Wings ain’t what they used to be

A home game so long after the last one that it was like having another close season. I swear we’ve had shorter summers. When I was last at the Kenny it was the last knockings of a long summer, today was an early blast of winter.

Fortunately a couple of pints in the Nick Owen lounge insulated me from the biting coldness that the Kenny end normally has to offer pre-match.

Only a limited time to write the report this evening due to strictly fun, Dr Who and I’m a Celeb. You’ve got to get your priorities right after all.

An enjoyable game and a good win against a team from the Planet of Giants, apart that is, from the pint sized right back/mascot.

Andre Gray scored both goals, one a lovely finish after a knock on from Benson the other a fine poacher’s effort after good cross from the left channel by Lawless which either Benson or Gray could have stuck in.

Gray was keen, direct, determined and a pain in the neck throughout – but I thought for the most part he clumped around as if he had a big shoe. Every direct ball played to him he failed to control. It was quite funny by the end, and of course, because it wasn’t crucial we could have a laugh. But I swear JohnStill has given him an orthopaedic brogue as a boot. To be fair to him, there were three occasions in the game when his close control were spot on, one of them was for the first goal and at the end of the day that is when it matters. He did show a lovely touch on the right at one point when Tyler set him free on a break. Close control on occasion aside – we are lucky to have him, he has 9 goals now.

Up front Benson was a constant threat in both halves. He got very little support from the ref, who seemed to think the laws allowed their centre halves to use him as a climbing frame all afternoon. Must check that… He held the ball up well and linked incredibly well with Gray. His football intelligence shone out. Little touches here and there – he often sees things that are on which most of the cloggers in this division couldn’t even begin to envisage. His partnership with Gray is the best one we’ve had up front since Howard and Vine, in my very humble opinion. Having watched a couple of howlers in the Scouse Derby, PB served up one of his own this afternoon. One of the ones which are harder to miss than to score. He was set on a wonderful through ball by Parry I think and needed only to slot it in to score. Instead he slotted it wide. If he gets ten more of those this season he will score nine of them.

At the back Mark Tyler often chose to kick when some of us would have preferred to retain possession and build from the back. But to be fair to Tyler his kicking was accurate and regularly picked out Benson, rather than just conceding possession by placing it onto the forehead of the opposing centre half. Tyler made a couple of cracking saves too – which ultimately were crucial.

On the right Ronnie Henry struggled a little on occasion, but was sound and tight for most of the time and for some reason took it upon himself to fell Lafayette as he ran past him, in the season’s most obvious penalty. This was a wake-up call at the start of the second half to ensure you took your seats quickly. Lafayette took the penalty – which Tyler saved but unfortunately we were all sleepy-bo bo on the edge of the box and he followed up and scored. Henry was pushed over just before half time and was lying prone in the box and play carried on. And in a comedy way after Welling pulled level got warned for time wasting by the ref. Where do we get them from?

More troubled on the left, but not really in trouble was Scott Griffiths who is in zingingly good form at the moment. He was marking the lofty no 9 of Guthrie who had the dangerous combination of height and pace. Apart from one move where he got the ball to feet and cleverly deceived the Luton defence, his bark was worse than his bite. It was Griffiths’ pass to Benson which set up the first goal and he made further progress down the left when possible and put in a good cross to Gray who headed just wide.

In the middle was Steve McNulty ultimately doing his best Fozzie impression with a bandage after an elbow in the head from Lafayette- he’s got your card marked now son. Bless him, he looked like a broken Weeble found on a stall in a car boot sale. In the first half he made crucial interception after crucial interception. When we were under the most pressure it was McNulty who got the important clearance just when it was needed. He treated us to a bit of Brazilian flair by attempting to pass the ball with the outside of his foot in the second half. Needless to say the pass flew straight to the opposition and I can only imagine the amount of ribbing he will get all week from his colleagues.

Alex Lacey alongside – he grows in strength and ability with each game. Who would have thought that he would have maintained his form and position this far into the year. Often young players have a bounce when they first get into the side playing with the form and confidence of youth – but often after 5 or 6 games their lack of experience starts to show and they run out of puff as the initial bubble bursts. Then they are dropped and they must build the form again to challenge. Remember the likes of Stephen O’Leary and Michael Leary when they broke into Newell’s side? They were stop gaps because we were down on our uppers at the time. But they punched above their weight initially before ultimately skill and experience caught up with them. There are some young players, like Keet’ Keane or Kevin Foley who take to first team football like a duck to water and grow and grow in the role never looking back. I’m delighted to say that Alex Lacey appears to have slipped effortlessly into the latter group rather than the former examples. Long may it continue.

In Jonathan Smith’s absence in stepped Jim Stevenson. He buzzed around in midfield without imposing himself. Much of the play eluded him. Another young player who might benefit from a run in the side. I was surprised he started ahead of Matt Robinson – but I’m not the manager. However Robinson made a real difference when he was brought on and looked hungry for the place. I was sitting there thinking what is the difference with Robinson – he appeared to have a shock of fluffy hair all of a sudden – then it dawned on me he’d left his Alice band at home.

Shaun Whalley mark two started on the left, ahead of Jakey Howells. Whilst he had a few good runs and interchanged well and created a threat he didn’t really make that much of an impact – or at least as much as he would have liked. He was replaced by Luke Guttridge, who slotted in playing just behind a front three of Lawless, Gray and Benson. Guttridge made a huge difference to the second half. Pulling the strings. He pressed so far forward he was almost part of a front four. A constant threat which frankly Welling were struggling to deal with. This was the fundamental difference, suddenly we were controlling the midfield and thus the match. It was Guttridge’s through ball to Lawless which set up the winner.

Alex Lawless started on the right of a four and ended up the right of a three. He wasn’t in the game too much in the first half but increasingly had influence as the game went on. It was his cross from a Guttridge pass which ran across the face of the goal for Gray to stick in.

Andrew Parry has become a fixture in the side – I like him. He showed a couple of very good touches today, but was outnumbered and couldn’t impose himself on the game in the way he would have wanted. He put in one excellent cross to his partner Stevenson. But also one nightmare pass to Griffiths, which fortunately he tidied up himself with an excellent tackle. I think he was a bit swamped with an inexperienced partner alongside – but hey – we won didn’t we? One thing that we learned from the game was that a central midfield partnership of Parry and Stevenson has less influence on a game than an three of Parry, Guttridge and Robinson.

So no home games for six weeks and then two come at once. We can look forward to seeing the Oak Road end full of Hatters again on Tuesday against Southport. Crikey – if we were confident they wouldn’t send many on a Saturday – how few are they going to send on a cold Tuesday night? Are we going to set aside 8 seats in a box for them? Mind you I say that, but Bedfordshire in November probably feels like the Med compared to the windy charms of the Irish sea coastline in Lancashire.

Then next Saturday an opportunity for the reserves to enjoy themselves against the Staines massive in the comedy cup. What could be more fun? 

Oh, I’d better do some scores, for what it’s worth:

Tyler: 7
Griffiths: 8
Henry: 6.5
McNulty: 7.5
Lacey: 7
Whalley: 6
Parry: 6
Stevenson: 5
Lawless: 7
Gray: 8.5
Benson: 7.5

Guttridge: 8
Robinson: 7.5

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Glorious Gateshead

Ah – Gateshead in the rain, one to tell the grandchildren about. Soaking wet at the end, and sick at half-time (yes that was me, sorry. Bad pint).

I must admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this too much, having seen the forecast and having already driven 900 miles the week before.  Just before I set off, it occurred to me that I could invoke and cash-in some of the Brownie points I earned last weekend, when at exceedingly short notice I babysat my niece for the whole weekend. A quick call to my mate Tom – erstwhile Vauxhall employee – now at Nissan UK in Sunderland transformed what was going to be a 8 hour round trip for a 90 minute game, just back in time for Match of the Day, into a night on the Toon in Newcastle, followed by a stonking curry.

Despite having been to the Newcastle-Gateshead conurbation many times before (see below) I still contrived to get lost and go round and round, eventually ending up in the underground car park of the Hilton by Tyne Bridge. I have now retired yet another sat nav. Through the driver’s side window.

Gateshead, a charming place, was runner up to Liverpool (!) when vying for European city of culture in 2008. I’m presuming that Gateshead was going for that on the back of the new millennium bridge, the new art centre and the new concert hall. In which case Luton should be in contention next time with the guided-busway.

My first visit to the North East came in the late eighties when a mate of mine was at Newcastle Uni and lived in a hovel somewhere in the city. It didn’t leave me with a positive impression. His house was profoundly cold. It had never been centrally heated and my mate didn’t bother with the luxury of heat in the month of January – spending money on heating the property meant less money for beer. It was so cold the condensation was on the outside of the windows. We phoned up for a takeaway curry one evening and I remember ordering two naan breads just to warm my hands up. I wore them like bready-gloves. At bedtime I scrabbled around for items I could use to somehow attempt to retain some body heat, and the naan-gloves were reused as makeshift insulation under my shirt along with almost anything else I could find. Not good. I’ve never shivered myself to sleep before or since.

The following night, my first venture into the centre of Newcastle, I wet myself the first pub we went to. I’d never seen men in pubs that size before. There were blokes in that pub who looked every bit like the product of a romantic encounter between Giant Haystacks and a mountain gorilla. We made our excuses and left.

After Saturday’s game, having changed from my wet togs (yes the orange in the new shirts does run) into some dry ones at Tom’s house, we ventured out from Washington (the original one) into Newcastle and we weren’t the only Hatters to do so either. Being a lover of all things real ale, I was keen to sample what the locals had to offer (in terms of beer that is).  My favourite of the ale houses was the Bacchus, which has about a dozen beers on and was full of Newcastle’s dolled-up finest men and women of all ages and sizes. My jaw was already dropping. On the way in we had passed two girls having a full on fight in the street – no one batted an eyelid. 

We did a brief tour of some of the sights in the film Get Carter including that funny bridge – a good excuse for a beer as there is a pub right next door.  And then down the steps to the Quayside, and saw the other world-famous funny bridge, the Tyne Bridge itself.

After a couple of pints at the Red House (I think it was), back up the steps and on the way to the Bigg Market – pointing out the remnants of the Newcastle castle. The castle had survived from Norman times until the Victorian era, when they knocked most of it down to put the railway through. Progress eh? HS2 anyone?

What things do you associate with Newcastle? Auf Wiedersehen Pet, Get Carter, Viz, Newcastle Brown ale, Raoul Moat and his chicken-toting pal Gazza, Alan Shearer, Jimmy Nail and the Bigg Market? Ah, the Bigg Market. The only place in the UK where three generations of women from the same family, all under 55 can go out together dressed identically, all on the pull. It wasn’t warm last night, I had jumper and coat  – the Geordies barely had skirts and shirts.  It was a wonderful, wonderful crazy sight. A sort of all-in free market for non-stop party goers on the pull and on the piss. My eyes were opened. I’ve never, ever, seen anything like it in my life. And needed a sit down afterwards.

Ignore the next para if you aren’t over forty: Without wanting to sound like a middle-aged fogey (note to self: you ARE a middle-aged fogey) I’m sure we weren’t like that when we were kids. The youngsters today certainly know how to party, but the partying I’m told seems to include something called pre-loading, ie getting drunk at home even before you go out! For someone who enjoys a 3.5% pint of hoppy ale, this is a different world. Mind you, saying that a fortnight ago I got told off for describing a group of tattered youths as ‘the homeless’, when actually I found out that they weren’t dressed like tramps because they had fallen on hard times, but were students and were being trendy! In my days at college we wore Noel Edmunds jumpers and a pair of jeans and that was it.

Darcus Howe said that Newcastle was a city without a soul whose only identity was the football team. Last night and indeed the previous times I have been up there, it has certainly been a city happy with its own company, if not quite at peace with itself, certainly not after chucking-out time anyway. A full-on party town after dark. I love it. I love it, I love it. 

Oh and the game? Luton battled-hard in torrential rain to keep the unbeaten run going to 10 games with a well-deserved point against a decent footballing team on a good run.

Next week a trip to Welling in the cup (somewhere up the A2 I think?). Come on you Hatters!

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