Hatters hit Hendon for Five

I enjoy the cup games. Pressure off from the league. Sit where you want at the Kenny End, all the fun of the fair. Our third 5-1 in October and the fourth this season – which must in itself be a good indicator that something is occasionally going right.

Though the Kenny End filled up slowly it was just me for a while supping my beer before the game. I thought it was quiet even for a cup game before I realised my fellow imbibers were grouped around the telly in the other bar watching one bunch of pedestrian ladies lose to another bunch of pedestrian ladies 5-3 – and jolly good it was too.

The game today seemed to be in fits and starts. When we clicked, or slipped into gear suddenly we were scoring for fun “hot knife through butter” time. The rest of the time was a little more bitty.

As I always seem to be saying – it could have been so many more – I think I counted three crosses from the right across the face of the goal in the second half alone, just a little nudge would have brought another goal. It should certainly have been six – which would have meant O’Connor getting a hat trick after Cousins slip allowed him to race on and on and in and in and slot it round the keeper only for the half witted decision by Fleetwood to help it in the net and as he was in an offside position to ensure that an otherwise excellent goal was ruled offside.

There were a few rusty players on show today, George Pilks got a rest (as predicted on these pages!) and Beckwith and Antwi reappeared as our two centre halves. And, like the comedy duo they sound like, ably ensured that McClusky got the visitors off to a good start on six minutes with an uncontested header from Cousin’s free kick. I wasn’t surprised that they managed to sneak a goal, but I was surprised with the ease at which they snuck their goal. It took me a little by surprise, but the result was never in doubt, not even for the couple of minutes we were behind, before Beckwith was felled like a Giant Redwood in the forest and O’Connor stepped up to slot home the penalty. Yes – I typed that last bit correctly.

It was a funny game. It reminded me a bit of the 3-0 vs Grays a year or so ago. That was another game where it was apparent throughout who the winners would be. Anyone who backed Luton today to win would have got value. They were about 5/1 on when I looked. They could have played this game 30 times and the result would have been the same. There is a huge gulf between the biggest team to have been relegated from the league against a part-time team which has spent the last 49 years in exactly the same division. I know they are only two divisions below us, but there is a much bigger gap between us and that league then there is between tier 5 and League One.

What did I think of Hendon? They were a bit Jekyll and Hyde. Some of their players were on good terms with ours and played the game with a bit smile on their face, but others wanted to kick and stamp – poor Kissock bearing the brunt of one particularly nasty agricultural tackle, which fortunately got the culprit sent off, albeit for a 2nd yellow. I don’t think we were particularly dirty today, but Hendon had the physio on more times than Stevenage. In fact I don’t think I’ve seen a physio on the field more often than for the first 45 minutes. No, that’s a fib. I have. I saw Aylesbury play God-knows-who in the early nineties and they were dropping like flies. But then again the Aylesbury physio that day was a gorgeous blonde girl. I think even the ref pulled a hamstring in that game.

I digress. It wasn’t long before we took the lead – The Shadow bravely stuck his head on the end of an Osano cross, clashing with a defender in the process and stayed down immediately – the ref instantaneouly waving on our physio. He was stretchered off – I understand from Brabin’s post match interview that he has a depressed cheek bone injury or similar. Very unpleasant. Yet another injury. Whilst I don’t think he’s an out an out winger because of his crossing inaccuracy he has been an effective (and goal scoring) central midfielder and we can ill-afford to lose him. He joins eight other players presently out through injury. Thank the Lord we have such a big squad. Any other non-league team would be playing the kit-man by now.

Speaking of big things, Dance was replaced by another ring-rusty player Big Hips Danny Crow. He scooted around willingly like a keen kid helping out at a school fete, without having quite the effectiveness of The Shadow. He did look a little bit lost out there at times, which is a real shame. A few more appearances would get him back in the groove I’m sure. But with Big-Tommy-Wright, Fleetwood and AMS ahead of him in the food chain I suspect his chances might continue to be limited. Whilst not a natural midfielder it was his pass which led to Osano having a left foot thunderbolt blocked by the keeper with Big-Tommy-Wright being in the right place at the right time sticking his head on the rebound for the third goal.

At this stage we’d scored three goals in 25 minutes and I know my boys thought we were going to get double figures. But we dropped down a couple of gears, which coincided with Hendon realising that by closing down our midfielders it prevents them from passing the ball around easily, and thus have to pass longer and less accurately. This meant that Hendon came back into it a bit and had a couple of minor chances.

The only other fun and games was when Hand clashed with MacLaren, showing him a wrestling move whereby he pins him to the ground, and a small game of push’n’shove ensued. Both players getting a yellow card for their efforts.

The second half started brighter still from Hendon’s point of view, their turn to boss the midfield for a while whilst our players lazily played it longer and longer.

Then, not for the first time in a 5-1 thrashing this season, an opponent’s sending off changed the game for good. Chris Tavernier replaced Big-Tommy-Wright, with Big Hips going up front. Pleased to see CT getting a game. This meant that there was less longer ball stuff, and we started to play again.

As yet another Hendon player was off the pitch being patched up we stepped up a gear. Howells played in Stuart Fleetwood who made amends for his earlier boo-boo by deftly rounding the keeper having beaten the off-side trap (such as it was) and neatly slotting in a long-overdue goal.

More or less from the kick off a comedy back pass played in Fleetwood and O’Connor both in on the keeper, neither of who would have missed, but it was O’Connor’s turn to poke it in.

O’Connor continues to grow in stature and is proving to be the player we rather hoped he would be. He should have had three today, and was involved in countless moves. I also thought Kissock and Howells linked up well (Kissock was on the left of the midfield today) they played countless one twos and cheeky passing moves which illuminated the game. Kissock was up to his usual tricks today – ie lots of tricks. I’m not sure he was such a clever-dick when he played against us, I just remember him being a threat with the ball at his feet and good passing. He did lots and lots of step overs and back heels today keeping Hendon on their toes – as well as being the resident corner taker.

Another player who creaked back into action today was the long-awaited Charlie Henry. I must admit I can’t recall him being as short as that when he scored that goal against us for Newport last year. I think he may have shrunk in the interim. Henry replaced Hand in the middle of the midfield before the end and looked, bright, tenacious with a good eye for a pass, though did do a comedy miskick when presented with a chance. With Dance out now, his return to action might well be timely. I look forward to following his progress with interest.

It was funny to see Isiah Rankin again today (if that’s who the pot-bellied fellow was who got booked for encroaching after the ref was helped by the Kenny End to count out the steps) especially after he was mentioned on Danny Baker’s show on Radio 5 this morning. He is still held in legendary status by Bee’s fans for some reason.

So – yet another 5-1 win. No more than we deserved, but there were some moments of laziness on our part which would have been severely punished by a better team. I’m glad Kovacs is coming back, he looked good and will of course walk back into the team. With Blackett sort-of back and Keane keen to play centre half, it doesn’t look a terribly encouraging future for Mssrs Beckwith and Antwi. I think Antwi, like Osano was only signed for 6 months initially. I believe Beckwith, the pre-season skipper, has a two year contract. Mind you – with our injury luck, I suspect they’ll both be back in the team sooner rather than later.

I wish Hendon well. I wonder if this season will see their 49 year wait for promotion come to an end? Three seasons in the same division is bad enough…

So, next Saturday is the big game against Fleetwood. A six-pointer if ever there was one. Let’s hope Big-Tommy-Wright, Fleetwood and O’Connor keep their shooting boots on for that game.

Come on you Hatters. Arlesey Town please in the draw tomorrow. Or go on then, Sheffield Wednesday away.

Today’s report was sponsored by the words ‘Big’ and ‘Rusty’.

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions (FA Cup – Hendon home)

A smooth, simple passage into the next round at the expense of London’s best team. A useful work out for some of the fringe players, including a cameo for the less spotted Charlie Henry.

For an half an hour, it was like a training exercise of pass and move as Hendon opted for the unusual tactic of not pressing the ball and letting the opposition walk past them.Only their robust number five Wharton was educated at the ‘AVE IT school of defending, Beckenbauer he wasn’t . We spread the ball well with patience, both full backs supported their wingers. Hand controlling the game in the middle, dictating the play.

Maybe it was too easy, but we became very lax and lazy in possession, just pumping long balls forward in the middle third of the game.At times, particularly in the early stages of the second half, Hendon had their best spell, but with McLaren dismissed for an ugly stamp on Kissock, his second caution, then temporally down to nine men, with Busby getting treatment for a facial injury. Which would have been hard to swalloe, as we scored two goals in quick succession when we had two extra men on the field.

The rest of the game, we dominated trying to walk the ball in and the final score could have been doubled. Hendon were helped on a number of occassions by the sizeable postieur of Crow, blocking shots from his own team mates. Which would have been harsh on the visitors, who werent disgraced by their performance and the sending off excepted, tried to play in the right way and didnt attempt to kick us off the park. For a club at that level, performed with credit. They brought a few hundred supporters which is more than a number of Conference clubs do.

Only Osano, Howells, Hand, Dance, Fleetwood and Wright kept their place from the side which battered Grimsby at their plaice last week. Hand the captain, as the most vocal member of the team, probably the best man for that job currently, him or Kovacs if he signs full time. Pilkington the gloves in goal. Back four of Osano, Antwi, Beckwith Howells, the same number in midfield O’Connor, Hand, Dance, Kissock, with Fleetwood and Wright as centre forwards.

Before anyone could utter that banal phrase of ‘The magic of the Cup’, there will be little magic if we draw Plymouth or Carlisle or any other long distance team you care to name away tomorrow. So that’s talked that in there. Hendon were ahead. We were defeated by a basic free kick routine – the Beckwith-Antwi axis worked wonderfully again. McCluskey glancing Cousins’ inswinging set piece beyond Pilkington. After a neat change of feet from Aite-Ouakirim gave the ball to Charles, a gangly centre forward who in a better team would be a handful, went down somewhat dramatically after a challange by Beckwith, who looked very rusty, but hardly surprisingly considering his first game since his sending off against Lincoln, six weeks ago .

Prior to that, our only chance of note was a rather loopy corner by Kissock played to the edge of the box towards Hand, and a more routine flag corner by Kissock, flicked on by Wright for Dance, off balance, could only help the ball over.

Their lead didnt last long. After some patience build up, the ball broke loose for Dance to run into the gap and centre, Beckwith bundled over by Busby for a straight forward penalty decision. Believe or not, was converted at the first time of asking, O’Connor sending Thomas the wrong way, dispatching the ball to the keeper’s left corner.

For most of the first half, we had plenty of time on the ball, and in partilcular down the left, though Kissock and Howells, although Kissock is a gifted player, wish I had a £1 for every step over he did.Fine in a game like this, but would be very trying in an important game if we were losing with a few minutes left.

We took the lead through a well constructed goal, although it ended with a dance on the floor. His brave header was rewarded with a goal, was prompted flattened after O’Connor teed up Osano to float in a lovely cross from the right. Play was held up for a lengthy period as Dance was stretched off, looks a serious injury, last thing we needed for another long term injury, even worse in a game of little importance after he has running into a reasonable spell of form and scoring some handy goals into the bargain.

Crow lumbered on, a straight swop, although he wasn’t going to make the runs which Dance did getting beyond the forwards. O’Connor taking advantage of a slip by Cousins, drove across from right to left, managed to place the ball past Thomas, with the ball rolling gently towards the net, Fleetwood with a piece of shameless goal hanging tapped it in and was promptly flagged for offside. It was a sign of sheer desperation by Fleetwood to score a goal. His link up wasn’t up to scratch either and until a improvement late on and a long overdue goal, had a generally rather poor game. He worked hard and the service was iffy at times to him.

Although not a dirty game, the busiest man was the Hendon physio treating Parker, MacLaren and McCluskey, the latter two had to be withdrawn. Wright won a free kick after a dive which scored 9.7 from the Icelandic jury, after being tripped by Charles, his effort was slammed into the wall ( they appear to have trouble counting to ten, sometimes they were barely five yards away from the kick, the fumes from the North Circular must have effected their brains ), Kissock got to the rebound , knocked over this time Fleetwood had a go, a better effort, which Thomas got down and held the ball well low towards his post.

A fine pass by Crow, to O’Connor into the path of Osano moved forward , to slam ashot which Thomas could only parry and Wright had a simple task of nodding the ball into the empty net.

We played some good stuff, even allowing for the space and time on the ball, the best move involved Hand, Crow, Fleetwood into a back heel by Howells into the path of Kissock, sending his shot arching over.

For whatever reason, we stopping playing,maybe the injuries affected the flow or more likely the game was done and dusted by then. It allowed Hendon a chance to get back into the game. A rolled free kick by Cousins into Aite-Ouakrim, allowed plenty of space by Osano, played a low centre into the six yard box, which Pilkington dealt with well with plenty of bodies around him. A neat triangle of passes Parker, Aite-Ouakrim feed Charles to drive fiercely across goal, which took a flick off a defender.

Maclaren dragged Howells down to the turf,, Hand went to confront MacLaren, resulted in a melee, which Crow and Busby went nose to nose, all of which resulted with Maclaren getting the first caution of the game.

In the second half, it was noticeable Hendon pressed us far more in possession and starting winning some loose balls, so it was a more even contest. Although Fleetwood ‘s early shot from hand’s pass struck Peacock, going behind. Crow looped a header from Kissock’s corner which comfortable landed wide.

Our play got sloppy and against a better team, we could have been punished, following a episode of head tennis from Charles’ long trhow from the right, eventually it fell to Parker, hooking the ball over the shoulder, not missing Pilkington’s far post by much. Antwi had to cut a ball down their left, which Pilkington would have got to, but for a lack of communication. Osano had to get a foot in to deny the socially plump Rankin a shot from Aite-Ouakrim’s pass from the outside of his foot. Beckwith denied Charles with a block. Beckwith was dragged wide and beaten by Aite-Ouakrim, but his finish was weak and wide.

Our passing range had gone and we well reduced to smacking long balls up front. The sending off of Maclaren for a needless stamp on Kissock ended us remember how to play football, soon after Tavernier had replaced Wright, with Crow moving upfront.

Piece of comedy gold, as not for the first time, the referee helped the Hendon players count to ten, when he trunred his back, Rankin prompting moved forward again, only to be booked. Until then apart from Fleetwood just unable to get on the end of Hand’s free kick and Antwi’s heading Howells’ centre weakly wide,Thomas in the Hendon goal wasn’t seriously tested in the second half.

However, as Busby was off getting treatment, leaving nine versus eleven, we regained our momentum and finished off their challange. Howells playing a beautifully weighted pass into Fleetwood, beating the offside trap, rounded the keeper and scored with an excellent finish from the angle. Some good old Ryman League defending finsihed the scoring, Peacock could have put the ball anywhere, but he choose to pass it back, not seeing O’Connor or Fleetwood there, and it ended up a great pass for O’Connor to tap past the advancing Thomas.

Time for a long awaited debut for Henry, small but good in possession,his most memorable copntribution having a hack at Charles, probably double the size of him ( he needs to learn tp pick on someone his own size, a garden gnome for example) if can get some match sharpness on loan elsewhere, he will be an asset for us, comfortable in possession partnering Tavernier in an attacking looking midfield. We dominated the final period of the game, Hendon were gone phiusically and on their last legs.

Fletwood curled wide from Howells’ pass, Osano prodded a shot at Thomas, after which Crow and Peacock needed treatment going for the rebound. Tavernier and Osano linked up nicely for O’Connor to drive a fierce cross shot which Fleetwood was unable to turn in. Howells put the ball on a plate for Henry in front of goal, but miskicked. He almost made amends sliding a ball across which Crow was unable to turn in.

Kevin Pilkington 6 , Curtis Osano 6.5 , Will Antwi 6.25, Dean Beckwith 5.75, Jake Howells 9 , Aaron O’Connor 8.5, James Dance ( Danny Crow 5.75) , Jamie Hand 7.5 ( Charlie Henry) , John-Paul Kissock 7.5, Tommy Wright 7 ( Christian Tavernier 6), Stuart Fleetwood 6..

Subs not used – Mark Tyler, Robbie Willmott, Paul Carden, Collin Samuel ( the first and hopefully the last time those two names will appear on a teamsheet together).

Hendon – Thomas, Parker, Wharton, Peacock, Cousins, C.Maclaren ( Rankin), K.Maclaren, Busby( Burgess), McCluskey ( Carby), Aite-Ouakrim, Charles. Booked – Rankin. Sent off – Maclaren

*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 fatuous comments about only another eight wins until we have the orgasmic joy of being in the Europa League.A competition so bad only ITV 4 and Channel 5 cover it. Triffic. Personally, am mildly ambivalent towards Europe, feel sorry for Europeans as it must be dreadful for them. Suppose it will all right unless we draw a team from a backward country, that few wish to visit, with bitterness and povelty oozing from every pore whilst hardly speaking a word of English. Fingers crossed we don’t play a Scottish team away then, eh?

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Team Predictions

I don’t usually go in for this indulgent sort of thing – but on this occasion here goes.

1. Kevin Pilks

RB. Osano
CB. Beckwith
CB. Antwi
LB. Blackett

– thinking: give G Pilks a rest, and to give the two centre halves a run out – in case Kovacs never comes back.

RW. The Shadow
CM. JPK
CM. Hand
LW. Howells

– thinking: return Jake to the left wing, give JPK a start. If he can’t start against Hendon he might as well go back to Southport. Give KK a rest.

CF. Fleetwood
CF. Wright

– thinking: these two need as much match experience as possible playing with each other (if you excuse the phrase) and a good excuse to get Fleetwood’s confidence back up a bit with some goals. I think this outweighs the need to give Danny Crow a start.

Subs:

I’m assuming Lawless, AMS et al are still crocked:

1. Big Hips
2. Samuel
3. Tyler/Kidd
4. Watkins
5. O’Connor
6. Willmott
7. Carden (only joking) Keane.

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions (Cleethorpes Away)

Friday night in sunny Cleethorpes always special. Or was it a Tuesday? A good solid, if unspectacular, team performance gained a deserved victory against very accomodating hosts. Couldn’t have asked for better opponents after the potentially damaging defeat in the last game. Helping end not only a sequence of bad results and even worse performances at Fortress Blundell Park over the years but halting our floodlit hoodoo this season. After some self inflicted wounds on our travels, it was just want was needed and something to bulid on, for the next two difficult looking league games. Not winning ugly, but a professional nonsense performance with no weak links. When the fixture list eases up thereafter, although Newport are improving since Edinburgh turned up, with fewer midweek matches as well, we should ( fingers crossed) be able to make up on some lost ground.

Nothing to be carried away about, but after the trials and tribulations in Northfleet last week, it was a step in the right direction. The defence were rock solid, rarely looked in trouble aginst a Grimsby outfit lacking thought, craft and to be brutally honest any ounce of basic footballing skill, save for the endeavours of Hearn a powerful, willing front man often making opportunities off his own efforts. In a team who could give him a better supply, he would be a real danger. Tyler forced to make three saves, none of great difficulty for someone with his ability. It was a comfortable ride by the seaside. We always had a degree of control in the match, using the ball better, just a question of whether we could score or not.

A goal on his full debut by the poor man’s Peter Thomson and future MENSA member, Tommy Wright, on his old stamping ( or should that be elbowing ) ground, flying through the air like a packet of Scampi scoring with a header , from Fleetwood’s deft clip across to the near post, which cannoned off the underside of the bar, to net the goal to sink the Mariners. Which righted the wrongs of his calamitous cameo on Tuesday, where he looked like a man who necked about fifty Red Bulls before coming on. He looked far calmer in this performance,the thing in his favour,he is good in the air and a battering ram to help out Fleetwood, just a shame he can’t head the ball with every touch. Took his goal well,diving in bravely when he could have been booted in the head. Where there is no sense there’s no feeling, I suppose .

Talking of which, pleased Brabin has recovered from his brain seizure which has impaired his decision making at times since the York game. Selecting a perfectly balanced team reaped it’s rewards and hopefully in future he and the team will learn from the mistakes in previous away matches. You don’t need a badge/clipboard fetish to realise that a target man, two wingers, a defensive and creative midfielder tends to suit most lower league English teams. Also play to your strengths at all times, Wrexham are ultra defensive, as they don’t possess players to play an open, expansive game. Can see why Brabin tried to set up differently to help out our defence, but as the games with Ebbsfleet and Cambridge demonstrated, you end doing neither one thing or another and the team suffers as a result.

Apart from the end product was lacking at times, the positives far outweighed the negatives in the performance.

On a mild night by North Sea coast standards, slightly overdid the dressing for Arctic survival approach myself and was well beaten in the satorial elegance stakes by our manager dressed in baggy shorts and white socks. How very 1980’s. Just a relief he didn’t opt for leggings and a Ra ra skirt. Watkins, Hand and Wright all started in place of Blackett, Keane and O’Connor from the Wrexham match. Hand, in particular outstanding, ran the game, his long range passing was first class and organised things in the middle of the field. Considering he and Watkins have started few games together, the duo formed a very good partnership, owned their Grinsby counterparts for long spells. Howells shifted to left back, Dance, Watkins, Hand, Willmott in midfield, with Fleetwood and Wright the pairing upfront.

Grimsby, for a side which had a reasonsable home record and have banged plenty of goals recently ( against Barrow’s walking wounded and Alfreton the modern day version of George Graham’s Arsenal) , looked a poor side on this evidence. Surprised ( and grateful) how slow they were to close us down. Nervy from the start, lumping hopeful hacks downfield to two physical forwards in Elding and Hearn. Kovacs and Pilkington stood up to the aerial threat commendingly, aside from Coulson’s pace and direct approach down the right flank, they didn’t offer anything as an attacking threat. Special mention to their thrilling number 18 shirt Makofo comfortable winning the ” Most amusing performance of the season by an opposition player” thus far. Just a shame he got taken off ( boo you spoilsports), as he was our best player. Making Claude, on one of his not bovvered days, look like a captain of industry and on the ball either ran into our players or passed to our orange shirt. Comedy Gold – well worth the admission money. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur.

We settled quicker, starting brightly, both full backs supported the wingers and used the width of the pitch well. although faded somewhat and the game was more even as a result in the latter stages of the opening half. Against a superior team, we may have got punished for not gaining a lead when clearly the better side, but against a medicore side it didnt matter.

You could have fitted a ferry in the space where Makofo meant to be occupying, his makeshift left back Wood having to trying to bottle up an awful amount of space, so Dance was always an outlet, he ran well with the ball, awareness, first touch, beating of his man all good,but his crossing let him down.

Watkins involved in a lot of our better play, confidently knocking the ball around with ease ( bizarre why he was featured so irregularly this season, even more so after Lawless’ injury), a neat pass into Wright, giving Fleetwood a chance to have two attempts at goal, first blocked by l’Anson and the second by McKeown, the keeper. Kovacs’ firm header from a better delivery from Willmott’s corner was straight at McKeown.

We continued to have the better of the exchanges, but just unable to turn some good possession and bulid up play into more than half chances. Grimsby defended solidly as well, with Kempson a rugged centre half, have an unfortunate habit of being in the correct place making several blocks. Fleetwood sent the ball out to Dance, getting the beating of Wood before driving into Kempson. Grimsby, had barely had the ball in our half for any length of time, the best they could manage was Coulson’s jinking raid down the right, but ended with a woefully over hit cross, Hearn managing to retrieve the ball getting the better of Osano, moving inside testing Tyler with an angled drive,which he was able to parry away, thankfully not to a black and white shirt.

That was good as it got for the home side in the first half. Coulson’s pass deflected by Howells into Elding, attempt on the volley, wasn’t struck with any power to trouble Tyler. After Watkins dived in rashly, Coulson’s dive was performed with eye catching grace and poise in equal measure, he got up and merely blasted the free kick from a central position into Fleetwood in the wall.

A fantastic lofted pass by Howells, caught Fleetwood on the back, but he managed to turn his body, spinning past the defender,producing a low attempt which McKeown produced a smart reflex save. Osano’s pass to Dance down the wing, producing a better delivery, for Wright getting in front of the defender to slide the ball wide of the near post.

The half ended, with another good move, Hand into Dance, Watkins walked past Makefo before sending a fierce shot, deflected by Disley behind. Disley, for a decent player, playing in the higher division not long ago, was a fairly anonymous figure all evening.

The second half continued to be a close affair, scrappy at times, bog standard Conference fare. Wood eased Wright out of the way, from Willmott’s teasing centre. Howells distribution for left back was a noteable feature of our play, found Dance with a diagonial pass, who leaped above Wood, before being flattened by Makofo. Willmott’s free kick skimmed over.

Defensively, we rarely looked like being breached , despite Coulson’s break from the middle of the pitch, leaving Hand trailing in his wake, sending a shot straight into Tyler. Watkins failed to hit the target, after good control and awareness by Fleetwood.

Grimsby worked space on the left flank, Wood rolled the roll to Hearn into the left channel, turning Kovacs, before sending a fizzing shot, Tyler turned away at the near post. As time ticked on, it was a case of one goal would win it like Tuesday’s game. O’Connor replaced Dance who was unfortuate to be withdrawn, when he was involved far more than another quiet performance by Willmott. O’Connor played on the right, but drifted inside and gave us the option of putting the ball behind the Grimby defence, as there was a lot of space on our left between Silk and l’Anson.

Fleetwood should have done better than connect with a limp header , after Watkins found Osano putting a excellent delivery. Once Fleetwood breaks his barren spell, he will go on a scoring run ( kiss of death) , puts in a lot of unselfish work for the team, not helped by the lack for support and service nor inded his ability to run offside, in a way Mark Stein/ Stuart Douglas would be proud.

After a spell of head tennis, following Tyler’s punt upfield, the ball dropped to Hand exchanging passes with Howells, playing it forward, which looked like running out of play, until O’Connor and Fleetwood managed to get the ball, not sure whrere the Grimsby defence were at this point, a flick by Fleetwood towards the near post was converted by Wright, celebrating by running to our fans pointing to his name on the back of his shirt. In the unlikely event, he can read, it says ” Limited Journeyman”. No need to thank me, Thomas.

Grimsby, I felt, looked happy enough with a point, although they are lagging behind already in the chase for a play off berth, it was strange idea. Considering they were banging on in the local press how bad our defence are, they never really attacked us with any gusto, even when the subs Duffy and Eagles were introduced, didn’t improve their performance. Although they were merely like for like swops – which rarely helps. Tyler tipped over Eagles’ soaring free kick,huff and puff apart, they looked bereft of ideas of how to get an equaliser. Coulson’s fierce whipped free kick was diverted by Tyler, after Osano had blantantly body checked Eagles, Hand finishing off the defensive work.

Kissock replaced Willmott, although rarely got involved in the play. Although was clipped by Church for a worthy booking, the free kick was played towards Wright, his air shot perfectly timed.

Grimsby sent on yet another imposing figure, Spencer formerly with Kettering and generally every other abject side you could mention. Pilkington got his revenge in first, two feet in after Howells’ header had got height but not any distance. Awful challange, could have been a red card, but no need for Spencer to stamp on Watkins when he was on the floor.

The game was seen out in relative comfort without our usual generousity. Hopefully a deal with Hereford can be sorted out with Kovacs, if not now, in January, when Antwi’s contract is up.

With a low key fixture up next. Would prefer the players not involved recently to have a run out, no point risking any of the key players in a game, only important for the prize money available. £12,500 is not bad for an afternoon’s work, as long the money isn’t used for another short term signing.

Even more surprising, than a rare Hatters victory on the Lincolnshire coast was driving into Cleethorpes, decided to give the orgasm of joy that is the M1 on a Friday afternoon a miss and the horrible soul destoying drag past the Immingham car depot, electing for a cross country route across there, seeing some of the properties in the town and some of them looked nice enough to possibly have some of that new fangled indoor plumbing. A bright new dawn for the north to enter into the 1950’s.

Mark Tyler 7, Curtis Osano 6.75 , Janos Kovacs 7.75 , George Pilkington 7.25 , Jake Howells 7.5 , James Dance 7( Aaron O’Connor 6.5), Jamie Hand 9, Adam Watkins 8.5, Robbie Willmott 5.5( John-Paul Kissock), Tommy Wright 6.75, Stuart Fleetwood 6.75 (Danny Crow)

Subs not used – Dean Beckwith, Kevin Pilkington . Booked – Watkins, Osano, Pilkington.

Grimsby – McKeown, Silk, L’Anson, Kempson, Wood, Coulson, Church ( Spencer), Disley, Makofo ( Eagles), Elding ( Duffy), Heard. Booked – Wood, Church.

*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 fatuous comments about the media frenzy on the death of the infamous Colonel. Bit harsh being killed for owning a fast food franchise. Ronald McDonald better be watchful. Good headline in one the local London rags regarding O’Donnell’s loan switch to Hampton and Richmond ” Hatters defender can tighten up Beavers”. I laughed anyway.

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Ugly Win

I guess this what Mr Brabin would call an Ugly Win. Frustrated by the inability of Willmott and Dance to put in a decent cross Fleetwood picked up the ball on the byline and tucked it inside for the battling Tommy Wright to stick his head on and force into the net at the near post.

Didn’t it feel better to be playing 4-4-2 with a striker alongside a big man up front – or moreover, two attacking players within feet of each other? That said, they had to try to create their own opportunities, because they were being starved of decent service.

You have to acknowledge this week that Mr Brabin appears to have taken on board the fans’ constant harping on about being too defensive and the formation. This week he accepted the criticism of the performance against Wrexham, took full responsibility and asserted that we was going to take a more positive attitude.

He did this against Grimsby, by playing 4-4-2 with Adam Watkins as the playmaker, Hand as the holding player and Willmott and Dance out wide.

The match itself was played at a high tempo and not without its share of hard and occasionally cynical challenges, a fair share of them by the Town especially after we had taken the lead, which is fair enough. When in Rome…

The overall impression? We dominated the first half (bit of a theme emerging) with Grimsby only occasionally venturing into our half. We played attacking football, with Watkins pulling the midfield strings and playing the ball out wide as often as he could. I’ve spotted the problem though. Therein lies the reason for GB’s dalliances with 4-5-1. Willmott and Dance. Good, bright, attacking players with excellent positional sense and good skills. However, wingers they’re not. We had so many half chances and openings in the first half, that a couple of decent crosses would have put the game out of Grimsby’s reach after 45 minutes. We dominated without being effective. To be effective when you are playing 4-4-2 with a target man up front you need two good wingers getting the crosses to Wright’s head with Fleetwood picking up the knockdowns. When I say good wingers I mean players capable of getting into wide, attacking positions, taking on defenders, getting to the byline where necessary and being able to cross accurately.

Bearing in mind the players he has to hand, I can now see why GB prefers to play 4-3-3, and to look to play more balls through the defence to the forward players.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a dig at The Shadow and Willmott, I like them as players. Dance got into really good positions down the right, but the finished product wasn’t good enough. Dance has been excelling in recent weeks playing as part of a middle three, but as a winger you can perhaps see why Crawley didn’t want to keep him on. Am I being unfair? It is only non-league after all – if these chaps were consistently able to pick out the centre forward from the wing they would be looking to play one, two or three divisions above perhaps.

In the second half for whatever reason we didn’t dominate so much and played the ball longer. We were less creative, whilst still hinting at being able to threaten intent. I don’t think it is too much of a coincidence that our goal came once O’Connor came on. He was a nuisance without playing out and out as a winger. He nearly got in Fleetwood’s way as Hands’ direct ball over the defence came through as Grimsby’s defenders switched off. Belt and braces – if Fleetwood hadn’t been there perhaps O’Connor would have crossed it in the same way. Tommy Wright did what legions of strikers have done down the years and stuck his head in the right place at the right time to give us a welcome and deserved goal. It was pretty much our only shot on goal in the second half. But you give these strikers an inch, and they take a mile. I was delighted for TW and must apologise to the chap next to me for my reaction when the goal went in, his bottle of water went flying. I was as delighted as Tommy Wright with his goal.

A win at Grimsby – rarer than hen’s teeth. The last time we did that Mr Blair was only a year into his Gaddaffi-hugging premiership.

Strange side Luton town. They hint at greatness often enough to keep you hooked. You build up your hopes that this season is ‘going to be the one’ and then they dash them into the fire. For every 5-1 home win there is a York, an Ebbsfleet or a Wrexham. I feel like a naive wife continually putting faith and trust in her errant, unfaithful husband and taking him back (Cheryl Cole anyone?) hoping that this time he will change his ways. But knowing in my heart of hearts that my faith will only be rewarded by heartache and disappointment. What are we like? I can only hope that Brabin will now keep attacking and keep 4-4-2 – but you never can tell.

So a 1-0 win away to Grimsby is a good win, for us. If we had beaten Wrexham we would have been top, for one night at least.

Grimsby for their money had only a handful of players who looked half decent. Coulson was a threat, and tested out Tyler on a couple of occasions. Hearne embarrassed Osano and twice nearly pulled off cheeky near post shots, fortunately Tyler’s shot shopping, presence and positioning were first class tonight. I’anson and Kempston were sound enough at the back and Jake Wood was a fierce left back.

I feel a bit sorry for Grimsby, in the championship not long ago and now reduced to this. Oh hang on, that rings a bell somewhere…

Some quick scores:

Tyler: 8
Osano: 6
Pilks: 7.5
Kovacs:7.5
Howells: 7

Dance: 6
Watkins: 8
Hand: 8
Willmott: 6

Fleetwood: 7
Wright: 7.5

O’Connor: 7

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PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions (Wrexham Home)

Case of history repeating itself? Stevenage and Crawley won at Kenilworth Road in ugly games, going on to the League. These kind of games/results tend to seperate the Champions from the nearly men.

A match of poor, actually no quality , looked destined for a bore draw unless someone made an error. Unfortunately it was Pilkington’s turn to play this season’s Frank Sinclair role, getting caught under a hopeful hoick from Ashton and to make matters worse slipping, allowing Pogba the grateful receiptant, to cooly beat Tyler.

The referee was very poor,incredibly lenient throughout he never got a grip on the game, unlike most of the Wrexham team on our players. Actually, most of the match was refereed by Keates, their captain. Mayebi in goal, the jolly green giant, took time wasting and gamemanship to the extreme, by not picking up the ball until challenged and then ran to the edge of the box, often taking it outside handling in the process when launching another hoof down field.

However, that’s just excuses in another important game, we have come up short again.We cut our own throats by gifting the opponents a goal in a tight, nothing in it game which we gave Wrexham too much respect and were too cautious, admittedly when a draw wasnt the end of the world.

When it’s a proper open football match, we will win. Second half against Gateshead we looked a million dollars. Tonight when the opposition come and do a job on us. Work hard, defend deep, cover ground and dont give us time to play, we look two bob. Random hoofs upfield is hardly the stuff of tactical genius.

Apart from at Telford we dont win ugly. Winning this tiredsome chore of a League is all about graft and nicking results, in a hideous fashion, which isn’t worth watching but is successful, more’s the pity. Playing good football alone rarely wins divisions like this. You need fight and character. At least this result means we have to attack every game now, we should have done to begin with, but now we don’t have any choice we must be ultra positive, whether Brabin will be brave enough, is a completely a different matter. The next couple of months will make or break him, after Cambridge away next month, the fixture list does look easier at least.

A while ago, Brabin would have thrown on Kissock and Watkins ( who?), at 0-0, it was crying out for Kissock at least, but recently he does seem scared to change things about , taking a risk. It happens, things don’t go to plan, but at least try something different. Good managers react to win games, average ones sit/stand there and only react when losing. Just taken off Fleetwood and stuck on Wright, a lumbering carthorse, gave away too many free kicks, which the referee was only to eager to give. If only Wright’s first touch was as good as his ability to jump with a raised elbow, he would be our saviour. The fact that he has been released by two clubs this season, does tell a story. Appreciate he has only just come in,but if that’s the height of his presense, he can leave rather swiftly. He did look clumsy and a pub player, that’s being disrespectful to them as well. He will get far more yellow and red cards than goals. He makes his namesake Ben Wright look like Michael Harford.

Eight points behind and playing catch up in October, hmm seen this before. It’s not impossible to pull it back, but we are running out of ” Get Out of Jail Free” cards, quickly. Brabin selected the same shape and players which played the majority of the Gateshead game.

Wrexham matched us up. They are the type of team ideally suited to winning this league. So as is often the case, when both teams set up identically, it becomes a scrappy, bad tempered affair with little tempo or flow and chances are non existant.

Wrexham played with two holding players, Keates and Harris sitting on the toes of the back four, winning most of the second balls, playing knocking it long to Pogba, their target man.

Its what we do away without the necessary lump up top. The inability to replace Owusu looked a massive error in the Summer, it’s hardly hindsight. If Samuel or Wright, prove me wrong, I will be more than happy.Wrexham were slightly on top during the opening part of the match. Mainly just settling better,although a low drive by Dance after a neat move passing Harris, as that rare thing space opened up, he forced Mayebi into a comfortable diving stop.

Osano started well,before struggling badly in the second half, dealt with Harris’ surge forward the ball breaking to Ciesleswicz, Kovacs blocking his shot. A fantastically brave header by Pilkington, diving in the midst of flying boots clearing from Creighton’s flick on from Obeng’s long throw.

We went too long too quickly, rarely usually the width, they tended to double back when we had the ball in these areas, so why not use the space inside? It was always going to be difficult to break down Wrexham, a extremely well marshalled defence, but just to knock long balls, as well as Creighton and Knight-Percival defended, we made it easy for them. Part of the problem was having ten men Dance, neither playing in midfield or supporting Fleetwood. It was the same problem we had at York with Kissock. If only Dance had got involved with the same spirit he cuffed Keates around the back of his head, later in the game. How mature and brave.

A hopeful prod forward by Creighton down our left, Blackett was out of position, Willmott tracked back ( which he did far more than usual), Obeng away and gone, luckily his strike was like the full back he is, across goal and wide.

The cynical approach from Wrexham continued, as did the ping pong nature of the match continued. Only at Stevenage a couple of years ago, have we stood up and competed very well with a physical side. These games, you have got to stand up and be counted then play, no good moaning at the referee. Talking of our beloved Hertfordshire neighbours, Wrexham also enjoyed a regular drinks break and time out.

Rarely the ball was on the floor, Pilkington knocked the ball to O’Connor, starved of service came inside ,turning and laid the ball off to Dance, who with newly found trick he found the Oak Road roof.

Willmott and Blackett set up Fleetwood to turn and send a low skimmering drive against goal. After the ref played an advantage as Fleetwood was being touched up, Keane drove forward, but his drive was deflected by Creighton and into Maybei’s arms.

Like ourselves, Wrexham rarely produced any good football or much cause for alarm for Tyler. Tolley and Pogba combined well down the right, picking out Speight, Kovacs got a foot in, although Pogba regained possession but Pilkington turned it behind. A excellent throw by Mayebi caught us napping, Ciesleswicz ( their version of Kissock), walked past Willmott, then Keane put in a weak challange, the little Pole was clean through on the right, but fluffed his opportunity, with Pogba unable to tap in.

Blackett starting to get forward, pushed the ball through to Fleetwood out wideand drilled a cross the goal with no one to tap in. But if you play one up front, that happens.

After Pogba and Tolley, just to name but two escaped cautions the referee fell for the oldest trick in the book. Howells penalised for a poor challange on Harris. The ball blasted into him and booked.

Wrexham started to get the upper hand before the break. Pogba’s flick fell to Speight, Kovacs again blcoking the shot. A neat passing triangle opened us up down the right, Keates and Ashton setting up Tolley screwing an awful shot wayward. Summed the match up to be fair.

The second half, saw no improvemnet. Wrexham looked more confident, Pogba shifting the ball out wide to Ciesleswicz to prod a woeful attempted cross into Tyler. keane, who worked hard allnight, took a short free kcik into O’Connor, Dance looked like losing out,but recovered to get the ball away from Knight-Percival, his low shot, lacked power to trouble Mayebi.

A weak challange by Howells, allowed Ashton to found the spritely Speight but Keane blocked him off. Keates was allowed to find Pogba with his back to goal, Kovacs intially denied he space, but patiencally Pogba turned but dragged his shot wide.

They were using the ball slightly better, we just helped the ball forward, little conviction just hopeing that Fleetwood’s pace may get on the end of one of them. Pogba and Ciesleswicz woerked the ball from the flank, into Tolley in acres of room, finding Spreight, fortunately he lost his footing.

Although Willmott squared a pass for keane to hit a shot which swerved late and Mayebi spilt. Our first and only real chance came from Howells’ inswinging corner, Kovacs unmarked and fairkly central, couldn’t direct in.

Wright replaced Fleetwood, so the same shape which wasn’t working was kept with. A lovely reverse pass by Willmott, caught Obeng out and Howells strode onto the ball and drilled a shot ,saved by Maybei at the near post.

Then came the goal, a slip by Pilkington cost us dear, whith little danger seemed eident when Ashton kncoked the ball towards Pogba. The big man kept his composure rolling the ball beyond Tyler. As tempers began to frail, an argy bargy session broke out Wright, Dance, Keates and Harris all involved,with Dance and Keates the ones cautioned.

Kissock replaced O’Connor with just twelve minutes remaining. We were gone by this stage, just long balls and plenty fo scape by Wright, actually Wrexham looked the more likely to score again. Howells diverted a Harris pass into Speight, but Tyler come out to cover.

Our night was summed up, by a lovely thoughtful pass reversed into Dance, but Dance was unable to read his pass. Kovacs lost out to Pogba, clean through a fine punch away from Tyler saved another goal. Kissock cleverly weighted a pass through to the overlapping Blackett he screamed a shot across goal, but too hard although Dance reciovered the ball well, his weak cross was easy for Harris.

Looks as though Kovacs is off, given his applause of the crowd. That’s a shame, he’s done very well for us. Not much time to think about things for Grimsby. The management need to come up with an alternative way to cause teams who park the bus problems, rather than being tactically out thought by a rookie manager. The board have given them plenty of support, bringing in buses loads of journeymen players whilst the young players are ignored and even providing excuses, we drew at Ebbsfleet becuase Carden was booed. Boo hoo. Just get on with it and do your job properly, no excuses, no tedious propaganda. Please. There is potential in the team, but the management are lacking. Unless it’s sorted out sharpish another year in the awful play offs loom. I look forward to the sky high prices plus booking fees now it’s at Wembley.

Still on a happy note, Grimsby is always delighful this time of year.

Mark Tyler 6.5, Curtis Osano 5 , Janos Kovacs 7, George Pilkington 5.5 , Shane Blackett 4.5, Aaron O’Connor 5.5 ( John-Paul Kissock) , Keith Keane 6.5, Jake Howells 5 , Robbie Willmott 5.5, James Dance 4 , Stuart Fleetwood 6 ( Tommy Wright 3)

Subs not used – Jamie Hand, Adam Watkins, Kevin Pilkington . Booked – Howells, Dance.

Wrexham – Mayebi, Obeng, Creighton, Knight-Percival, Ashton, Harris, Keates, Tolley, Ciesleswicz, Pogba, Speight (Morrell). Booked – Keates

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One Mistake…

…is all it takes to lose a game against a well-drilled and cynical team who came for the draw.

What can I say? I thought for much of the first half we looked the better side, and we were camped in their half for much of it, but lacked the ability to have more than a couple of shots on target. Wrexham came to defend, played 4-5-1, closed us down and didn’t give us the room to play.

The second half we were closed down even more and until JPK came on lacked intensity and drive. The game as a specticle was also spoilt by Wrexham’s somewhat comedic and obvious time wasting tactics, most of which the referee was oblivious to. Wrexham are certainly a side who look to put in a challenge or two and I thought the ref’s unwillingness (inability?) to stamp out the time wasting and nasty tackles early on rather indulged Wrexham and allowed them to carry on with impunity.

We looked like a team who had used up all of its luck and breaks on Saturday in the 5-1 win, and to be honest I thought it had 0-0 written all over it. Wrexham largely kept us out of their box and therefore the chances were few and far between. I don’t think the players lacked effort or desire, I just think that Wrexham achieved their spoiling objective.

I don’t think we helped ourselves by slavishly playing in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 ourselves. Fleetwood looked too isolated, Willmott and O’Connor too deep because they were bogged down in midfield.

One player who stood out today and really looked committed to the cause was Keith Keane who always seems to up a gear for these big games. He shone out a mile.

As AMS is injured we could have played the same XI, but with O’Connor up front and The Shadow James Dance on the right, or, shock horror in a game likely to be dominated by a tightly packed midfield and a defensive opposition perhaps play a flair player like JPK to pick the Welsh lock? Be nice to play him from the start one day. Not sure what he has got to do to get a start.

Now here’s a novel idea – how about when we play against teams who are going to be defensive against us, we pick an attacking team, and on those rare occasions where we only need a draw, pick a more defensively minded team then? We could have done with more than 27 minutes of Mr Kissock today, he looked a threat (again) from the minute he first touched the ball.

Tommy Wright came on as sub for Aaron O’Connor or ‘Azza’ as he is known. Big Tommy Wright. I must admit I couldn’t recall him playing against us. His name wasn’t the first on my lips of target men, but there you go. I wish him well. Remember I am the son of the man who described Mick Harford as the poor man’s Trevor Aylott, so what can I possibly know about target men? Tommy Wright won his first ball, showed a bit of commitment by chucking his head where feet were, and won more things than he lost. He gives us an ‘outlet’. However, a word of caution. Having a big man up front to aim at gives us an option to play the ball long – but not a reason to. It shouldn’t mean that we play the ball long all the time – it should just mean that for restarts and balls played forward he can hold the ball up and bring players in – but more importantly like Steve Howard he should be getting on the end of crosses and corners. Howard though, never played on his own up front, and always had a nippier man alongside.

The Garys Sweet and Brabin have laboured long and hard this week about ‘winning ugly’. A phrase I’m not too keen on. Winning ugly for me means blagging a win even when we don’t play very well. ‘Ugly runs’ in cricket are scored when you stick in there, even though you are out of form and push and poke your way to a score. Like Alistair Cook’s ton against Pakistan at the Oval last year, or most of Michael Atherton’s runs. Basically succeeding not through form or fluency but by stickability and determination. Mr Brabin’s version of ‘winning ugly’ seems to be ‘playing ugly’ which is a different thing altogether in my book.

It really does annoy me – let’s try and win pretty before we attempt to win ugly. If we had started with Kissock and gone all out for an attack, but failed then having a Plan B up our sleeves (like we did away to Stevenage) is fine. But to start without an overt attacking intent and then to revert to sticking a big fella on, strikes me as confused thinking. Let’s look for the 3-0 before we try to nick a 1-0.

David Pleat had the right idea about big strikers – he always seemed to have one on board – but under Pleaty you could never say we were a long ball team. Having Steve Howard in the team didn’t mean that Mike Newell just pumped it up to him. In fact the best use of Stevo I saw in a team is when he came and played against us for Derby that time. They counter attacked beautifully without expecting Howard to lead the front line when they did so. He was the heavy artillery that arrived in the box for the second-phase if the initial one broke down.

So, just having a big bloke shouldn’t mean we change tactics, it should just add an additional dimension, and should be part of a front two – not on his own.

I’ve not got much more to say really. I feel sorry for George Pilkington, no one will be more annoyed than him about conceding the goal in the way we did. It is cruelly ironic that Brabin has been bleating about getting his key players back and when Pilks reappears it is his error that costs us a point. But that is being wholly unfair. Despite the error, over a whole season George Pilkington will have snuffed out countless opportunities that would otherwise have been a chance at a higher ratio/percentage than any other defender we’ve got.

Speaking of defenders Mr Kovacs gave a valedictory wave at the end and a cheeky badge touch. I’m hoping that the Grimsby game isn’t the last time we’ll see him this season. I don’t hear any promising noises though.

On that cheery note on this disappointing evening, what better place to look forward to going to next – on a Friday night – than Cleethorpes-Smells-of-Fish? I hope we don’t get battered. Cod forbid.

Come on you Hatters!

PS – I’d like to thank the Neanderthal who sat behind me tonight, who came with his mate on a free ticket. It’s a shame you don’t come to games any more, because I genuinely think that the players miss you yelling “useless wanker” at each of them constantly for 90 minutes each time they touch the ball. The only blessing is that tonight’s non-vintage performance won’t be encouraging you to part with any cash to come again very soon. Please, please stay away and don’t come back. Or better still go and support either of the clubs up or down the M1.

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