to get something from the game.

Without Lawless, Keane and Willmott, it was never going to be an easy night. The midfield looked lightweight, personally would have prefered Poku in there, keeping Dance on the right wing. He would have added a bit of muscle to the team and O’Connor isn’t that effective on the wing. He’s quick, but around twenty yards from goal , he lacks the awareness and the ability to assess the correct pass and shot. His goal scoring at Rushden , whilst perfectly adequate, didn’t suggest he was any better than what we currently have. His performances so far confirm that.

As it was the team lined in the usual formation captained by Antwi , having another very steady game( strange when Beckwith was leading the team in the gay pre-season friendlies) with Edward filling in at left back ( having an absolute stinker. His passing has always been poor, but at times he he would struggled to find a white shirt with a map and compass. Ran ragged as well by Briscoe. It was a merciful release when he was finally withdrawn. Although Baldy Murray was equally as poor in distribution). The midfield comprised of Howells, Dance, with Watkins playing the more advanced role. He struggled to get into the game early on, Murray was virtually man to man marking him. Leaving O’Connor and AMS on the wings, with Crow up front.

Hardly suprisingly, with all the changes, we started slowly.Beckwith and Antwi showed some solid defending to defy Kendrick, a left back with a great delivery from set pieces and Green. We kept the ball poorly at first, struggled to contain Mansfield’s high energy side, but we started to gel better, getting AMS in to the game, who absolutely murdered his full back O’Neill, but didn’t get enough service.

Crow turning, fed O’Connor on the right, motoring his way towards goal, he did two attempts blocked by Futcher and Riley. Mansfield hadn’t scored many goal this season, with their poor final pass, it’s easy to see why. Melkie, one of a trio of Right said Fred lookalikes, caused Osana a problem or two with his pace. A poor touch by Osana, conceding a throw. The ball was transferred to the opposite side, where Briscoe showed a clean pair of heels to get past EAA and fire wide across the goal.

After our slow start, we did have a good spell of pressure, camped out in Mansfield’s half. AMS turning O’Neill from Tyler’s throw, set up Dance to hit a low drive which was simple for Marriott. Crow’s pass to Dance, receved it back to hook wide. Another excellent move Watkins into Osano, cross to the far post, AMS, who hung the ball up for Dance to head just over.

Against the run of the play, the hosts took the lead, we switched off, from Kendrick’s quick throw into Meikie allowed to turn, squaring the pass to Green, who passed a fine, curling effort, which was always going away from Tyler’s left into the top corner.

Crow felled just outside the post, allowed AMS to step up and glide his free kick inches wide. Mansfield, whose confidence was going before they scored , upped their efforts before the break. Futcher’s headed spilled by Tyler, then a timely header off the line by EAA from Riley, when the ball was returned Dyer fluffed his shot with the goal at his mercy.

The half break was notable for two reasons, one of the prizes in the half time draw…..a beach towel ( why so generous?) and the gentleman who took part in the Croossbar challange, run up , slipped and the ball trundled towards the corner flag.

The second half started slowly, the only real chance , Osano conceding a free kick on Dyer near the byline, Kendrick whipped in the set piece and Futcher somehow missed the target.

Osano, on one of his runs out of defence ( coinsidering both he and Antwi were only brought in because of our defensive injuries, they have both been excellent and as long as their form holds up, deserve a longer contract), brought the ball out of defence, spotted Watkins who rounded Howell , fed O’Connor but he was offside despite looking along the line.

Howell, another giant in the Mansfield side, spreading the play out to the left, Melkie’s centre was headed away from Briscoe by EAA.That was the last bit of action seen by Edward, as Gleeson replaced him, meaning another switch of lfanks for Osana. Beckwith ‘s poor pass put Osano in peril, being nutmegged by Briscoe, Tyler claimed the low centre at the near post.

We started playing some very good passing football, helped by the fact Mansfield conceded ground. Their defence were still arguing with the linesman over a disputed throw in, Gleeson took it quickly, to Crow firing wide of the far post. Dance picked out watkins, switchingh feet befire flying over Marriott, which the keeper tipped over. Dan Walker appeared for O’Connor. Naturally he looked very rusty without the benefit of pre season.

Great save by the post, after a good move down the right, Melkie played the ball to Kendrick, tidy lay off into the path of Green hammering his fierce drive against the woodwork.

On the balance we looked the more likely, although with the pace of Green and Melkie , they always had opportunities.Osano from Gleeson’s side pass, cut past O’Neill and drove into the side netting.

Then came about the nonsense between Green and Beckwith. From the free kick, Green should have done better from Kendrick’s lifted pass than to coil and head tamely straight at Tyler.

With MBH waiting to come on, AMS was allowed to run at Kendrick , lucky not to be grotted, such was the force of the elbow into him. A fantastic delivery from Howells, found Antwi in the crowd of bodies, managing to convert his header past the despairing hand of Marriott.

We managed to see out the game, with only the odd alarm, Tyler beating away efforts from Green and Briscoe, although Futcher again should have done better than to misjudge a diving header ( more like a bellyflop) from a O’Neill teasing centre.

Good night and a promising effort by the Town. Good result as long as Braintree which looking at the table, we are the underdogs for ;o) and Hayes & Yeading are beaten in the next few days, we won’t be far off the mark.

Unlike the parking of a certain former captain of ours, whose motor was left, on the corner , just the wheels on the kerb and on a double yellow line. Apart from that, it was terrific. His armband says he doesn’t get a monkeys about parking restrictions

Mark Tyler 7.5 , Curtis Osana 7.5 , Dean Beckwith 6.5, Will Antwi 7.5, Edrward Asafu-Adjaye 3.5 ( Dan Gleeson 6.25) Aaron O’Connor 5 ( Dan Walker 5.5) James Dance 6.25, Jake Howells 6.5 , Adam Watkins 6.75 ,Amari Morgan-Smith 7.5, Danny Crow 7.

Subs not used – Matthew Barnes-Homer, Godfrey Poku, Kevin Pilkington . Booked – Morgan-Smith, Crow, Osana

Mansfield – Marriott, Kendrick, Riley, Futcher, O’Neill, Meikle, Howell, Murray, Briscoe, Dyer, Green. Booked: Green, Kendrick, Briscoe, Dyer.

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A Game of Two Halves

Whilst the first half was more of the same from Tuesday night – a seven minute spell in the second saw the Hatters turn the game around and put Southport to the sword in the way only we know how.

In the pouring rain Southport took an unexpected lead after 8 minutes when a break forward from the ever-threatening Kissock found Lee on the right, he outfoxed Jake (at left back today) and drove it across for Brown to blam past Tyler. They couldn’t believe it – they had come to frustrate, time waste and get some men behind the ball and here they were with an unexpected lead. But there were four events that turned the game.

We had been disappointing for the first half an hour – the passing had been poor, we had been closed down too easily and though we had been trying to build from the back, the passing from the back had been woeful. The first turning point was when The Shadow, James Dance went off with a head injury. No disrespect to The Shadow, but Aaron O’Connor who had been ineffective as a lone front man and had been bouncing off the big centre halves. O’Connor went to the right of the front three and Big Hips Danny Crow came on an played in the middle. And played well. Much more of a presence and he put himself about. We then began to dominate and the passes started to find their targets and we bossed the game. Adam Watkins made his first start at home today, after a good pre-season, and what a good little player he is. He played in the middle, alongside Lawless and in front of Keane. He was a breath of fresh air, and it was fitting when, just before half time the Hatters’ pressure paid off. A nice little through ball from Lawless picked out Adam Watkins who drove forward with the ball outside the box, cut inside – gave himself an angle and curled it into the bottom corner very neatly indeed. A mature finish from a good young player.

The second turning point was when Kissock didn’t reappear after half time, he is their best player by far, their talisman and bosses any attacking moves. Without him they were toothless and it made their task even harder.

The first part of the second half saw us controlling possession and getting half chances. But the pressure was building on us to grab a second. O’Connor was replaced by AMS and he was electric. Brabin called for those on the bench to make a difference this year. This was borne out against QPR, and Willmott made the difference on Tuesday and now Crow and AMS added sparkle where there was none.
Then the fourth turning point and probably the key one. Akrigg who had already been booked for what he did to The Shadow, caught Watkins as he broke clear through on goal – he was given a second yellow. Could have been a straight red?

Four minutes later after Watkins had won us a corner, Lawless’ cross found Beckwith who nodded the ball across and Antwi stabbed home a couple of feet out and put us in the lead. Southport made a change and brought on an attacker but thinned out the defenders at the back. Bad move. Now we had the room, confidence and space to dominate in the way that only Luton in their pomp can. As I have said on these pages before give us an inch and we take a mile. So few teams give us the space to play so that when we do get the opportunity we tend to take it, whoever the oppposition. It was hot knife through butter time.

Morgan-Smith had swapped to the left with Willmott on the right – he tore down the left and cut into the box and kept on going, I thought he would pass but instead he drilled a shot on the inside, the nearside of the keeper, the smallest gap and it was three. Some said it took a little deflection, I didn’t see that, but if it did it did.

What seemed just a handful of seconds later a lovely passing move involving Antwi and Watkins saw AMS drive forwards again, he squared the ball to Willmott, running onto it, and who struck the ball from outside the box and his lovely strike made it four.

No let up from the rampant Hatters. Osano and Keane linked up down the right Osano put in a lovely curling cross for a hungry Danny Crow to head in after rising high to meet the ball. 5-1 now. All too easy. 6-0 last year 5-1 this – welcome to Bedfordshire. After the fifth goal we continued to pass the ball around easily and could have had more, but the pace dropped and the players were having target practise – but it wasn’t to be. There was a distinct possibility of six or seven or eight when the fifth went in, such was our dominance at that point.

A deserved win for the second half performance. Who would have believed it after the weak start to the game?

Tyler came back in place Kevin Pilkington – I felt sorry for Pilks – he did nothing wrong the other night and put in some good saves. A good team player – he seems to take it all so well. Other than to pick the ball out of the net MT didn’t have too much to do. If the truth be told I think MT will be disappointed with the goal. He went down too slowly and I think the ball went through his legs. Osano played on the right in this game, with Jake moving to left back. He seemed more at home on that side. Lovely cross for the goal, some of his passing in the first half went awry. He did look lively and was better once he overlapped more in the second half. Antwi got his goal from two feet and did well. Looked better assured at the back, but again his passing was poor initially. Hopefully the goal with give him confidence. Beckwith’s header set up the second goal, sound enough at the back, wasn’t under pressure too often. Once again, when he had the ball in the first half the midfield opened up like the Red Sea in front of him as all of the Southport players picked up a player. Just like on Tuesday he stopped and didn’t know what to do. No Hansonesque run for him. What did happen was once the Southport players realised three converged on him freeing up space on the wings – unfortunately the pass didn’t quite get that far. Jake played at left back. Played better than the other night, in a different position, but still hasn’t quite hit his straps. Again, once he was able to overlap down the wing he posed a greater threat. Seemed to have to use his right foot more than usual for crossing, passing and shots today. Keano broke up play well and was determined. Passing not good initially, but was playing with lots of confidence towards the end. Fancied a goal himself (which would have been no 6) but should have played Willmott in. Willmott had another good game after he was the difference the other night. A cracking goal for the fourth. Lawless worked really hard in midfield and completely ruled the midfield in the second half of the second half. Watkins, I’ve already mentioned. Great finish for the goal and constantly a lively threat to Southport with his passing and movement. The Shadow didn’t have too much of an impact and we played too narrowly in the period when Dance was on the pitch that he had little to do. O’Connor – not strong in the challenge and not suited to the lone striker role. Slightly better when moved to the wing, but it was when he was replaced by AMS that the turning point came. AMS posed a real threat, was direct, tenacious and quick. Danny Crow – old Big Hips had a point to prove and did well, despite the lone role not being his position either. Gave it his all – closed down well and we looked a different team once he was on. Good header for the goal and on another day perhaps could have had at least one more.

Southport without Kissock were entirely without substance – truly a one man team. I didn’t like their time wasting tactics (who would?). What a palaver McMillan their keeper made over tying his laces and putting on his bloody gloves. Cox went down in the box to conveniently try to break up play. Aided and abetted by another bald ref who seemed to spot the timewasting too late (and failed to spot a penalty) though to be fair did add on 5 minutes at the end.

With Forest Green winning 6-1 away today perhaps Tuesday’s performance is cast in new light? The division hasn’t settled down yet – York losing at home today, Darlington lost at Tamworth. Stockport struggled to beat Ebbsfleet and Grimsby got a point, but not any goals still.

Off to Mansfield on Tuesday hopefully not for another 0-0. For a fixture that has traditionally yielded plenty of goals the last two away games have bucked the trend, though we were unlucky not to win in March 2010. Doesn’t bode well as Mansfield already have two draws this season (though they were clumped 3-0 at Gateshead.

So, an unbelievable transformation today from how we were playing in the first half of the first half to the second half of the second. I think Brabs must have spiked the half time oranges with something.

By the way – I know some of you prefer the traditional black and white – but I must say the new (old) kit looks fantastic. It’s got to be my favourite since the adidas kits of the late seventies early eighties.

Right – see you all on Tuesday night in Notts. Might not get the report done to the following night though.

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions: Southport Home

A welcome, confidence boosting victory. Must have been the seasonal appearance of MC Gobby on the PA, helped the team . English is obviously not his first language, but fair play to anyone who can get so excited about non-league football. It had looked anything but an easy victory during the first opening half hour, which was torpid. Slow crab style football, sideways, backwards, not using the width of pitch despite having two good wingers on the field, it was shaping up to the same shambles shown at Southport last season.

As it was, it became a repeat of the home match routing, Southport collapsed quicker than India’s batting. AMS was sublime coming off the bench to replace the ineffective O’Connor. Good to see him back to his sparking best after last season’s injuries and illness. We were starting to put some pressure on their goal, before Watkins having a very promising game was upended by Akrigg, ten yards outside the box to earn the centre half his second yellow of the game. Whilst the Lancastrians were trying to re-organise, we hit them in a purple patch as four goals rained in past a startled McMillan in the space of seven minutes. Antwi a scruffy poke in from a corner, a strong run into the box, followed by a deflected strike by AMS, an inch perfect arrowing drive by Willmott from outside of the box, followed by Crow netting a header from a majestic centre by Osana.

It’s bizarre, utterly Luton to go from playing so poorly hardly having a chance worthy of the name, to run riot, against admittedly a poor side, who deserve little sympathy, time wasting from the start. The goalkeeper McMillian taking off his gloves, taking an age to tie his laces, was simply embarrassing and summed up the pathetic, negative nature of this League. The funniest aspect was even at 3-1 down, he time wasted.

Three changes in personnel, from Tuesday, Pilkington, Edward and MBH returning to the bench to be replaced by Tyler, Willmott,Watkins. A far stronger looking team, lessons learnt from Tuesday, so at least Gary Brabin has flexibility in his thinking . Osana switched flanks to the right looking far more comfortable on his natural side, Howells shuffling back to the left, Watkins played the farther forward of the three midfielders, O’Connor up front and Willmott on the left wing.

Southport were a big side without any adventure, only Kissock is a reasonable player small, well balanced, good little player for this level when given time , surprised he stayed there, would have thought he could do better than them. Not that Southport should have been allowed to stay up, once you are down toodle pip, sod off. Why reward failure? Play it with 23 teams, two less games in this league is akin to time off for good behaviour, better that than have the awful drag across to the M57 from there. Thanks to Rushden for going bust to allow another northern team back into the league. How selfish are they?

The first half is best forgotten, only Watkins, as bright as a button, seemed capable of running into space, finding an orange shirt and was positive trying to break forward though a sea of white shirts . We looked nervy from the off, whilst dominating possession, didn’t look to have the nous to break down Southport. Keane struggling once more, with his passing, putting in a laboured performance. O’Connor lacked the support but let himself down with a poor first touch. Antwi had a nightmare in the first half, but pulled himself together later on, rather like the rest of the team.

Willmott had the opening strike, fizzing wide after been found by Keane. Apart from a strong dash down the left by O’Connor only for a neat combination between him and Lawless broke down.

Once again, the opposition netted with their first attempt, Lee dispossed O’Connor, with Howells left vulernable, knowing neither to close down Kissock or Smith breaking forward on the right. Another problem with this formation , if we lose the ball, gaps appear in wide areas. Smith’s cross was tapped by Kissock to Brown who scored between Tyler’s legs, who probably a goalkeeper of his ability could have done better.

They had a sniff at an opportunity to double their money, Whalley’s running from the left, to poke a drive at Tyler. At this time, confidence was gone, every pass was delayed, trying to be too careful and easy for Southport to defend against in their large numbers.

Most of our corners were taken short, pointless trying to launch the ball in the box, with only Beckwith providing any height of note. From one, Watkins was rolled the ball by Willmott , he managed to sneak past two defenders, with a subtle change of feet, at least forced the under employed McMillian into a save with his palm, the ball fell to Keane, however Lever managed to block that strike. The lack of service to Dance was criminal, his one cross of the afternoon was an inviting, floating effort to the back post, Willmott over ran it slightly, so Brown could marshall the ball away.

Dance recieved a facial injury (free feel to make up your own gag) and was immediately withdrawn replaced by Crow, meaning O’Connor replaced Dance on the right. Crow put in a good shift, looking like a man with something to prove. Playing a lone front man isn’t really his ideal role, far better playing deeper, and laying the ball off to runners. In the meantime Akrigg picked up what would become a significant booking for bringing down O’Connor.

The apperance of Crow did bring a slight improvement before the break, although a looping headed clearance from Antwi from Whalley’s cross, could have gone anywhere but sailed away from Tyler’s goal. Watkins allowed to run into open space from O’Connor’s pass, before Akrigg closed him down and the ball deflected behind. Lawless playede the ball across the box, from Willmott’s short corner, O’Connor’s hit was closed down by Lee. Crow was unlucky with a dipping strike, from Keane’s forward pass. Willmott and Watkins combined for the equaliser, Watkins placing an inch perfect side footer into the corner to leave McMillian helpless diving to his left.

Excellent control by Gray turning from Bross’ cross, his low shot was weak and comfortable held by Tyler. We continued to huff and puff, Lawless and Antwi went close from the same phrase of play. Then Osana marandering down the right, beating Ledsham in his wake, his centre turned behind, but Antwi powered in aheader, well held by McMillian from Lawless’ cross.

The second half start was equally as sscrappy, untl Lawless started getting more involved in the game, however still in the early stages we never threatened the visitor’s goal. The best move another forward surge by Osana, finding lawless, but O’Connor produced a powder puff effort.

Keane sliced two attempted clearances in the same move, fortunately this was repeated by Ledsham, who hoofed over. We lacked rhytthm, too often Tyler went for the kicking option, poor thinking, as Crow has little hope of outjumping two six footers.

Whalley cut inside past Osana, driviely wide of the near post. It despartaely needed changing, AMS replaced O’Connor and immediately he set apart dismantling the right side of Southport’s tiring defence. Howells desrves credit too, as well as joining up with AMS, he made some intelligent off the ball runs, allowing AMS to bring the ball towards goal on his favoured foot.

He should have given us his lead, as Crow played a clever flick from Keane into his path, he elected to side foot across goal ,inches wide. Judging by Crow’s reaction he wanted the ball back. Almost trouble at the end, on a rare move forward, Brown swept in a wonderful cross, which had Tyler on the stretch, but Osana managed to cross down Whalley. Crow poked wide from an asuste angled path by Lawless, the angle was always against him, it wasn’t a bad effort.

Things become interesting, as a loose ball broke to Watkins, motoring forward to be tripped by Akrigg, already booked had to go. Before the free kick was taken, an argy bargy session between Beckwith and Lee took place, Willmott’s powerful free kick was diverted away by the flying head of Grand. Another bizarre decsiosn, as AMS chased down a back pass McMillian hammered the ball into AMS and was penalised for hand ball. He did extremely well to move his head out of the way, the force the ball was belted into his direction.

We used the space well, with both full backs supporting the wide men , getting many 2 on 1 situations on the flanks. About the first corner which was played in, saw us take the lead, Willmott’s flag kick from the left, nodded on by Beckwith, allowing Antwi in the centre of the six yard box, in lots of space to poke the ball home.

Then came the extraordinary passage of play, Lawless allowed to dictate affairs, without Kissock Southport didn’t have a player who could keep the ball. AMS skinned Lee, before skipping into the box, having a shot heavily deflected past McMillian. He was involved in the fourth, Howells made an off the ball run to take Smith away, allowing AMS to find Willmott in acres of freedom, he arrowed a low drive clincally struck which whistled past a bemused McMillian. The fifth was a corker as well, Osana dancing down the right, dispatching a perfect centre for Crow to connect with a free header.

After that, the game calmed down, with us utterly dominant trying some shooting practice from the most unlikely of angles. Watkins withdrawn to receive a well deserved standing ovation on his first league start.

Weird game, you could look at it two ways, making hard work to beat a very poor side, or kept going and being patient despite not playing well until Southport were there for the taking and run away with a comfortable scoreline. To be honest, in the latter stages, whilst there was some very good play and some fine goals scored, since we were relegated, we have always knocked in goals aplenty against the teams, so bad it’s barely worth playing. If we can do that against the stronger sides on a regular basis, than would that be a big positive step forward, until then we are merely flat track bullies.

The fixture list looks kind for the rest of the month, so we need to captalise on this, before we start playing most of former league clubs in September. Onward and upward then to Mansfield to see what delights await us then, that place is always seen in it’s best light in the dark.

Mark Tyler 5.5 , Curtis Osana 6.5 , Dean Beckwith 6.5, Will Antwi 5.5, Jake Howells 7, James Dance 6( Danny Crow 7.5 ), Alex Lawless 7, Keith Keane 5, Adam Watkins 8.5( Edward Asafu-Adjaye ) , Robbie Willmott 7.5 , Aaron O’Connor 5 ( Amari Morgan-Smith 9) .

Subs not used – Matthew Barnes-Homer, Kevin Pilkington . Booked – Keane.

Southport – McMillan, Smith, Akrigg, Grand, Lever, Lee, Whalley, Brown (Osborne ), Ledsham, Kissock (Benjamin), Gray (Owens) Sent Off: Akrigg

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As you were…

As we walked out the ground tonight I overheard the comment “same sh*t, different season” – which perhaps was a little unfair but quite amusing.

We played well enough tonight to force their keeper, Bulman, into three or four excellent saves. Usual thing – if they’d gone in we would have walked it – they didn’t so we didn’t. I thought we also had at least one decent shout for a penalty – but don’t mention the ‘p’ word – it’s still too soon.

The talk before and after the game was of having a decent target man, and to be fair a 6ft something striker would have probably got on the end of more than one cross tonight. Whether or not Constable or Styche can be tempted away from their respective clubs in the next fortnight remains to be seen.

If we do get a target man then how do we play them? If they are mobile enough would we still play a 4-3-3 as we did tonight, or would be be forced to play 4-4-2 and to have a little striker to play off the target man – it remains to be seen. But whoever we bring in means that having the likes of Crow, MBH, AMS, O’Connor etc is a bit of a luxury and surely one or more of those will be surplus to requirements.

A couple of things about tonights game – first of all it was refereed by a bald man who ran like a pirate and who seemed to have an aversion to the physical game when we wanted to make a half decent tackle, but turned a blind eye to Forest Green’s “robust” tackles. He tried not to flash his cards, but once they were out they were out – a little earlier might have seen us playing against 10 or 9.

Secondly Forest Green’s hideous luminous yellow away shirts made us look as if we were playing against a team of stewards, or the health and safety XI. I swear that a couple of the Easyjet Airbuses were distracted on final approach. We had no need of floodlights and could quite easily have played in the dark. Presumably the colour was chosen by their hippy-gyppo jeans-clad chairman who despoiled their team photo; clearly a cerebral man of taste.

So onto our team – I had a first chance to see how we were lining up and have a decent look at the new boys. Beckwith – not Captain, having captained all of pre-season – scored on his debut. I thought he had a pretty good game, though I do detect a lack of pace in there(!) His gait suggests he has spent the last few months atop a horse. I also detected bewilderment when, on a couple of occasions, he wandered unhindered towards the centre circle unchallenged by the men-who-would be-car-park-attendants and instead of striding purposefully forwards a la Hansen (a reference to the erstwhile Liverpool Captain, to those of you who never saw him) he stopped and looked for a pass. Has he never been in a position where he has never been closed down before? It looked like it. Griffin was unmarked at the far post for their goal I think Beckwith was supposed to be tracking him, but it was Antwi who jumped but failed to connect to clear.

Antwi looked tidy too – I thought he was a tad more ragged towards the end but otherwise, other than falling asleep for the goal the defence looked like a pretty solid unit. It helped of course that FGR were playing 4-5-1 and were not overburdened.

Osano also looked okay. He looked to cut inside onto his right foot too often when a ball down the line to O’Connor and then Willmott would have been a more attacking ploy. But he looked confident and assured in defence, and hard to knock off the ball.

James Dance – or “The Shadow” as I will call him forever more hugged the right touchline as if it was his favourite teddy. For long spells of the game he drifted out to the right, so near to the edge of the pitch that he merged into the Easyjet hoardings or dwelt in the shadows where the floodlights don’t focus. He spurted into life when the ball came near, which was only occasionally, as his team mates showed only limited ability to a) spot him and b) having spotted him to be able to pick him out with a decent pass. I lost count of the number of attempted cross-field balls that didn’t reach him, or more often were volleyed across far too high and too hard for him and he had to put in a comedy lurch for the ball as it sailed over his head into the boxes/enclosure sending the crowd flying. When he did get the ball he showed some nice touches, tormented their left back mercilessly, but struck me as being a bit lightweight. Carlos Edwards he ain’t, but he should be good enough in this division to put in many a match-winning cross for the big man in the middle. Ah – see the flaw there? He does have the benefit over the previous incumbent of that position to be willing to track back and tackle.

Enough of the Shadow – onto the last new boy Aaron O’Connor who started on the left of a front three. Early days I know, but he looked much more at home when he moved to the middle when Willmott came on and MBH went off. He knows where the goal is (not that he demonstrated that physically tonight) and looked like he had the instinct of a poacher. And boy does he have some pace. He takes a few seconds to go through the gears, but once he is a top speed he does fly. Which makes you think he might be useful on the counter attack away from home. However, if the speed doesn’t quite come as soon as you hit the gas then it is not quite as effective – more of an A5 than an R8? Hard to judge him on one performance tonight and I will reserve judgement. I just think he might be a bit of a luxury. Let me explain. If GB is looking to play his preferred 4-3-3- then presumably that means the likes of The Shadow on the right of the three and the likes of Willmott on the left with big Mr X up front. What role then for O’Connor? On the left? On the bench? On the bus? Let’s see – I base all of this on one performance for 60 minutes on the left of course…

So what of the others? Good to see Kevin Pilkington in goal. £5 to the charity of your choice to the first reader who can name the next team above us in the football league hierarchy who have two keepers of the quality of Tyler and KP. Pilks was tidy, quick and efficient. Good hands and good handling. I bet he was glad of those games under his belt pre-season too. Always looked to throw – must have kicked it long only once or twice the whole game.

Ed Asafu-Adjaye had a funny game. He was brilliantly good on a number of occasions but crassly poor on others. To qualify: some of his attacking play, defending, calmness and positional play was reassuringly good – but sometimes his passing was embarrassingly poor. He showed one glimpse of his brilliance with a lovely move into the box in the first half – and a world class challenge in the second – but some of his passing left a lot to be desired. Early days – still blowing off the cobwebs. Ed is an excellent player at this level – we know he is.

Keano. Well – normally it is heresy to denounce him, but today his tackling was good but his touch and passing was as bad as I’ve ever seen. Worked hard as usual and never gave up, but has got to work on his vision and delivery. It’s gone backwards, it was better than this when he was in the Championship and being vilified as the weakest link. Keano never lacks commitment or drive, and so I know we can expect better on Saturday, he will be the first to know he’s had a poor game, though he did come nearer than for a while in getting a goal in the first half.

Lawless. I thought he was marked out of the game really. He worked hard, but was closed down far too often to stamp his creative authority on the middle of midfield. He linked up well, but was guilty of fannying around on the edge of the box too much, rather than having a shot or doing something decisive. That can be said for a number of the team, too often we were looking for the perfect, cheeky little ball, rather than an incisive pass or Godammit a shot on goal! He did draw the first of the good (fortunate) saves from the FGR keeper. To be fair to him, he did clock the first ‘assist’ of the season as it was his corner which Beckwith got on the end of to make it 1-1.

Jake of the Valleys (fancy owning up to Welsh heritage!) looked like he was tired, which was bizarre bearing in mind it is August and he’s only had one game. He wasn’t at his best (remember his best? When he went through that Uber sublime period in March 2010 when he was on the left wing and could slot balls through to Craddock as easy as you like) Last season there were long spells when his class shone out and he looked two divisions better. Not today I thought. With them playing 4-5-1 and us with 5 men in midfield (in effect) when they broke forwards there was never going to be acres to play in. There was some good passing and some important challenges, but I don’t think he was the leading actor, just a bit part-player tonight. He did have a couple of shots within a couple of minutes in the first half, but troubled only the lady whose garden sits behind the Oak Road stand.

MBH – I’m one of the fans who like to cheer him on, whilst being aware that it might be easier to give him some stick. Not that I ever would. Didn’t look like scoring today and didn’t look a threat. Replaced with Willmott on 63 minutes and hadn’t made an impact on the game at all as the lone front man.

Willmott – came on a sub and I thought electrified the whole episode. Wanted to make a point and did – looked sharp and challenging when he came on after 63 minutes and would warrant a start in that position on Saturday. He drew a fantastic save out of Bulman after cutting inside and having a shot.

So what of the performance after all? In yesterday’s post I suspected a slow start out of the blocks and that is what it was. I know FGR are better now than they were, but home to Forest Green should be a banker 3 points if we are going to challenge for the title. We had lots of shots on target and the vast majority of possession, and should have made more than one count, which was a set piece after all. We dominated play without looking dominating, and to be fair FGR would have thought they got away with this result. The fact that the keeper had to make so many saves would suggest that we had something about us, but no luck, as usual. It could also been embarrassing for us, because right towards the end the Former Hornet Forbes struck a dipping shot which hit the underside of the bar and somehow stayed out. Now that would have been an injustice.

What do we think of the 4-3-3? In this instance, up against a side playing 4-5-1 it meant it was pretty congested in midfield when they were on the ball because O’Connor/Willmott and Dance would drop deeper when we weren’t in possession. But it also meant that Forest Green always had a spare man in their back four, and that two of their central midfielders could ruthlessly man mark Lawless and Jake, limiting their opportunity to dominate the game by exploiting the midfield. I would have thought that if you only came for a draw and coming with the intention of playing 4-5-1, then having us play 4-3-3 played nicely into their hands. But hey – what do I know?

On to Kissock and co (Southport) on Saturday who have managed two draws so far. Not sure if they’ll be coming out all guns blazing away to us, but at least Mr Brabin will be able to understand what they are all saying.

Come on you Hatters – thanks for reading – all comments welcome.

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions

Once again I am privileged to be able to post PDW’s match report, which he filed in the wee small hours of this morning…

Happy New Season Folks! Or not as the case maybe, as it appears to be like last season revisited on the evidence of the opening night, another game we should have won, could be a costly two points dropped, although Forbes was mightily unlucky to see a fine curling dipping shot, hit the under side of the bar. Unless you have the fortune to fall into a coma and wake around May Day, it promises to be a long old season as the team try to complete a hat trick of avoiding promotion seasons.

Early days yet naturally, but a home draw against a side (who have been funded by that mad Vegan) from a town whose population is about our average crowd is a deeply depressing result, whatever the circumstances.

Forgive me for having the right old hump. But two months ago, the Ginger Spot King played the old “homesick” card and legged to York quicker than you could say “What a coward”, as it’s oh so close to Barrow. Apparently. We needed a quick, mobile target man to compliment Brabin’s 4-3-3/ 4-5-1 system long before the season started, which he seems obsessed by playing. Think in the correct games, it’s a goer, mainly away against better teams. But against sides who will manage the game, waste time from the pre-match warm up, am far from convinced it’s the way we should go all the time. mainly forced by the fact we have more wide men than a health club in January.

With the tattoo parlour’s friend James Dance’s ability to cross a ball, added to Willmott’s undoubted class, we desperately need someone who can head it in. As much as I like O’Connor for his work rate and industry and probably is the best bet to play the lone role, but as a finisher, as demonstrated by appalling miss, after Dance had clipped in a superb centre, heading woefully wide with no defender near, proved as a finisher he is less like Sergio Aguerio, more like Christina Aguilera. His goal record suggests he is no better than what we already have at the club. There is more to his game than scoring (just as well).

Not, anyone in the club would read my balderdash and piffle, but please cut out the chat, up the action and sign the type of forward we need, as otherwise it’s another year in the rip offs again, in a league without an obvious dominant force. Appreciate we are skint and we are now rapidly becoming just another Conference side, but sort it out, please. Bored of excuses. But as long as friends and relatives of the staff get a kick about in pre-season, everyone’s happy. Seriously if Constable is the man to arrest our goal scoring problems, buy him if within our budget. If he is too expensive, move on. Otherwise it will drag on like the Tevez and Fabregas moves( or not as the case is with Tevez).

With the amount of injuries we have (Blackett and Henry in training. Are their contracts almost up again then?), it was never going to a pretty game. Few are, in this league which serves no purpose apart from to annoy. The only bright spot Forest Green’s gaudy bright yellow shirts with red shorts. Designed by someone colour blind? Typical of the anti football, the Conference produces. A horrible league, not helped by referees who are almost universally weak. I’m an nonentity, get me out of here!

It did have certain aspects of last season, dominated possession, but lacking the guile,craft, know how to break down a stubborn defence, when we did get through mainly thanks to a fine cameo performance from the returning Willmott, who needs to have a massive season, as in an attacking sense it’s only he, Lawless, AMS and Dance who are above a bog standard fifth grade player Watkins too (if he gets off the bench…although tonight was probably not the time for him to be thrown in, just to get kicked to death), Bulman managed to make some decent saves, with a touch of the De Gea about his catching.

With our depleted defence (as in injury hit, rather than the Mr Punch lookalike with a perchant for cream loafers and driving slowly by red lights), it was an unbalanced team with two left footers on the right flank, but the the squad stretched, it’s one of those things. Pilkington in goal with Tyler’s back causing him problems (not good), the defence Edward at right back, Antwi partnering by the man who makes Ian Roper look like Mal Donaghy (to be fair to Beckwith he’s an easy target, he was solid enough, although will be a liability, but he is only a journeyman clogger, so what do you expect?) , with Osano on the left. Three in midfield Keane playing deep, with Lawless and Howells playing in front, with O’Connor and Dance on the wings, and MBH playing up top. Although playing is somewhat flattering description on tonight’s efforts. Why Brabin didn’t bomb him out after the play off final or after their lovers tiff a couple of weeks ago remains a mystery, but not to the local hacks, who seem too scare to ask questions like that. Appreciate he’s a confidence player and can make good runs, which aren’t picked up. Time has come for a parting of the waves.

As for the gladiators from Gloucestershire, they lined up, to defend deep, but were lively on the counter attack, with Rowe and Norwood (lucky to stay on for a nasty high challange on Dance) out wide. Styche up front, thought he had a far better game down there in March to be honest, he puts himself about, has an edge to his game, council estate face and has a bit of something we lack. Wouldn’t be my ideal choice as there is an element of brute force and ignorance about his game (pushing Beckwith into the beach huts hoardings was a petty, brainless thing to do), but we aren’t in a position these days to be choosy. More’s the pity.

We started better, playing some neat, football, most of it was too slow playing out from the back, and we looked somewhat toothless, Dance apart. Howells covered a lot of ground, but we couldn’t get behind them, and our ex loanee Graham and Turley, both were steady enough at centre half, helped by Griffin at set pieces.

Chances were at a premium, although Dance and Lawless through good movement, managed to beat Graham, Stokes was around on the cover to snuff out any danger. The visitors wasted time from the opening eleven minutes, Rowe taking an eternity to wander across to take a corner, after his free kick, flicked on by Norwood had to be turned away by Beckwith. MBH and Howells, began a break down the left , the centre in was cleared out by Grham, only for EAA to have a dig, but his volley sailed over and ended up in the smattering (for it was hardly a crowd) of people from Nailsworth.

Dance was leading the visitors defence a erm… merry dance, only needed a small bit of space to whip a cross in beyond Stokes, to the unmarked Howells, it was a tricky angle as he to turn and hit on his right foot loong way over Bulman’s bar, more of a conversion that, boyo.

Howells almost turned provider for FGR, an awful square pass could have fallen for Norwood, but for an outstanding stop by Antwi,whom generally had a very steady game. The game had started to drift, we could have done with Lawless putting his mark on it, he got involved later but so far he is under performing, , we rarely looked in trouble, but nor we look like troubling them. O’Connor, cut in from the left, found enough room to squeeze a shot low into Bulman’s grasp. Dance and Lawless played a fine one touch move, Barnes-Homer’s drive clipping Griffin and heading over. Lawless’ corner saw a right old scramble ensue but sadly not an orange short to pop it into the net. Lawless, found by O’Connor was unlucky to see his low skimming strike, deflected wide by Bulman.

Norwood run at our defence, leaving Edward in his wake, but crashed his shot wide of Pilkington’s near post. The one excellent chance, fell to O’Connor, picked out perfectly by dance, but his header was terrible and was yards wide. The referee, another one who choose when to see and when not to, denied us a penalty, nice centre by keane towards O’Connor clearly baulked in his run by Hodkiss.

Would have liked to see a couple of changes at the break, we weren’t that bad but neither were we that good, the introduction of AMS or Willmott (if he was fit to play 45 minutes), may have given the team a lift. We got worse after the break. Forest Green started well, quicker to that ball. Our passing badly that us down. Keane, his winning of the ball was fine, but both and EAA failed on numerous occassions to feed Dance with a simple pass.

The first chance feel to us, O’Connor taking an advantage of their defence stopping and waiting for an offside flag which never came, having room by Turley, he picked out MBH , who missed his strike. Forest Green had a rudimentry approach to defending, push, shove if needby. Rowe pushing Keane over, dance on the angle outside the penalty box, lifted his shot over the wall but bar as well. Norwood’s pace threatened to defeat Osana, but Antwi covered him.

Osano is a threat going forward, but does give away needless free kicks, a elbow into Styche’s chest, ten yards from the dea ball line wasn’t clever, nor was the organistation from Rowe’s set piece, a ball played to the far post, Griffin out-jumping Beckwith to head firmly past Pilkington. Their first real effort on goal. From a set piece too, how novel. Always pleasing to see mistakes are learnt from. Oh.

Willmott replaced MBH, playing on the left wing, with O’Connor playing more centrally. Naturally we looked more threatening. Howells turning into midfield, Lawless was found, sidefooting the ball to O’Connor, but clever defending by Stokes stood his ground firmly.

With Wilmott and Dance getting involved, we were able to put some sustained pressure on their goal. fair play to them they defended robustly. An arrowing strike from 30 yards by Lawless, brushed the head off Griffin. Graham crudelly upending O’Connor was cautioned, Howells just unable to get the ball over the wall, finding Styche’s head.

From which, Howells corner was played to the back post, Dance rose prodigiously , heading the ball back to goal, amongst the bodies, Beckwith managed to get enough on the ball to nudge it over the line. Never doubted the boy!

Still, twenty minutes to win, but they were always a danger on the break, Antwi foiling Forbes as he was about to pull the trigger, a much nedeed block by Keane to foil Styche, who managed to nip past Osana and Antwi.

Willmott was involved in most of what was best about our play, finding Lawless firing wide. then a magnificent cross, Bulman all at sea, Dance couldn’t quite get enough on the ball and Griffin managed to keep the ball out , before theatrically lying on the ground and within seconds running away. That magic sponge is proper magic.

Lawless robbing Forbes, almost putting Willmott in the clear, but for a Stokes’ inception. O’Connor’s wayward pass, was helpfully played into Willmott by Hodkiss, a flying fingertip shot by Bulman. O’Connor running on to Keane’s lobbed ball, just unable to get enoough purchase to knock it over the keeper’s head.

Forbes was allowed to stroll past Lawless, his clever curling strike, pinged against the woodwork, with Pilkington helpless, Beckwith managed to track back and avert a disaster. Pilkington showed good handling to deny Styche a repeat of his goal in last season’s fixture.

Plenty to work on, but hopefully with Willmott back to full fitness and who knows a forward on the way, things can only get better. I hope. Or is that blind faith?

Kevin Pilkington 6.5, Edward Asafu-Adjaye 4.5, Dean Beckwith 6, Will Antwi 7.5 , Curtis Osana 6, James Dance 8, Alex Lawless 7 , Keith Keane 6.5, Jake Howells 6.75, Aaron O’Connor 6, Matthew Barnes-Homer 5.5( Robbie Willmott 8.5).

Subs not used – Amari Morgan-Smith,Danny Crow, Adam Watkins,Lewis Kidd . Booked – Lawless.

Forest Green – Bulman, Hodgkiss, Turley, Graham, Stokes, Forbes, Allen (Turk ), Rowe (Klukowski ), Griffin, Styche, Norwood. Booked: Norwood, Allen, Stokes, Griffin

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Third Time Lucky

And so it all starts again, against our friends from Nailsworth on Tuesday night. I think we have quiet cause for optimism. Like it or not, we have a strong squad of good players. The key is that we have a squad of players, many of whom could and will play at a higher level: a young and improving team.

We know that Mr Brabin prefers to play good, attacking football of the type that us Hatters fans prefer to see. We know that the club is in safe hands with the majority of the financial backers now on the board, running the club. We know that we have a healthy network of local scouts and a talent spotting system, catchment area and youth set up that many clubs above us envy. We have a proven track record of identifying, nurturing and playing youngsters who go on to decorate the top of the game.

So – all things are good, apart from where we presently reside – a founder member of the Premier league twenty years ago, still sitting in football’s fifth tier.

What of our divisional rivals? Last year I spoke about Crawley being the team to beat (and they will also be the team to beat in League Two) and Wimbledon being on an inexorable rise to the league. This year some clubs like Fleetwood and York have flashed the cash (but not in a Crawley way) and should improve and be threats. I think Fleetwood have bought in Andy Mangan and have Richard Brodie on loan (Brodie coming to Luton is as likely as Shearer playing for Newcastle it seems). York have Gary Mills in charge who is a canny operator, they bought Jason Walker from us, who so nearly was the hero, but whom I suspect will be cast in the role of villain for evermore. He’s already clocked up two goals for York. They also have former Hornet Liam Henderson, to give the boo-boys an alternative target. Speaking of which, Forest Green and their millionaire Chairman have bought Al Bangura who played for our M1 rivals whilst they were briefly in the premiership, and who interestingly enough played for the Azerbeijani lot that Tony Adams brought in pre-season – before settling in Gloucestershire. He’s injured by the way so don’t expect to see him on Tuesday.

Darlington are strong – we know how Mark Cooper’s teams play, Grimsby have bought that striker who got all of Alfreton Town’s goals last year when they were catapulted into this league.

So I think that our main rivals will be in no particular order: Darlington, Fleetwood, York, Grimsby to a lesser extent, possibly Mansfield and there is usually a joker in the pack – how about Bath City? Stockport seem to be on a ‘bit or shust’ policy of recruitment, putting all of their eggs in one basket, and of course Lincoln will want to bounce straight back. But we all know how hard that is.

Do you know what I think? Whilst there will be blips, bad runs and surprise defeats, I have a sneaking suspicion that we are going to do very well. It’s ours to lose. Look out for the usual trends this year – decimating teams who play the ball on the floor, making hard work of beating longer ball teams. Similarly, raising our game against the good teams and then struggling against the bottom clubs. You know how it is – you know it is going to happen! It’s the Luton way…

So, onto Tuesday. You look at Forest Green Rovers and you think, well, nice easy opening fixture, especially as we beat them 6-1 at home last year. The bigger picture sees four wins out of four against them, but three of those four were by a single goal and were a bit of a struggle I seem to recall. As I mentioned above, they are a stronger team this year and have Luton’s ‘super sub’ last year Luke Graham at the club now. Styche has an excellent record in front of goal, and as I said above they have a chairman who is willing to wave his chequebook around. So it won’t be another doddle. Having missed out on the game yesterday, because of Shropshire Police’s inability to multi-task and because the some Police authorities seem hell-bent on trying to avoid confrontational situations rather than actually doing the confronting – we are already 3pts behind York and Fleetwood (who are now favourites). Let’s hope that it is for the last time this season.

As ever, I will be fascinated to see who is in the starting line up for the first game, especially as I have missed all of pre-season (just like George Pilkington) and so have not seen Dance, Antwi, O’Connor, Osano and Beckwith (in Luton colours that is) and so can judge them for myself. To be absolutely brutally honest with you all – I’m only just ready for the new season. I was so gutted and hurt and pissed off at the end of last season that I just wanted nothing to do with watching football until the pain stopped hurting. Well, I’m ready now, just. It might sound melodramatic – but it’s true.

Prediction? Well the head says a not-quite-ready-yet 1-1, the heart says 2-0.

I’m ready, I hope the team is – because the fans are ready for a return to the league. Third time lucky.

Come on you Hatters.

http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/Poll/Embed/WEB22CVW6T5RM8?e=tOnline Surveys – Zoomerang.com

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A lack of Constables?

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So, here we go again. They’re messing around with Luton fixtures because of police manpower issues again. It’s enough to make Brabs tear his hair out.

I suppose one blessing from having the opening game called off is a little more time for the likes of Pilks, Murray, Henry and Blackett to continue recovery from injuries. And also a few more days for Oxford to re-consider our offer for Constable.

I’ve absolutely no idea what Brabs’ line-up will be next Tuesday night when the mighty Forest Green ride into town. Is Mr.Crow to be in the starting line-up? He’s the only out-and-out striker we have really, for MBH, AMS, Walker, Dance, O’Connor and Willmott all look to me like wide-men/providers/support men,or whatever technical term you prefer to use.

Whatever, things did go rather well against QPR the other night after GB’s substitutions were made, and we gave those Premiership new boys quite a run-around. And they can’t start claiming it was ‘our reserve team’ because the likes of Mick McCarthy & Co recently claimed Premiership football is a squad game, and they never field ‘weakened’ sides, they just switch people around. No such thing as a reserve side, therefore.

Our new-boy Dance looked like a good crosser of the ball to replace Claude, and the new left-back geezer looked useful, especially on that excellent solo run. Central defender Beckwith made a nightmare error on 29 seconds, but after that looked good. And he wore the captain’s armband I notice, even with Keano in the team. Did I miss the announcement?

Talking of announcements, when do they publish the squad numbers? Back in the League days that used to be done quite a while before the season started. Perhaps I missed that one as well?

The pre-season bad news, by the way, is Alex Lawless’ new haircut. But the good news is the superb new first-choice playing kit. Aaah, takes me right back to the golden days of the Futcher twins, Jimmy Husband and Adrian Alston!

OK, so roll on Tuesday. Let’s send those Gloucestershire minnows back to the boondocks with tails firmly between legs. Over to you Mr Brabin – carry on, old boy.

🙂

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