An entertaining win our fifth five-goal haul at home this season this time against a beleaguered Kettering team. What a peculiar season it is proving to be. The results lurch from a collection of thrashings to the disappointing draws and embarrassing losses.
It was a good performance – I’m not one to complain realistically it could have been three more. This week it was O’Connor’s turn to miss the penalty, and but for some excellent keeping and some comedy shooting eight would not have been unrealistic. We dominated enough for 8-0 not to have felt uncomfortably flattering. But there you go: 5-0 is 5-0 is 5-0.
There were glimpses of real progress today, though Kettering at home on Boxing Day was a generous gift from the football fixtures Father Christmas. Hopefully the return game next Saturday will be a New Year’s gift too.
I felt sorry for poor Kettering. A proper non-league club with a long history and a reasonable fan base. Boy, they’ve been messed around by the idiot incumbent there now. Just goes to show how one man’s personal folly can shake a hundred year’s history to the ground a relatively short period of time (ring any bells?). They’ve lost their ground. They now play at their local rivals former ground. Shelling players left right and centre. Left with a core squad of 10 signed up players and some youngsters and today bore the ignominy of turning up at our ground in their own cars and were unable to field the full complement of subs. In those circumstances it would have taken a miracle for them to win today against a Luton side whose confidence is now in the ascendancy following the Tamworth game, after a poor November and early December.
Kettering played with one up front supported by two wide men. Even if things had been going well for them it would have been a struggle to link much up, such was the distance between their attacking players. As it was, when they did occasionally press forward we always had a spare man at the back as the lone striker was picked up by Pilks or Kovacs (a Hungarian girl at work last week told me that it is the equivalent of Smith’ in Hungarian and is pronounced Kovatch) and the wide men were readily in the pockets of Gleeson and Taylor. However, such was the midfield dominance by Luton, what it meant in practice is that both our full backs could wander up the field, largely unhindered. Taylor himself was in the box three times and had a couple of chances, one of which brought out an excellent save just before half time from the keeper.
I think that whilst you could count the number of attacks they had on one hand, such was our dominance that you could count the number of shots they had on one finger. Whilst the result wasn’t in doubt, the performance warranted further scrutiny. I wanted to see genuine improvement, because coasting to an easy win against a weak team down on its uppers would enable us to paper over the cracks that had appeared during the Autumn.
The most worrying aspects of our play this year have been an inability to a) go on and score plenty of goals having taken the lead against poorer teams and b) an unwillingness to go onto the front foot and attack as a means of killing a game off and of course c) losing to the stronger teams at home.
Today gave us the opportunity to go attack on the front foot once we had taken the lead, in the way that we tried to do against Tamworth.
What struck me was how many chances we are still spurning per goal scored. I swear other teams in our division would have scored twice as many with the same set of chances. Whilst we can be wasteful against the Ketterings of the world, the next big test is away at Southport (last year’s nadir), where we won’t get many chances, and so we must take the ones we do get.
O’Connor was the only change today from the Tamworth win. The Shadow, James Dance, was injured.
O’Connor sizzled again and was a permanent threat, his work rate is high and swapped sides with Howells in the first half and never swapped back.
The front three did play reasonably narrow which is good it so easy when playing playing 4-5-1/4-3-3 to isolate the central striker. It was good to see, more often than not, the third player to drift into the box to join Big Hips Danny Crow when an attack was on. It is still something that needs to be worked on though.
The wider players Howells, initially, followed by Willmott didn’t press on quite as much as I would like and I watched this very closely. Even though we were way on top and perpetually attacking, we weren’t quite full on. By that I mean a genuine 4-3-3 is the three front men all pushing forward in a virtual line as one, rather than the central man being the furthest forward. Generally today Crow was still the furthest forward, though the fact that we were always in possession and moving forwards masked this to a certain extent. Again, subsequently playing against a stronger team will highlight this more.
Back to the point I made earlier if you, like me, wish to see the Hatters playing a fast-paced high tempo game, it is important to play up the field to put opposing defenders and midfielders under pressure deep in their half to ensure they make errors and cannot easily distribute the ball to their own players, making the long ball hopeful ball forward the only option. As I said, we started to do that against Tamworth, and there were glimpses again today. Crow, Howells(Willmott) and O’Connor worked so very hard up front and we had so much possession it wasn’t really as important because we invariably had the ball!
Our midfielders worked hard today and were dynamos. Lawless again played the deepest of the three and mopped up loose balls really well and started moves off. He deserved his goal and showed that he still has the knack of hitting the target from the edge of the box. Watkins is a pocket rocket. I’d love to see the distance he ran today; clichéd it might be, but he did cover every inch of the turf today well every inch in their half.
Keano seemed to revel in the non-holding role and it was actually good to have a steely tackler so far up the pitch to win the ball back when Kettering did manage to get it. Christ, he even went on a couple of runs into the opposing box, for goodness sake. Who does he think he is? Bryan Robson? In the second half we were treated to a couple of left footed crosses from Keano, both of which were deep and curly enough but alas were so deep that their Keeper Walker plucked them out of the air with ease. I suspect only the boldest and bravest of centre forwards would or could have got near them or onto the end of them. What is Steve Howard doing these days anyone?
Speaking of Walker. Poor sod. I felt for him as he took his place at the Kenny End for the second half. He received a louder than normal ovation from the Kenny End (a strange practise, always observed though) which I think was largely ironic after some comedy kicking in the first half (Bury Lane residents please can we have our bal back?) but also I think out of complete sympathy for the plight he found himself in. He made some good saves, but couldn’t do too much about the ones he let in. As you can imagine, he seemed to get more and more demonstrably morose as each goal went in. But rarely has a keeper’s body language unwittingly invited and encouraged greater sympathy in a Kenny End crowd.
With the game in the bag and over and done with by half time (I know we are never safe until we have four, but really, today that was never going to be the case) we could enjoy the dominance without fear or worry about the outcome.
The build up to the fourth goal was pure Keystone cops. Kettering contrived new ways to keep giving us the ball, and we contrived new ways not to score. Eventually, thankfully Fleetwood, who had just come on for Danny Crow stuck the ball in the roof of the net . Thankfully, though the lino spent most of the afternoon flagging for offside like a semaphore man with Tourettes, fortunately he didn’t even twitch when Fleetwood intercepted Watkins’ through ball.
Of course the scoring-fun had started after 20 mins in the first half. Shortly after dear Sol Davis headed off the line Jake Howells was hacked down just outside the box, the hack being enough to warrant Howells being replaced about a quarter of an hour later. However Jake was well enough to thrash in the free kick. Surely only our first (or perhaps second?) directly scored free kick since Gallen cannoned in some for us, whilst he was here. It makes a chance from blasting them at the wall or lifting them into Oak Road.
O’Connor got our second about five minutes after Howells with a nice straightforward header from a Keith Keane cross. I’m chuffed for him, because his work rate definitely deserved a goal, especially as he was sawn off by the lino for being offside later on, and of course the penalty.
Ah the penalty miss. How many is that now this year? 5 or 6? It’s like a comedy thing. How many other clubs can afford to miss so many? Today Aaron decided to rattle the cross bar. It’s probably still shuddering. I didn’t even get up to watch it, such was my confidence that somehow we’d manage to mess it up. GB maintains that we practise them like mad all the time but that when the pressure is on they ***k it up. I think it says how vulnerable mentally our penalty takers are how fragile their confidence is. It shows how much they feel the pressure and expectation, even when the pressure is off. This does not bode well for the play offs. I’d love for a trained psychologist and a proper coach to sit down with five of them and talk them through the process of what is needed and what they should do, it would probably only take a dozen sessions over a few weeks. It can be done there is no reason why the mental block cannot be lifted. They need to learn to take penalties when the pressure is on without thinking twice. It should be as easy as shelling peas or as mechanic as holding a catch.
A cracking volley 6 yards out from Willmott finished off the scoring , this time from a Watkins cross though if the game had gone on for longer it would have been many more. Rarely have I seen a greater contrast on the pitch between the weary Kettering lads and the fresh’n’tricky Kissock and Fleetwood when they came on. Kissock did his fifteen minute come and kick me if you can’ cameo. He looks so very dangerous and terrorises defences when he comes on. We did get two goals almost instantly after they came on but it is interesting that Watkins got both assists.
So, a good win against a weak team be good to continue the rout on Saturday with the same team. Each win breeds confidence. Then we play Newport at home and then Stockport on the 10th January. Again, as before we should really get 9 out of the next 9 available points which keeps the pressure on those around us.
Another development this week is that the board and GB have hinted that “the money is there if they need to bring in another player. Not sure who on earth he is thinking to bring in. A striker? Well at present we have four front men and Brunty (excluding MBH) and we play in a formation that only needs one genuine striker. If he brought in a Tubbs or a Shaw, surely some would have to leave to make room.
A central defender? Well we have Pilks, Blackett, Antwi, Beckwith, Lacey and assorted others who can play there.
Full backs? We’ve got tons of em.
Defensive midfielders? Well if Hand comes back on a permanent basis we’ll have him Poku (presently at Southport) and Keano.
Central midfielders? Too many to mention
Wingers? Tons of them, some of whom have only played for about 10 mins.
We’ve also got to remember, and this was pointed out to me today that we have been in the process of buying the in form striker at this time of the season and turning them into toothless tigers. Remember Jason Walker? 46 goals for Barrow five for us now 15 in 21 for York. It’s no good bringing a prolific striker in to a) not play him enough and b) to turn him into a blunt instrument.
Some have spoken about Jon Shaw, now that Gateshead have gone off the boil. I actually remember Shaw scoring against us last game of the season about seven years ago when we had Enoch and Nielson playing for us.
I think we should only buy players who would still be playing for us if we were top of League one. No good buying any more non league journeymen. If you must get someone in get a loan from a Premiership or Championship club or a youngster go we can develop and get the benefit of for a couple of seasons before selling him much further up the league. Otherwise save your money Garys.
So that’s it the final post (I hope) for 2011. Many thanks for taking the time to read, and to those of you who post on here which makes it all worthwhile. A big hello to those Hatter ex-pats who read the blog too from far-flung parts of the globe.
Let’s say ta ta to a largely disappointing, but not un-entertaining 2011. Here’s to a wonderfully successful 2012, a couple of successful trips to Wembley and a big smile in LU4.