Typical, no goals for ages, then three come at once. Cue Relief all around. Ah so thats what a goal is. From a low point against Wrexham I hope that todays improved performance engenders some further confidence and self belief.
The catalyst? Tricky one…but Id like to suggest that it was a certain A Lawless Esq, from the Valleys. Poor that we should be seemingly so reliant on one player, but today the difference was obvious almost from the kick off. He didnt play behind the striker but on the right hand side of the front three, Guttridge holding on to his place behind Benson as the lone striker. Not being in the centre didnt diminish Lawless influence, and made a significant impact on the game and the team. Within minutes of the start he had already got to the byline and put in a dangerous cross, a basic but important part of football that has been missing from the start of the season. His assist for the first was almost identical, a run and a cross from the right onto Bensons head for the goal. He capped off his performance with the third goal after he rounded Julian in the Dartford goal and slotted it in. Whether or not the ball was carried across the line by the Dartford defender I neither know nor care.
Guttridge got the second with a canny deflection from about 20 yards to give us a 2-0 lead at half time. Howells broke forward from a corner and played Guttridge in. Guttridge had a super game. Whilst our midfield was so wholly superior from the outset Guttridge had an outstanding game in the hole behind Benson. Pulling the strings is an understatement.
The difference between this years Dartford and last years is that they afforded us so much time on the ball. The fundamental error to make against the Hatters. Mind you thats probably the last time itll happen this year, so just as well we made hay. A small side, a team of full of friendly but hyperactive dwarves, they did try to play properly which is credit to them. You might think representing Dartford theyd be a brutal, ugly team, but they went about things the right way. Alas, the good die young.
Benson had a terrific game too. Not only does he win the season award as the first striker to get a goal for us this year (17th September must be a record for that) but he covered yards and yards and yards, won knock downs aplenty and linked up play controlling that part of the field.
It was the sort of performance we always anticipated and expected on dropping down to the 5th tier. Part time Dartford away to mighty Luton should always be a tidy 3-0 but our seasons at this level have suggested that this should never be expected, because it has almost never been delivered. But tonight it was, at a canter really. We showed the confidence of pre-season. It struck me that the win was never in the doubt.
Thats not to say it was a complete walk over. Griffiths had another mixed game. At present rightly or wrongly I feel that he is at present the weakest link in the team. If his tackling is good then his distribution is poor. When his positional play is poor his marking is excellent, and when his marking is poor his passing can be good. He cant get everything going at once quite yet.
Tyler was stretched enough to make a good couple of saves, but otherwise was fairly redundant. His kicking was mixed and I really wish hed throw more, especially in games like this where we are afforded so much time on the ball. Punting it up to Benson (or realistically onto the head of the opposing centre half) is a good way to lose possession and for spells of the second half the only way we would concede possession.
At the back, Steve McNulty was an absolute colossus. Metaphorically of course. If Lawless hadnt got MoM then McNulty surely would. Not only did he win the ball, but he did his utmost to ensure that he distributed it to feet and/or set up a play, rather than just hoofing it into the crowd. Quite, quite brilliant today. Like Lawless truly a division or class or two above. The first time the ball came to his feet at the start of the game he did the ol Brazilian two-step around the oncoming striker, very cheeky, very well played.
Parry. I like Mr Parry. Unfussy, good position-wise and hardworking, we have genuine stiff competition for the defender to partner McNulty in defence. My friend Pete said he was better in the middle of the park, but one dodgy corner aside looked completely at home.
Henry the skip was sound enough as ever. Didnt cross the half way line as much as I would like but continues to excel at what he does best which is tidy defending.
Jim Stevenson second time Ive seen him and this was his first home start. I thought he put himself around well and helped to be part of that midfield three which ran Dartford ragged. I was pleased. If that is Stevenson at the stat of his Luton career Im encouraged and excited about what we might see in a couple of years time. Sound start indeed.
Smudger Smith hard working again though with fewer tackles but more time on the ball than against Grimsby. An important part of a midfield which dominated Dartford.
Jake Howells. Whilst he didnt get many crosses in, he linked up play very well, as well as positionally being in the right place at the right time. His attitude was spot on. He was replaced by Dave Martin, who I hadnt seen for a while. Dave offers something different, his pace being the biggest difference I think. Whilst his first couple of touches didnt quite go to plan, Martin adds a different dimension. I think his confidence needs building up after being dropped after a poor start. I dont know why, but he reminds me (and apologies to anyone under 40) of a footballing Derek Randall in appearance, perhaps slightly less in demeanour. Rags was all twitchy and laugh a minute, and whilst Martin seems to be enjoying it, (but doesnt twitch), it is his body language, languid style and shifty shuffle that reminds me of the Retford-born batsman.
Five minutes after Howells was replaced by Martin, Whalley replaced Lawless. Now Shaun has never had bigger boots to fill. I want Shaun to be a success, as does everyone at the club, and more importantly the manager believes he can be successful. John Moore said that SW needs to move his game to another plane to continue to outwit defenders. The jurys still out. I dont think we serve wingers like Whalley and Gray particularly well, because we aim to get the ball to them by accurate, to feet, pin point pass rather than by playing into space behind the defence for the defenders to run on to. Fine if you have players like Jake, but you have to exploit the fast players strengths if you have them, and perhaps for him that is the difference between here and Southport, this year and last. Perhaps last year he had more time to get his crosses in, whereas this season hes normally been closed down faster than a junkie is in a supermarket by a security guard, when loitering near the jaffa cakes.
So that was definitely more like it at last you could see the relief on all concerned, not least the crowd, not a boo to be heard. Need to start stringing a few performances like that together. Theyve been few and far between this season, or to be fair non-league as a whole. And now Im looking forward to Lincoln on Saturday…
Scores on the doors: Tyler: 6.5, Henry 7, McNulty 9, Parry 8.5, Griffiths 5.5, Smith 7.5, Stevenson 7, Guttridge 9 (loses half for a silly yellow card) Benson 8.5, Howells 7, Lawless 9.
If youve made it this far, thank you for reading, as ever all comments good or bad welcomed. Apologies for the lack of reports recently, trips abroad with work, whilst pleasant, really do rip into your blogging time. I must have a word with my boss.