…and that dream came true. Into the last 16 we go and our FA Cup odyssey in this most peculiar of seasons continues. For those of you who think that football started in 1992 we are the first team in the fifth tier to beat a premiership team, and in any case the first 5th tier v 1st tier win since 1989.
What I can’t get my head around though, is the gulf in quality I thought there would be, over what was in fact two seemingly reasonably evenly matched teams. Though some of our touches were heavier and our passes slightly less accurate there was no doubting the togetherness and teamwork that epitomised today’s display in the way it did against Wolves. I was anticipating a potential whoomping, such was the esteem that I had afforded the Premiership team how wrong I was.
Good time to play Norwich of course, like Wolves they had been on a bad trot and they were not playing with the swagger, belief and confidence of high-flyers. No there was only one team out there that had a unity of purpose and a one-ness with their supporters. We fed off them and they fed off us. Every clearance, throw, pass, block and interception was cheered. When Paul Buckle and Gary Sweet talk to potential players about joining Luton they must mention the crowd, the 42k at Wembley, the history and the passion and that on the good days, it is very, very good. Well fellas today was that special day, just like the ones they sold to you.
Interestingly where Norwich were superior was their pace in counter attack and their ability to place direct balls on the floor through the channel. But we coped with that well, other than a couple of times when Taylor was substantially outpaced down the left, but our defensive organisation readily dealt with the outcome. Mark Tyler was called on to do a couple of fantastic saves. But I think the fast counter attack was half their problem really. These top teams now are so used to playing each other in a non-tackling and sitting deep kind of way (to such an extent that I bet my mate £25 for every time we were caught offside today eg that we wouldn’t ever be) that they don’t seem to have a plan B. Whereas today the boot for Luton was very much on the other foot. Used to trying to break down teams intent on defending (not that that was our pure intention today) today the pressure was off completely because we knew that we would be in for a battle and that we could happily try to play on the break feeding Gray a la Wolves. Actually, whilst we had to dig deep and defend solidly, we were in control or rather not under pressure for good chunks of the game, pressing in our half, and so didn’t have to rely on just breaking against the run of play. Such was the solidness and vigour of our play, Mr Buckle made three attacking substitutions and fair play and hats off to him, it was those changes which won us the game. First of all, he took Mendy off, and Mendy was having a good game in the heart of the midfield, and brought JJ on the left. JJ has twice the pace of Jake who started on the left and who swapped into the middle, but Jake has more attacking vision that Mendy, so it increased our attacking outlook. Then, after 75 minutes, when other managers would have looked to clog up the midfield and hang on for a draw, he swapped Shaw for Rendell and Gray for Fleetwood. Both in the same positions like for like eg one playing slightly behind the other, Rendell to nod the ball on and to get on the end of crosses and Fleetwood to spearhead the attack with his pace. From Norwich’s point of view it was out of the frying pan and into the fire. They had brought Holt on for the second half we brought Rendell on for 15 minutes. One was more effective than the other. I have no idea what they both earn but I’d suspect Mr Holt might earn 20 times more than our Scott. I’m thinking we got infinitely value from our investment today…
Rarely can three substitutions have had a greater influence on the outcome of a high profile game. Fleetwood picked up a headed clearance from Kovacs in midfield, ran into space, then played a wonderful ball through to the screaming and accelerating JJ O’Donnell sprinting into the inside left channel. He raced to the byline just inside where the penalty box meets the goal line. He dragged it back perfectly for Scott Rendell who beat his man and poked it in. Byline gets another goal (please sir, can we have some more?). Queue mayhem, Brko style. I think you needed to be there to appreciate it. But the noise/reaction and reaction certainly goes down in the books in recent memory alongside Brko’s Hull winner, Brko’s equaliser against the scum and Keano’s winner against Oxford. Superb. Utterly superb. That was big.
Now that goal came after 80 minutes, which meant 10 minutes (or 13 with extra time) hanging on. Only it wasn’t really hanging on. Other than the freekick given away on the edge of the box (er, and the handball that wasn’t), nerves aside, I didn’t really think that fate would snatch the win away once we were in front. No it was our day and we were going to have the headlines and head into the record books. The glory was ours and ours to keep.
So, all the papers tomorrow will talk about giant killing or biggest FA cup shock in a quarter of a century. But it’s not really a giant killing is it? A giant killing would be Liverpool losing to Tamworth or Hyde. Because Norwich are not giants just a good, well run, decent club (with sporting fans) enjoying some seasons in the sun in the top flight, whilst we are a football league team residing in non-league waiting to come back and resume our journey back up the leagues. It’s a premiership team vs a non-league team in billing, but let’s remember we were competing on equal terms in 2006 and one day will do so again. It’s stupid isn’t it? Here’s a club that labours in the mud against Woking, gets out muscled by Braintree and implode against Dartford, but who keep clean sheets against teams who are scores of places above us. I’ve got it. I’ve sussed it: In actual footballing terms, if ever a club was to the Manor Born it is us isn’t it? We are the Audrey fforbes-Hamiltons of the football world. Forced to live in the gatehouse whilst the noveau-riche Richard DeVere wallows in cash in the manor house. We are the aristocrats forced to sell the country mansion and made to move into a council flat. We are the public schoolboys reduced to attending an inner city comprehensive. It’s not nice on the shitty side of the street, but boy we’re at home in posh company. We might wander around the playground with gob on the back of our blazers, but our table manners are second to none. Bizarre analogies aside – that’s it isn’t it? We’re much more at home at the top table it’s the hard yards against Shitkickers FC which we struggle with. We’re at home swimming with the dolphins, instead we find ourselves having to avoid the flotsam and jetsam whilst hiding from the sharks.
Today the footballing Gods who have shunned us so regularly in the past – and indeed who regularly send us nasty-smelling packages in the post – smiled. Yes, a clearance off the line (and no it wasn’t over the line because I was dead on the line where I stood), yes, blocked shots, yes, it might have been a cheeky handball by LRT, (but then again it might have been a penalty against Gray) but we lived with them, and anyway, how guilty have we been of not taking our chances in the past against inferior opposition? Today, rather than taking it, we dished some out and got the fortune and reward that is due to those who wait long enough.
Of the players themselves what can I say? Lovely for Mark Tyler, not only to have a great game with good saves, but to come back to the club of his youth, playing a top notch game on his home ground and keeping a clean sheet would have been very, very special. He must feel a million dollars tonight. I’ve already mention Greg Taylor but in a negative sense. But it was his block in the first half that kept us in the game, and his height at set plays and positional sense in the second half which earned his corn. Henry at right back has settled into his role now. Solid and unspectacular he added intelligence down the right, but defended really well. As did Kovacs and LRT. Ironically, Kovacs didn’t have too much heading to do today clearances yes, but he didn’t spend his afternoon nodding away long balls hoofed forwards. He was however, a colossus at the heart of the defence. A man-beast. LRT is ten times the player at centre half than he was at left back against Newport. It’s hard to believe they are the same player.
Whilst JJ’s arrival led to the goal, Jake had a really good game at left mid. He picked up the ball in lots of space and used it well, though of course not with pace. He did however have his best game for a long time. Jon Smith in the middle was a giant. He made two visible passing errors but did not look out of place. What a good piece of business he really is. Mendy I’ve mentioned. Lawless the Brush (Delia this week) had a good game and was played in well by Rendell shortly after Scott was introduced. His shot on the stretch arrowed into the side netting. He put some lovely crosses in and looked at home. Jon Shaw was in a war for 75 minutes and did well. Wasn’t the most effective he has been recently but duh he was playing against top-flight defenders. Gray ditto. Ideally the focus point of the breaks, Norwich had done their homework and gave him less opportunity to torment them. He was clear through though when tangled with, but a Norwich defender (not sure which one, these premiership players all look alike to me) interfered and snuffed him out/bundled him over. When Fleets came on he was a fresh threat and his pace was an additional headache. Rendell will get the plaudits with his goal and deservedly so he looked hungry and keen in the 18 minutes he was on the pitch.
They say that you have to experience the lows to appreciate the highs and boy is that the case with Luton Town. I know we are unique in terms of promotions and relegations and promotions again, and dropping out of the league with a record points deduction, three administrations and four years in shit street but I think we can add today’s win to the list of highs. In future years when we are swanning about back in the league and glossing over and failing to mention the ahem, non-league years’, (like the timeline display at Beaulieu which mysteriously misses out Lord Montague’s middle years’) today was a light in the darkness we will happily look back on with pride. No more, do you remember that draw at Charlton? It’ll be ah we laboured to get out of the 5th tier but yes, but do you remember that win at Norwich? Oh yes, I was there.
Bring on the Arsenal, I fancy a bit of the Emirates please I’ve got a taste for this high life.