If its Gateshead then it must be raining. A wet afternoon and a cracking game. The Hatters played at such a pace in the first half that perhaps it was inevitable that they would run out of puff at some point. When we did we let in a couple of sloppy goals but not before we had scored four crackers. On the final Saturday before Christmas, an excuse for lower crowds in the days before Amazon, just under 7000 Hatters made the place rock and the Oak Road sang like the old days. For a while in the first half we were irrepressible, and at times there was clear blue water man for man between each Luton player and his Gateshead counterpart for a little while it was men against boys.
The side picked itself, with Joe Davis slotting in alongside McNulty. Lawless however played on the left, rather than the right, which was interesting. He set up one goal and scored two others and was in fine form.
The scoring was opened by the in form Paul Benson who led the line superbly all night. It came from a lovely cross from Lawless from the byline across the face of the goal to the far post.
The second was down to Alex Lawlesss persistence in front of goal. Having lost the ball a couple of yards out he tackled the defender span around and lashed the ball in the net with his left foot.
Persistence was the name of the game for the third goal. On the far right wing, but the dugouts Lawless closed down the dilatory Sirrell and the ball ran to his colleague who barely had time to control it before Ronnie Henry intercepted and his interception became a perfect through ball for Andre Gray. Gray took a couple of touches, ran with the ball a little way, didnt bother to try to create an angle and just blasted it past the goalie into the net. Nothing prevented the goalie from saving it, he wasnt obstructed or impeded he was on his line, but Gray just blasted it as hard as he could into the back of the net.
The fourth goal was a beauty too. It began at the back whereby McNulty and Henry tidied up a Gateshead loose ball, with them pressed up the pitch, Henry slotted the ball to Gray on the right who took the ball from his own half and played the ball into the path of Benson who rounded a player and then reversed a shot into the opposite corner. The keeper got his fingers to it, but could only parry the ball to Lawless who calmly slotted it in.
Steve McNulty was simply awesome all afternoon. His tackling, heading and positional play was outstanding. He even had a tete-a-tete with Hatch right at the end with the ex-Hatter (and fellow Mastermind contestant) goading our lovable scouse and picking up a booking in the process. He kept on and on and wouldnt let it lie (clearly debating that the atomic weight of xenon is indeed 131.293, not 131.294) but fantastically (in the hypocritical way that cricketers go and have a beer with the bloke whose mother they were slagging off a few minutes earlier at the end of the game) turned around and shook McNultys hand the second the whistle was blown. No hard feelings Macca. McNulty also lambasted Lawless for the first Gateshead goal. Nice to see the passion and annoyance about conceding one when four up. Glad it didnt develop into a Batty/Le Saux tiff.
Scott Griffiths has gone from strength to strength over the past few weeks, he pressed further forwards than usual and on two or three occasions took an active part in play in the box and even had a shot, a left-back special. His commitment on the touchline and interplay with Lawless was the key to the first goal: he played Alex in to cross for Bensons header. I think he did go a bit sleepy bo bos for the Heeds first goal but Ill forgive him that.
On the right Ronnie Henry roamed forward on occasion with great effect and brought a challenging extra element for Gateshead to contend with.
Davis was also tidy and competent. I recall one bone-cruncher of a tackle he did on the no 7 (Larkin?) the tackle had to be perfect, because something bad would have happened if he had been out by an inch either way.
The middle three comprised of PRM, Guttridge and Smudger Smith. Smith was quietly competent with some composed tackles he pressed their midfield effectively and never let them settle on the ball. He had an outstanding game. Guttridge was utterly dominant and pulling all the strings in the way he does, more so in the first half than second. PRM at times looked way too good for the conference, between you and me he looked a bit too good for Luton a couple of times. What a difference his presence is making. The original box to box man, driving forward, skipping around people, scattering Gateshead players as he went. As it happens today, he wasnt a key contributor, but didnt need to be. I recall possibly the miss of the season in the second half when he volleyed a Guttridge corner, its not many shots that run the risk of going over the roof at the Kenny End.
Gray was superb on the right and tormented Sirell like a cat playing with a dying mouse. Sirrell must have hacked at him, dragged him down, rugby tackled him and all sorts in his attempts to stop him, but without much success even at that. Gray is in top form at the moment, with 7 goals in his last 5 days. He is tormenting defenders with his pace. Long may he remain at LTFC.
I wont say anything about the defending for their second goal basically Turnbill put in a deep curling cross to the far post that evaded everyone but that cheeky-chappy Liam Hatch at the far post. Im sure JS would have gone potty at conceding that type of goal. Thank goodness it is a rarity these days.
I hope we can build on the performance today and eagerly look forward to the Barnet games and the Kiddy game next week. The Christmas period is key I must admit we could have had easier ties but weve got to play these sides sometime they will be fearing us more than us fearing them.
Todays game, the Gateshead goals aside was a superb performance for the Town. These are the performances and play which you want to bottle and keep forever. The pace, the touches, the vision, the confidence and self belief and the ethos were as good as they have been for a long, long time. It is a pleasure to watch them. How many times in recent years have we been able to say that? There are so many good things going on at the club from the youth team, through the ressies and the first team that I must take my hat off to the club and more importantly to JohnStill and his back room staff. Im a happy Hatter as at Christmas 2013. By the way, it seems that everyone in the football world is following our recent (but not future) habit of sacking the manager, theyve been falling like flies this week. Im pleased to see that weve extended JohnStills contract.
Happy Christmas to all of you out there who take the time out to read this blog. I wish you all the best and heres to a successful 2014 for everyone.
QPR released plans for new stadium just north of Wormwood Scrubs today, fairly ironic bearing in mind some of the dubious characters they’ve had at the club in their history. But jibes aside, who’s that team they are playing against in the artist’s impression of the new stadium? And doesn’t that look uncannily like Alex Lawless? All I can say is that I hope fate has it in its hands that we are the team who QPR play against in their first game there.
I notice that we haven’t left anyone up for the corner – so JohnStill is still in charge then…
A link for those of you vaguely interested:
Another splendid run out by the development’ squad. Just as well Wrexham didn’t put up their reserves too or we would have had a hatful.
At present much or most of the Hatters world is rosy. To be able to have a group of youngsters and those used to warming the subs bench (at present anyway) who seamlessly slip in and out the first team is where we always wanted to be. Remember just a couple of years ago where there seemed to be no route from the ressies to the first team. All we had was an enormous squad of first teamers and there was a youth team and ne’er the twain seemed to meet. I must take my hat off to Mr Still. He has created this culture of winning and emphasis on youth in under a year. Be interesting to see what he can do after a couple in charge. Must be nice for him too. Thus far in his career I believe that he has always operated with his financial back to the wall. Whilst we are no Man City (and this is a good thing) it must be lovely for him to have such a financially supportive board and a bit of breathing room to shape and form his squad as he wishes. It seems to be working wonders.
I’m not naive enough to think that everything has been sorted and this is it, but neither am I going to chuck my toys out the pram if we suddenly go on a winless streak. But I’m not sure, unless a freak thing occurs why that would happen right now. The first team are flying at the moment, Gray and Benson in partnership with Guttridge and Lawless are terrorising the opposition and confidence is high. Long may it continue.
Back to today’s game. Of the recent years we’ve had to endure playing Wrexham twice a year I must admit that Morrell’s current team are a pretty insipid, toothless bunch. Other than a few shimmies into the box when we were still only 1-0 up they offered very little. Perhaps this is because Davis Jnr and Anthony Charles bottled them up so well. Both centre halves had excellent games and JohnStill has a real headache on his hands next Saturday as to who to partner McNulty in the heart of defence in the absence of Lacey and Parry. What has happened to Wrexham? They were real competitors in the past and now they are a shadow of their former selves. Not that I give a toss of course hopefully, this year or next will be the last time we play them for a long time. In the past when Andy Morrell brought himself on it was a statement of attacking intent. Nowadays it is the equivalent of waving the white flag.
Davis was the more mobile of the two centre halves not sure if that is because he is younger and isn’t coming back from an injury or is Charles just like that anyway? Charles also kept my 2-0 at Ladbrokes intact with a clearance off the line towards the end. At right back Brett Longden made his first start of the year. I think he got better and better as the game went on. A tidy player he gave me no cause for concern whatsoever. The greater exposure he has to this level the better he will get. Who needs cover for Ronnie? Can’t be too long before Brett is the natural choice as stand in.
Capt Boyo Howells was at left back and worked exceedingly hard. He had more impact in the first half than the second, but nevertheless, one slip aside, was sold and sound and positive going forward putting in a fair share of crosses.
In the middle was a sort of three of Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (no15′ from now on), Robinson and Ian Rees who I’d seen come on as sub in the Staines game. All three had tremendous games. I thought Rees looked good against Staines and his touch, movement, passing, intelligence and positional play were outstanding for someone making his first 1st XI start. He looks like a most excellent prospect. In a way it was a shame we didn’t get to see Charlie Smith as he too looked an outstanding prospect when he moved inside in the second half against Staines. Blimey, how are we going to fit them all in? It’s just like the olden days every good youngster knocking on the door means one fewer foray into the transfer market and a slightly less furrowed brow for Messrs Wilkinson and co. Robinson showed class throughout, like he had in the Staines replay. He showed some fine touches and popped up all over the park. He’s coming on well and is a more than capable deputy for Jonathan Smith at present. No15 was a revelation against Staines, in his element against Alfreton and again dominant today. He has more energy than a truck full of Duracells and loves to burst through on runs from the edge of his own box to the edge of the opposition one strong as an Ox or “Rhino as everyone else says. A great acquisition and perfect timing with Parry laid up. Don’t know how long he is on loan for but AP might struggle to get back in at present.
On the right of a front three was Shaun Whalley. He actually gave us a pretty typical performance. He met with almost no opposition from the left-back Ashton who he skirted around with ease all afternoon, but the end product was sometimes disappointing. Now I know if he was Carlos Edwards standard he’d not be playing for Luton but am I being unreasonable to expect him to put in a succession of decent crosses? If he did we’d had had lots and lots of goals. Is that unfair? His attempt on goal from a free kick ended up in the upper tier of the Kenny and had to be retrieved by a steward who put in his exercise for the day by climbing the stairs to get it. Alas the one perfect pass he did do found Alex Wall who scored, but was offside. But, that said, he did provide the crosses for both the goals, both from corners and so hey what do I know? The goals by the way were a cracking header for Cullen where he peeled off and was unmarked at a corner and the second was I think either an own goal or came off Anthony Charles. Either way, the cross came in and hit the unlucky/lucky (delete as appropriate) recipient without them knowing much about it.
In the middle was Alex Wall who is like a human battering ram. Pleased to see him back and I’m glad he is getting back to fitness. Showed some good touches and a couple of heavy ones and got clouted and jumped on all afternoon without making too much of a fuss. When he’s back to being fully fit he will give us a more physical edge when one is needed and we saw that he sublime side of him with his wonderful goal against Halifax and his two goals last year. JohnStill has an eye for a player and Alex Wall one way or another is going to have a good career. He’s already better than Calvin Andrew.
On the left was Mark Cullen this year’s unluckiest (fit) player. Unlucky, because clearly he has an eye for goal as 6 goals in 13 starts demonstrates and it is only the excellent form of Andre Gray keeping him out. Good player to have on the bench. He’s not as sharp as Gray of course, and a couple of touches showed that he has to work on his crossing with his left foot at least (no surprise there I guess) but he got the first goal and worked hard from beginning to end.
Oh and Elliot Justham played too but Geoff Boycott’s mum could have played in the first half for all he had to do. He has a good kick on him and good positional sense. Again, definitely one to watch. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when Tyler’s time comes to hang up his gloves, we have the ready-made heir apparent in Justham, just ready to slot in having put so much pressure on Tyler that he is almost forcing his way in. I daresay that is JohnStill’s aim, so the more exposure to the first team he gets the better.
When I was a younger man, unfettered by the responsibilities of fatherhood and my current job, I used to pop up to reserve games as often as I could (the last one I went to I saw Enoch get hat-trick against a piss poor MK Dons side). Today’s game, and perhaps the Staines one a little more, gave me the wholesome warmth that watching a good reserves game used to do. A good old fashioned work out for the up and coming and a few seasoned pros. JohnStill said that he put out a side capable of winning, and it did just that. We could/should have had more and killed the game off earlier, but there you go. We did go sleepybobos for a short period at the start of the second half, but no harm done. What’s more it gives the manager another look at the players in a first team context and the likes of Gray and co a well-earned rest on a Saturday after a hard weeks training. What!? It sounds as if I’m making a case for the FA Trophy! Surely not?
Meanwhile, in a town 20 odd miles down the M1, the fans of the club with as many trophies as Rochdale went into meltdown after their team continued its long, disappointing run. Apparently dirty Italian money isn’t a guarantee of success. Oh dear, how sad, never mind. How my heart bleeds.
To both of you who were listening carefully to 1CR after the game, you will note that in-between the whingy phone calls from the hornets fans, whoever was in the studio read out a text saying “McNulty had a quiet game today. Sorry, couldn’t resist it. They will read out anything those lads.