It was nice whilst it lasted / Gently bobbing

 

Well that’s the cup done for another year – nice that the run finishes in February and not November for a change. We lost 3-0, one goal for every division Millwall are above us.

What of yesterday’s performance? Well I don’t think we were 3-0 worse than Millwall. The difference was, as ever, that the Championship side took the chances we presented them, whilst keeping out the good chances we made. It’s nothing more or less than that. Give them an inch and the better clubs take a mile.

It is a shame, as Buckle said, that we went behind so early, it put the dampeners on the atmosphere and brought us down to earth  as a reminder of our own mortality. Once again, like the Wolves and Norwich games, we didn’t give the opposition any respect which is a positive at least. We did give them a goal though, which isn’t.

Buckle has been going on about Kovacs and individual errors all year, and perhaps he was right all along. Kovacs played like a lion against Norwich and Holt, but a bit of a donkey against Millwall and Hulse. Inconsistency. Yes, that’s why he plays in non-league. If he was much better, he’d not be here would he?

The key to recruitment surely, as I’ve said before, is to intercept players getting better on their upward career curve, not catch them on their way down. Better to aim to have a side full of players who are, or who will one day be at home one or two divisions above (with us or with someone else) than to have a squad containing everyone else’s cast-offs looking for a home.

There’s only so long you can go playing against better opposition before you get found out. It’s like rolling a dice. Roll a one or a two and you stay in the cup, anything else and you are beaten. Well against Millwall our number was up and we rolled a six. On another day, with no cock ups, a fair wind, and a bit of luck we would have ’done a Blackburn’ perhaps. Oh well. It doesn’t matter now.

But, that said, we held our own and I’m proud of the team and the board and the positive image the run has brought to the club and to a lesser extent the town. It was lovely to be the first item on the sports news on radio 5, front page news in the Sunday papers and the various articles about our fall from grace and our proud and sometimes notorious position in the footballing history of the country. Well done boys, you did us proud.

Being stretched by a stronger team does highlight a few things.  Mark Tyler is still an excellent and outstanding shot stopper, but less keen to come off his line than he once was. Jake is a great ball player with good vision, but doesn’t have the pace to close down right wingers and prevent them from getting key crosses in when playing on the left. Henry still seems better at centre half (and had a good game). Taylor looked like a left back playing at right back, though on a few occasions having a left foot was a bonus as he could happily play the ball inside the oncoming player, much to their surprise.

I thought Smudger Smith, was largely anonymous in the first half, but had a better second half, I thought Mendy had a good game all round. Lawless and O’Donnell had a good go, but we didn’t play enough balls for them to exploit the flanks and their pace to our advantage. We went 4-2-4 at the end bringing on Fleetwood and Shaw, in the well-rehearsed ‘fling all the forwards on’ ploy that has worked so successfully all season and we thus surrendered the midfield. Yes it did bring half chances I suppose, and had we snuck one back when it was 2-0 who knows what would have happened?

Lots of high ball went up to Rendell who fought hard, but was outjumped and out muscled by two lads much bigger and better than him. The ploy to release Gray on the break didn’t work quite as well. Millwall had done their homework.

Again, it is not all doom and gloom. We carved out more chances and half chances against Championship opposition that we have done against many a Conference team this year. However in summary, it is the same outcome as it is against Conference sides – chances not taken and silly mistakes leading to goals conceded.

Where does this leave us? Well, about £500k better off which is nice. According to the Daily Mail Paul B is demanding all of that be spent on players to overhaul the squad (what? again?) but it was in an article littered with errors so it should be taken with a pinch of salt big enough to dehydrate a whale.

In a strange way I’m relaxed now and calm. We’re eighth, a long way behind the teams at the top and our league form is dragging us down the table. I don’t think that we will make the play offs and so in a way, in my mind, the pressure’s off. I feel calm, not angry.

We’re a brilliantly supported mid table conference side now, whether we like it or not. The conversion from league side to non-league side has been concluded.  The transmogrification finished, the assimilation complete.

If our current stumbling form persists it means we have no chance of reaching the play offs, so the players have a chance to quietly get on with it, turn things around, and come out feeling comfortable in each other’s company determined to find a way of playing in this competition – and at this level – which is successful.

Paul Buckle is staying put, whatever happens in the league for the remainder this year and continuity is a good thing – whether we like it or not we might as well get our heads down and get on with it. Shout all you like, he’s here to stay, rightly or wrongly, whether we finish 15th or 3rd. Giving the manager two or more seasons to get it right might be the right thing to do. Rome wasn’t built in a day/season. Pressure’s off – no more booing please, we need the pause and reflection that mid-table obscurity affords.

You never know – when the Greeks get back to work and sign Thomas’ work permit (or whatever international clearance means) he and McLumpy might just form the bedrock at the back we need. Gray, Fleets, Rendell or Shaw might spark up a run of goalscoring form, ably supported by some goals chipped in by the midfield.  If they think that the pressure is off too and with no cup-based distractions and fun, suddenly it might all click. We might be unbeaten for the rest of the year. It could happen, stranger things have.

Think back four years. The pressure on Big Mick to get us straight back was so huge at the start of our non-league journey and the assumption that it should be so easy that we should walk non-league  that a (admittedly fairly clueless) first home defeat of the season to the eventual champions was enough for him to go. Think about that for a second. That was our first home defeat in non-league and it was considered enough for the pressure to be such that Mick (to his eternal credit) fell on his sword and walked off without being paid his contract.

How our expectations and standards have been dragged down from the lofty place they were in September 2009. Now, home draws against village teams are shrugged off, and a home and away defeat by a bunch of cockney part-timers is “just not our day”.  Our expectations have been lowered, our high standards bloodied and bowed.

You could successfully argue that we had a stronger team four years ago and the second place at the end of that season to cheating Stevenage was no disgrace. With ‘better’ managers than MH and RM we could have gone one better? We’ll never know.

But that’s not the point I’m coming to – what I wanted to suggest that if you wound the clock back four years, and say that we got a manager in then and had told him “right, you have three seasons to get us back up, we know we won’t go up in seasons one or two, so there is no pressure on you, don’t worry about them, no pressure now, but build a team get us up by season three” then there would have been a riot at the time, we would have been suicidal to even contemplate three years in non league.

But if you’d have been offered that, knowing what we do now, four years on, we would have bitten the proverbial hand off.

Instead, each season we’ve hit the reset button and had to start again from scratch each time.

Each new manager has brought his own players in, attracted by our reputation and relatively large finances, and this fact alone has meant that we were there or thereabouts each year. We’ve been to two play-off finals in spite of the managerial changes, not because of them. But hitting the reset button each time has meant that, without being rude to the players who have come in, the standard of players coming in has gradually diminished over time. The poll I ran last week bore this out – wouldn’t it be wonderful if our strongest non-league XI was the current XI? Instead, we hark back at better players who have come and gone – but the quality over four years has gently declined. Whether this is because our wage bill is more realistic and our league reputation further and further away, less or poorer scouting/recruitment, or mangled management ideas I’m not sure. Perhaps it is a combination. Perhaps our position in the football world has been re-balanced by our circumstances. Reality has kicked in.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not being a hypocrite here. Poor Mick’s league record is poor, wherever he has managed, Richard Money lost the dressing room, seemed to have terrible man management  and alienated the fans. Gary Brabin was just hopelessly out of his depth. Both Money and Brabin were  at the point of no return when they left and had to go. So, I’m not saying we should have stuck to one of them come-what-may.  It’s an impossible conundrum.

I’m sure the board regrets some of the things they’ve done – but don’t we all? Hindsight is a wonderful thing – and if Gary et al had their time again they might have done things differently – we will never know. But you have to go on what you know at the time. I thought Richard Money was a great choice of manager at the time, so what do I know? What could we have done differently? Chosen different managers? Chosen more brutal managers? Kept Mick on in charge of recruitment and as head coach, but working with a brash, direct front man as manager – who knows? That probably wasn’t even an option for a second by the way…

As I say, hindsight is a wonderful thing – we are where we are. But I type this in the sort of peaceful serenity and calmness of someone who is cast adrift in the middle of the ocean in a rowing boat without any oars, knowing there is no chance of rescue and nothing they can do to change things. Anger and frustration has given way to acceptance and peace.

Gently bobbing in an ocean of calm.

Try it. You’ll see our league status from a completely different point of view….

Come on you Hatters….on to Macclesfield…the rest of our history starts here.

 

 

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He’s Gone

08:09 this morning – after the meeting yesterday evening it was revealed that Mick has finally parted company with LTFC. Some sources had leaked the outcome of the meeting last night.

I shan’t be hypocritical – it had become obvious that he needed to go, there was something fundamentally wrong with his management style and tactically it wasn’t working on the field.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t be grateful to the guy for his outstanding and legendary service to the club over the years – and who knows – he’s come back countless times before, we may see him again…

Best wishes to Alan Nielson who I think has got a spark about him which means he might just be a cracking manager for someone. It remains to be seen whether or not it will be us – all eyes will be on him for Saturday’s home game with Tamworth. I do hope he manages to tame Nico.

PS for those of you who asked on the 606 website who it was who pissed up against the bus shelter – I can assure you it wasn’t Alan or Kevin.

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Back to (blue) Square One

The Clock's ticking Mick...

The euphoria of the comeback on Saturday was dismissed by the combination of a well-organised Stevenage side and our own ineptitude.

10 minutes before half time I nipped out to use the facilities behind the Kenny End and saw four stewards trying to switch on the wall-mounted telly with a mop handle. It was like a scene out of Phoenix Nights, and only mirrored the comedy on the field.

The match itself was delayed until 8pm for some reason. A voice like Cherry Newbery’s (but not) came over the PA (which we could hear tonight, just about) and said it was due to crowd congestion. At Kenilworth Road? Was the St Evenage coach held up? They could bloody walk it.

The team itself was Tyler, Ed A-A in for Gnapka (curious move, bearing in mind on Saturday Claude only got subbed cos of the booking) Pilks and White – who had a poor game. The increasingly reliable Murray was at left back. In midfield Mick had to accommodate his mate Nico so the nearly settled combination of Jarvis and Hall was split up. Newton (my man of the match) started on the right and Jakey Howells was on the left. Craddock was up front with an out of position Asa Hall who got deeper and deeper as the game went on. Actually Hall added a personal highlight for me because as Tyler pumped the ball to him for the umpteenth time and he missed the header and their skipper the blond Roberts headed the ball away yet again, everyone ‘tutted’. And I have never heard a whole stand ‘tut’ all at once before and it was quite strange – it sounded like a very loud door latch clicking into place.

Of course Harford was completely and utterly out thought by Westley the Stevenage boss. The post match interview with Westley had me thinking, yep – this man knows something about setting up a team, thinking up some tactics and motivating his players to play them. In comparison Harford sounded like a child in a room full of adults. He trotted out the same old platitudes and excuses.
Harford just doesn’t have a clue.

The Hertfordshire team were unlucky not to get a penalty in the first half. Ed felled their striker as effectively as a builder taking a sledgehammer to a wall but the ref, who was poor all night waved play on. “Book ‘im then ref” I shouted, as usual.

Nicholls was way off the pace until he was substituted by the new lad Wright after about 80 mins. Why he even started the second half, only Mick Harford will know. He was running around like a child trying to get the ball off a group of adults in the back garden. Got himself booked when he was harried, and fouled by the opposing midfielder but instead of playing to the whistle he stopped his run and pushed the opponent in a petulant way. You’d think he’d learnt his lesson but he is just indulged by the management and the board like a spoilt brat.

My favourite random decision of the night was to bring Gnapka/Gnakpa on for a knackered Ed A-A after 65 mins. Aha – I hear you say – this is a sound decision a right back for a right back. But no – who would have guessed it? Adam Newton, who was our best player by far and was beginning to terrorise their left back and get crosses in, was moved to right back and Claude played right wing. Where did their goal come from? You’ve got it – down the left when Baird was not closed down by any of our defenders and slotted in a cracking drive. To be fair to the Frenchman he played well down the right but to no avail.

Pilkington went very close whilst it was still 0-0 with a side footed chance which he hit the post with, but, other than a few good crosses with no one on the end, and a couple of fluffed chances by the zero confidence Craddock, and a chance for Newton in the first half that was all we had and the closest we got.

Rio Charles came on right at the end but to no great effect. Hard to turn a season round single handedly if you are only given injury time to do it in.

Before the end of the game there were chants of ‘Harford out’ which was very sad. In the main stand I understand the fans were both chanting ‘Harford out’ and having a dig at 2020.

It is understandable though. Mick, an honourable and decent man shouldn’t be in the position of having to resign just because his bosses won’t sack him. It is getting embarrassing.

Fair play to Stevenage, they deserved their win, they out-thought and outplayed us.

Mick, the clock’s ticking – don’t become Luton’s Gordon Brown.

P13 Pos 8th? I daren’t look.

Tomorrow (or later on today as it is now past midnight) I will reveal a post-Wrexham revelation that is far more shocking than a few players having a laugh and a joke on the pitch. It is real – it came from a player himself and will make your jaw drop.

PS From a betting point of view the recent sports results have gone quite well. Obviously 3 defeats in 5 helps the coffers, as did England’s 6-1 drubbing by the Aussies in the cricket and their defeat tonight. Similarly Essex beating Derbyshire (or rather Derbyshire standing aside allowing Essex an easy run-chase to prevent Northants from getting promotion) netted me enough to recoup the losses from Wembley in April and the Ashes victory. So it’s not all bad and is the sugar to try to take the bad taste of defeat away.

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Diversionary Tactics…

…well some tactics are better than none at all. To use the Three Counties Radio ‘incident’ as the focus for your press conference says it all really. Smokescreen. Papering over the cracks. Call it what you like.

Mick said “I’m expecting a written apology from Three Counties (Radio) for propaganda that was made on, what I call a poxy radio show, that was sent out to people who have never even been to the game, about the players who were, supposedly and allegedly, laughing on the football pitch after the game. Which is a total lie and total propaganda. So until I get a written apology this will be the last interview I do for Three Counties Radio – and the players.”

What a load of cock. The players should each have written to those 303 Hatters apologising for what their boss described as the worst ever performance.

Team news, such as it is: Keith Keane is still out.

As I mentioned earlier, my mate has created a programme which randomly selects the team, based on certain parameters so you don’t end up with Mark Tyler up front (mind you…) it selected 4-4-2 as the formation and excluded the injured players it came up with the following players – I have sorted them into a semblance of a team:

Tyler, Gnapka/Gnakpa, White, Pilks, Murray, Howells, Reynolds, Jarvis, Newton, Hatch, Charles.

I wonder how near to the real thing that will be or will Mick out random the random generator?!?

Predictions for tomorrow: Head: 0-2, Heart: bounce back from Tuesday with a vengeance 3-1. After all, it is only away to Cambridge, not Liverpool for God’s sake.

Come on you Hatters!

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…while Rome burnt.

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I was away from the internet yesterday, and I didn’t catch the radio and therefore would have missed any headlines about management changes at the club. So when I saw ‘Club Statement’ as a headline on the official site yesterday evening I thought, right…this is it…

To put it in context, following the Wrexham ‘performance’ our manager said “From the kick-off to the final whistle we were absolutely abysmal and it’s probably, in my opinion, the worst performance in Luton Town’s history.” and “I’m responsible for it, it reflects on me 100 per cent. We’re in a results-based game and that’s what you’re judged on and after that performance I expect to come under pressure…” indicating pretty much that we are in the brown-stuff and it is his fault. Strong stuff indeed.

I also get the feeling that the majority of fans are now ready for a change and those blindly clinging on to Big Mick because of his loyalty to us in the past are in a minority.

So obviously, when I saw the ‘Club Statement’ I was expecting big things. The board this week has clearly had big issues to deal with and big-boys decisions to make.

But no.

Instead, the statement refuted the assertion that the players had been laughing and joking during the warm-down after the match, and therefore hadn’t taken – and didn’t care about – their humiliation (and presumably Micks telling off) seriously.

I’m not making it up. Presumably Gary and the Brown(e) brothers thought it more important to give us this trivial information than the news we sought. I can’t believe that they actually spent time even considering producing a statement let alone thinking it was a good idea and actually doing it.

Perhaps they are having a running a battle with 3CR? Having dumped them as club internet commentary of choice, they have chosen to wholly over react to the comments made on the station the other night about the players in the warm-down (albeit after only 10 mins in the changing rooms with Mick). The club statement also refuted some allegations that 3CR had made about players in the centre of excellence – but to be honest I had no idea what Gary Sweet was on about with that one.

Focus on the bigger picture here chaps. Fans are not bothered about your feud with 3CR – which in any case is foolish to conduct in public. We are expecting you to have the balls to sack your man, or at least ask him to go upstairs and to work with, or join the board with Antony.

I think this is the first time 2020 have officially dropped the ball – I was looking to them to do the right thing by removing Mick. But they have failed to do so. But it is too late now. They won’t do it before tomorrow’s game or indeed I suspect, between the Cambridge game and the Stevenage one. So we have to wait another week, two more poor or substandard performances, before the pressure is on them to act again.

What they have done with this statement is to show support for their employees over the demands of their customers.

In the business I am in (I.T.) if one of my staff mucks something up, but perhaps not as badly as the customer is suggesting, I don’t spend my time quibbling over the extent of the cock up, I ensure that I deal with my customers concerns and put something in place to ensure it doesn’t recur and turn the situation around to reassure the customer.

How many more times does the team have to be booed off – for how many consecutive home games must the attendance fall before they act?

I reassert – Mick is fantastic, he’s a Hatter, one of us, but he is not a very good manager and he needs to be replaced so that the new man has time to turn things around. Don’t leave it so long that the whole crowd turns on him like they did to poor Ricky. It is never good to see a legend booed off. I want him to go with dignity and respect. I actually want him to go ‘upstairs’ and remain at the club. Our club is stronger for having him involved. Just not picking the team or deciding the tactics.

Team news later – and an intriguing “Random Team Selection” computer programme I got one of my mates to quickly commission – let’s see what team it selects and if it can out ‘random’ even Mick’s team choices.

Many thanks for all of your excellent and constructive comments over these past few days. Keep up the good work!

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Clueless, Chanceless, Goalless…Pointless

time to go

Need I say anything? If you are a Hatter you will know what 3-0 away to Wrexham in the 5th tier of football means, and feels like.

I’m tired of the excuses. If you have read this blog before, you know my opinions on the tactical ability of the manager. I’m not unrealistic: all teams lose. But if you genuinely think that nothing is wrong and Big Mick is the footballing white knight who will lead us out of this division and onto glory then you either know nothing about football, or you are a deluded fool.

Mick Harford is an outstanding ambassador for our club. Mick Harford was a legendary player for our club. Mick Harford loves our club. Mick Harford has an excellent record of recruiting fantastic players for our club, Mick Harford is a good coach, Mick Harford had the balls to take charge of a club with a 30 point deduction. Unfortunately Mick Harford is not a very good manager. And, if he is honest with himself, in his heart of hearts, he knows it too.

My total respect goes to those 303 superb Hatters who made the long journey of a Tuesday evening to Wales. Listening to the commentary the performance sounded about as bad as the Kettering game, if not worse.

I know Mick has been set targets by 2020. My own target for him was to be in the top 6 after 12 games. We are 9th after 11.

We are away to Cambridge on Saturday, then at home to Stevenage next Tuesday. If the fortunes of the team are not dramatically turned around over those two games then, I’m sorry Mick, but you’ll have to go. Never thought I’d ever have to type that.

No hang on – how are even two great results going to turn things around? There is fundamentally something wrong. Mick’s not the right man for the job, even if we win the next two games 4-0. Something’s not right. It’s not working. I’m so, so sorry.

The writing’s on the wall. Change things now, or we are playing Wrexham again next year.

P11 W5 D4 L2 Pts 19 Pos 9th – or to put it another way 101st out of 116.

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Slaying the Dragons

Big Micks secret is out

I won’t be making the trek accross the border tomorrow, much to my annoyance, as I have to be in South London with work until 4:30pm which will make it a bit tricky.

Big Mick gave his customary pre-match press conference today and treated us to a wonderful contradiction:

“We don’t need to chop and change it around.” which rather goes against his comments on the 1st of September when he said “It’s all about picking the right team for the right game and if I feel the need to change it then I will.”

Poor guy, I hear you say – he can’t win can he? Damned whatever he says. A settled team would be nice Mick. A team where all the players are used to the roles and know what is involved in the role for each position. That is all.

Unfortunately, having said the right thing, Mick then took blotted his copybook by using the old favourite “It won’t be an easy game but there are no easy games whatever league you’re in.”

No Mick, that’s setting us up for a fall before we’ve even played. That is called managing expectations. The fact remains, whether you like it or not – there are easy games whatever league you are playing in. This is non-league. We have a team of League One and League Two players, and some heaven forfend who have played in the Championship. If it wasn’t for the unjust, unfair and arbitary points deductions last year we wouldn’t even be in this bloody league. We should be storming it in League One. Instead we are 6th now in the Conference, our lowest ever position and Mick is looking for a point away at Wrexham.

With the players we have, with the backing the club has, with a decent manager we would be matching Oxford blow for blow, instead we are starting to look over our shoulders.

That phrase annoys me so much. It is an excuse not a reason. As I have said before Sven used to say “there are no easy games at this level” when England would struggle at home against some Micky Mouse country from eastern Europe. No – let’s get it straight there are easy games, because not all the teams are the same. Some are weak, some are poor, some are both. We are neither, but somehow flatter to deceive.

Rant over. God I hope we beat Wrexham tomorrow.

Team news: Burgess out forever, Ed back in training, Hatch fine, Porno training again – apart from Burgess everything is moving in the right direction – full marks to Harry Scott-Stackman for getting them all back in such a timely fashion – especially Hatch.

Predictions? The head says 1-1, the heart says a cheeky 1-0 win, Asa Hall 64th minute.

Come on you Hatters…

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