Today was the same old story – ball in air: poor. Ball on floor devastatingly good in places. This was ye olde game of two halves. A little bit listless and lazy in the first half whilst in the second half they showed more pace, dynamism and intent.
Lots of changes since the last report. Interesting to see public enemy no 1, famous for being less good at right back than Alex Lawless, Ronnie Henry. He didn’t mess up his defending was tidy, whilst his attacking play was…was….erm.
Also in came Simon Ainge, a big tough rock of a centre half, he slotted into the team well. Actually it was like he’d been here all along and the other ten were the new ones. Looked like a good partnership alongside Essam, though of course if Essam goes back next week it will be a marriage as short lived as one of Britney’s.
Taylor and Watkins have departed, presumably for fitness reasons, though Taylor’s big bust up with Buckle won’t have helped. With Taylor gone the chance of the stolen moment 3-5-2/3-4-3 reappearing seems as likely as Ronnie Henry being signed by Chelsea.
Tyler in goal, as ever largely untested. Got a loud cheer when he rolled the ball out rather than punting it towards Rendell. Got a groan when he clung onto it rather than punting it out when the break was on. Punting it up front should be frowned upon as it is the best way devised to give possession back to the opposition, unless you have a Steve Howard of course. Aiming for Scott Rendell who’s heading is not the best part of his game seems illogical captain. Ironically of course Rendell won more headers than I’ve seen all season, but I think that says more about the opposition than a leap forward in his ability. Mercurial performance from Tyler today he seems to have developed a penchant for punching over catching.
Left back today was young Jake Howells, what with Taylor being persona non grata and all that. We saw the best and the worst of him today, his link up play, passing and movement were at his very best, but it was his clumpy mistake like a lad in an orthapaedic brogue which ceded possession to Parry for the Southport goal.
At right back was Ronnie Henry. I spent a lot of time focussing on him. He barely made a forward pass, and of the forward passes he did only about one in four found a fellow Hatter. Hardly a surprise then that his passes are either square or back. He had a tidy enough game, passing aside, and kept the right hand side safe and sound.
I’ve mentioned Essam and Ainge. Both were exactly what Mr Buckle was after heading the ball away with impunity and keeping it nice and tight at the back. The goal aside they looked good. Not sure how Messrs Beckwith and Kovacs feel right now. After the Grimsby game where I felt Beckwith had a worse performance than Kovacs I thought if they can’t cope at this level then they’ve got no hope have they? Mind you, as Barnes-Homer and O’Connor have illustrated, underperforming for Luton is not necessarily a guarantee of inability. Essam is good but young, does the basics well, but gives you the impression that it might only be a matter of time before he makes a catastrophic error. A bit like Shane Blackett. Mostly tidy, but prone to howlers.
In the middle we sort of had a three Kasim, finally given a start and who looked much more at home than at the start of the season. He doesn’t quite have the bite of some defensive midfielders, but, at this level has a degree of nouse and positioning that makes him stand out. In the second half he found space and time and seemed a class above.
O’Donnell worked bloody hard and had a fantastic game. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, his tendency to be knocked off the ball is inversely proportionate to his tenacity. He was at the top of his game today. Played on the left side of the three in midfield and on the left on occasion and linked up well with Jake. Though too often when a ball down the line to a winger would have been good there was no winger! When he drifted to the middle he had the beating of his opposite number (was it Parry? Not sure but O’Donnell owned him ) . JJ played a part in the second goal, it was his cross after Fleetwood’s glorious flick that allowed Rendell in to slot home. He was involved in almost everything that was good in the second half. I’m delighted for him. Whilst I think on occasions we need a player with a bit more teeth in midfield, there are games where, if allowed, he can make a huge difference. And today was one of those days. Well done JJ.
Lawless had a good game but quiet game, though he was oft shoved to the ground by their player Ledsham. His quick free kick in the first half freed Jake, but his shot was wide. He also had half of the on-target shots in the first half a neat clip going straight to MacMillan in the Southport goal. He had more opportunity and found more space in the second half as did Kasim.
In front of the defensive midfielders was Scott Rendell, playing just behind Fleetwood and Gray. Two goals and had a great game. Lovely finish for his first and a cheeky penalty for the third. Pleased to see him settled in and hitting his straps. That’s five goals now not bad for someone who has not played as an out an out striker all year. My man of the match today. Note to manager: ball to feet not to head. Feet good, head not-so-good. Link up play on floor to Rendell excellent, knock downs and headers won not-so-good. Please take note, rocket science it ain’t. Rendell could have had a third when Kasim and Gray linked up well to enable O’Donnell to play him in, but he shot at the goalie.
Up front Fleetwood and Gray, though Gray regularly slipped to the right and Rendell pushed up to make the formation look more like a traditional 4-4-2. The first goal came when Gray latched on to a long ball forward from O’Donnell got to the byline and laid it in the path of Fleetwood who curled home an exquisite finish with the confidence of a man who has eight goals already and who is back playing in the middle rather than stuck out on the wing. Fleets looked lively and hungry again and when he is playing well has the swagger of a junior Viv Richards which I love. He had a good chance in the second half after a poor clearance, but it went straight to the keeper. Gray was perhaps slightly less effective, but his pace is a constant threat and his passing can be superb.
I think I enjoyed the first half more than most. Whilst we were increasingly slow and listless and sleepwalked into the equaliser I think on another day a few of the half chances and dinky little moves we tried but which didn’t quite come off might have resulted in goals.
We actually tried some really good football and Southport let us. Even with Poku. On another day it would have been a whooping. It was like the first half we were shaking off the last vestiges of the sleepiness since the Cambridge game, Tamworth win notwithstanding. By the second half we had rediscovered some belief and confidence and a little pace to our game. It would be lovely to think that that was a bit of a turning point. We did play better and we did look good.
That’s the funny thing. Man for man, again we were miles better. Technically, if they wanted to, if they applied themselves the Luton players were a league ahead of Southport. We are a bit like golfers. Away from a tournament, if you took a golf professional to a tee and said “go on then, drive this within ten feet of the green and nine times out of ten, pressure off, they will do it. But put them in the pressure of a tournament and boy watch that ball fly around. We’re the same, against some of these teams the technical gulf is immense. You just watch O’Donnell or Howells tackle back and win the ball up against two players. If the likes of Gray or Howells or O’Donnell take on a man and want to dribble into the box, if they put their mind to it they can do it seemingly unfettered by the opposition. So what stops us? The Physicality of opponents. People closing us down and not letting us play and a lack of confidence and self belief. Once the confidence is there, the ballsyness and belief we should take these teams apart. We should be doing that but have been allowed ourselves to be bullied by bigger teams and caught on the break by cannier ones.
Missing today was talisman Jon Shaw did we miss him? No. Good player to bring on though. Good player to have if you have two wide players to cross the ball in. But the byline is an elusive thing. How many times have we got to the byline this year? I’d wager that almost every time we have we have got a goal. Amazing isn’t it. Back to my point in the previous para if we can muscle or dribble our way to the byline to get the ball pulled back it is goal after goal.
So what of Godfrey Poku? Whilst I was a big fan and was disappointed to see him go he was inconspicuous by his presence this afternoon. He didn’t even get booked. I presume he has the same moronic agent as Robbie Willmott and George Pilkington. Don’t worry lads, I can get you a move away to much smaller clubs but for a few more bob. How many of them are starting for their new teams now? Willmott is as popular as a sausage in a synagogue at Cambridge. Pilks has played three games. And Poku was shipped out back to Southport from Mansfield quicker than you can say “he’s on fire.
I’m hoping that today is the start of something good. If only we can keep the ball on the floor and not punt it up the middle.
Next game is next Saturday away to the Imps followed by Tuesday night against the thugs from Braintree. Should be a good opportunity to put pressure on FGR at the top. All other things being equal it should be six points surely? Belief, confidence and a settled back four that’s what we need.
Come on you Hatters.