PDW’s Kneejerk Reactions (Mansfield H)

Someone mused at the end of another ninety minutes of pitiful dross, still waiting for a game of Football to break out “Well that’s the season finished then”. Cheers for that, Mr Nostradamus. Wasn’t aware it had actually started. Only joking, as we still need a couple more wins to stay up. Although Workington away on a Tuesday in November holds a morbid fascination. We could start new local rivalries with Brackley, Oxford City and Bishop’s Stortford.

A good game if you don’t like football. The vast majority of the match, the ball spent in the air. On the rare occasions the ball was on the deck, it was kicked randomly in various directions, not usally the correct one and chase after it. Sadly, that’s what we have been reduced to. Terrible to watch, leaderless and clueless. Good luck to whoever gets the job, it will take a long, long time to sort out the problems we have , unless it’s Westley then hope some puts a bomb under him. That would be Karma for Farnborough. At least if we do miss out on the play offs( and we will need a Kidderminster esq run to reach them), it gives time to have some proper preparation for the new season. Not blunder on along on a wing and a prayer, signing coachloads of permanently injured Herbalife salesmen or other players on a whim of a decent game against us. We aren’t absolutely terrible,but we will be soon, unless something is done to stop the rot.

Current problems we have, that I spy with my amateur eye – A board, doing their best, but require some random Pinky and Perky to help them pick a good manager (I will happily give them a shortlist, if their football knowledge is so poor), the former manager who gives it legs, when the going gets tough and gets agents to recommend players to him. A coaching staff that makes players worse – look at poor old Jake Howells is a shadow of the player he could be. Shoved around from pillar to post, how can any player possibly develop that way? The players themselves, who don’t have a semblance of confidence left are lacking guidance and a shape to our play, who are an empty shell of the players they should be. Only a few weeks ago, they deservedly beat Wolves and Norwich.

Smith and Gray showed the fight, some of their play was ragged, but they didn’t stop working. Only Lawless had some composure on the ball, but as it spend most of its time in the air, he didn’t see it at much, as we needed him. The only other player who looked OK in possession was Baldy Murray, formerly of this parish, who took time out for his busy duties of refereeing to play a game of football as well, get the Mansfield midfield ticking over.

Another day, loads more unnecessary changes. What was wrong with the back four at Macclesfield? They dropped too deep, but it was an improvement generally. So that’s gets thrown out of the window, to accommodate a player who hasn’t played for weeks and removes the best centre half at the club to left back. Oh brilliant. How many different combinations have we had at centre half so far? Well, apart from far too many. LRT had a stinker, roasted on numerous occasions by Briscoe, and his heading, it slide off right, left and centre of his noggin, but seldom in the correct place. He may as well have put Happy Harry‘s head, it won’t have made his performance much worse.

Fleetwood who almost single handled rescued the carnage of the second half at Macclesfield, left to rot on the bench. Mistakes in selections and on the field haven’t been picked up on. Rendell for example is a decent link up player but he isn’t a target man, calm finisher, but heading the ball is an obvious weakness, yet Tyler tried to find him every time with a long punt against two good headers of the ball in Dempsey and Jones. How many times do these idiots have to watch Rendell before they realise how to get the best of him? It’s staggering, it really is. Am presuming Shaw and O’Donnell were unavailable to make the sixteen.

The major problem today apart from the bleeding obvious of once again needless goals being shipped , whilst McNulty and Thomas, who is a long way off match fitness, headed enough away, with LRT at the back, we have three players who can’t pass the ball at the back, so it gets cleared anywhere and keeps coming back.

After a first half which was dross, apart from Rendell’s goal, which was a bit lucky, Smith’s shot hit Gray and deflected kindly for Rendell to net. We were dire, to be honest. All hoof no thought. Fancy trying to out hoof Mansfield, at their own game? Mansfield quicker and sharper to the loose ball always looked the more threatening. Second half; we started well after changing the formation to 4-3-3, got back into the game, with a well taken goal by Gray, after a lovely pass by Rendell. The good work ruined by the introduction of Howells, who looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights currently replacing Neilson, who had just started getting into the game. He wasn’t involved in the first half, but it’s a waste signing him, if you aren’t going to get him into the game. If we are going down the route of playing alehouse football, at least get pub style players in.

So, the team was Tyler – Henry, McNulty, Thomas, and LRT – Neilson, Lawless, Smith, Martin – Rendell- Gray. On the bench Ainge (popping up for Kovacs) Howells, Fleetwood, Mendy and Brill.

Mansfield. Where to begin? So much to dislike, so little time to do so. A whingey, charmless collection, who complain and surround the referee for every decision. Like Roy Keane in his pomp. Just as well, Murray did most of the arbitration otherwise they would have been in a right state.. Rather like the town itself, me dook. Managed by a cock, oh sorry I mean Cox. A chairman who confirms you may have money, but you can’t buy class, taste and dignity. Well organised, reaping the rewards of fielding the rewards of a settled ream and give the buggers their due; they are on a blinding run. They won the game mainly as they made fewer mistakes. Simple as. The truth of the matter is they are nothing special, but in a league where abject mediocrity is King, you don’t need to be anything else to reach the top five. Oh. Green is a decent target man, Daniel had too much for Henry with his pace. Clements is a tidy passer of the ball and Briscoe on his day given time can be dangerous with his direct style and moan.

On a bitter day, our crowd quiet probably in disbelief the amount of time the ball spent being hacked into orbit. Thomas struggled on his debut, he moans well at officials, but unfair to judge him on this game. Decent in the air, but deadly slow. McNulty and Thomas wouldn’t work as a combination. Got to be LRT and one other. Neither player has yet to develop an understanding, unsurprisingly. The sooner LRT is pushed back and away from left back there the better.

Thomas fouled Green, down their right; Tyler plucked the ball from Jennings’ free kick. Tomas almost had a debut goal to savour, penalised for a minimal nudge on Jones, nodding in Henry’s long free kick. Mansfield have plenty of pace in attack, a neat back heel by Green allowed Stevenson to get to the by-line, but Thomas cleared the ball behind. From Jennings’ inswinger , won by Dempster but the referee spotted another minor infringement.

At last, the ball landed at Rendell’s feet, playing inside for Gray to drag a shot wide. The match was very scrappy, littered with free kicks. Tedious fare. Few out and out chances, both Tyler and Marriott handling were competent, as you would expect from two of the better keepers in the League. Any flow of the game was ruined by Mansfield’s time out tactics, both Murray and Beevors were treated for injuries to knee and shoulder respectively, plagues have come and gone quicker than it took for treatment to take place on the field. Neither were head injuries.

Another long punt from Thomas, flicked on by Rendell, Gray seized onto the ball, taking advantage of a slip by Jones, but his touch heavy and Murray could help it behind. At the third time for asking, Lawless’ corner was eventually helped into the box by Smith, just a whisker away from Rendell.

Clements clever reverse pass into Beevors, found Stevenson, whose movement was good all afternoon, taking advantage of the sleeping Martin and lino, being offside, his low strike, safety stopped by Tyler.

Daniel, strong and powerful on the left, managed to sneak between hennery and Neilson to fire a centre, well claimed by Tyler. A long cross field pass by Beevors, knocked down by Green, to Daniel, Thomas stuck his foot out, which Daniel tripped over. He went down easily, but Thomas was lucky not to concede a penalty.

That reprieve lasted only a matter of moments, Rendell facing his own goal, played the ball back straight to Green, found Briscoe on the right, his return pass back into the middle, cut out by McNulty, but such was his first touch, Daniel nicked it off him and was tripped. Green stepped up, scuffed his penalty well enough to defeat Tyler diving to his right.

At least Rendell made up for his error, calmly finishing, from close range, Smith’s shot which luckily got deflected into his path by Gray. We had a better spell before conceding again. Martin, putting a cross with pace and power, well caught by Marriott, then showed good spirit to hassle Murray, before Smith won the ball, but the referee gave a free kick. Tyler at last threw the ball out, sent Gray down the line, but Beevors covered.

Mansfield’s second goal was well constructed and finished, would help if we didn’t ball watch. Jones’ ball forward into green’s chest, Stevenson picked our Daniel down the left channel, with a sweep of the left foot; it ended up in the net.

Second half was better, but it was far too frenetic and hectic, passes going over the place, some being played blind. With three centrally, at least we gave Mansfield more problems and were more competitive. Neilson switched inside, with Martin on the left, Gray the right, Rendell in the middle. We weren’t really in control, as it was very open in the second half, but at least we forced them back and Jones and Dempster had to do some proper defending.

Briscoe wasted a good chance, hitting wide from a Jennings’ set piece. . Rendell’s neat pass sent Gray away, beating Jennings with ease and a lovely finish, clean, composed strike into the far corner.

McNulty blocked Stevenson’s attempt from Green’s through flick. Henry become the first in the book, tripping Daniel, taking one for the team. Lawless’ corner found Thomas wrestling off Jones, but unable to direct the header.

Fleetwood replaced martin, a mere fifty five minutes too late. Shortly followed by Howells for Neilson, and thereafter our improvement ceased quickly. Very sad, but Howells looked like a little boy lost, almost scared to go near the ball. A really needless change. Dempster tugged Rendell, on the edge of the box, Howells, on a decent angle for a left footer, cleared the crossbar with consummate ease. Rendell seeing more of the ball on the deck in this half, squared for Gray to shot wildly wid

Another thing, which we need to improve, is pick up players better at throw ins. We set up too slowly. From a Jennings throw, Daniel turned past Lawless and Gray, but could help the ball behind, after having down the hard work. A long ball forward by LRT, a knock down by Thomas, the ball sat up for Howells to strike, but he dithered and the opportunity was gone.

Fleetwood lost out to Beevors, getting the ball to the lively sub Hutchison, finding Clements to slam a snap shot wide. Hutchison eased past Howells into Green, a dink to the near post, defeated Daniel at the near post. Gray and Smith linked up nicely, and swung the ball in to the back stick, Rendell managed to beat Jones, and flick the ball goal wards, blocked by Marriott , the rebound eventually ended up at henry, firing in and Fleetwood failing to get enough on the ball to trouble the keeper.

With about ten minutes left, we were looking the most likely. A hopeful pass by Gray, worked out nicely, hitting the back of Dempster, Rendell stretching but unable to poke the ball in, in fact the ball went further away from goal after he touched in. Gray on the right worked space and a pass for Smith, in a decent central position to set himself but only manage only to curl the ball into Marriott.

The winning goal late on, summed up our defending this season. McNulty, the last man ( why? He has the movement of a weeble.) could have headed the ball anywhere but could only prod the ball out to the onrushing, newly arrived Meikle, finding Clements on the left, a powerful shot across goal, superb relax save by Tyler but only as far as Meikle who gleefully smashed the ball into the empty net. McNulty apart from costly two goals, had a reasonable game. But his lack of mobility is always going to let him down at some point, not reacting quick enough to recover.

Onto the joys of Braintree ( not that there any except for the Black Notley golf club) , the former pride of the Essex senior League. Dodgy pitch, cold night, the omens aren’t good. Three away games on the road in succession, is about the last thing we need ( unless you are fortunate enough not to away games ) Thanks for everyone concerned for making our club a complete mess.

Needs someone to come in with a calm head, the problems are self evident . No need for a complete clear out in the playing staff, we have obvious limitations, but with someone who can judge a player and organise, it’s not a problem. The whole coaching staff needs to go, between now and pre-season training. The last two games whilst they have been in charge, have been more than enough to confirm how witless they truly are and unable to correct past mistakes which have surfaced over and over and over again. If it needed confirming. Which it does not.

Mark Tyler 7.25 , Ronnie Henry 6 , Steve McNulty 5, Wayne Thomas 4.75, Lathenial Rowe-Turner 3, Scott Neilson 5.75 ( Jake Howells 3.5), Alex Lawless 7.25 , Jonathan Smith 7, Dave Martin 5.5 ( Stuart Fleetwood 6) , Scott Rendell 6.25, Andre Gray 7.5

*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 are about the Queen eats Horse headline. So was surprised and disappointed, to discover it was about her eating horse meat at Ascot rather than eating Camilla Parker-Bowles. Which would have made a far more interesting story.

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A rudderless ship

I’m not going to post a match report. PDWs report (which I will post after this) sums it up perfectly anyway. I’ve done enough ranting and whinging and actually, outside of football, I’m a really positive bloke and I get tired of the all of the negative stuff which is just too easy to write at the moment. Far from gently bobbing in the ocean, we’re sinking like a stone.

All I’m going to say is:

1. McNulty was at fault for two of the goals, so ironic bearing in mind Buckles reason for recruiting him. As utterly laughable as the man himself. If he was any good he’d still be at Fleetwood. He’s not, so he’s now playing for us. A footballing klutz.

2. LRT had the second worst game at left back I can remember, second only to his own performance against Newport***. He connected with one pass in the first half and one in the second. The rest of the time he passed, headed and threw it to the opposition. Passing to your own team is a fundamental part of playing football. Anyone, even my old mum, can not pass it, we can all stand there and not pass it – it’s the passing bit which is the skilful bit. He is not a left back. Picking him there was about as rubbish as LRTs performance itself.

3. This must be “yet another low”.

4. We’re only 11 points above the relegation zone.

5. Oh no – Braintree again next. Joy.

6. Best of luck to the new man coming in, bring your magic wand with you. How on earth does this club manage to turn good players so bad? How can players who were good or reasonable elsewhere become so shit at Luton and then be good again when they leave? I know what I think. Still…we’ll see…

I remember ‘Teacher’ on the Outlaws site saying portentously in the wake of the last administration, the -30 points and the chaos at the time that ‘things were going to get much worse before they got better.’ How right he was.

They shoot horses, don’t they?

***actually, I remember Alan Kimble having a stinker against Blackpool about 10 years ago, and I don’t recall Alan Goodall ever having a good game, he was a consistently poor performer. But anyway – I think you get my drift.

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Be careful what you wish for #3

So there I was gently bobbing, reconciled to the fact that this year was done and dusted with no chance of the play offs, looking forward to 2013/14 and BANG off Buckle trots back down the M4 from whence he came.

It’s becoming an annual event now isn’t it? It’s as much a spring phenomenon as daffodils and snowdrops.

All the talk is of Graham Westley being the favourite. Now that makes me chuckle.

Never before have our principles been challenged as much as this. This is the ultimate question of principle versus pragmatism: do we ditch every last scruple and everything we stand for in order to try get promoted? (I already hear people saying “yes!”)

It’s a little bit like the Labour Party, in order to become electable again from 1995 onwards they willingly ditched every last principle they were founded on. No room for socialism in New Labour, they were transformed into a homogenised, branded, principle-free, electorally expedient machine. For some it was victory at any price, for others it was an abandonment of everything they held dear.

And this is the stark reality facing us as Hatters fans. Westley to some is the devil incarnate, to others they’d abandon everything so that we can be in Fifa 2014 (whatever that is).

We have been here before, but to a lesser degree. When BFJ inherited, albeit indirectly, Ricky Hill’s team in 2001 many people were up in arms. Kinnear’s Wimbledon were synonymous with the long ball, bullying tactics and basically brash, in your face uncompromising football. For some, to bring him to the footballing academy of Kenilworth Road, where, for a generation or so we had been more or less treated to two decades of neat football. This was in great contrast to the long ball approach down the M1 and to some was a heresy. As it turned out, whilst the football was more direct, Kinnear’s recruitments formed the spine of what became a very successful team. He brought in the likes of Nicholls, Howard, Coyne, Robinson, Brkovic etc none of which we could argue were poor signings or servants to Luton Town. Furthermore Kinnear achieved promotion in his second year. Whilst the football wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t that bad, and perhaps having Big Mick and his knowledge of what Luton are all about on board made the difference. Whilst Nico acted like an attack dog in midfield and we got into trouble for discipline, he brought some much needed heart and soul back into the club. You don’t hear many people around the club regretting his time at LTFC do you? Those were good days.

So what of Westley? We really would be dancing with the devil if we brought him on board. His management style would be like a footballing tsunami. He is the living, breathing embodiment of “it’s my way or the highway”. At least with him in charge you would see our players grow some balls. But it’s all the other stuff too.

I’ve read about him extensively and read what he’s got to say too. I think he would constantly clash with the board, and with Gary Sweet, who would have to give him his hand to run the playing side entirely his own way – and this is something 2020 will have to reconcile themselves to. He wouldn’t be a quiet, play-it-safe employee, oh no, he’s in your face all the time. But, to be fair, that’s why you bring him on board. If you fetter him, you lose what makes him ‘special’ and different. Like asking Roy Keane not to tackle so hard, without the crunching tackles, he’s not Roy Keane anymore. It’s the same with Westley, you get the whole package or nothing at all.

You may also recall his tactical style and ethics too. Given a free hand at Stevenage he filled the side with 6′ plus lumps and the football was unattractive and long. When in the lead his sides cheat and manage the game – players go down left right and centre the match is slowed almost to a standstill and what’s more they get away with it. He turns his sides into the teams that everyone else loves to hate.

There would be yet another clear out of existing personnel and only those willing to work long hours, play the long ball and willing to compromise any last principles they have would be left. Why do you think Ronnie Henry isn’t a ball-playing wizard, even though he has come from two divisions above? He’s never had to be, that’s why.

Westley has admitted that at Preston he cut too far too soon, though the circumstances there were extreme because of the budgetary situation. He won’t make that mistake twice, but conversely he would be under pressure to bring quick results. Whilst I may have cast this season asunder, he would be targeted on getting us into the play offs. It would make things interesting. Saddled with the current shower of powder puffs we have at the club (with one or two exceptions) he himself would be compromised as he would have limited recruitment opportunities. It would be next season and over the summer where the changes would happen. We might want things to happen this year, I’m sure he would be looking at next to build a team in his own image.

And that’s the crux of it. If you (we) are willing to adopt the ‘no one loves us we don’t care’ attitude, if we are willing to sit through some fairly unattractive (but reasonably successful) stuff, if you want to see Luton transformed into a team of hoofball cheats then that’s fine.

In his defence, apart from March 2010 we’ve not really been playing any pure football have we? It’s not as if we have been sticking to all of our footballing ethics in this division. It’s not as if we are still in non-league because we have been in splendid isolation, refusing to ditch our short-passing principles in order to get promoted. The point I am making is that whilst the club has a heritage of good football, and we are known as a footballing club, it isn’t as if we would be abandoning a brand of total-football in order to embrace Westley. There have been some good displays of passing, and Buckle at least has tried to play on occasions, but we’ve been treated to pretty poor quality football, rather than passing-football in recent times – so we are not going to be ditching Arsenal’s methodology to be adopting Wimbledon’s. It’s just a few notches down on the footballing scale, not a volte face.

So people will say that we’ve had enough of non-league and that we would do anything **anything** to get promoted out of this league. If this includes selling your soul to the devil then so be it. I think fans have had enough of being humiliated by the Dartfords and Braintrees of this world and it is time to swallow out pride and get down and dirty. And boy would it be dirty.

The more I type, the more I’m thinking that it would be a rollercoaster that might be interesting to ride. I know there are no guarantees at the end of it, but I guess we’ve got more chance with Westley than anyone else. What are the alternative on the table right now? Gary Sweet said he’d already had dozens of agents and managers getting in touch about the vacancy. So that’s good. But how many of them are any good?

Ideally, I’d like a footballing manager to be put in charge, to take this division apart and to play the time-wasting thugs of non-league off the park each week, but it’s not going to happen is it? That’s pie in the sky. There’s not that many fantastic ball-playing individuals hanging around non-league at the present, so I’m not sure how much joy a Pleat or DiCanio (as if!) would get. But again, a footballing manager would be an interesting recruitment – but we might still be playing in the 5th tier in 2016…

Who are the alternatives to Westley? I think we should seriously consider them, because whilst Westley is the shoe-in, the obvious choice, who I suspect would accept the job without thinking twice – he might be a step too far for the board. After all it’s some sort of committee doing the interviews and making the decision, so it will be a compromise rather than an assertive choice by an individual Chairman.

Micky Mellon has been mentioned – he had a brilliant record at Fleetwood and was truly unlucky to get the push, but was successful on the back of lots of cash, and many managers can do that. Steve Robinson is another one – the fan’s choice you might say. Now he would be largely untried. I know he is at Northern Ireland U21s or whatever at the moment, but how have they done under him? No idea. I’m sure he would take the job too, if his Mrs wants to relocate (Northern Ireland to Luton – tricky choice). What sort of football does he play? Would it just be another lucky punt by the board? What experience of this level has he got? It’s a bit of a stab in the dark isn’t it? Who else do we have? Steve Evans – no ta, there’s been enough crooks at this club down the years. Gary Waddock? Good man, good player, been there and done it at this level. Who else? Terry Brown? Doesn’t set the world on fire for me.

I think that the alternatives to Westley should be considered – it would take a ballsy decision by 2020 to appoint him and I suspect we might get a compromise candidate.

Still…you never know…

My first interview question would be: “99% of the clubs that come to the Kenny come here to draw, frustrate us, time waste and score on the lucky counter attack. What would you do to combat this?”. I’m sure Westley would look the questioner in the eye, fix him with a steely glare and say “We’d fuck ’em”.

If Westley does come, we’d have to turn a blind eye to the antics and remind ourselves that it’s all in a good cause. Clubs in a loftier position to us can afford principles – we’ve had enough of non-league and want to get out.

And having Westley at the club would be the footballing equivalent of filling an alley cat full of LSD and then tying a firework to its tail.

So – who’s along for the ride?

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It was nice whilst it lasted / Gently bobbing

 

Well that’s the cup done for another year – nice that the run finishes in February and not November for a change. We lost 3-0, one goal for every division Millwall are above us.

What of yesterday’s performance? Well I don’t think we were 3-0 worse than Millwall. The difference was, as ever, that the Championship side took the chances we presented them, whilst keeping out the good chances we made. It’s nothing more or less than that. Give them an inch and the better clubs take a mile.

It is a shame, as Buckle said, that we went behind so early, it put the dampeners on the atmosphere and brought us down to earth  as a reminder of our own mortality. Once again, like the Wolves and Norwich games, we didn’t give the opposition any respect which is a positive at least. We did give them a goal though, which isn’t.

Buckle has been going on about Kovacs and individual errors all year, and perhaps he was right all along. Kovacs played like a lion against Norwich and Holt, but a bit of a donkey against Millwall and Hulse. Inconsistency. Yes, that’s why he plays in non-league. If he was much better, he’d not be here would he?

The key to recruitment surely, as I’ve said before, is to intercept players getting better on their upward career curve, not catch them on their way down. Better to aim to have a side full of players who are, or who will one day be at home one or two divisions above (with us or with someone else) than to have a squad containing everyone else’s cast-offs looking for a home.

There’s only so long you can go playing against better opposition before you get found out. It’s like rolling a dice. Roll a one or a two and you stay in the cup, anything else and you are beaten. Well against Millwall our number was up and we rolled a six. On another day, with no cock ups, a fair wind, and a bit of luck we would have ’done a Blackburn’ perhaps. Oh well. It doesn’t matter now.

But, that said, we held our own and I’m proud of the team and the board and the positive image the run has brought to the club and to a lesser extent the town. It was lovely to be the first item on the sports news on radio 5, front page news in the Sunday papers and the various articles about our fall from grace and our proud and sometimes notorious position in the footballing history of the country. Well done boys, you did us proud.

Being stretched by a stronger team does highlight a few things.  Mark Tyler is still an excellent and outstanding shot stopper, but less keen to come off his line than he once was. Jake is a great ball player with good vision, but doesn’t have the pace to close down right wingers and prevent them from getting key crosses in when playing on the left. Henry still seems better at centre half (and had a good game). Taylor looked like a left back playing at right back, though on a few occasions having a left foot was a bonus as he could happily play the ball inside the oncoming player, much to their surprise.

I thought Smudger Smith, was largely anonymous in the first half, but had a better second half, I thought Mendy had a good game all round. Lawless and O’Donnell had a good go, but we didn’t play enough balls for them to exploit the flanks and their pace to our advantage. We went 4-2-4 at the end bringing on Fleetwood and Shaw, in the well-rehearsed ‘fling all the forwards on’ ploy that has worked so successfully all season and we thus surrendered the midfield. Yes it did bring half chances I suppose, and had we snuck one back when it was 2-0 who knows what would have happened?

Lots of high ball went up to Rendell who fought hard, but was outjumped and out muscled by two lads much bigger and better than him. The ploy to release Gray on the break didn’t work quite as well. Millwall had done their homework.

Again, it is not all doom and gloom. We carved out more chances and half chances against Championship opposition that we have done against many a Conference team this year. However in summary, it is the same outcome as it is against Conference sides – chances not taken and silly mistakes leading to goals conceded.

Where does this leave us? Well, about £500k better off which is nice. According to the Daily Mail Paul B is demanding all of that be spent on players to overhaul the squad (what? again?) but it was in an article littered with errors so it should be taken with a pinch of salt big enough to dehydrate a whale.

In a strange way I’m relaxed now and calm. We’re eighth, a long way behind the teams at the top and our league form is dragging us down the table. I don’t think that we will make the play offs and so in a way, in my mind, the pressure’s off. I feel calm, not angry.

We’re a brilliantly supported mid table conference side now, whether we like it or not. The conversion from league side to non-league side has been concluded.  The transmogrification finished, the assimilation complete.

If our current stumbling form persists it means we have no chance of reaching the play offs, so the players have a chance to quietly get on with it, turn things around, and come out feeling comfortable in each other’s company determined to find a way of playing in this competition – and at this level – which is successful.

Paul Buckle is staying put, whatever happens in the league for the remainder this year and continuity is a good thing – whether we like it or not we might as well get our heads down and get on with it. Shout all you like, he’s here to stay, rightly or wrongly, whether we finish 15th or 3rd. Giving the manager two or more seasons to get it right might be the right thing to do. Rome wasn’t built in a day/season. Pressure’s off – no more booing please, we need the pause and reflection that mid-table obscurity affords.

You never know – when the Greeks get back to work and sign Thomas’ work permit (or whatever international clearance means) he and McLumpy might just form the bedrock at the back we need. Gray, Fleets, Rendell or Shaw might spark up a run of goalscoring form, ably supported by some goals chipped in by the midfield.  If they think that the pressure is off too and with no cup-based distractions and fun, suddenly it might all click. We might be unbeaten for the rest of the year. It could happen, stranger things have.

Think back four years. The pressure on Big Mick to get us straight back was so huge at the start of our non-league journey and the assumption that it should be so easy that we should walk non-league  that a (admittedly fairly clueless) first home defeat of the season to the eventual champions was enough for him to go. Think about that for a second. That was our first home defeat in non-league and it was considered enough for the pressure to be such that Mick (to his eternal credit) fell on his sword and walked off without being paid his contract.

How our expectations and standards have been dragged down from the lofty place they were in September 2009. Now, home draws against village teams are shrugged off, and a home and away defeat by a bunch of cockney part-timers is “just not our day”.  Our expectations have been lowered, our high standards bloodied and bowed.

You could successfully argue that we had a stronger team four years ago and the second place at the end of that season to cheating Stevenage was no disgrace. With ‘better’ managers than MH and RM we could have gone one better? We’ll never know.

But that’s not the point I’m coming to – what I wanted to suggest that if you wound the clock back four years, and say that we got a manager in then and had told him “right, you have three seasons to get us back up, we know we won’t go up in seasons one or two, so there is no pressure on you, don’t worry about them, no pressure now, but build a team get us up by season three” then there would have been a riot at the time, we would have been suicidal to even contemplate three years in non league.

But if you’d have been offered that, knowing what we do now, four years on, we would have bitten the proverbial hand off.

Instead, each season we’ve hit the reset button and had to start again from scratch each time.

Each new manager has brought his own players in, attracted by our reputation and relatively large finances, and this fact alone has meant that we were there or thereabouts each year. We’ve been to two play-off finals in spite of the managerial changes, not because of them. But hitting the reset button each time has meant that, without being rude to the players who have come in, the standard of players coming in has gradually diminished over time. The poll I ran last week bore this out – wouldn’t it be wonderful if our strongest non-league XI was the current XI? Instead, we hark back at better players who have come and gone – but the quality over four years has gently declined. Whether this is because our wage bill is more realistic and our league reputation further and further away, less or poorer scouting/recruitment, or mangled management ideas I’m not sure. Perhaps it is a combination. Perhaps our position in the football world has been re-balanced by our circumstances. Reality has kicked in.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not being a hypocrite here. Poor Mick’s league record is poor, wherever he has managed, Richard Money lost the dressing room, seemed to have terrible man management  and alienated the fans. Gary Brabin was just hopelessly out of his depth. Both Money and Brabin were  at the point of no return when they left and had to go. So, I’m not saying we should have stuck to one of them come-what-may.  It’s an impossible conundrum.

I’m sure the board regrets some of the things they’ve done – but don’t we all? Hindsight is a wonderful thing – and if Gary et al had their time again they might have done things differently – we will never know. But you have to go on what you know at the time. I thought Richard Money was a great choice of manager at the time, so what do I know? What could we have done differently? Chosen different managers? Chosen more brutal managers? Kept Mick on in charge of recruitment and as head coach, but working with a brash, direct front man as manager – who knows? That probably wasn’t even an option for a second by the way…

As I say, hindsight is a wonderful thing – we are where we are. But I type this in the sort of peaceful serenity and calmness of someone who is cast adrift in the middle of the ocean in a rowing boat without any oars, knowing there is no chance of rescue and nothing they can do to change things. Anger and frustration has given way to acceptance and peace.

Gently bobbing in an ocean of calm.

Try it. You’ll see our league status from a completely different point of view….

Come on you Hatters….on to Macclesfield…the rest of our history starts here.

 

 

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The Big Push

Tomorrow we need to put whatever might have gone wrong with our league form in the past few weeks behind us and all do all we can for a result against Millwall. Once again, the footballing world will take a little look at us out the corner of its eye. We need to get behind the team even more than usual and raise the roof. Another packed Saturday at the Kenny should be an atmosphere and an early afternoon to savour. I hope and I know that the players will be giving their all to extend the run a stage further and to finally get one of the ‘big boys’ and make a bit more history on the way.

Of course the profile of this tie is pretty high because of our non-league status, because of our victory against premiership opposition, and has been tweaked up further by memories of the 1985 game, and further still by the unacceptable racism shown by the Millwall fans against Leeds, which has made them newsworthy this week. Whilst what PB said about staying on if there are racist chants was right, Mendy’s flounce that he would come off was foolish to say the least. He could still have come off if racist language was used towards him (and rightly so) but to pre-announce that he would/will adds an edge to the game that didn’t need to be there. Now that they know, it only takes one cockney Neanderthal to shout something to Mendy and we will have utter chaos on our hands.

Millwall will be no pushover and no mugs – half way up the championship they will have higher morale than Wolves, but only just. Like Wolves and Norwich their league form (hey, just like ours) is horrendous at present and so any swagger they have won’t be built on the back of confidence created by good form, but in a belief that man for man they are a better side. Once again, we will have to be at our best and Millwall will have to have an off-day. It’s happened before twice now, why can’t it happen three times? I just hope that we can rediscover our goalscoring form, as we might only get one or two clear chances and can’t afford to squander them as regularly as we have been. We won’t get the luxury of a stumbling part timer to present us with half a chance – we have to carve out our own.

If we thought it was good to have a positive spotlight on us for a change, and the friendly support of the smaller clubs of this world, and those people who love an underdog, if – and it’s still a big if – we can win tomorrow then our boys really will be big news. Huge news and, bigger still if we get a big tie in the last 8. But you know that – and indeed you know that a big task awaits tomorrow.

I’ve no idea what Kenny Jacket’s teams are like. I know he has a pretty good record as a manager and is quite well respected in the game. Obviously with the footballing pedigree he has (being a one club man, and what a club to be a one club man for, what do they know of life those that only Watford know?) and being assistant to the former England manager whilst at the club down the road, I’m thinking that his teams might be a little ahem, direct, shall we say. But of course that is pure conjecture on my part. He might be Wenger in disguise for all I know. Actually, traditionally we are better against sides that don’t close us down, so perhaps it might be better if he does keep it on the floor…

To get all melodramatic for a second, TE Lawrence (Laurence of Arabia) once said: “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Let’s do some dreaming on the day (but not on the pitch at set pieces please.)

Fingers crossed…come on you Hatters!

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Open Thread: Our best XI since being in non-league

If you could choose any eleven players from the ones who have played for us in the past four seasons, based on their form whilst with us who would you choose? I’ve made my choice, I’ve got it written down here, which I will post later on.

I’m not making a point here by the way, but I’m just interested to see who you think would get into the strongest XI if you had a free hand.

Collin Samuel and Paul Carden anyone?

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Millwall must be Quaking in their Boots!

 

As sure as night follows day Greggy Taylor was dropped, Paul Buckle, a man who makes no mistakes himself, has cast him asunder like an unforgiving wife after his one rather public mistake. Farewell Greg…

…meanwhile back on the pitch – today I was looking forward to seeing the new pairing of ‘Stavros’ Thomas and Steve McLumpy. The new Donaghy and Foster. That’s Donaghy and Foster as they are now of course, not c1988. One was a no show still waiting international clearance/left his passport in Pathos and the other one well, erm, had a good game actually.

In the absence of Thomas, Kovacs has a surprise reprise, and no wonder, because he’ll be needed against Millwall next week. He nodded the ball away quite happily all afternoon, almost as if he was playing against Grant Holt again – probably not well enough for the manager though. Alongside him, the pot-bellied McNulty barely put a foot or head for that matter wrong. His passing was more accurate than Kovacs’ and, what he didn’t have in speed, he made up for in positioning. He was a comedy nuisance to their keeper at corners too – worth the entrance fee alone for that. His first clearance got a ‘hoof’ accompaniment from the crowd (and he had been greeted with a chorus of you fat bastard) – but most clearances and passes after that were greeted by a semi-surprised ironic cheer. I anticipate a status amongst fandom somewhere between Enoch and Roper.

And what of the 1-1? Well I thought the first half was quite bright and a reasonable game, spoilt only by the whistle-happy and card-happy ref, who did make some strange decisions, usually only after the away dugout leapt up and appealed like a Pakistani slip cordon. The ref was only too happy to oblige. He added to his impressive tally of red cards this year in the second period by sending off Lawless and ex Watford chancer Al Bangura. Lawless got done in the now traditional double-tap. His first foul warranted a card, but still fresh and recognisable in the ref’ s mind gave away a silly freekick about a minute later when he seemingly went through the back of his man, leaving the ref little choice but to give him a second one. Bangura went after giving someone a slap near the tunnel, which was convenient as he didn’t have far to go. In piled both sets of players, but alas, rather than a full-scale pagga it was handbags and a bit of pushin’, which ultimately saw JJ get a yellow. I’m sure J block and those in the enclosure by the tunnel gave the former human trafficking ‘victim’ a hearty send off and wished him well for the future. They must have done because he gave them a cheery wave back, sharing the love.

The second half was a more dreary affair, with less quality and fewer chances from either side. On came super-subs O’Donnell and Fleetwood, ably assisted by Mendy. Mendy and O’Donnell replaced the two wingers Martin and Nielson when we needed to play more narrow across the middle to match FGR’s three following Lawless’ sending off.  I thought Martin made three or four good runs, and hugged the touchline well. He didn’t get to the byline and crossed a bit more hopefully from the deep, and in the first half of the first half his crosses didn’t look that dangerous, save for the all important one for the goal where Gray mistimed a header which went up rather than in, but still managed to come down and find the back of the net. The first goal in a long time which was preceded by an ‘Ohhhh’ for missing the chance, before it actually dropped in. Gray could have had a second after another good pass by Martin, but failed to squeeze it in.

Of course it need not have been 1-1 – the ref, having missed a blatant handball by Stokes in the box, also failed to spot Gray being felled by Oshodi, but fortunately the lino spotted it, and the ref spotted him. Alas Gray’s penalty posed more of a threat to those people sitting in the upper tier of the Kenny than Russell in the FGR goal.

It was another set-piece that led to their goal. Matt Taylor (no, not that one) continuing his good form by heading Klukowski’s free kick pass Tyler at the free post. Not sure who was supposed to be marking him, but they didn’t. Hang on, it’s probably Greg Taylor’s fault.

Over all in the game we did have plenty of chances and half chances – Shaw has a good couple, I recall Nielson volleying Martin’s cross and Fleetwood, Gray’s replacement, had a chance near the end.

McLumpy got the traditional award of man of the match award to a new player in his first home game. Ugly old beast he may be, but he just about warranted it today, perhaps Martin pushing him closest.

Millwall presumably sent someone to watch that and how they must be quaking in their boots now. Fortunately, once again we will have to play deeper and on the counter I presume, and not like we did today at all. I don’t think we showed anything today that will have them losing sleep.

The cup run really is papering over the cracks this year. Just like last season we have limped along, not at any point looking settled or looking like hitting our straps. 14 points behind Grimsby now, and yes, I know we have half the season to play and three games in hand, but realistically, unless a miracle happens and the form of the team is transformed, grubbing into the play offs is the best we can do, once again. For goodness sake.

Let me remind you – as if you needed it – this, in a season with no sugar daddy club in it. No Fleetwood, no Crawley. No Oxford, no York, no Stevenage or even bloody Wimbledon.  All the big boys have gone. This is the most open, weakest Conference season for many a year, yet we are floundering in the league. Drifting in an open sea (or sewer?). What does that say about the players, manager and coaching staff? PB has a worse record this season than dear Mick (who was pilloried, for having no tactical clue) by Richard Money (who never had the fans, and who eventually lost the players, than Gary Brabin (don’t get me started) all of them were doing better at this stage than PB (who doesn’t make any mistakes himself). This should have been the season we cruised this division. Instead seemingly we just go further and further back with each new season despite all the new signings. Whatever we do seems to just makes things worse.  The signings get more and more expesive but seemingly continue to dilute the quality. My old mum used to say don’t fiddle with it you’ll only make it worse. So true – but what could we have done?

Anyway – doom and gloom aside, in the cold light of day, we got a point today at home to the side in third. In almost any other league we’d go away slightly disappointed – but we’d be saying a point is a point. But the opposition was Forest Green and we are in non-league. We need to leave please! Give me the chance to write weekly upbeat reports please!

Tuesday, away to Dartford, who have been in freefall more or less since they beat us. I’m going to try to make it – but will be driving back down from the north west and will be relying on the M6, M42, M40 and M25 being kind to me to make it, hmm…

Next Saturday Millwall return in an FA Cup game for the first time since the 13th March 1985. I trust they will be better behaved guests this time round. I’m looking forward to the game, and who knows…could our luck hold for a third time? Wouldn’t that be superb? Dare we dream of greater things once again…?

Come on you Hatters – time to click and to start winning. The skill’s nearly there, now show us you care!

 

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