"Never Refuse a Cross"

It’s funny how a freak occurrence can sometimes change a match. Matt Robinson’s ’very deep cross’ rather liberated the Hatters this afternoon. Followed by good finishes from Gray and Benson it meant that we finished on a high after our mini blip.

We started with the same back five as usual. But there was a change in midfield – out went McGeehan, for presumably a well-earned rest, Parry took his place and Lawless played alongside him with PRM who replaced Robinson in front. The top three were the same, Howells, Benson and Gray.

This was a very different game to the Woking one, but no less disjointed. For great chunks of the game we couldn’t string two passes together or get the ball down much. Chester snapped at our heels, literally – I counted five yellow cards in the first half. But instead of playing on the front foot like Woking did, they sat back and frustrated us with only one man up front.  That’s not to say they didn’t attack us – they did, Rooney in particular (their Rooney that is, the brother of, not our new one) came closest and brought a good save out of Tyler before half time.

We came back more in the second half, but were still frustratingly not quite gelling, the little one-twos were not coming off and we were not getting the high tempo possession in their half we need in order to dominate. Benson, whilst leading the line well, wasn’t able to find Gray or others with his touches, in the first half at least. At one point I counted eight successive touches by him which didn’t find an orange shirt. A poor ratio for him, but that isn’t meant as a criticism.  Rather it is a symptom of the way we were playing rather than the cause.

PRM didn’t have the best of games. He’s a little out of sorts at the moment  – when on loan he was the best midfielder in the division by a long chalk. Today he showed glimpses of brilliance, one or two driving runs, a couple of lovely one twos, but the end product isn’t quite as good as it was. Is he lacking form? Confidence? Or is he tired? Robinson did look likely when he came on – possibly a little peeved at not starting, but he brought it down an added a degree of control that hadn’t been there. His unintentional lob of the beanpole Chapman lightened the mood and brought a sigh of relief. After hard work by Lawless on the left the ball came back to Robinson who was on the touchline and he turned and crossed the ball in – a nice curling, overhit cross which managed to lob Chapman. The sort of luck we don’t often get.

By the time Gray scored his goal, we were getting back into the harness. Now, with Chester pushing forward a little more they were vulnerable to the break and the second goal was fairly typical for this season, Robinson quickly passing it to Cullen (who had come on for Howells, meaning a rejiggle of the team and formation) and Cullen directing it in front of Gray who muscled his way into the box and who finished with confidence and aplomb.

Howells has been a little bit out of form for a couple of games now, and perhaps another one who needs a rest to recharge his batteries. Perhaps that’s why Rooooooney has been brought in?

Someone who had a fine game and who even rounded it off with a lovely left-back’s shot was indeed Scott Griffiths who worked very hard, pushed forward at every opportunity and who had a good all round match.

Franks at the heart of defence was still a little wayward in his passing but sound in his defending. Parry looked a little off the pace, but that’s hardly surprising as he hasn’t started since November time.

And what of the new boy Mr Rooney? Must be the first player who’s had his own (well, not his own really) chant before he’s even kicked a ball for us. Certainly a good cameo and I’m not going to be the first or last to say that he has a touch of the Kissocks about him. Presumably without the hissy fits and dodgy accent, but certainly with the dodgy hair. It was his control and run across the face of the goal and then pass to Henry which enabled the cross and thus the goal (ahem) by  Mr Benson who may or may not have used his arm at some point in the move, but finished nicely in any case.

Football’s a funny old game they say, and indeed it is. On Monday, we couldn’t have scored in open play, if we’d played until Tuesday, but should have had a couple of penalties, which would have won us a game we lost. Today, we get a fluky first goal and a dodgy third goal, in a game we deserved to win.  Swapping Saturday’s fortune for Monday’s misfortune and we’d still have our unbeaten run in place. It’s funny how Lady Luck asserts her authority in games. Mind you – what did Gary Player say? “The more I practise, the luckier I get”. Which is a rather nice, trite axiom, which Ed Smith did his best to disprove in his book about luck.

The next three games, all away, and which will all have been played within the next 10 days. You could argue that these three are going to be amongst the toughest three of the season. With our current form, sans Guttridge you’ve got to think that we might have a good fight on our hands at each. Grimsby and Halifax are both excellent sides at home,  and so it isn’t going to be easy, whilst a resurgent Dartford will be hoping to get something from the game. Whilst we were in our purple patch you’d have been thinking at least two wins and a draw. Not so sure now.

These three games, for us and Cambridge will really bring the end game of the league into focus. In the event that we win all three – and Cambridge draw two of theirs and lose the other then we will be champions. It’s that close now. Of course if we stutter and stumble and say only get a couple of draws and Cambridge win theirs then we will still have a 7 point lead with 6 to go. If both sides draw all three games, then we will still need just two wins and a further draw from the last 6 to clinch it.

JohnStill will of course be talking about winning all three and will set out his stall to do just that, though in my heart of hearts I can’t help thinking that he might take three draws at the moment. We will see. I’d like to pass my personal thanks to whoever put the fixtures together. Right now I can’t think of two grimmer trips in a week than Cleethorpes and Halifax. Okay, okay perhaps Middlesbrough and Barrow in a week would be worse places to go to, but a very unlikely combination.

Right, it’s late, I’m off now – well done LTFC on the win, and if you wondered about the heading, I’m quoting Matty Robinson quoting JohnStill when talking about his goal on youtube.

Come on you Hatters and #imgladorangewon

*picture credit goes to the official site.

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You can’t win them all…

…And with a ref like that we probably wouldn’t win again. All good things come to an end. But without being too disingenuous we didn’t play well. Woking had more of the play whilst we had the better of the chances. I shan’t mention the two dead-cert penalties that weren’t given, the free kick that should have been given, hitting the post twice as well as the one cleared off the line. The referee didn’t give us a thing all night, despite Ruddock being felled like a tree on two occasions and Benson being used as a climbing frame throughout the game.

To be fair, I think the standard of refereeing has improved this year, just our luck we got a duff one. He definitely had the game as an away win on his coupon…

Woking played us at our own game and won. They played high tempo short passing football, closed us down and didn’t give us much of a sniff and we didn’t have too much of an answer. The Hatters came into it more in the second half as Woking tired a little and dropped off a little but all the little through balls and half chances that have been coming off most of the season just didn’t drop tonight. The luck ran out – but to be fair, it was going to do it at some point.  As Woking hadn’t capitalised on their utter dominance, I think we played well enough to get a point especially based on the second half improvement.

In the first half Kevin Betsy tormented poor Scott Griffiths who was not given enough cover initially and was constantly exposed. Woking constant probed down our left and Griffiths had a torrid time.

But despite all of the last gasp tackles and blocks and balls-on-the-line interventions we actually did well to hold them at bay. We manfully absorbed attack after attack, but didn’t do anything substantial with the ball and back it came. McNulty was man of the match, rightly so, but even he had his wobbly moments.

I thought the defenders largely defended well, but distributed poorly. We were as good at defending as we were poor at passing. Because Woking pressed us so far up the pitch we were forced to play slightly longer, more hopeful balls than usual (that’s the idea of pressing, obviously) and we were snuffed out. However, if they could shoot straight Woking would have had the game in the bag by half time. In the second half we pushed up more and made Woking stretch the play which accordingly gave us better opportunities to be creative. Pelly Ruddock made a big difference when he came on for McGeehan, but then was forced back when Cullen came on to replace Howells – which I think was an unusual error as Pelly was beginning to dominate the play from the advanced midfielder position.

So, it was a funny game. To repeat, Woking played well enough to be three up by the interval, such was their total domination of us and of our midfield. But, somehow we kept them out. But in the second half, all other things being equal we did enough to win the game – and had we had the same rub of the green we have enjoyed all year we would have had those two penalties and the ref would have blown up for that free kick.

Mind you, I suppose you only get so much luck in a season. If you think about it, we’ve been quite fortunate – wonderful one-twos coming off, freak shots going in, that sort of thing. It may be that we’ve used up our quota for 2013/4.

Well played to Woking, under the management of Dr Death himself they did us up like a kipper. The best tactical display against us, you could argue, since perhaps Stevenage in the first season. In which case the circle is almost complete.

You could argue that after such a long run of great results some of the players are in need of a rest. The youngsters McGeehan and Ruddock have certainly being going full pelt, and whilst it is fantastic experience you don’t want to work them both too hard in their first proper seasons at senior level. You need to run the engine in a little, to get longer mileage overall. Young Franks in the heart of defence was looking a little bit frayed at the edges yesterday, some great headers and defending, but (like a few of them) was a bit shorn of confidence and composure. In the absence of Gutteridge Lawless has been playing in his stead. Initially, last night in the hole and then out on the right and then the left, he’s yet to return to the top form he was in earlier in the year, understandably perhaps.

The games are coming thick and fast now, and I guess having another home game on Saturday is a balancing act between sufficient recovery time and getting back onto the horse to bang a few in and to break out of this mini-blip. Wouldn’t it be great to recharge our confidence, if not our batteries with a thumping win again? Remember them?

Cambridge got back to winning ways tonight with a 2-1 home win over Welling. With 10 games to go, our lead is 11 points. Cambridge have to play 4 teams with realistic chances of play off places plus Hyde and Southport in the bottom six. We have to play Grimsby, Halifax and Forest Green of the contenders, and each of the bottom five. Even if our record in the last 10 is P10 W4 D4 L2, Cambridge would have to win 9 and draw the tenth to pip us at the post. I’ll let you decide how realistic that is.

My congratulations to the team for such a splendid run of 27 league games unbeaten. How wonderful indeed to have been part of that. A good thing to tell the grandchildren about when recalling the dark ages.

Roll on Saturday…come on you Hatters!

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Meeting the Manager

I had the privilege this evening of attending the meeting the manager event at the ground in the Eric Morecambe lounge. What a lovely guy JohnStill is – he was engaging, reassuring, passionate, interesting, funny, confident and knowledgeable – with an anecdote or two thrown in for good measure.

He lives and breathes the game and his pursuit of finding hard-working, hungry ambitious players who want to play for the club is what drives him on.

He strikes me as a pleasant, down to earth, contented guy who knows what he likes and likes what he knows, at peace with himself. He must be the most self-effacing and humble manager in the game.

Terry Harris joined him on the stage, what we heard of Terry was usually a bon mot or an aside here or there, but he was funny too.

JS told us of the two Luton managers he respected the most, his favourite performance this season, the reason why he gave Robinson such a bollocking on Tuesday night, what he thought about football agents and the influence of foreign players on the game and what he thought of Scott Griffiths’ early season form, amongst many, many others topics.

My favourite and most touching bit was when he spoke movingly about the journey he wanted to take us on and where we deserved to be and how it formed part of his journey as a manager.

He said that there will be times next year when we are not playing well and our support will be needed even more – we, as fans, will need to be louder and more supportive and play our part again, we will have to step in and make the difference when things are not going so well during games. Not that he predicted bad things for next year. Will be get promoted next year? He can’t tell us, will he get us promoted from league two – yes he will.

Overall he was incredibly supportive of the club, the board, and really positive about where he thought we could get to as a club.

I thought the questions asked were outstanding and the passion for our club in the room was tangible, there were no embarrassed silences where there was no one to ask questions, just a smooth flow of questions and feedback.

I’d like to thank the Trust and the LTSC for putting this event together for diamond season ticket holders. It was MC’d and hosted really well. I did have a chance to speak to both John and Gary Sweet afterwards, but I get terribly tongue-tied and star struck and they would have thought me a babbling fool so I shuffled off instead.

A final thing – John said that his favourite feeling in football is getting promoted, and that was a feeling we were going to enjoy this year soon too!

Great evening, great manager, great future.

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