Grey Skies, Gray Goals

For the first half of the game Luton were a little ring-rusty and took a little while to get going, but by the end the players had moved back to the slick, dominant form they had prior to New Year’s Day. As the skies grew greyer, our play got sunnier.

This cunningly coincided with Luke Guttridge popping up in his familiar role behind the front three. There he fits in, as wise as an owl and as bald as a Buddha, pulling the strings and calling the shots.

It was a sound performance, and bearing in mind the horrible conditions and the damp pitch a good one. A couple of good finishes from Gray combined with an opportunist poach was the difference between the two teams.

Surprisingly, or rather, unusually defenders gave assists for two of the goals.

The first goal after 50 minutes was from a long throw by Ronnie Henry to Paul Benson, who knew exactly where his striking partner Gray was, which was in the inside right position on the edge of the box. Beset by multiple defenders all afternoon, he drove into the box and wriggled past his escorts and in the blink of an eye lashed the ball underneath the keeper, Belshaw on the near side. The instinctive finish of a natural goalscorer in confident form.

The second goal came after a short but strange passage of play following a corner. I did feel that a second goal was almost inevitable at that point. Sometimes you get that feeling – and I’ll explain why. Sometimes when a strange incident happens, the players are temporarily stunned, and are thinking about the incident, rather than switching back to the game. It happens sometimes after a goal is scored, the side are still celebrating the goal in their minds and sleepwalk for a few seconds, enough time for the other side, still switched on, to grab the initiative. And that’s exactly what happened today. Fortunately Luton were the side switched on. A Howells inswinging corner hung in the air sufficiently for it to be met by Innis (I think) at the far post. He headed it towards the goal and the ball was as close as you like to going across the line – it may have done, it may have not, it was certainly followed up by a melee of Luton players before a Nuneaton player squirted it clear, but clear only just to the edge of the box, where it was retrieved by McGeehan who jinked inside, turned and headed back for goal. His cross-cum-pass with his instep (he likes that) rather hit Benson and ricocheted out to the left edge of the box where Griffiths picked it up. He drilled it into the six yard area where Gray cleverly slotted it into the vacant near post goal as easy as you like. It all took a matter of seconds and Nuneaton were shell-shocked.

There was a short period of nearly-but-not-quite nervousness on my part whereby if Nuneaton had sneaked one then would have meant the last 25 mins could have been nervy. But that wasn’t on the cards. The Hatters were now brimming with confidence and had it not been for Belshaw we would have had more.

The last goal came with about 10 mins of proper time to go – but in reality about 20. It was inadvertent route one. Belshaw’s goal kick into the wind reached as far as McNulty in the centre circle. His powerful header back should have been met by his equivalent. But – he missed it and Gray pounced on and chipped the – in effect – perfect through ball over Belshaw for the third and a well-deserved second half hat-trick. A lightning strike of a different kind for a change. Just to emphasise though – McNulty’s header was as hard and as far as a kick. He bestrode the pitch like a colossus today, figuratively of course.

Nuneaton for their part came to slow things down and frustrate and didn’t have a plan B once plan A failed. I counted them as having only about 3 decent chances all game, none of them really clear cut. I don’t think Tyler had a save to make really. Belshaw, dodgy kicking into the wind aside, had a good game and made two or three fine saves to deny us.

Alex Lawless missed out and Howells continued as part of the attacking force on the left hand side. McGeehan started his first game with Ferdinand missing out, with Robinson retaining his place. I liked the look of McGeehan. I think he took a little while to get up to pace and up to speed, and his tempo matched that of the whole team in the first half. Once he and the side picked up pace in the second half things started to happen. Innis the man-mountain partnered McNulty at the back and one or two weak touches and awkwardness aside (to be exceedingly picky) had a solid game. As if he’d been in the team for years not days. Blimey – and he’s only 18.

What to say about the conditions? Dry at the start, and bearing in mind the rain it has had on and off since the Barnet game, the outing against Cambridge and then the waterlogging last week, it wasn’t bad at all. Then the rain started and it slowed up a bit and got tacky. And then the hail started and there were puddled on the pitch again. What weather we’ve had eh? When was the last time the players went hurtling for cover because the air was full of little missiles? Oh yes, York of course.

So – I really enjoyed the game and it went as you might have predicted. Slow start – getting back up to speed gradually, and then hitting the straps, more or less, in the second half. Lovely.

My congratulations to Andre Gray for his well-taken hat-trick. Boy he looks in good form. Long may that continue and long may he stay….

My congratulations also to JohnStill and the squad for breaking the club record by going 20 league games unbeaten. Truly a magnificent performance and I’m proud to have witnessed the majority of those games.

On a sad note, along with others on the Luton Outlaws board – I learnt about the death of Ian Saunders. Nice to see the online community raising money in his name, I thought that was a nice touch. Though I didn’t know Ian – I did wonder if he was the lone visitor from Romania who visited this site. RIP.

Come on you Hatters!


Short update

Lots of comings and going recently. The man-mountain Inniss in. I like the look of him, but also was impressed by Joe Davis. Alfie Mawson’s gone back to Brentford of course – didn’t see much of him at all. In comes another Ferdinand, who I saw the other day at Cambridge looks promising, as does the news of young Mr McGeehan from Norwich. From the sounds of it, he is in the box to box PRM mode. Pelly obviously has returned to the Hammers from whence he came. That’s a big shame, because I thought he was a class above this level and really did put us on another plane. Hopefully the Norwich lad can do the same.

I understand that Luke Guttridge is back for the game tomorrow which is good news for him, but perhaps bad news for Jake Howells, as presumably, Lawless will return to the right of the front three, Gray to the left and Jake to the bench. I’m guessing at a midfield of Guttridge, Ferdidnand and Robinson, with the back four picking itself, assuming Inniss is in.

I agree with PDW’s commments after the Cambridge replay on Tuesday regarding the older returning from injury players vs the youngsters. Clearly Taiwo and Shaw need more games and I thought Shaw felt a bit frustrated at times on Tuesday. Bless him, he still can’t jump! Taiwo is a funny player, on his day he can turn a game, but as often as not descends into a pit of poor-passing. Though clearly Still rates him, he’s surely a long way behind Guttridge and Lawless for the position behind the front two, and certainly you wouldn’t think he could compete on the same terms as Smudger Smith, Parry, Robinson etc. It’s a loan for you my son. Charles was certainly competant, but Inniss was better. Charles looked a bit ring-rusty still.

Shaun Whalley. What do we make of dear Shaun? Clearly his game is at a low ebb. He reminds me a bit of Adam Newton after that shocking miss at Southampton. The confidence drained out of Newton and his game went to pot. Whatever confidence Shaun had at the start of the season has long since gone. Let’s have a look at this a bit closer: what is going wrong? Well, at the moment he can’t pass, cross and everything he does seems to fail to come off. The one thing he can still do is go on a run with the ball, but then the end product is rubbish. Now obviously he’s not a completely terrible player. For two reasons 1) unless he was the gooseberry in the Parry deal, JohnStill wanted him and rated him and JS is a good judge of player 2) he must have some talent, but because his confidence has gone his game is on the floor. Though his output at present is Sunday league, he’s talent and ability are sufficient enough for a manager of JS’s ability to want him and rate him, and indeed start with him at the top of the season. So, something’s gone wrong and the confidence has gone. He reminds me a bit of Steven Finn, the England fast bowler. Another who has ability, but whose confidence is at zero. What does Finn need to do? Play lots of county cricket and rediscover the form which made him such a good prospect in the first place.

With Whalley, how do we do the same? Not up to me to decide, but I’m thinking that perhaps he needs to go out on loan at a lower level and find it easy again and get a good feeling about his game back. He needs to connect with a few crosses, get some 1-2s coming off, get in the box and knock some goals in. Surely it is nothing more fundamental than that. If it is then he has a problem, or rather, if he can’t get his confidence back and then advance as a player and grow his game, then he is going to be stuck at this level or below for the rest of his career. He’s at the crossroads. Hopefully it will be nothing more than getting his confidence back to where it was last year and growing from there. Who knows? Perhaps he’s homesick? Perhaps he is not getting on with one of the team? Perhaps he’s going through a messy divorce or trouble at home? There is always an element to a players loss of form that we can never be sure about.

Of the youngsters that played the other night it was Brett Longden who impressed me the most. Sitting in the enclosure for a change, I got the chance to view his game up close. Whilst, like the other youngsters, he made less of an impression in the second half I really liked his workrate, positional sense, ability to track back and tackle and pass. He is a player older than his years and his number of first team performances would suggest. Again, JS will have his own ideas, but I would have no worries about considering him the first choice deputy for Ronnie Henry on the right. I know he played left back the other day, which he did really well and showed his versatility. A real prospect is Brett.

Young Trotman was also very good, and was the only youngster whose game remained at a consistent level for 90 mins. Again, really promising player – where do we find them? Ian Rees I have spoken about before – I think he has a bright future ahead of him if brought on properly. Zane Banton is just electric and added some much needed pazzazz when he came on on Tuesday night – again, he must have been frustrated at not starting, and was clearly itching to give it a go. Ahead of him in the queue is Mark Cullen who worked really hard the other night even though he was on the wrong side for most of the game. Lastly for now Alex Wall looked a bit less rusty and had much better touch on Tuesday and happier with his game. He is a big battering ram of a player all elbows and bustle – not the sort of guy you look forward to playing against.

The result was disappointing, but there were some good signs there and the players worked hard. The ball was in the air for longer than I would have liked – but with Shaw and Wall up front, what would you do?

At least Cambridge are left in the cup, which will add to their fixture congestion hopefully, and take their mind off the main prize. In a way it might just have worked in our favour, though the players and development squad players who were enjoying their run wouldn’t agree.

Wrexham tomorrow. Be good to get back to winning ways, though nothing can be taken for granted. Just because they were lacklustre and had their heads down against our reserves, doesn’t mean to say it will be a cake walk with our first team. I hope, obviously, it is. But football has a nasty way of surprising you when you least expect it. JohnStill will instill this in them I am sure, and weather forecast notwithstanding, I look forward to a good game tomorrow.

Come on you Hatters…see you there.



Truly from the sublime to the ridiculous. Imagine football as the Keystone cops, add a bit of Charlie Chaplin and roll in some Laurel and Hardy. It was still good fun though and comedy gold. I’m just genuinely relieved that no players were injured because of the conditions. Not injured perhaps, but just imagine how heavy their legs were at the end of the game.

Should the game have started?  Possibly.  Was it quickly apparent that it should be called off? Yes. Did I still feel that when we were two up? Osf course not. Was it the same for both sides? Yes. Was I praying that the game would finish and not be called off? – you bet.

What can I say? On Saturday, against Kidderminster, some of the football we played was up there with as well as we have played, for a long, long time. Just look at that sixth goal. Barcelona? Nope, do not adjust your sets, it’s lowly Luton. Superb.  But today, well it couldn’t have been more different. Poor Richard Bird, how long’s it going to take to get that (previously excellent) pitch back to scratch? He must have thought Richard Money was back, playing through the snow that time. In certain areas of the pitch it was just a watery bog. The ball didn’t run nor bounce and so it was pot luck. Back passes were a no-no. In fact any passes seemed bloody difficult to be frank. I’ve never witnessed a Luton crowd “shouting get it in the air” and “hoof it” before, but scooping it down the wings was the best option. In fact it was quite hard to judge. In the non-boggy areas the ball would roll pretty normally, so it was a lottery, the long ball would run out.  I guess the best option would be to pump it down the middle and let the pitch do the rest – which is what Barnet did in the second half. Trouble is, you could feed your best player a clear chance at goal, but the ball would get stuck under his feet, or on a couple of occasions a complete comedy fall-on-your-arse mis-kick, one notably from Hash-Brown. Thank the Lord it was being shown on the telly – because that miss would otherwise be lost forever.

I think all the lads deserved a big pat on the back for their performance. Alex Lawless was given man of the match for his tireless efforts in midfield – but to be fair they all did really well. One player who stood out for me was Andre Gray. It was him running the right channel all PM. Towards the end, with 10 minutes to go he was out on his feet. He could run no more. He had to have a little rest. We were all calling for JS to get Cullen on. But to be fair to Gray, he did get his second wind, and ran some more.

Jake had an outstanding game on the other wing. He must have done 2 or 3 very dangerous crosses, of the same quality that Paul Benson got onto the end of on Saturday. No luck today though.

McNulty stood out too, his calm head ensuring no panics, though even he on occasion was caught out by trying to roll the ball across the surface.

If the game had started at 3pm, I’m sure it would have never have started, so we have the TV to thank for that. I wonder how much pressure there was on the ref to keep it going by the telly people? Conspiracy theorists will have it that there was plenty. Premiership game? Perhaps? But New Years Day Luton vs Barnet? The audience on BTSport must have been thousands (DM: 300k according to BTSport – mmmm) . The ref stopped the game on 60 mins and spoke with the managers, his assistants and the two captains. The game went on though – much to Edgar’s angst. By then scoring their goal, Barnet were kept interested and less whingy.

The result? Well I guess it was a fair reflection of the way the sides mastered the conditions.  I suspect, on a level playing field (and not a waterlogged one) we would have had made a few more of the chances count. But we will never know.

All I can say, is that I’ve never seen a game like it. I’m glad I did see the game and I’m so pleased it finished. That’s four points clear now. The run continues. I do hope the extra efforts today don’t affect the performance at Lincoln on Saturday.

Anyway – short but sweet – I’m suffering from some sort of bug so not in top form at the moment.  

Happy New Year everyone – here’s to a wonderfully successful 2014. Who would want to support anyone else? It all happens at the Kenny. My thanks to the players, the board and JohnStill for turning the experience of Luton Town from a drudge to a joy again.