Confidence is everything

Confidence and self belief. Once we rediscovered it, we played like you would expect us to play against a depleted Barrow team.

The first five minutes were like a hangover from the previous two games. A through ball played in the nippy Macreth down the right channel and he outpaced Jake completely, popped in a shot over Tyler and we were one down. Easy as that. We were all shell-shocked, but not entirely surprised. Cue silence – and a few boos. So where do you go from there? It could have been a pivotal moment in the season. You can descend into a nightmare, lose all of your confidence there and then and ship a couple more, or you can regroup and start again. To be fair we did the latter. But the key thing is that we were able to do the latter. Poor Barrow, they were outplayed – ravaged by injuries and suspensions and down the the barest of bare bones. We were able to play, and played our way back into it. And, if you give a sucker an even break, he will take it.

Once we had equalised, we started to have more of the play and from about half and hour through the first half onwards we totally dominated. Further Luton goals seemed inevitable, though half time seemed to come at the wrong time, because by that stage it was all Luton. However, contrary to that belief the break clearly helped to rejuvenate because we came out and Willmott had his second within seconds of the restart. From then onwards we more or less ran the game and got three more goals in the next 20 minutes. We played, well, you know how we play when we are ‘in the zone’, short passing, fast paced, creative attacking football. When sides give us space and room and allow us to play then we generally take the mickey.

And that was the difference – give us a sniff, and, if we get a goal and remove the pressure on ourselves and remove the self-doubt – we go out and play in an unfettered attacking way. Close us down, make it hard for us, get men behind the ball and you throttle us. We become stifled and ponderous, our confidence sapping away. Barrow did the former, Cambridge the latter. Cambridge snuffed us out like a candle in a gale.

So it would appear as if the key is to get the team to continue to play in a confident and world beating way, even when confronted by an opposition who don’t give us any chance to play. And that sums up the frustration we experience as fans. We know the likes of Lawless, Kissock, Willmott, Howells, Fleetwood, AMS and even Dance should be head and shoulders above the vast majority of the dross in this division. Man for man – we are miles better. We should be taking the piss like we did in the second half today fairly regularly at home, whilst showing resilience, patience and our class away from home. Self belief and confidence is the key to this set of players. Shatter it, and the second half against Bath, the performance against York and the second half on Tuesday are the result. Once we have the confidence and space to play then we can tear teams apart. Self-doubt and having our confidence-bubble burst is the enemy: once we remember that we are mortal, once we realise we are flying and then look down to check, we crash down to earth.

And so a little of the game. Given an excuse to play 4-3-3 (or more realistically, 4-1-4-1) by Tuesday’s performance, GB duly obliged. Tyler started in goal, Osano returned at right back, Keane to his favourite role of centre half (and very good he was too) alongside Kovacs. Howells stayed at left back. Antwi dropped to the bench, and there was no place for the returning Beckwith.

In the middle – Hand held (see what I did there?) with Watkins and Dance in front of him and O’Connor wide on the right and Willmott wide on the left. Up top was AMS all on his own, with Big Hips Danny Crow moving to the bench. Fleetwood phoned in a sickie first thing. Strange that, because he seemed fine in the Dog and Duck on Friday night*.

I’ve already described their first goal. The move that led to our equaliser was the first suggestion (other than a promising drive by Howells) that we might be in for a good afternoon after all. Kovacs, surely the much improved twin brother of the bloke who was here two years ago played a glorious ball wide into space for O’Connor to run on to. Now let’s get back to basics. O’Connor’s main virtue thus far has been the fact that once he gets through the gears his top speed is pretty damn sharp. But have we exploited it? No. And I think Kovacs pass was the first time since August that he had had a ball into space in front of him to accelerate on to. Which he duly did, right into the box before he was impeded and the ref after a little think about it, pointed to the spot. Hurrah. But this was a penalty, and this was Luton Town, and recently when the pressure is on, we ain’t been good at them. Today, it was Willmott’s turn to miss. A fairy ordinary spot kick to the keeper’s left was parried out, and fortunately for the third time this year we profited from the rebound, Willmott following up well.

The real turning point could have been Tyler’s point blank save from Boyes. 2-1 would have confirmed our vulnerability and dissolved the confidence we were gradually building. Chances for O’Connor, AMS, Kovacs and Watkins followed in the run up to half time. O’Connor was looking a threat down the right, linking up well with AMS – whilst deal Willmott on the left looked a bit remote and out of touch. Brabin said afterwards he told him to come inside more in the second half. My beef with Willmott is that he doesn’t push on enough when we have possession, if he is in space I would want him pushing up level with the striker(s) ready to receive the ball in space – but instead comes deep for the ball and poses less of a threat because of it. He certainly posed a threat within a minute of the restart. O’Connor gave their left back a torrid time all afternoon – he took the ball forwards before the move broke down. The Shadow, James Dance picked up the ball in the box, and turned and jinked nicely and got a cross in across the face of the goal for Willmott to stick in for 2-1.

Nine minutes later it was 3-1 after an good move involving O’Connor and AMS – the main tormentors. AMS unselfishly squared the ball to Watkins who made space for himself and foxed the centre half by dragging the ball back and coolly slotted the ball into the far corner.

We weren’t done yet – The Shadow James Dance netted his first goal for the Hatters and earned me a fiver off my best mate when AMS and O’Connor again combined down the right to squirt the ball to Dance who smashed it in.

Barrow had a chance almost immediately at the other end and on another day would have made it 4-2 when James Owen’s shot was cleared off the line by Kovacs. Not their day, but certainly ours.

Time for a couple of subs. O’Connor had pulled up and to use the common parlance ‘felt his hamstring’ and was pulled off, much to his reluctance for Danny Crow – AMS going to the right. A few minutes later Kissock replaced Watkins – who had lost a contact lens and so was wandering about with one eye seeing 2020 and the other one not, most disconcerting.

Kissock, given free reign to roam and do tricks again, did just that. Like a smart Alec in a classroom of Neanderthals he was always likely to get a thump for his trouble. A skilful player at this level will always attract scything challenges like ghosts around pacman.

We weren’t done yet. The last goal was a bit of a rarity, a bit of a collectors item. Willmott, by this stage oozing confidence (and keen for his third) put a lovely ball through over the top of the defence for AMS to stretch his legs and run onto and coolly and calmly took the ball around the keeper (to the keeper’s left) and slotted it home easy as you like. Good lad.

Barrow had another chance when they hit the post from Ferrell’s shot. Despite our dominance, had Barrow taken their clear cut chances, they would have had four. Too many. Mind you – if we had taken all of our chances we would have had about twelve – so that’s fair enough. But what I am saying is, on another day the result could have been quite different if the Cumbrians had had a bit more luck.

Now, I could list all of the chances we had in the second half, but PDW does that infinitely better than I ever could – so I will leave the match description at that. Needless to say, we had plenty more chances to get more. Very entertaining it was too. They were cueing up Crow for a goal by the end, but to no avail try as he might he couldn’t test out the keeper.

Let’s go through the players:

Tyler – looked to roll the ball out where he could, but kicked the ball slightly more often than usual. This tactic is slightly incongruous as all he had to aim for is the heads of O’Connor and AMS, both of whom were towered over by their respective defenders. However, to be fair AMS won more than he should have done in the air. Tyler’s save was a potential game-changer. He earned his money with that alone. Things could have been very different otherwise.

Howells – Tidy enough going forward, but today Jake was shown up a bit by Macreth. Three times he outpaced him down the right flank, and did him like a kipper on the fourth. I know we all prefer Jake to be playing as a winger, but this was a bit of a wake-up call to the boy from the valleys (that’s the Lea valley). Do I think Freddie Murray would have done any better than Jake today? Probably not.

Kovacs – sound as a pound and was bossing them around as if he was skipper, which I am sure no one has a problem with. His clearance off the line was excellent as was his defensive positioning all afternoon. And – it was his pass that played in O’Connor for the penalty. He is an improved player – since we ‘loaned’ him to Hereford…

Keano – a quiet, but defensively excellent game. When Pilks returns who would be for the chop? Another selection nightmare. In a month’s time, presumably we will have the luxury of Pilks, Keano, (I’m presuming Kovacs will have returned to Hereford by then) Beckwith, Blackett and Antwi fighting for two places. Personally of course, I’d like to have Pilks and Keano (and/or a returned Kovacs) with Beckwith as back up. Let’s see where we are this time next year.

Osano – had a good game at right back and linked up really well with O’Connor and AMS. Put in two good crosses. A very different player from the stumble-bum who played against Stockport.

Hand – solid enough, won the ball and found his own team mates with his passing. He closed the Barrow players down more effectively than we had been in previous weeks.

Watkins – another good game once he got into it. He is a good player – determined and skilful.

Dance – I’d venture his best game for us. Interestingly in the second half with the wingers tucked in a little more Dance managed to overlap on both sides and get crosses in. He seemed to revel in the creative role he was given and did well.

Willmott – two goals can’t be sniffed at. Strangely enough I thought in the first half he was lost and remote with his crossing a bit hit and miss. Much more in the thick of things after the restart.

AMS – My man of the match. An absolute terrier today. Linked up really well with O’Connor. Gave Barrow’s defence a torrid time. He threatened with the ball, and when they were in possession he chased down, tackled back and harried and parried. Well taken goal. Eight goals in ten starts this year. That record would suggest he’s on fire and he certainly was today.

O’Connor – now that’s more like it. The real Aaron O’Connor turned up today, and GB must have been delighted. He kept faith in him whilst all week we have been asking what he add to the club. Remember the turning point was him accelerating onto Kovacs direct ball into space ahead of him for the penalty. Looked good in partnership with AMS down the right.

So it was a good performance – similar to Southport in as much as we went behind early on, but got back on level terms and then really hit our straps in the second half. Barrow are a better side than Southport were though. Where does it leave us? Well it rather vindicates the 4-3-3 approach again. And it leaves GB with a headache. You’d rather want to capitalise on O’Connor’s blistering performance and link up with AMS by playing him out there again, but what of Stuart Fleetwood? Three games with him in the side and we get 1 goal in 270 minutes. With him out of the team, and a different formation we bang in five. If we revert to 4-4-2 to accommodate Fleetwood you could have AMS and Fleetwood up front, but who on the right wing? Dance’s performance doesn’t merit being dropped and neither does O’Connor’s. If we stick to 4-3-3 then if we accommodate Fleetwood then AMS would presumably go down the right. Who’d be a manager?

So – it was a great and very entertaining performance, on a beautiful afternoon. However:

1) We always say – well, I always say – we should be putting sides like Barrow to the sword in this way anyway – so this should be the standard we aim for each home game. It’s non-league for goodness sake, and we weren’t relegated from the league because we were rubbish. I know we have been remodelling the finances behind the scenes, but being sustainable doesn’t mean being non-league. We are still a bigger club (in terms of fan base, history, income and achievements) than all of the division above us, most of the division above that, and one or two of the division above that. So let’s remember this a bit more – it all adds to the self-confidence I have been banging on about.

2) Beating Barrow at home is to be hoped for. But if we want to be serious about winning the league we need victories away from home too. That’s why we have to carry the confidence and self belief with us. The difference between this game and the last was that Cambridge didn’t let us play. We must learn to assert our attacking agenda on even the most efficient defensive units at home and away.

3) In the next month we play four of the five teams above us. This will be a true test of how realistic our ambitions to finish top is. By fireworks night, we should have a good idea if our season is going to sky rocket or fizzle out like a damp sparkler from the corner shop.

The team still need to do more to convince me that we are on the road to something big – as I said on Tuesday night, the bad memories of Bath, York and Cambridge will linger for a long time, like an unsuccessful UCCA form. And, alas it will take more than one thrashing of Barrow to convert those embarrassing performances from the recent trend, into a distant ‘blip’. In this topsy turvy division, where no one is truly asserting themselves we have never, and probably will never, get a better chance to put a country mile between us and the also-rans.

On to next week. A welcome and rare Tuesday night free of football. It gives the team the chance to recharge the batteries and gets players like George Pilkington a week nearer to a comeback. Then we have the test of Kidderminster away on Saturday. We should have nothing to fear from them, and if we put the fixture in context it is they who should be doing the worrying. Let’s keep the confidence engendered by a good home win and inject it into our away performance to give us a convincing away win.

Come on you Hatters!

*only joking of course.

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Two Sides to Every Story

From one point of view this week’s football contained two disappointing draws against weak opposition, from another point of view we are still unbeaten six games in, despite playing with what Peter on the Outlaws website described as “not even our second choice defence”.

After the game we were sixth, still unbeaten, only Wrexham had scored more goals, and we haven’t even got near hitting our straps yet. We are in a holding position ready to pounce.

Last night’s injury time equaliser was typically gutting – as was Stuart Fleetwood’s last-second shot, hitting the inside of the far post yet not going in – just like Jason Walker’s header. Once again the footballing Gods and lady luck deserted us, just when we needed them. We really must have offended them in the past. Was it the plastic pitch? Or the away fans ban? Or that naughty song about Mrs Thorpe?

I thought we had played well in patches – dominating and taking the mickey somewhat at one point in the first half. But we suffered from the usual malaise of not taking our chances – or moreover last night – not getting in the right places to put the chances away. How many crosses did Willmott manage to get in – yet no one was on the end of them?

We started with a 4-3-3 a much more effective formation away from home. This certainly enabled us to dominate the midfield and carve out plenty of chances. Kissock started for the first time, and looked good on the ball, passing well. He was less effective in the second half and was substituted by Dance. Once Dance was on we changed to 4-4-2.

Keane partnered Antwi in at the back and was outstanding. Antwi too had a good game. Osano and Ed filled in at full back. More of them in a second. Lawless played the rear of the middle three with Watkins and Kissock in front. Lawless goal was typical for him – not closed down and snapped up the opportunity to get a crisp shot on target. Cue rapture in the Mosque household and the anticipation of plenty more where that came from. Ahem.

On the left was AMS – on the right, though he did move around was Willmott. Up front was Danny Crow, who I thought was a bit subdued.

Interesting to see that Blackburn, released by Wrexham because Dean Saunders insisted on playing him as a defensive midfielder, playing as a defensive midfielder and continuing to be as effective as a hammock on a pony.

Of course we dominated and were in control. Other than Chadwick having a couple of clear cut chances I can’t recall MT being truly stretched. Until injury time. Now, I’m no great football tactician, but it strikes me that with 5 minutes extra time being played and being one-up, all you need to try to do is to keep possession. This means passing the ball around simply at the back, player to player, on the floor – and if you are being pressed, playing further up the field so that you don’t make mistakes in front of goal. It is no good doing this, then lumping the ball forward. Lumping the ball forward is usually the best possible way to concede possession. Just keep the ball. All the time we have it, they don’t. They need it to score a goal. Keep it simple, don’t do anything stupid.

And so, clearly with this sort of instruction in the forefront of his mind, the ball dropped to Osano forty yards out in front of his goal, and under no pressure he tried to control the ball with a nonchalant back heel flick, for that alone he should have had his arse kicked all the way back down the M6 and M1. The flick flew further than he thought and having lost control raced forward to try and retrieve it. Elliott played the ball forward into the gap left by Osano and into the path of Fraughan on the right. Fraughan under no pressure until he reached Keane played a fine cross across the goal into the path of McConville unmarked by Ed, who had presumably drifted into the middle to cover Antwi, who was covering Keane, who was filling the gap left by Osano. McConville controlled the ball and struck a rather poor shot which would otherwise have nested into the welcoming arms of Mark Tyler but instead caught the boot of the on-rushing Ed AA and simply looped over MT into the roof of the net. 1-1.

It was a mini-disaster. No other word to describe it than a f**k up. In the same way that we were gifted the opening goal against Braintree last week Osano’s mistake was punished mercilessly. Poor Ed – he had a weak game anyway and has been in poor form this year. Disappointing. Gutting. Typical.

Onto our midweek purchases – like many of the footballing community I was wearing out F5 on my keyboard on the late night vigil. It was interesting that it was actually twitter which was the most efficient deliverer of information. What did we do before we had twitter – fancy having to rely on the rumours and nonsense on Outlaws for the latest!

Collin Samuel was an interesting acquisition. Not sure where that came from. What does he have on his CV? International football yes, but prolific scoring? No. Is he 6’3? No – experience at this level? No. Did he put the Scots to the sword when he played up there, not at all. Strange one really – I can only presume he was cheap. Someone described him as this seasons Atieno. I wish him well – of course I do, but the recruitment did smack a little of desperation to me; of something if the Fleetwood deal came to nothing.

Onto Stuart Fleetwood now he has got a much better goalscoring record and in his brief cameo at the end nearly stole the winner. A few minutes is nothing at all to go by, but he did look good and would have been in place to get on the end of an AMS cross. Let’s hope that he gets a bit longer against Darlo. He might just be the catalyst we need to turn the draws into wins.

That’s it for new signings. Hang on…what’s this? There was a third signing too. I noticed a Mr P Carden on the subs bench on Friday. Snuck in as coach – the worlds worst kept secret, with a player registration to make up the numbers and to play a few reserve games. Brab’s mate. Intelligent but slow, he didn’t really do himself any favours last year. Just goes to show how many injuries we have that we have to draft him in as cover.

Back even further last week to Hayes and Yeading then – how disappointing not to beat them. It strikes me that perhaps some of these opening games have been too easy and we have not needed to raise our game. Cantering around – knowing that we have the ability to create chance after chance, whilst somewhat forgetting that the defence isn’t what it was. That mindset means that we are going to get our fingers burnt which we did, and frankly have been all season. The penalty miss beast raised its ugly head again. Crow missed – Jake missed, at least AMS followed up the second one – he’s getting to be good at that thank goodness.

So where are we? A week to take stock now before Darlo (and Mr L Hatch?) on Saturday. A week to try and get some of the players on the injury list back. My impression is that we have plenty of creativity in our midfield and wings (at this level at least) and were all of our midfielders fit, would have a real headache trying to fit them all in. Willmott and AMS have been the two brightest sparks with Lawless blowing a bit hot and cold – but doing well enough to slot in the opener on Friday and play in that lovely ball for Danny Crow on Tuesday. It is of course sticking it in the old onion bag that has been the problem, and turning the chances into goals. That may have been addressed now with Mr Fleetwood arriving. It truly needs to be because the defence has been leaking like a sieve. Osano has been disappointing at full back – though he did put in a good cross for Crow against Southport – and Ed is having a bit of a ‘mare. Antwi has looked solid enough and of course Keano never disappoints at centre half.

Darlo are just above us – but haven’t really looked very special thus far. They’ve only scored a goal a game and have won against Braintree, Grimsby and Lincoln – as I suspect most teams will do this year. It should be a definite three points and I have no reason to believe it won’t be.

It’s not quite the start we would have liked, but there are no alarms bells ringing. If only we could tighten up the defence a bit…

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Hatters Batter Cockney Cloggers

Jake avoids gentle tackle

On an afternoon that inter-dispersed sunshine with lightning and torrential rain, the only thing greyer than the skies for a while was Braintree’s kit, which looked as if it had been washed with a rogue black sock after their last home game.

If their kit was clean, then Braintree certainly weren’t. We were promised a strong physical team and they didn’t disappoint. I think they were the most physical team we had had here for a while. They were assisted ably by a ref who gave them too much leniency and got the book out too late. He tried to be their friend, he tried to appeal to their better instincts, and they took the mickey. Ironically the ref booked Amari Morgan-Smith for a non-foul which occurred right in front of the linesman but for which he did not flag. The ball was played over the right and AMS jumped with their no4 but whilst there might a clash there wasn’t an elbow or punch or whatever was alleged. But the ref managed to see from a distance what the linesman didn’t from 2 yards. Strange.

We started brightly – got the goal, dipped briefly, conceded the equaliser and then more or less on the front foot the remainder of the game. If it was important to get one goal before the break, then two effectively killed the tie off.

Braintree played with one hefty guy up front in Marks, with former hefty loanee Ben Wright on the left of an offensive three pronged attack when attacking. Their two centre halves were man mountains and full credit to AMS and Crow who won as much as they did and who managed to keep the ball away from them. Braintree, like so many things from Essex, were fit and willing, and lacked class, and it was their technical ability that let them down.

We played 4-4-2 and it made a welcome change. I think we were the better for it. AMS and Crow formed a pretty good partnership up front. On the left was the returning Robbie Willmott (groin obviously feeling better) in the middle were Lawless and Keane (who is not Stevenage bound – the very thought). On the right was The Shadow James Dance, who looked much more comfortable than in the middle of the park the other night.

In the heart of defence were Antwi and Beckwith, with Jake back at left back and Osano on the right. Lawless was replaced at half time by the livelier Adam Watkins who continued to shine.

The first goal came when The Shadow picked up a ball just outside the edge of the box when a Braintree player failed to jump and head and cut out the ball. It was very strange. He sort of allowed the ball past him, it fell kindly to Dance who put AMS in and he tucked it under the on-rushing keeper McDonald neatly. Only 12 minutes had gone and for the first time this year we hadn’t conceeded the first goal in a game. So good to see a genuine defensive error punished so clinically too.

Their equaliser came after our players stopped for a foul (or was it a throw?) that never was, down the right and Wright persevered and took the ball into the box crossed it and it was bundled in – I thought it was an own goal by Jake – it might have been Wright or Marks who scored it. Nevertheless we let them back in. A few errors had crept into our play – Tyler made an uncharacteristic kick directly to Marks, whose complete lack of touch and control ensured that the danger was averted quickly. it was fairly even stuff until we started to reassert ourselves in the latter part of the half.

Just like the Belgrano, Danny Crow was pointing away from the target when he was downed and frankly was about as much of a threat, but nevertheless it was an infringement, though I thought for a second that the ref wasn’t going to give it. AMS blammed the ball to the keepers right – and to his credit he kept it out – but AMS pounced on the rebound and tucked it in. Something else you don’t see happen to us all that often on the rare occasion that we are treated to a penalty at home.

With our tails up again, and now playing in injury time at the end of the first half we played the ball around the park magnificently well. I actually think that the fast-paced one touch passing was more because the players knew that anyone found dwelling on the ball was likely to get his shinpads tested to see if they comply with BS EN 1177.
And so it came to pass that after a pleasant interlude of passing play the ball came out to the left via Lawless and Beckwith and lo there was a fine interchange between Willmott and Jake of the Valleys which resulted in Jake driving into the box and neatly curling the ball into the far corner. In Essex there was a wailing and a gnashing of teeth.

Slipping into hot knife through butter mode we could have had yet another just before half time with Crow missing a good chance after Willmott put him through after the ref (to give him some credit) played a good advantage after AMS was left in a scruffy heap.

To be fair in the first half both sides could have had another couple of goals each, had the finishing been a bit better.

Watkins replaced Lawless in the second half, again he had a good half looked to run at the Braintree defence where he could. Braintree ratcheted up the hard stuff after the break. I’m not sure it was borne out of frustration of if it was a direct tactic. But we did to well not to have an injury. I was happy to trade not scoring a fourth for ending the afternoon without a trip to Luton and Dunstable. The heavy rain was another factor to add into the equation, whilst a few players did skid and fall over, the game was modified a little with players not sprinting after balls they would otherwise have done, for fear of not being able to stop, or standing off rather than putting the tackle in for the same reason.

Glorious bank holiday weekend weather

Mentioning Dunstable for a second – it looked from where I was sitting that it was copping quite a lot of lightning. Perhaps the good Lord’s comment on the plans for the guided busway?

We dominated for most of the second half – we had plenty of half chances – Crow not quite getting on the end of a good cross, Dance missing out on a goal at the far post after the cross was cut out. And Willmott forcing the save of the day out of McDonald the Braintree keeper from a free kick. They rattled the woodwork at the far end, and couldn’t quite believe the ball had stayed out.

Crow was replaced with about 10 minutes to go by O’Connor who in the short time he had available managed to demonstrate his good and bad points: A neat turn of pace, but also alarmingly lightweight and easy to knock off the ball.

Kissock came on for his debut with 20 seconds to go – appearance fee anyone? Will be interesting to see how he does here. Was he a bit fish in a small pond before or a genuine talent rising back up through the ranks from the heights of Everton only two years ago the nadir of Newton in the NW Cheshire league just a year ago. We are his fourth club in a year. I hope his career path continues to journey upwards with us attached.

We played well today, and did enough to beat Braintree without hitting our top form. Dance has his best game, marauding down the right and putting good crosses in (where’s that front man??) as did Willmott from the left. AMS looked like the AMS we had at the start of last season. Crow did well. Lawless looked a little blunt, but played his part in enough significant moves (including the 3rd goal) for him not to be too disapointed. Watkins looked good, Keano’s passing has improved a little. Antwi and Beckwith looked sound. Tyler, though flapping a bit and the obvious error with one of his kicks, did look to roll the ball out whenever he could. This is so good – remember last year and the year before endlessly punting the ball down towards poor Claude or towards the tiny men at the front. He only does this reluctantly now.

As I sit here and type this three thoughts occur to me. Firstly Mrs Mosque has just made me go upstairs because a whopper of a spider was in our bedroom and she needed me to deal with it. Which I did, but then she objected to me killing the thing which has made her blood pressure go through the roof a few seconds before. Why do they do that?

Secondly as 747s rumble overhead I ponder how I have managed to own three houses in my adult life, each of which has managed to be on the centre line for the North East bound departures from Heathrow.

And thirdly, why oh why are we deprived of a Bank Holiday fixture against Hayes and Yeading – who now play in Woking by the way – on Police advice? Hayes only get a few hundred at the best of times, and okay, perhaps that will go up with the mighty Hatters in town, not to say the couple of thousand Lutonians traipsing into leafy Surrey, but it will hardly be the Poll Tax riots. Do the police honestly think that because QPR haven’t got a game on Monday that the rag’n’bone men and assorted pikeys from Shepherds Bush are going to get in their wagons and drive all the way to Woking for a pagga, because of our traditional fun’n’games in the past? Or is it more likely that they can’t afford to pay quadruple time to the handful of coppers they might have available to be on duty on Monday? It strikes me that instead of having adequate resources in case there is confrontation, they are managing events so that there isn’t the chance of confrontation eg postponing the Telford game, and moving this one. So risk-averse as to be perverse. Health and Safety gone mad. Hang on, I sound like Richard Littlejohn.

Rant over. Enjoyed today’s game a lot. A good win and some well-taken goals in some trying circumstances.

Roll on Monday Tuesday against Hayes (a must win) and Stockport on Friday. I’m missing the Hayes game, but will be listening on the ‘net from Manchester and will conveniently still be in Manchester for the game on Friday.

Scores on the doors:

Tyler: 6
Osano: 6
Antwi: 7
Beckwith: 7
Howells: 8

Willmott: 8
Lawless: 6.5
Keane: 7
Dance: 8

Crow: 7
AMS: 9

Watkins: 7.5

Once again I’d like to say hello to those overseas Hatters who read this blog from as far away as Guatemala, Japan, New Zealand and Qatar.

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A Game of Two Halves

Whilst the first half was more of the same from Tuesday night – a seven minute spell in the second saw the Hatters turn the game around and put Southport to the sword in the way only we know how.

In the pouring rain Southport took an unexpected lead after 8 minutes when a break forward from the ever-threatening Kissock found Lee on the right, he outfoxed Jake (at left back today) and drove it across for Brown to blam past Tyler. They couldn’t believe it – they had come to frustrate, time waste and get some men behind the ball and here they were with an unexpected lead. But there were four events that turned the game.

We had been disappointing for the first half an hour – the passing had been poor, we had been closed down too easily and though we had been trying to build from the back, the passing from the back had been woeful. The first turning point was when The Shadow, James Dance went off with a head injury. No disrespect to The Shadow, but Aaron O’Connor who had been ineffective as a lone front man and had been bouncing off the big centre halves. O’Connor went to the right of the front three and Big Hips Danny Crow came on an played in the middle. And played well. Much more of a presence and he put himself about. We then began to dominate and the passes started to find their targets and we bossed the game. Adam Watkins made his first start at home today, after a good pre-season, and what a good little player he is. He played in the middle, alongside Lawless and in front of Keane. He was a breath of fresh air, and it was fitting when, just before half time the Hatters’ pressure paid off. A nice little through ball from Lawless picked out Adam Watkins who drove forward with the ball outside the box, cut inside – gave himself an angle and curled it into the bottom corner very neatly indeed. A mature finish from a good young player.

The second turning point was when Kissock didn’t reappear after half time, he is their best player by far, their talisman and bosses any attacking moves. Without him they were toothless and it made their task even harder.

The first part of the second half saw us controlling possession and getting half chances. But the pressure was building on us to grab a second. O’Connor was replaced by AMS and he was electric. Brabin called for those on the bench to make a difference this year. This was borne out against QPR, and Willmott made the difference on Tuesday and now Crow and AMS added sparkle where there was none.
Then the fourth turning point and probably the key one. Akrigg who had already been booked for what he did to The Shadow, caught Watkins as he broke clear through on goal – he was given a second yellow. Could have been a straight red?

Four minutes later after Watkins had won us a corner, Lawless’ cross found Beckwith who nodded the ball across and Antwi stabbed home a couple of feet out and put us in the lead. Southport made a change and brought on an attacker but thinned out the defenders at the back. Bad move. Now we had the room, confidence and space to dominate in the way that only Luton in their pomp can. As I have said on these pages before give us an inch and we take a mile. So few teams give us the space to play so that when we do get the opportunity we tend to take it, whoever the oppposition. It was hot knife through butter time.

Morgan-Smith had swapped to the left with Willmott on the right – he tore down the left and cut into the box and kept on going, I thought he would pass but instead he drilled a shot on the inside, the nearside of the keeper, the smallest gap and it was three. Some said it took a little deflection, I didn’t see that, but if it did it did.

What seemed just a handful of seconds later a lovely passing move involving Antwi and Watkins saw AMS drive forwards again, he squared the ball to Willmott, running onto it, and who struck the ball from outside the box and his lovely strike made it four.

No let up from the rampant Hatters. Osano and Keane linked up down the right Osano put in a lovely curling cross for a hungry Danny Crow to head in after rising high to meet the ball. 5-1 now. All too easy. 6-0 last year 5-1 this – welcome to Bedfordshire. After the fifth goal we continued to pass the ball around easily and could have had more, but the pace dropped and the players were having target practise – but it wasn’t to be. There was a distinct possibility of six or seven or eight when the fifth went in, such was our dominance at that point.

A deserved win for the second half performance. Who would have believed it after the weak start to the game?

Tyler came back in place Kevin Pilkington – I felt sorry for Pilks – he did nothing wrong the other night and put in some good saves. A good team player – he seems to take it all so well. Other than to pick the ball out of the net MT didn’t have too much to do. If the truth be told I think MT will be disappointed with the goal. He went down too slowly and I think the ball went through his legs. Osano played on the right in this game, with Jake moving to left back. He seemed more at home on that side. Lovely cross for the goal, some of his passing in the first half went awry. He did look lively and was better once he overlapped more in the second half. Antwi got his goal from two feet and did well. Looked better assured at the back, but again his passing was poor initially. Hopefully the goal with give him confidence. Beckwith’s header set up the second goal, sound enough at the back, wasn’t under pressure too often. Once again, when he had the ball in the first half the midfield opened up like the Red Sea in front of him as all of the Southport players picked up a player. Just like on Tuesday he stopped and didn’t know what to do. No Hansonesque run for him. What did happen was once the Southport players realised three converged on him freeing up space on the wings – unfortunately the pass didn’t quite get that far. Jake played at left back. Played better than the other night, in a different position, but still hasn’t quite hit his straps. Again, once he was able to overlap down the wing he posed a greater threat. Seemed to have to use his right foot more than usual for crossing, passing and shots today. Keano broke up play well and was determined. Passing not good initially, but was playing with lots of confidence towards the end. Fancied a goal himself (which would have been no 6) but should have played Willmott in. Willmott had another good game after he was the difference the other night. A cracking goal for the fourth. Lawless worked really hard in midfield and completely ruled the midfield in the second half of the second half. Watkins, I’ve already mentioned. Great finish for the goal and constantly a lively threat to Southport with his passing and movement. The Shadow didn’t have too much of an impact and we played too narrowly in the period when Dance was on the pitch that he had little to do. O’Connor – not strong in the challenge and not suited to the lone striker role. Slightly better when moved to the wing, but it was when he was replaced by AMS that the turning point came. AMS posed a real threat, was direct, tenacious and quick. Danny Crow – old Big Hips had a point to prove and did well, despite the lone role not being his position either. Gave it his all – closed down well and we looked a different team once he was on. Good header for the goal and on another day perhaps could have had at least one more.

Southport without Kissock were entirely without substance – truly a one man team. I didn’t like their time wasting tactics (who would?). What a palaver McMillan their keeper made over tying his laces and putting on his bloody gloves. Cox went down in the box to conveniently try to break up play. Aided and abetted by another bald ref who seemed to spot the timewasting too late (and failed to spot a penalty) though to be fair did add on 5 minutes at the end.

With Forest Green winning 6-1 away today perhaps Tuesday’s performance is cast in new light? The division hasn’t settled down yet – York losing at home today, Darlington lost at Tamworth. Stockport struggled to beat Ebbsfleet and Grimsby got a point, but not any goals still.

Off to Mansfield on Tuesday hopefully not for another 0-0. For a fixture that has traditionally yielded plenty of goals the last two away games have bucked the trend, though we were unlucky not to win in March 2010. Doesn’t bode well as Mansfield already have two draws this season (though they were clumped 3-0 at Gateshead.

So, an unbelievable transformation today from how we were playing in the first half of the first half to the second half of the second. I think Brabs must have spiked the half time oranges with something.

By the way – I know some of you prefer the traditional black and white – but I must say the new (old) kit looks fantastic. It’s got to be my favourite since the adidas kits of the late seventies early eighties.

Right – see you all on Tuesday night in Notts. Might not get the report done to the following night though.

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Six Appeal

That’s more like it. Today we witnessed the sort of result we should have had more of since we were evicted from the league. Furthermore it was a demonstration of being able to put a poor side to the sword without particularly playing outstandingly well. What a difference confidence, freedom, belief and enjoyment can make.

Hopefully the result will now give the team some much-needed confidence going into the Crawley game. They have to treat the Crawley game as a dry-run for the second leg of the play offs or even the play off final – ie a tough battle that must be won. It will be a good test to see how far Brabin’s team have come. I suspect we will have to play much better than we did today. But we are now on an upwards slope.

Murray returned at left back with Claude moving to the bench, otherwise, refreshingly there was no tinkering.

Ironically the first half saw us play much better than the second, well for all but the last 15 minutes of the second anyway, but as Southport got more tired and despondent we piled in four goals into the last 6 minutes, just as you should do against a tiring part-time team. If we had played for another ten minutes we would have had double figures. ‘Twas like a hot knife through butter at the end there.

We dominated from the start, Southport showing as much ambition as a third generation council tenant. They showed that they came to slow things down and waste time, but once they went a goal down truly showed that they in fact had very little passing ability at all. How we managed to lose two weeks ago against this lot beggars belief. That’s not to say they didn’t have chances, but I don’t think Tyler’s heart missed a beat all afternoon. Their only danger, Kissock, was snuffed out by Keane and Lawless.

I thought for a while that it was going to be the same old same old, especially when Kroca managed to miss a dolly chance only yards out. Seconds later Walkers cushioned and twisted header from a Lawless corner went inches wide “one of those days” I could hear myself thinking.

Then, at that dangerous place on the edge of the box, Barrett handballed it. Willmott was presented with another free kick opportunity – he took it and narrowly put it over – but what now? Hang on the ref’s said it had to be retaken – we’ll take this. For once, probably in my entire Luton watching career, we didn’t just try the same thing with the same outcome for the re-take. No this time Willmott didn’t line it up, but instead AMS had an opportunity to curl it in with his right foot round the wall. The angle from where I sit in the Kenny showed a big gap around the wall and AMS promptly curled around and in. 1-0.

That’s two goals direct from free kicks in successive weekends; I don’t know what’s up with them. Since Gallen left we’ve had no one in the side who might have a chance of hitting the target from free-kicks and haven’t scored from one, from what I recall, since Gallen’s thunderbolt 18 months ago.

I brought a friend from work today, who is an Arsenal fan and who goes to watch them occasionally – now Arsenal are a magnificent footballing team, and so not being technically as good as them is no shame(!!) – I prepared him for the delights of non-league in the pub before the game – however I did watch the game through his eyes today, and it is amazing to see how far standards have fallen. Simple mistakes, easy passes not finding their man. Heavy touches, poor control, ill-disciplined positional play – it is all apparent. I must admit I had got used to watching us at this level and the regular slips and gaffs go almost unnoticed. But when you are used to football of the highest quality the clumsy nature of our play becomes painfully obvious. That’s not having a pop at our players of course – we are where we are and we are improving anyway. There was also a huge gulf in quality between us and the part-time Scousers today. They were very poor indeed and not afraid of putting in a dirty tackle, the ref’s reluctance to get his cards out for poor tackles in the first half only encouraged them more.

The second goal was started by Howells winning the ball on the left and then driving forwards finally playing the ball to Lawless who dinked the ball through to Willmott who cleverly dinked the ball over the keeper. We played some really good football in the first half, which is why the second half was, initially at least, a bit of a disappointment. Southport closed us down better, but we also got a bit slack, a bit lazy and sat back.

After 55 minutes the first change was made – Claude Le Goal came on for Willmott. His 30 minute cameos are just the role I was anticipating for him at the start of the year. He attacked well put in a couple of good crosses and at last became a target for Tyler’s long kicks. One lovely cross enabled Lawless to put in Jason Walker who sliced his shot right over. Mrs Thatcher once described Michael Foot as “frit” – well the Southport left back was “frit” when Claude came on.
MBH replaced AMS with 18 minutes to go and while we were starting to get it together a bit more there was no hint of the carnage to come. The turning point seemed to come when the ref starting to realise what his yellow card was for – mind you Robbie Williams wasn’t entertaining us when his crude challenge on Howells actually deserved a red.

Freddie Murray broke his duck after 76 appearances after some good skill on the touchline after good inter play with Howells. Murray flicked the ball over the onrushing rightback and then in a split second it quickly dawned on him that a volley at goal rather than a cross might actually be on. He hit it quite well and whilst it would have gone in, took a mighty and fortuitous deflection off the centre half. Some could be cruel and say it was an own goal – but only if you were being uncharitable. Well done Freddie – well deserved for the most improved player of the season.

More was to come. Lawless, by this point having as much impact as the imperious Ricky Hill in his pomp, threaded a lovely ball for Walker to run onto only for the keeper to block, but showing some as yet unseen anticipation ran onto the loose ball closing in on goal, controlled it with his arm (ahem) and slotted it in.

Into injury time then, and it wasn’t all over yet, Keane with a free kick over on the far left hand side remembered a move used to use when Newell was in charge. He crossed the ball right over and past goal to beyond the far post almost on the touchline where an alert George Pilkington was waiting (a la Chris Coyne) Pilks nodded it back across goal perfectly for Kroca to make amends for his howler earlier on and register another goal albeit from an inch. Well worked lads. It was wonderful because, just like under Newell as the ball went seemingly ‘too far’ there was a faint groan from the fans before they realised that Pilks was waiting. 5-0 and we were taking the Mickey.

Next up ball was played through to Claude in the penalty area and the hapless and totally one-footed McMillan flattened Claude with a crudely timed leap. Claude doesn’t usually take too much flattening in the box, but on this occasion was impeded and the ref immediately pointed to the spot. Between you and me I think the ref was enjoying all of the goals going in too. Claude, amidst plenty of theatricals and farting about, tucked the ball nicely away for the sixth. He proceeded to celebrate as if he’d scored a forty yard screamer, treating us to a Freddie Flintoff style statuesque pose, a little mince and a bit of samba. God knows what would happen if he got another hat trick!

My only concern is that if you consider the concept that we only get a finite amount of luck per season, we may have used a chunk of it up today: deflected goal, un-spotted handball and penalty (yes, we do have to be ‘lucky’ to be awarded one). I’d rather keep some luck in the bag for the games that really count eg play offs. Conversely of course you might consider that we’ve had virtually none all year (or indeed for many years) we are due some. Keep calling by please, Lady Luck, you’re welcome to stay.

Righty ho – scores on the doors:

Tyler -7– actually had to make a keen couple of saves.

Newton – 6.5 – overlapped well, but went missing on a couple of occasions.

Pilkington – 7.5 – back to his best, perfect header at the far post set up the fifth

Kroca – 7 – sound defensively, made up for the howler with the goal.

Murray – 8 – not overworked defensively, but linked up really well, and had a good understanfing with Howells. Oh – and a goal.

Willmott – 8 – flashes of brilliance, including the goal, a little subdued for the start of the second half.

Lawless – 8.5 – sublime at times and given room to play in the second half of the second half.

Keane – 7 – working harder and harder but needs a rest. Needs to re-boot.

Howells – 8 – little narrow on occasion, but showed some excellent touches including the start of the second goal. Got the ball in the net in an excellent move, but was ruled offside.

AMS – 7.5 – not yet back to his best, but clearly back enjoying playing as a striker again. Two goals in two games playing up front. There’s a clue there somewhere.

Walker – 7.5 – worked hard, but as I overhead someone near me say – do we need another Talbot? Drew Talbot if you recall, worked hard and ran around like a mad thing but was like a toothless tiger up front. Jason Walker has shown that he can bag goals at this level and I’m so glad that he got his goal this afternoon, having missed the shots he did he needed some confidence going into the Crawley game and there is nothing better than a goal to put you back on track. Oh, and he has springs in his legs.

Subs: Claude – 7.5- on for long enough to make a difference. Perfect opportunity to do that today and looked nearly back to his old self – still didn’t track back. It’s not a crime Claude.

MBH – well – we scored 4 goals once he was introduced, but I don’t think he had a hand in any of them. He looked sharp and eager though. Super sub? Sported a natty Mohican too.

So, onto Crawley on Tuesday. Now that the handbrake is well and truly off (though I don’t think we’ve hit top speed yet) it will be fascinating to see how we get on against the club who have bought their success and have dominated. Like last year against Stevenage (when we won 1-0) it will be a barometer of our progress against a club which has set the pace and as of today won the league.

It’s just a shame that so few people in West Sussex are enthralled enough to turn up to cheer them on each week. Okay, we have no God-given right as the biggest club to be champions of this division and we are going to have to do it the hard way again, but it is galling that a club (with as much history as South Sudan and with only just a few more fans attending in 20 games at home all season than we took to Wembley for one game) can buy its way to the top of the league in non-league. But it is the way of the modern game alas. What we know for certain is how painful it can be when the money runs out, and one day they will trickle back from whence they came, their short term joy replaced by long term pain. Our model is to grow organically and to run the club sustainably, not unreasonably living beyond our means. Let’s see where both clubs are in five years time. Whatever happens, and whichever leagues we are in we will still be getting more fans each week, we will still have 125 years of drama and history and above all some (rather dented and bruised) pride. No breeding some of these upstarts you know.

So – 6-0 without hitting top gear. As I said in the opening paragraph, the sort of thing that we expected would be a regular occurrence when we dropped to the fifth tier. Let’s hope that the in last few games in this league we can show what could or should have been possible since August 2009.

By the way – the Arsenal fan was impressed, technical shortfalls aside, and asked “is it like this every week?”

If only he knew…

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Cod Almighty

A triple slap in the face this afternoon: the first home defeat since Crawley in October, Crawley winning after being behind against Wrexham and Jake Howell’s knee looking particularly unpleasant after a brutal challenge by Pond.

It had all started so well – an Owusu goal after seven minutes put us in a deserved lead, but in the same way that Liverpool did against us in the famous 3-5 defeat all those years ago, I think we immediately thought that it was going to be all-too-easy and Fleetwood were only too happy to put us back in our place, within a minute.

It wasn’t the worst performance by a long chalk – had Lawless’ shot gone in, had two of the three penalties been awarded and MBH’s shot been slotted in it could have been different, however, I always got the feeling that Fleetwood always had another gear whilst we were flat out – or rather just flat.

Fleetwood played well and so we didn’t. They were more often first to the second ball and their front players were quick and incisive. They weren’t angels though – plenty of late challenges, niggles, handbags and, oh, knee stamping.

The first half I thought we edged and it was a very good half of football. For the fifteen minutes before the half time whistle we were dominating and half time came at exactly the wrong time. Unfortunately by ten minutes of the second half the match was all over.

After seven minutes Barnes-Homer, England superstar, was played in down the right and eased his way around Gregan, and put in a lovely cross for Lloyd to ease in. Before you could retake your seat Seddon was played in by Viera through a defence squarer than a dungeons and dragon nerd slotted the ball home as easy as you like.

It was only Tyler’s outstretched arm which kept it to one moments later from Viera’s shot. Another easy move strolling past our static defenders.

Lawless whose touches, vision and passing were standing out by this point crossed for Claude who mistimed his header which went over. Claude had a disappointing game today. Actually he had a very disappointing game. I got the impression today that he felt that it didn’t matter how much effort he put in – he could just drift in and out of the game as much as he liked because he backed himself to provide a sparkle, a bit of magic to turn the game. He didn’t. His positional play was poorer than usual. Neither getting into a wide enough position to receive, nor pushing far enough forward when attacking nor tracking back at all when defending. He was all over the shop, he gave us a couple of good runs and crosses all afternoon. His opposing left back today was the veteran dwarf Alan Wright. I just don’t think the penny dropped that he was the weak link in their defence. Our first goal came down their left when Wright was pushed forward and was diddled out of the ball by Claude and Owusu and passed with ease leaving a big hole behind him. Another trick that was missed was that at restarts and goal kicks we had two choices to aim the ball at. Owusu – who was marked by Gregan, equal in height and jumping ability, or Claude, supposedly out on the right, with only Tom Thumb marking him. What would you do? We chose to pump the ball down the middle to Gregan who joyfully nodded the ball away all afternoon. He’s paid to do that you know.

Dan Gleeson had a great chance (he’s going to get a goal one day soon) where he cut inside and ran with the ball before driving a shot at goal which was deflected wide for a corner.

Tyler had to be at his best shortly after when touching over a free header by McGuire (I think it was). McGuire was later carried off – couldn’t see what for – but I think it may have been the legacy of a hard clonk from Owusu, which was payback from an earlier niggle.

Just before half time, caught up in a period of dominance the ball rolled out to Lawless about 22 yards out, he caught the shot perfectly and beat the keeper but unluckily cannoned back off the bar. Goal of the season if it went in – unfortunately it didn’t.

Shortly after Lawless put in a nice ball to Owusu whose nod on found MBH who shot just wide.
And so at half time I felt good. It was a good game of football with two attacking sides who had had plenty of chances. I was thinking it might be a 3-3.

How wrong I was. Tyler, defending the Kenny End in the second half was soon called into action with a full length, but slow motion save from Clancy. A fantastic goal from Barry a couple of minutes later put us on the back foot. After AMS was felled on the left the ref played the advantage, but although no advantage accrued too much time had passed for the ref to pull it back. Fleetwood worked the ball around unchallenged by the Hatters and Barry’s clipped shot flew into the inside of the goal giving Tyler no chance at all. There was no closing down – they passed the ball as if it was a one touch training game, making our defenders and midfielders look like clumsy mugs, including I’m sad to say our normally wholly reliable captain who was off the pace today.

1-2 down at home – goodness, it’s not allowed is it? Cue the Oxygen Thieves in the Kenny starting to boo and the calls of “Money out” started. Amazing. Fortunately for once the boo boys were drowned out by a couple of choruses of “Come on Luton”. There was more grist to the moaners mill 120 seconds later when Barry played in a lovely ball for Seddon to run onto, he danced past Kroca and easily rounded Tyler. They were taking the piss at this stage and our defenders had just switched off.

Money tried to change things around – on came Luke Graham for the disappointing and leggy AMS, who added a degree of sharpness to the back. Gleeson and Howells pushed up as wing backs to partner Lawless and Keano in the middle with MBH, Lloyd and Gnapka up front. Since his injury AMS has been half the player he was when he first started for us, I don’t know if his confidence has been affected, whether he is still playing with an injury or if his initial buzz has worn off because he is being played out of position the whole time, but he’s not the player he was.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see how much impact the new formation would have because Howells was stretched off with his leg in a brace after a karate kick challenge by Pond. How he stayed on I will never know – but I do know that whenever the ref was called on to make a proper decision he didn’t have the balls. He flunked at least two penalties and should have sent off Pond.

More head tennis and little shape followed. Poku replaced Howells, and as we didn’t have any left sided players on the bench (or fit?) we reverted to 4-4-2 with Gleeson at left back Pilks at right back, Claude on the left Lawless on the right. By this stage it was an unwitting buggers-muddle and I don’t think we troubled their keeper, Davies, in the second half. That’s not to say we didn’t have any chances – Luke Graham’s header was cleared off the line and Pilks headed over. But we lacked purpose, spirit and the personnel to take the game by the scruff of the neck and to make something happen. We sold the player who could do that to Ipswich.

The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough. Well done Fleetwood, they knew how to play against us and did us like kippers. Hardly a crisis, our record in the league since the Crawley loss is P15 W10 D3 L2 F30 A8 Pts 33. Unless the wheels come off completely in the next three months we will be in the mix for the play offs at the end of the season. However, whilst I’d be happy getting Wimbledon, I don’t want to be playing Fleetwood again if we can help it.

Scores on the doors:
Tyler: 6
Gleeson: 6.5
Howells: 4.5
Pilks: 4
Krocha: 4
Gnapka: 3
Lawless: 7
Keane: 6
AMS: 4
MBH: 5.5
Owusu: 5.5

Subs: Graham: 7
Poku: 5.5
Walker – not on long enough.

Money correctly pointed out in his post match conference that a number of the players seemed to have an off day at once. Fair enough – get that defeat out of the way – unbeaten from now on until the end of May. Fair exchange is no robbery.

Do we change things? We’d kept 7 clean sheets in 8 games this year. I suspect Howells will be out now for a while, Freddie Murray will be back. Is it time to rest Kroca for Graham too? Though MBH has been setting up goals a plenty he hasn’t scored in seven games. Time for a start for Jason Walker before he loses the goal-touch he had at Barrow? Though Owusu has got four goals in five starts we need a player alongside him to find his touch in the way that Tommy Craddock (remember him?) did this time last year. We desperately need some pace when attacking. Hopefully Willmott will be back soon – and Dan Walker has a good turn of pace. Claude wants his arse kicking for his lack of effort today, but from having a plethora of wing options a few weeks ago, suddenly the cupboard looks a little bare if the first choices are out of form.

Anyway – one defeat doesn’t a season ruin. Let’s get back on track on Friday in Wales.

Thanks for reading – all comments welcome, as ever.

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Let’s all have a disco

So – Charlton escape with a draw in their cup final, they were out-sung and outplayed. Apart from the occasional non league fluff we didn’t look out of place against a side two divisions above us.

For my part I have enjoyed a day with four meals and plenty of ice-cold booze on an ice-cold day. Stopping at the O2 with many other travelling Hatters afforded me the opportunity to feast in the many different restaurants there. With all that food and seven layers of clothes I was probably being mistaken for Happy Harry. I shan’t eat for a week.

Only just got to the ground in time, but in time to hear the team announced, each player’s name greeted by an extra huge roar from the Hatters faithful. Tyler in goal, Howells at left back (wot no Murray?), Pilkington, Krocha, Gleeson at right back.

In midfield Claude started on the right, Drury partnered Keano in the middle, and Amari Morgan-Smith returned on the left.

Up top a welcome return for Danny ‘Big Hips’ Crow who partnered MBH.

So much action to describe, as so often against ‘better’ teams we played well – some of the interaction, interplay and one touch passing was reminiscent of years gone by. They did us, and Mr Money proud.

After some positive in moves initially, boisterously cheered on by the Hatters fans. Our first chance came from a Drury free kick which was tipped over by the Barbi-pink clad Elliot. But then calamity! With their first attack Reid, their left-winger tormented Gleeson without a thought, who stood off him too far and allowed him to cross perfectly it for an unmarked Anyinsah to head past a stunned Tyler. Unusually, for both fans and players alike this early goal didn’t dampen spirits or performance. Luton pressed and passed and passed some more. MBH and Gnapka interchanging positions up front.

Poor Jake got shoved over when shepherding the ball out at the home end, that big bully Benson got a booking for his trouble and a lot of stick from the fans.

The buzzing and lively MBH had a snapshot from 25 yards after collecting a ball from Danny Crow – the shot hit the post and bounced wide. Crow’s turn to have a 25 yard shot, but easily saved by Elliot. We were getting caught offside regularly by a twitchy linesman on the far side – who seemed to wait for the Charlton appeals each time before raising his flag, like a Pakistani umpire in the 80s.

It was all Luton now and Crow had a good chance with a one-on-one with the keeper but was forced wide. A couple of minutes later Keano found his name in the book for deliberate handball as a flick from his arm prevented a break forward by the home side.

Amid more offsides, suddenly the Gods smiled on us for once as not only was there a foul on AMS as he drove into the left hand side of the box (well, I say a foul, his heels were clipped) but the referee spotted it and awarded it. Drury stepped up, with my heart rate going through the roof and drove it down the middle, it catching the keepers legs, but fortunately the rebound off the legs went straight to Drury who headed it home – to a much relieved and jubilant away end. It was 1-1 and certainly no more than we deserved.

Glorious footy and passing by the town saw Claude put the ball in the net, only to be the victim of the flag yet again.

Alas, we were behind again shortly afterwards, after another knife-though-butter move, Charlton’s second chance of the game leading to their second goal. A cross from the right came to Wagstaff who turned and shot saved by Tyler but the ball ran clear and was headed back towards the goal by Jackson, deflected off Gleeson and trundled past the flailing Tyler into the corner.

A corner from Drury found Crow’s head but for the last five minutes Charlton had chances to extend their lead Anyinsah shooting wide, fortunately.

Three minutes extra time produced more pressure from the town but no equaliser.

No changes at the break, but two minutes in Tyler had to earn his money by tipping over a Francis shot. A minute later he made a more comfortable save from the strangely named Llera. Again a good save from a cross by Reid, after Dan left a hole in the right after progressing forwards.

Gleeson got his name taken a second or so later when he blocked Reid, who had been tormenting him all afternoon.

Great tackle to dispossess Jackson by Krocha relieved some of the building Charlton pressure at this point.

Just to make a point here – Keane and Drury had great games in the middle – Keane breaking up the play and laying it off nicely or passing it out to the wings. Drury was creative and much harder working in the middle than I’d imagined. Even Pilkington got in on the act with a Hansen-esque tackle, dribble and pass out to Morgan Smith on the wing (who fluffed it).

On came Atieno for Danny Crow, who, bearing in mind hadn’t played recently, had a great game. Atieno himself put himself around and layed it off nicely – he looked a threat, and I didn’t think I’d ever type that. We didn’t change the game plan and just whack it long when he came on which was pleasing to see.

Still 2-1 down the Town still stuck to the task and from this point onwards dominated the game. However, Charlton were good at getting bodies behind the ball and too often we got into fantastic positions on the edge of the box (it was like playing Histon and Corby again) but this time passed around the edge of the box without taking – or perhaps more fairly getting – the chance to shoot.

Three more chances came and went – Jake shot into the side netting, Morgan-Smith headed wide and Atieno beat a couple of defenders before the ball was shovelled clear.

On came Dan Walker to replace AMH. Oh it would have been good to get the ball behind the right back for Dan to run onto to demonstrate his pace – we didn’t quite manage it – but he was key in the equaliser. With Charlton sitting too deep and letting us dominate the play Dan swept it right to Gnapka who had MBH in tow. MBH overlapped and Claude cut inside run out of room and ran into one of the defenders. The balls momentum carried it to Drury who was unmarked and about 25 yards out who struck a perfect curling shot-come-chip (the sort of strike you dream of) over Elliot’s head and into the top corner – unsaveable and an absolutely fantastic goal. A goal which matched our performance and which merited at least a Luton draw.

Still time for MBH to have a shot, two corners in extra time and a penalty appeal by Claude. He twitsted and turned, mocking the defender, cutting in and out with the ball at his feet. The defender put his arm across him and Claude needed no second excuse to perform his dying swan routine. Was it a penalty? Well the defender did impede him, so strictly it was, but you see that sort of thing all the time and games would be won 8-7 each week if refs always gave those. Perhaps Claude didn’t help himself by going down i) at all or ii) in that ‘I’ve been sniped’ fashion. Anyway we can pontificate for hours here – the ref didn’t give it.

A loud roar greeted the final whistle. Hopefully the players appreciated the fact that we sang from beginning to end (their applause at the end would suggest so). What a shame that the spirit, mood and noise generated away can’t always appear at home. I know it can – I was there for all of the games in the League one winning season when the atmosphere in the last few games was as tangible a force as having an extra couple of players on the field. Perhaps it will surface if we carry on drubbing the Blue Square Premiership’s finest. Messrs Money and Brabin came to the away end to applaud us fans at the end which was good and they got an excellent response back.

As for the difference in the two teams, I saw it like this – their players were marginally technically better than ours – they made fewer mistakes in controlling the ball, they were more faster, and quicker at breaking, they were more incisive man for man – pound for pound. But they were not better. We played more as a team, had more passion and drive and played some cracking passing football which regularly tore holes in their defence. I suppose you could say that it was the same old story – dominating a game where we had lots of chances and should have put more away. But 2-2 was fair. Apart from the technical differences and their pace we didn’t look out of place playing against them, in the way we didn’t look out of place against Rochdale and Rotherham last year and of course we were only narrowly beaten by Southampton when we had a weaker team and squad.

It was a really good game a good advert for cup football and I bet ITV wish they’d picked it.

One benefit of the draw is that we will replay them under the lights at the Kenny which will hopefully be another magical night with the unique atmosphere that you only get on a Tuesday (and the occasional Wednesday) night at Kenilworth Road. They won’t fancy it much, that’s for sure.

We are in the hat for the third round again. Who would I like to see us drawn against? Well obviously Watford at home or away. Liverpool is almost inevitable of course as we haven’t played them for a couple of years. Arsenal would be good and would give us the room to play. Harry’s Spurs anyone? Failing that, hopefully a crappy League two team at home, Dover look like too much of a banana skin to be a bye.

Scores on the doors:

Tyler – 7.5 – made some good saves to keep the score decent when we were still 2-1 down.

Gleeson – 5.5 – only player who looked out of his depth (though he did make some good runs and overlaps) and Reid and Charlton soon picked up on this.

Pilkington – 7 – a rock at the back – came forward well too – but has been making more mistakes than before recently. For example he was nowhere near Anyinsah for the first header, left for dead he was.

Kroca – 7 – two good last ditch tackles. Think he was a bit nervous initially but these nerves dissolved.

Howells – 7.5 – dangerous linking up with AMH on the left – whereas he started as a defender he is clearly a much better winger or central midfielder now. Not pushed off the ball as much as he was when he started at left back. Not outclassed today and looked at home, even though he was playing in a (now) unfamiliar position against a team 40 places above.

Gnapka – 8 – though caught out of position occasionally and not tackling back as much as he might – he drifted and remained forwards and so was still in a much more threatening position when the ball came back to us as it did time and time again. Always a threat.

Keane – 8.5 – played brilliantly all game and dominated the midfield.

Drury – 9.5 – hard working, two goals, pulled strings. Too good for them.

AMH – 7.5 – bright but understandably not as sharp after his lay off. Got in very good positions though and was a thorn in their side. If he can be like this after a month’s lay off and against Charlton away, I genuinely think that the record books might have to be dusted off against the likes of Forest Green Rovers.

Crow – 7.5 – usual hard-working effort backed up by good play off the ball and lovely passes with it in his possession. A bit of luck and he would have got a goal today.

MBH – 8.5 – looked very dangerous today – involved in so many moves and looks more confident than at any time in his Luton career. A constant threat to their centre-halves and when he swapped to the wings got 4 or 5 crosses in.

Subs:

Atieno – 8 – looked confident when coming on and posed a threat.

Walker – not really on long enough to give a proper rating, but involved in the goal and looks good.

Thanks for reading – greetings to those Hatters reading from abroad. Unless you are reading from the Arctic circle I suspect wherever you are was warmer than south London this afternoon 7 layers and beer coat notwithstanding.

Onwards and upwards – Wimbledon on Tuesday….weather permitting.

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