So much has happened so far in the 35 days since the Wembley defeat that it is hard to keep up with everything. I’m going to try to summarise what has gone on, my thoughts on it and where we might be. There’s such a positive buzz around the place at the moment with the recent recruitments that PB must be doing something right.
Believing in a manager’s plans before he has completely shown his hand is a leap of faith. If you believe in the manager then you have to trust him. Paul Buckle, more than any of our recent managers has suggested, in the short time he has been with us, that he has a style of play, a work ethic and a methodology which demonstrates that he is clear in his own mind as to the players he needs.
Some of the woeful performances under Brabin last year made us yearn for the bonfire of the contracts and whether wittingly or unwittingly – that is what we have seen. There has been a real clear out.
Let’s go through them in order.
First of all back at the end of April, Ed Asafu Adjaye, Christian Tavernier and Charlie Henry were let go. I guess the writing had been on the wall for Ed for a while injuries and lack of opportunities meant that he hadn’t progressed from the next big thing’ when he made his debut – to his sterling performance in the heart of the defence during the JPT and other than a good burst at the end of the season before, hadn’t moved on. He had a stinker at the start of the season just gone and so it was time to move on to kick start his carreer.
I was told that PB thought that Henry’s attitude and work ethic stank and so the writing was on the wall for him literally from day one. Chris Tavernier I thought was unlucky perhaps but, as I’ve been saying all along, if, as a youngster, you can’t break into the side whilst we are in non-league, what chance have you got when/if we get promoted?
The next news, slightly out of the blue was a three year contract for JJ O’Donnell. This was an intriguing one for me. Everyone who sees JJ play is impressed. Clearly the powers-that be can see huge potential, but thus far apart from a sprinkling of games, he’s been farmed out on loan. As a fringe player thought he was a cert to go what do I know!?! I’m not sure what his favourite position is I think he started as a winger but has slotted in at left back. It would be good to see him integrated into the first team who knows if Jake clears off he might be cover for Taylor.
As a formality Andre Gray’s deal became permanent: good news indeed.
Then the first shock for me at least – Osano left to go to AFC Wimbledon. Last year we saw two Osanos the calamity clutz who lazed his way through the first ¾ of the season barely putting a foot right, and the quality, sound-as-a-pound right back who was almost the first name on the team sheet towards the end, under Buckle. Either Buckle put a rocket up his arse or Curtis knew the scouts were watching. In any event, clearly the scouts were watching, and off he went lured by lucre and the league. Thanks for nothing Curtis. With Ed gone, that left us with Gleeson and Keano who could play at right back…
And before long it was just Keano left, when Dan Gleeson was let go. Dan was one of Brabin’s boys from Cambridge. Nice lad by all accounts, but I wasn’t his biggest fan. His defensive abilities were the antithesis of Buckle’s tactics. Dan was happy to welcome the oncoming attacker, rarely closing him down and virtually ushering him to the byline like a steward showing a Sunderland fan to your seat. Ironic indeed because on the rare occasion he unleashed a tackle he was a very fine tackler indeed. I wish him well in finding another club quickly.
Then, no surprise at all Danny Crow was off. Crow another one who thrived for one season under Brabin at Cambridge. His frame and size didn’t help, though he wasn’t fat and overweight, he just had big hips. He also had a disappointing scoring record not helped by being in and out of the side and Brabin’s policy of buying anyone who moved and not having a settled team. Actually the more you think about Brabin, his recruitment, his tactics and his general management it makes you want to cry. What a wasted year. The more you examine what has gone on before or since the more it makes you think what a clueless idiot he was. What were 2020 thinking of? Crow had good days and bad, some games chased around like a mad thing, others he slipped into anonymity. At no point did we think – here is the 30 goal man we need, unfortunately.
Last in that holy triumvirate of departures was Shane Blackett. Now I was disappointed to see Shane go I don’t think he let us down, when he was fit that is. More or less first choice under Mick, he drifted to the fringes under Money and Brabin but again, he seemed to spend most of his Luton career on the physio’s couch. A Luton lad, well connected locally and a good source of info I wish him the very best. If PB doesn’t want hangers-on but people with definite roles within the team then there’s no room for players who are nice to have but who are not your first choice defenders or perhaps ever likely to be. No point in keeping someone for a place on the bench.
Crash the next news was a shock but not unpredictable. Off goes Keith Keane to pastures new to Preston. Lured by the promise of total football under Graeme Westley. Not.
Keane has gone to the other end of the scale: under Westley, Keano will learn to do all of those things that Mike Newell would have sacked him for. I don’t blame him. Preston are a decent club it was not so long ago that they were banging on the door of the Premiership (sound familiar?) under Billy Davies, but have slipped back recently to League One. Given the opportunity to play two divisions above and probably more wonga who would pass that up? It is not as if he owes us anything 10 years of dedicated service. I think the move will benefit him. I don’t think it would be too unfair to say that he is exactly the same player as he was when he was playing for us in the Championship. There’s been no obvious improvement in his game. When he was running around last year be honest you weren’t thinking that there’s a player who is two divisions better than the rest of them. He’s stayed much the same giving his all, getting stuck in, breaking up play and then putting the ball into touch rather than finding his man. I’m going to miss him and PB will too, he was great at this level. I shall miss his waddling running and his crunching tackles. He didn’t get many goals, but when he did they were dramatic and spectacular. Who can forget the corner against Oxford to give us the win? Fantastic. The grounds maintenance people won’t miss him the guttering can sleep safely now. My prediction: Keano will be back one day. Ironically, under any other manager in the leagues above I’d say that the change in method and approach might do Keano some good – but under Westley he might become the time-wasting game-managing attack dog from hell.
Alex Lacey was the next to commit to the club with a two year deal. I think PB has high hopes for Alex he has been knocking on the door of the team for a while. He’s even closer to getting in now.
Then a calamity of errors, the sort of communication clubs dread. Out on the website Willmott and Poku are off having failed to agree deals on twitter Willmott says something like “first I’ve heard or “didn’t want to leave. Both players had appointed an agent to act for them in negotiations with the club. Stikes me that the agents were speaking to the club, but perhaps not to the players. Willmott was offered less than he was on, which mean that he was entitled to look elsewhere without the club needing a fee. The agent clearly thinks he can get a better deal and so turned the deal down the club claps its hands and goes hurrah having called his bluff one more off the books. No more negotiation, bang, get it out on the website leaving Willmott high and dry. This is one I’m not terribly disappointed about. Whilst he showed glimpses of quality in spurts last year he wasn’t consistent enough players like Willmott are ten a penny and apart from one or two notable occasions didn’t stand up and dominate games when things were going bad: he was part of the problem, not part of the solution. Again he was a nice to have’ player rather than a must have’ player.
Poku was disappointing. Having given his all for Southport I was looking forward to him getting more opportunities this year. He looked sparky and on fire when he did play for us and his combination of energy, athletism and bloody minded tackles were a promising light in all of the Brabin gloom. Badly handled by the club under Brabin he didn’t quite know where he stood, and given the guarantee of first team football at Mansfield was off when they offered more than Luton did.
So by the 15th June of the players who had finished the season we had lost Crow, Gleeson, Poku, Keano and Willmott. Certainly the squad was thinning out. But no news of anyone coming in and for some, alarm bells were ringing.
The tide turned the following day in comes Ronnie Henry from the Stevenage chavs, dropping down from League One having lost in the play offs for the Championship. Big blow for Hertfordshire, big bonus for Beds. It wasn’t as if he was on the fringes at Stevenage he played 40 times last year and would have been playing in the division above had they got promoted. People used the phrase step down’ from league one to tier 5 however we all know that it is really a step up from a poorly supported club that has just experienced the best season it will ever have, to a much bigger club, with a history, a fanbase and a plan. Welcome Ronnie.
Though he signed on the same day, but it was announced the following day the next was another surprise the hard tackling midfielder Danny Spiller. Used to playing his career at a higher level, Spiller was another who bought into PB’s plans for getting the club out of the division via top spot. I’ll admit I don’t know anything about Spiller but with Keano and Poku going, there was a requirement for some teeth in midfield. I suspect there is still some room for some more too. Again, Danny S I wish you well, welcome aboard.
Crash then silent George leaves. A few months ago the club had two Pilkingtons and now we have none. Signing for Mansfield perhaps Pilks saw the writing on the wall with Kovacs the more natural choice for captain and also Ronnie Henry arriving. Perhaps he didn’t fancy the work ethic that Buckle has brought to the club who knows? If he doesn’t fancy playing for Luton then he’s welcome to leave. Bit disappointing that he wants to downgrade to Mansfield but perhaps that suits him. It leaves a big hole in defence which PB promptly advised us will be filled by the mystery central defender who – Outlaws predictions aside we still don’t know. Presumably we have to wait for the 30th June to come and go.
Crash then, the biggest shock for me: Amari Morgan-Smith is let go. Though very injury prone his record of 14 in 30 starts speaks for itself. I suspect he will walk into any other non-league club and probably most League Two clubs. This is where my faith in PB was at its weakest letting AMS go struck me as a gross error of judgement. Hey, if he scores 30 goals and stays fit next year it might be. O yea of little faith little did I know what was to come.
Then just last week Scott Rendell was announced as joining the Hatters . Now I know a little of Rendell, but only because when we were sniffing around him a few years ago I followed his career to see what we were missing. And we were missing goals. Rendell scores them in abundance, it sloped off a little last year on loan at Oxford but used to banging them in at a higher level, playing in tier five should be an enjoyable experience. I seem to recall he isn’t terribly quick, but closes down hard from the front exactly what PB likes.
And then the #1 target the next day, the coup de grace Jon Shaw. Luton have been after him for ages so he certainly knew he would get a warm welcome at the home of the Hatters. He has scored 46 goals in the last two years. He knows where the goal is in an old fashioned centre-forward sort of way. My only concern is that Gateshead played a 442 with a couple of wide midfielders crossing the ball in Buckle favours 433 with three fairly narrow but interchangeable front men. He’s not going to get as many crosses as last year. I can only imagine that PB will play him up front with the likes of Gray and Fleetwood either side perhaps – but who knows? We know that his isn’t the final signing of the summer. I just hope that Shaw gets the service he needs. Saying that, last year, how many dozens upon dozens of crosses and through balls were wasted waiting only for a half decent striker to bang them in. Well now we have Gray, and Shaw and Rendell and Fleetwood. Surely that’s a winning combination? Can’t wait to see Shaw in Luton colours.
And what is to come. No room here to speculate but I welcome all suggestions.
Is Jakey Howells going to leave for better’ things? Is Aaron O’Connor on his way? Dan Walker? Lewis Kidd all of their futures must potentially be in doubt. What about Boucard, Beckwith and JPK? One thing I do know is that Alex Lawless is staying for another year. I’m surprised about that because I felt a bit that like Willmott, he would go into invisible mode when the chips were down. He did on occasions show his undoubted passing ability but does he have enough teeth for Buckle? Ditto JPK does PB see him as a luxury player or a game changer?
So we are promised more players in and I suspect some more departures. At the end of that shakedown it will be fascinating to see what is left and what the first team will look like.
The theme this summer has been quality over quantity. A smaller squad means the wages can be targeted on better players this has to be a good thing. If the cover can come from our promising youth players then all the better. It served us well enough under Newell players like Keane and Foley got more exposure than they otherwise would have done because we had to call on the youngsters because the cupboard was bare. Well the cupboard isn’t bare now, but why have a youth squad if they are not going to be integrated into the first team like we did in the olden days when we were better. Why shouldn’t Lacey be cover for Kovacs? Why shouldn’t Woolley be cover for Rendell? If they are not up to it, it will soon become apparent but unless we play them and try them we will never know. Adam Watkins anyone?
We are roughly midway through the close season. I think the players are back from their break in the first week of July PB will want to have most of his squad assembled and ready for then, but it doesn’t quite always work out like that. What that suggests however is that next week is going to be interesting, though perhaps not quite as interesting as the past week. PB is certainly recruiting attention-grabbing players. Three of the four new ones thus far come from above, rather than Brabin’s policy of largely recruiting from below. This is because whilst Brabin seemed only to know non-league I would suggest Lil and Buckle’s knowledge base is wider and contact list is a little longer. Like I said earlier the more I think about Brabin’s time in charge and what he was allowed to do the more I wince. What do they know of league football those that only non-league know? There’s nothing wrong with recruiting the best of tier five (especially as half of it appears in the main to be stronger than league two) but not the journeymen that Brabin was so keen on. Praise the Lord we’ve moved on from there.
So far so good some big players leaving and some shocks but PB’s recruitment policy suggests at this stage that he is no mug. Long may he continue to recruit the Shaws and Henrys of the world.
Come on you Hatters…