Cambs to the slaughter

A welcome win, if not quite a return to tip top form. After four games without a victory I was happy to take any sort of win to pop the train back on the tracks.

A messy week for the Town with contradicting statements coming from Money and Tom Craddock about TC’s departure, further contradicted I think by Gary Sweet’s comments in the programme today. All I know is what a player told me about the conversation between Money and Craddock after the Altrincham game. RM said to Craddock, and I quote: “If that’s how you feel you can f**k off”. This whole episode has given me the impression that Mr Money is not necessarily the world’s finest touchy-feely man-manager. Craddock didn’t want to go – he just wanted some assurance as to his role in the team. Completely understandable for someone who got 24 goals last year, but who had been deliberately marginalised this year. Money wasn’t going to pander to the player especially when he had three other strikers who he had to keep on board. And so TC felt unloved and moved on. One to add to the catalogue of great management decisions under ‘H’ for Huge cock up. Black mark for Richard. Right, ‘nuf said – time to move on. Hopefully we can welcome him back with Oxford next season in the division above.

And so onto today. We had to win today, it’s a little melodramatic to say that this early on in the season but I think RM might have been strung up after the game if we hadn’t won. As it happens it was a good game with, for once, a good ref who didn’t decide that we had come to watch him.

Not that we can hear anything where we sit so we had no idea until the players appeared, but the team was: Tyler, Gleeson (against his old club) Blackett in the centre of defence, back to where he was last year and where he plays much better, Krocha and the bearded Murray back at left back. Murray was followed around all afternoon by a small boy carrying a brown towel. The lad kindly proferred him the towel before every throw, even short ones. Murray’s throwing was a revelation. Just like Adam Newton who last week unfurled Delap-esque long throws, Murray has gone from performing foul throws each time he picked up the ball to hearty attempts to hurl it across the face of the goal. Some worked some didn’t – it’d be nice to have the players alert enough in the box to make something of them. However, perhaps I’m a bit of a snob, but I’d much rather our players aped Arsenal’s tactics than Stoke’s.

In midfield, Drury returned and started on the left, in the middle were Adam Murray and George Pilkington reprising his role in the middle of the park first seen against Grays last year. (How must Besta feel? What about Godfrey ‘on fire’ Poku?) and on the right was the mercurial Claude le Goal.

Up top were MBH and Atieno making his home debut and first start. Again – how must Crow feel? I know Atieno gave us a different outlet against some big defenders, and had a good start, but it strikes me that RM doing a good job of pissing off his strikers one by one.

The first chance of the game came when MBH put Claude through down the right and he crossed it for Atieno, but the keeper nabbed it first, the cad.

Adam Drury had the first shot of the afternoon after an excellent cross by Claude missed everyone – but drilled his shot over.

A minute later MBH had a one on one with the keeper having been put through by Gleeson (I think) when he sprung the off-side trap. I’m afraid to say I didn’t feel he would score at any point – I hoped he would of course, but I didn’t think he would, and he didn’t: drilling it at the keeper, even though he seemed to have lots of time.

Next jotting on the note pad was that sometimes dear Krocha has the gentle touch of a hod carrier after six pints. His heavy clomp back to Tyler was fortunately off target and went out for a corner. The corner was a curious affair, Drury I think it was pointing out to the ref that the two players taking the corner hadn’t managed to get the ball the quarter circle bit by the corner flag bit he was made to come back as if he were encroaching, but fortunately then the players contrived to somehow be offside.

After 15 mins it was Atieno’s turn to have a one on one with the keeper and unfortunately didn’t manage to score either, he went very close but hit his shot into the side netting.

Three minutes later Pilks, who had a good game in the middle hooked the ball back as Platt broke out of it from defence, it was a perfectly good tackle, though he felled him and as it happened hurt him too. Off Platt went on a stretcher, and disappeared down the tunnel of doom with some words of encouragement from our fans. The good men and women from the St John Ambulance bursting into action, dusting the cobwebs off the club’s gurney. I hope they didn’t take him to Luton and Dunstable hospital, as he may never be seen again.

I was slightly distracted for the next few minutes after Cleo Rocos jnr took her seat in the stand below. I was not the only one who noticed her, in fact I turned around and watched about a hundred men following her progress through the Kenny End. The good Lord himself could have parachuted naked into the centre circle and we would have missed it because we were appreciating the shapely and frankly hard to miss thruppennies the young lady was only too happy to flaunt. Dirty old men.

Saah hacked down MBH to give us a free kick on the edge of the box – I say edge – it was probably much further out – difficult to tell sometimes from the other end. Anyway without Gallen’s thunderbolts Drury was the only real option to take the shot and his effort sailed harmlessly over the bar.

Then, as is so often the way, after a good chance for one team, the other team goes down and scores. Fortunately lady luck smiled on us time and time again today (about bloody time too, she’s been noticeably absent recently, presumably Money’s pissed her off as well) and the first instalment came at 32 minutes when Wright had an excellent effort only to scoop it wide. He should have scored and is probably still kicking himself if Martin Ling hasn’t had a go first. Then shortly after Freddie Murray put Drury in with a header, Drury showed the class player that he is and showed the bumbling fools around him how it is done with a deft turn and shimmy and a cracking finish. The house erupted with relief.

Shortly after it could have been two – Gnapka with another cross in from the right gave MBH a fine chance and his snap shot hit the post.

The ref only added a minute of extra time which was slightly odd bearing in mind it had taken a good few minutes to get Platt off the pitch. Long enough for me to dash down and nip to the gents and back – either I can do that in a minute or the ref forgot to stop his watch. However, the minute was long enough. Drury’s corner found Pilks whose header failed to be cleared and we were two up.

Remembering that we were 2-0 up against Cambridge last year, we were not safe. And after the break it was lastditch.com for about 15 minutes. We failed to get out of our half and the fans got increasingly frustrated. Gleeson was substitued after about 10 minutes of the second half after he blocked a shot. He limped around for a couple of minutes but was soon replaced by Adam Newton at right back. Newton played soundly for the remainder of the second half.

Howells replaced Atieno after an hour. Pleased to see Jake re-included so soon. Atieno had played well in the game – B+, good start. He showed one touch of brilliance in the second half where the ball came to him from a punt out of defence and he trapped the ball dead, span and ran in one movement, a dazzling skill rarely seen at this level and much appreciated by the Hatters fans. Howells was not quite back to his sublime best of last year, but looked good and sparky and the game transformed somewhat with his introduction, in the same way Gallen’s led our revival against Hayes. With Atieno gone Claude moved up front a la Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final and was a target if nothing else. Whilst the first half of the second period was all Cambridge’s largely due to us conceding the midfield because Pilks and Murray played too deeply, the second half of the half was largely Luton. Suddenly – and this bodes well for the Don’s game on Friday we remembered how we play again.

With 20 minutes to go dear Claude had his shirt nearly ripped off at a corner – but the ref didn’t manage to spot it. It looked as if he’d been wrestling with a rabid rhino so I’d love to know how the ref thought it got like that.

Claude was taken off shortly after that presumably so that the seamstress could get an early go at putting his shirt back together. On came ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow – eager to get his first goal, eager to get a starting place and eager to put one over his former club. He looked lively and keen. And should start against Wimbledon. He had two chances, and was only denied by two excellent saves by the keeper Brown the second after being played in well by a fine ball from Adam Murray.

My man of the match today was without doubt Shane Blackett (or Sean Blacklett if you watch Premier Sports) oddly enough I’ve not mentioned him in the report so far. He was dominant at the back and made two clearances off the line to keep us in the game as well as a fantastic block. As has been recorded on these pages – Blackett regularly plays well at centre-half, but you do have to watch out for a couple of game-losing howlers he will make at some point in the season. But today he was brilliant and it is no coincidence that it was only our second clean sheet today with him there.

One last moment of comedy genius – Wilmott (I think) played the ball back to Brown in the Cambridge goal who managed to let it get past him and had to race back to prevent it from crossing the line a goalie’s nightmare.

2-0 then and, as I say a good game of football. Cambridge had one of those days when they wouldn’t have scored if they played for another two hours, despite dominating for significant periods. If Keano comes back on Friday then Money will have a bit of a headache. Blackett played well enough to be retained today so who would you leave out?

The win leaves still 6th with a record of 4-2-2. With the majority of the teams above us recording a win – a defeat today would have meant we were 9th.

The scores on the doors:

Tyler – 7 – kicked long again, but accurately, had little to do other than a few punches and saves low down. 7

Gleeson – 7 – before he went off he was having a good game.

Blackett – 9 – sound as a pound

Krocha – 7 – pest up front, rock at the back, apart from the clumpy pass back which rattled the hoardings at the Kenny End

F Murray – 7 – good defending and overlapped well without ever managing to be given the ball.

Gnapka – 7.5 – or rather 9 in some places 6 in others.

A Murray – 7 – diligent in the heart of midfield sat too deep at the start of the 2nd half

Pilkington – 7.5 – extra half point for playing so well out of position

Drury – 8 – classy goal and good efforts

MBH – 6 – chances a-plenty but no goals

Atieno – 7 – sound start – needs to get on some of those crosses.

Newton – 7.5 – coped really well – I think he looked better than Gleeson

Howells – 7.5 – bright, but didn’t quite get the run of the ball or the final touch – but looked fresh.

Crow – 7.5 – goals will come soon I’m sure

On Friday we take on Wimbledon under the lights and on the telly. I do hope that a) we continue to play proper football like we did in the second half of the second half b) rather than modifying our tactics to counter Wimbledon we stick to our guns and let them worry about us. I think MBH – who was lively in places but had a number of chances today – needs a rest and that Danny Crow should start. I would have Jake on the left and Drury on the right with Claude to come on as a beserker if need be. A win on Friday and we will be right back ‘in the mix’ and only 2 points behind Wimbledon. I think after Friday we will have a much better idea of our destiny this year.

Many thanks to all of you who read this blog, and especially to those ex-pat Hatters who log on from places as diverse as Oman, Chile Bermuda and Harpenden. As ever, all comments welcome.

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Barnsey the Hat-trick Hero

The boy Barnes-Homer done good. Hot on the heels of his winner on Saturday he produced a hat-trick tonight. Two games and we are top.

I didn’t manage to go to the game because I was driving back from the north west, but I managed to catch it on the radio from half way through the first half and the remainder of the game. I did have my first chance to hear the golden ticket of the excellent Simon Pitts from Diverse FM, and seasoned summariser Ian Pearce from 3CR, with the coverage unpeppered by Neil Roy and very good it was too. Pitts (as he showed against Oxford) is totally passionate and goes potty when Luton score – just like I do, very dangerous when you are charging down the motorway.

The Kettering team contained four former Hatters. Sol Davis, the legend; Paul Furlong the forty one year old target man who played for us under Blackwell. Tanny Abbey – (need I say more?) and Ian Roper the big lump. Alarm bells should be ringing for the fans at Kettering. I know we are a bigger club, and no disrespect to those players but I’m pretty sure none of them would be signed by RM now, even as reserves for the reserves. Perhaps a sign of how far we have come, or of how poor we were. But on quality of players alone it would suggest there would be a big gulf.

Richard Money had promised some changes before the game, we have six games (13% of the entire league season) this month alone, and so he wants to ‘keep everyone fresh’. Out went Mark Tyler and Jake Howells, in came K Pilks and Claude Le Goal. I was disappointed to hear that Jake didn’t start, but he came on in the second half and his introduction heralded the second goal. Craddock wasn’t even on the bench and it emerged afterwards that he has been ‘tapped’ up by a league club which was always going to happen. We will see if anything develops on that today.

As for the game – our first goal came when Ropes felled Kevin Gallen in the box.

Gallen was not running directly towards the goal at the time so Ropes only got a yellow. MBH whacked the ball down the middle and we were 1-0 up.

I missed the second goal due to a comedy of errors with the FM frequency – needless to say I was annoyed when I got the signal back and we were 1-1. It sounds as if it was from a corner again – something to practice in training chaps – that’s two in two games.

In the second half it sounded as if we pressed and pressed and the stats show that during the game we had 16 shots to their four. Something had to give and just after the hour things started to get interesting. On came Jake and Danny Crow for Claude and Kevin Gallen. Shortly after that Christie had the ball in the net again, but it was offside – then there was some sort of incident between him and Kroca because he received his marching orders and Kettering were down to 10 men.

On came Paul Furlong, playing for his eleventh club – presumably to hold the ball up and to make a nuisance. However, he had hardly been on the pitch when Crow started a move by passing to MBH who sprayed it out to Drury who ran into the box and blasted a shot at Tanny who parried it only for Barnsey to poach and pop it in.

It was all Luton after that. Not a case of hanging on but trying to get a third and it duly came after Roper upended his second Hatter of the night, this time ‘Big Hips’ Crow. Roper duly got his marching orders for the second yellow card offence – down to nine men and 3-1 when MBH netted his second penalty . Tanny then joined in the fun kicking the ball into the Hatters fans, presumably no one at that end had been engaging him in witty banter and reminding him of his six years at the town. Then there was a bit of a ding dong on the pitch and Besta came on for Adam Murray, to make his debut – having got clearance that afternoon from his national board to play. He even had time for a shot. Then – I didn’t hear it myself – Simon Pitts said that the PA announcer said declared the ref was the man of the match, sponsored by Spec Savers. I fear a fine coming on.

So, the match that had everything – a hat-trick, two sendings off, a disallowed goal and comedy moments galore. Furthermore 1,600 Luton fans travelled to Kettering on a Tuesday night, making up more than half the crowd. There’s a few Championship teams who’d wish for our travelling support. Shame I missed it.

Well done to MBH, four goals in two games, a start he couldn’t have dreamed of. His confidence must be sky high and credit to him for his turnaround and Richard Money for sticking with him.

Always good to get an away win and always good to get three goals away from home. Top then, after only two games. Saturday (when I’m at the Oval) Luton are away to Fleetwood – who are third (I know it is early days) they beat Mansfield 3-0 tonight and so clearly are not compete mugs. Saying that we beat them 4-1 last year…

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Yorked

Such a shame to lose our unbeaten record in such an important game. However, would you expect anything else? We always have to make it interesting. It has set up a cracking second leg on Monday. At 5:45 we will either have Wembley-bound joy or utter dejection.

Fair play to York, big crowd, passionate fans (lots of bog roll thrown, not sure what that means for the toilet hygene in North Yorkshire) , lots of noise (at the start at least), and they tried to play football. It was only because we closed them down so well that they resorted to going long, which ultimately cost us the goal.

Their formation was similar to ours – 4-4-2 with two battlers in the middle and two wingers. However they include two big lumps up front, including the league’s top scorer Brodie.

Our line up was: Tyler, Newton (in for Ed) Pilks, Blackett, Murray; Claude, Keano, Heslop and Howells; up top Craddock and Gallen.

We played really well, it was slightly worrying that we should make so many chances, play so well and yet come away goalless. I do hope that the goal-fest hasn’t dried up just at the wrong time.

The ref was determined to stamp his presence early on and booked Heslop for a bit of a lunge. I disagreed with the booking and it neutered Heslop from then on. We started brightly. Gnapka played the ball back nicely to Heslop who crossed it in beautifully for Craddock who only needed a touch and it would have gone in.

Next to try was Keano who really caught hold of a hospital ball from Craddock pulling out a good save from Ingham the keeper who palmed it wide of the post.

A quick clearance from Tyler was muffed by McCurk and Gallen intercepted playing a well weighted ball out left to Howells who dribbled the ball at pace into the box (oh when he is good he is very, very good) and crossed it, it didn’t quite reach Craddock, was played out and this time found Craddock who showed nice skill to bring the ball down, beat his man and shoot, but his shot was blocked by the sprawling McCurk.

Howells skipped down the left crossed it for Claude who stretched to get the ball, saved again by Ingham, Gallen was beaten to the rebound.

Keano took a corner for the right which was met by the full-length diving Blackett who didn’t quite get hold of it Gallen also dived and met it with his head/shoulder/arm and again it was palmed away for another corner by Ingham, who was earning his crust.

After some lovely fast paced passing (and boy do we look good when we do it – full marks to RM for getting us playing the Luton way again) Howells nipped in at pace and crossed it for Claude who turned and layed off a la Gallen (has he been watching him?) to Craddock whose snap shot flew over.

Onto the second half, bit more York- from a corner the ball was played back in from the right to Graham who out jumped Murray and nodded it onto the post before Newton cleared the ball.

Another cross from Smith on the right towards the lump Brodie who jumped with Claude but nodded it straight to Tyler.

Gallen fed the ball left inside to Murray who marched forwards and played it to Craddock in the inside right position, he turned and ran into the box crossed it, it evaded Gallen and dear Claude came crashing in only to have the ball taken off his toe at the last second.

After some good build up play by York Smith played in a long cross to the far post for Carruthers coming in at the far post to blast over whilst the defenders stood frozen staring at each other.

M B-H came on for the knackered Claude, who whilst showing some sparks, not unsurprisingly clearly isn’t at his best yet, having been out for so long.

York piled lots of pressure on towards the end and peppered us with corners. We had one chance where Barnes-Homer crossed it but Gallen coudn’t quite get onto it.

Then the goal came. Mackin was doing nothing in thier own half, wandering around in circles going nowhere, doing nothing other than playing himself into trouble. Probably wondering if the pubs had shut yet. Heslop wandered towards him, got no nearer than sniffing, and Mackin thought about it, wandered on a bit, then had a calamtous comedy fall. The ref blew up. Bizarrely.

Ingham took the free kick. Lumped it foward, it was nodded on (by whom?) and the ball dropped to Blackett who mistimed his header, the ball flew over his shoulder but it was too late as Brodie had run onto it and flicked it first time with his left foot past Tyler. 1-0 Bugger. Fate smacks us in the mouth again.

As I said at the start, being one down makes it harder work, but not impossible. I’m assuming they will stick the team behind the ball and play on the break for the second leg aiming to frustrate us. One goal is all we need to get and then they will have to try to come at us. They are a footballing team which plays into our hands. One defeat hasn’t transformed us into a poor team. It might have taken the wind out of our sails, but we are a strong side, by far the most talented in the division, and with a full Kenilworth Road roaring the lads on hopefully there is a chance for one of the Hatters to emulate Brko and Keano and take the roof off with a famous winner.

Come on you Hatters! – I can’t wait.

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Pinch Yourself…

…because life for Luton in this third of the season is as surreal as it will ever get.

6-3 for goodness sake. First 6-3 I’ve attended since we lost to Sheffield United at home in 1994 when we were 2-0 down and down to 10 men after 20 minutes and I was moved from just behind the directors’ box because my language was offending the sensibilities of the ladies.

I felt numb walking back that day, and slightly numb walking back on Tuesday night. It really was a match of contrasts. Sublime attacking play that any Hatters fan down the ages could only dream of, matched with some clown-some defending making you wonder as if we had re-employed dear Clive Goodyear in his pomp.

Now since the match I’ve checked the Outlaws message board and there seems to be a lot of whingeing about this match. I think folk have been concentrating more on the 3 goals conceded than the six goals scored. Are our fans perfectionsists already? Have we become so blase that we assume that we don’t have the right to concede goals at home and that every game against this sort of opponent means an automatic trouncing these days in the post-Nico era? Yes it was daft that we conceded three goals so easily – but how often does this happen under Richard Money? We know that he likes to keep a clean sheet almost more than he likes us to score. It was a freak occurence, especially at home.

And fair play to Histon. Didn’t give up, didn’t give in. Played good football where they could and showed us up when we were a little complacent.

Compare the goals, let’s recall that we had only a 2-0 lead at half time and were 4-0 up and there was only half an hour to go before they scored their first.

It started with a thrown on the left. I recall watching our friend Mr Heslop who looked very puffed at that point (hardly surprising, he had covered every inch of the pitch!) it meant that when the ball was thrown in and was knocked out, he hadn’t made the ground to pick up the man with the ball who played it back to the original thrower who then had lots of time and space to put in a good cross to the middle of the goal. We hadn’t pushed out and so whatever went on in the box henceforth meant that there was no chance of a Histon player being offside. Murray was marking Sparkes (Blackett was marking fresh air) and Murray won the header with Sheringham the ball ran out to Southam on the penalty spot who played it right back to Sparkes who volleyed it in albeit it off the underside of the bar. Blackett was still in no man’s land Murray had the choice of two strikers to intercept but had retreated to the line. Pilks tried to close down the crosser and so a goal was almost inevitable.

We hadn’t picked up our men, we hadn’t pushed up and one of the defenders was wholly out of postion leading his teammates with too much to do. 4-1.

So – their second goal a long ball was played out of defence to one of theirs (Sheringham?) who was completely unmarked. Keano was the nearest but hadn’t picked him up. He took the ball down with the aplomb of Ronaldo and flicked a ball through between Blackett and Pilks. Pilks got a foot to it to cut it out but the ball flew to Knight-Percival who had accelerated into the box taking Ed with him and went round Ed and drilled the ball past Tyler into the corner. Good goal. 4-2. Where did that one come from? Well if Keano or Heslop had picked up their man then the ball would have been cut out and the danger removed. Secondly Pilks was a bit unlucky that his interception went straight to K-P. However it was a good finish and the player showed excellent intelligence in our box.

Third goal – by this time we were 6-2 up – came initially from a corner whalloped to the far post where their player had a free header not challenged by Ed. The ball was headed in and not cleared again (a la Tamworth?) and the excellent Southam – their livliest player by far – picked up the ball on the edge of the box collected it and ran around to the left going round Ed and Pilks and smacked it into the top corner of the goal from the edge of the box with his left foot. A cracking goal by all accounts, but borne out of players not picking up their men, again, and not clearing from a corner.

None of their goals were a case of “Blimey, if Histon can get three how many can Rushden/York/Oxford get against us.” Because all of those sides would have scored those goals. In fact, to be honest, all of those teams would have been delighted with those goals.

The point I am making is, our defence isn’t rubbish so that even Histon can get three. It is, Histon made us pay in full for three lapses.

So – enough of the downside let’s look at the positives. All six of them. A hattrick for Tommy Craddock and another fantastic attacking performance. Pressing from the front, high tempo, fluid and attacking football. All that we have ever asked for we got last night. We are dining on the richest of footballing feasts at the moment and we should savour every mouthful.

Now to those of you who are unfamiliar with the Kenny, the Hatters traditionally attack the home end in the second half. Yesterday, and it happens a few times each season we must have lost the toss and we swapped ends. Just like against Grays it took us about half an hour to get the first goal. It wasn’t a wasted half an hour because we created plenty of chances and played bright football. One thing that stood out for me was Poor Newton fluffing another chance (not quite a la Southampton) but which should have been put away. Oh, for the confidence we was playing with at the start of the season. To the goals…

The ball had been played nicely along the floor all the way from the back to the front by Blackett. Gallen controlled the ball and played it back to Jakey Howells – just one of what seemed like two dozen lovely lay offs and touches by Gallen – Jake played the ball forward to Craddock but there wasn’t enough room and it was cut out and came back to their right back who attempted to move forward with the ball only to be intercepted by Gallen who fell over in the process but by closing him down ensured that the ball fell to Howells who got a toe to Craddock who was overlapping and who drove into the box. He took the ball diagonally into the box almost to the byline and layed it inside to Howells who side footed it into the net from 8 yards out 1-0.

Apart from the close interchange of play between Gallen, Howells and Craddock in the inside left position the phase of play (that word phase again, sorry) emanated from Blacketts lovely pass from the back and Gallen’s tackling back to win the ball.

Goal number two:

Histon were in our half, playing the ball around nicely until Keano intercepted a pass with a perfect tackle which he accelerated into, assuming he would win the ball and ran forward and then played a lovely through ball to Craddock who was on his own 40 yards out. Craddock with the confidence and swagger of a man who has been scoring more than a junkie locked in a pharmacy took the ball into the box rounded his man, settled himself and slotted it in to the left hand corner. 2-0 and fully in control. Chances aplenty and result not in doubt.

Our third and Craddock’s second came from a long kick by Tyler. It went to no one but Tann the centre half who was just outside the centre circle. A lazy pass back or at least to noone in particular was picked up by Craddock who ran on and slotted it confidently past Knight the keeper from outside the box. 3-0.

The fourth was my favourite. A long clearance from Tyler fell to Newton who didn’t quite make the header but the ball ran to Howells who dribbled it to the edge of the box the ball ran to Gallen who with his umpteenth intelligent touch of the night layed it wide to Newton. His cross was heavy and long with the outside of his boot rather than the instep, the sort of cross that makes you groan and but the lost cause of a goal kick to them was chased down by Craddock who not only just kept in play but managed to play it down the line on the left to Keane. Having seen Craddock do that I confidently predicted out loud that ‘we’ll have a goal now’, Keane passed it to Murray who played a quick exhange of passes with Howell who ran and dribbled and played it just inside the box to Gallen who played an intelligent pass down the inside to Ed, however the pass was far too heavy and Ed did his best to rescue it on the byline, a neat bit of skill enabled him to turn his man and he cut the ball back from the byline to Newton who clipped the ball too high for Gallen right in front of goal, he missed his header or at least it flicked his head and the ball fell to Craddock who brought out a good save from the keeper only for Howells to follow it up and placed it right footed into the corner for 4.

Despite their goals at this point we also made chances. Poor Simon Heslop must have missed three gilt-edged ones. It was Heslop bursting into the box fed by Ed which caused him to be upended and we won our first penalty for a while. Craddock and Howells were both on 2 there was no question who was taking it. Craddock, head down to avoid eye contact marched the ball back to the penalty spot. Jakey went to speak to him but was pointed back to his mark by Gallen. Craddock slotted the ball home for his first, and hopefully not last Luton Hattrick.

Jake was quite keen to get his too. When the ball came to him again after that, any where near goal he had a shot, and fair play to him.

Our sixth came after some excellent posession down the right. Heslop won the ball and drove into the box again, turning it inside for Gallen on the edge of the box who whacked the ball past poor Knight in goal. 6-2.

Some other things to note. As I had hoped for, with Claude out, we had a like-for-like replacement in Newton playing as a winger. He started slowly making a few errors early on, but picked up after about 20 minutes and looked confident again after that. M. Gnakpa he is not though!

Their keeper Knight. Shot stopping fine, kicking poor. Managed to get one in the net in the gantry (the net usually reserved for catching Ian Pearce’s pies I think) His kicking was so poor that he abdicated responsibility in the second half and their full back took the kicks. He wasn’t much better though. This is the second game in which this has happened this year though. What can you do as the Luton strikers if the full back takes the kick? Erm…push up…you don’t have to stand on the half way line in fear of being caught offside if the ball gets played back in. You could even stand on the edge of the ‘D’. And believe me, yesterday, if TC had stood on the edge of the D he would have intercepted a coupe of kicks and had five.

Southam in the middle of their midfield, as I said, their best player by far, but he looks like he has just arrived from the beach. Blonde hair and white boots and he looked as if he was dressed to jump on a surf board not charge around a pitch.

It’s getting late so the players ratings – I have to give Howells and Craddock 10. Gallen I would give 9 to, Heslop too. Keano was an excellent 8.5 and Newton picked up to get an 8. Murray was sound enought to get 7.5. The remainder Pilks, Blackett, Ed and Tyler got a 7 each.

Righty ho – last home game of the normal league season on Saturday, on what was traditionally Hats day in the past. We have one more home game after that in the play offs and then hopefully another successful win at Wembley.

Stevenage need only win one of their remaining three games to be champions, sad, but true. If only our magic run had started a week or two earlier. If only we hadn’t lost to Stevenage at home. If only…

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So near but yet so far…

Oh well – ‘nine straight wins’ gets rebadged as ‘eleven games unbeaten’ after the 1-1 draw away to Tamworth. Stevenage won so Luton are four points behind them, and Stevenage have a game in hand.

Realistically then, if we still hope to finish top then we need a bit of a miracle. I guess it was always a long shot, bearing in mind the start that we had.

I didn’t go to the game yesterday and only caught the last 10 mins on the radio. Pilks scored against the run of play in the first half for his sixth of the season, and his first one in the daylight. Des Lyttle (the Des Lyttle?) equalised with a header when we failed to clear it.

Hatch started instead of Gallen, who was recovering from a knock. Blackett resumed his place in the heart of the defence and Kovacs was relegated to the bench.

Looking at the match statistics it sounded a fairly open game both sides had double-figures worth of chances. We were certainly going for it at the end trying to get the win.

Gnapka hobbled off in the first half and MBH was brought on in his stead. Seems odd to me, and perhaps a bit complacent/self indulgent by RM, but I think you should swap like for like if you can, and Adam Newton who was on the bench should have been the choice, rather than a striker on the wing. In this case it meant Tommy Craddock who scores his goals when playing as part of a front two was stuck out on the right.

Anyway, apparently in the second half we played 4-5-1 with Hatchy on his own until they equalised. Jarvis made a rare appearance replacing Jake, and then Gallen came on to replace Hatch. We pressed and pressed at the end but to no avail.

So the table looks like:

1:Stevenage…….P40….Pts87
2:Luton………..P41….Pts83
3:Oxford……….P40….Pts79
4:Rubbish & D…..P41….Pts75
5:York…………P41….Pts74
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6:Wimbledon…….P41….Pts64

In the form we have been in no one will look forward to playing us in the play offs. If we stay second then it will be York in the play offs, presumably with us at home in the second leg. I seem to recall we drew 0-0 up there on the sandy beach, and we drew 1-1 at home, when AN was in charge with Nico doing his level best to hand it to them in the last minute.

Histon on Tuesday. They are battling to stay in the league. I will be dashing back from Leeds that day, hopefully getting back in time. What is going to be interesting is how I manage to change from my whistle into my Luton gear. Look out for a car swerving in and out of the outside lane of the M1 whilst the driver slips on his lucky shirt whilst removing his tie…

Hopefully, all things being well, normal service will be resumed on Tuesday both in terms of match reports and also a thumping win.

Come on you Hatters!

PS – Happy Birthday LTFC – 125 years old today – a proud and interesting history which some ‘bigger’ clubs can only dream of.

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Six Degrees of Separation

From away to the top club to home to the bottom club, this time poor Grays were the latest side to take their place in our winning run.

From a personal point of view I did my best to get lost again. Yes, yes, I know it was a home game. Surprised by the shock appearance of J11 on the M1 I managed to miss it completely. I’ve only been driving that way to games for 16 years. Anyway the detour didn’t delay me for too long and I took my position at the Kenny End.

Perhaps the Grays fans all carried on up the M1 too. There were only 10 for much of the warm up and they were joined by another 15. If the programme says 90 or something next week I will know it will be a tax fiddle because there were 25. I counted them. At one point I thought of the old joke “for the benefit of the players, here are the names of the crowd.”

I’ve never seen a greater contrast between fortunes. We are (very nearly) at the top, Grays rooted to the bottom. Kenilworth Road was pretty much full and their end was pretty much empty. We thumped them 6-0. Has there ever been a bigger gulf between two clubs in the same division? I’m not saying that arrogantly either, and I don’t mean it to belittle Grays in any way. I’m just making a point about the relative size of our clubs and it is another reminder that the only reason we are in this division is because of the unfair and unjust points deduction and the foolish, selfish and reckless acts of the previous incumbants.

Kovacs returned to the team in place of Shane Blackett, who wasn’t even on the bench. I don’t know if he had a knock from Saturday, or if he was just having a rest. He certainly earned it on Saturday.

We started slowly a bit hungover still from Saturday. Looked as if they were still a bit stiff and needed bit to get going, which, again, is fair enough because they are probably all still sore from the good kicking Roberts and co dished out.

It think we started as if Hatchy was still playing. The balls were too long for the front two and play was broken up by Grays. Grays played the ball around as nicely as possible when they could, without really looking threatening at any point. I think Mark Tyler had two saves to make all game.

A cross from the right saw Gallen go for it but the ball popped up in the air and KG did the comedy thing of looking for it but not knowing where it was – a very poor clearance by Reynolds found Heslop who combined with Craddock on the left hand side of the box, and put in a perfect cross to the far post which unfortunately evaded everyone. There are times now when I think Heslop is too good for us!

Howells and Gallen played a one two on the edge of the box, Gallen waiting for the perfect split second before playing Howells back in, he chipped it to the far post where it hit Craddock rather than him heading it and went over.

Craddock who once again had an outstanding afternoon, both in the striking department but also with his work rate and passing, laid the ball off the Jakey Howells whose cross was absolutely perfect for Claude at the far post racing in – his shot brought out a point blank save from Garner, their keeper.

Then, Gallen and Claude linked up well with Gallen cushioning a header into Claude’s path – alas our friend shot just wide.

Gnapka drove down the right and squared it back for Keane whose shot was just wide. Gradually, slowly but surely we were hitting our straps. It was only a matter of time, of course.

As I have always said, I was trying to learn the opposition names and numbers and because of that I was looking down at the teamsheet trying to memorise the opposition names. Bang – 1-0. Missed my first goal at a game I had attended in 30 years. Apparently Craddock scored with a header. Unless Lewsey Bob recorded it on his camera that one is lost to me for all time…

Floodgates were oiled and were soon to be opened. But before they were we witnessed a bit of magic from Mr Howells, which if it had gone in would have lived long in the memory. Unfortuntely he was ‘sawn off’ (to use a cricketing phrase) by the ref.

Davis (see? It was worth missing the goal to memorise him) tried to clear it and it went to Howells on the halfway line. Howells ran on, and on and on and on, evading tackles and challenges as he went with the ref playing advantages – I saw him wave the play on twice – Howells rounded Davis and then smacked it past the keeper. A wonder goal – alas not to be because the fool of a ref had blown up (apparently – didn’t hear it myself). It strikes me as totally bizarre because impeded though he was clearly he wasn’t sufficiently impeded to prevent him from scoring the goal. He must be gutted. I hope he has a long, successful and fruitful career of 20 years or more, but I’m thinking he might never get another chance like that. I hope he does of course.

The resulting free kick saw justice done, if not for Howells but for the team. Keane rolled the ball to Gallen who thumped it in the net with one of his piledrivers. 2-0.

As my pre-match preparation had been interupted by my needless detour, I hadn’t had any lunch so I thought it appropriate to appropriate a cheeky pie, but couldn’t be arsed to queue at half time. What a mistake. Half way through the pie procurement there came the roar which meant that I had missed the third goal. Bugger. Two goals missed. Oh well, I finished my pie. It was time for a call of nature – I’d missed two goals, what were the chances of us getting a fourth in that brief window before half time? Every chance. The roar went up again. I wasn’t best pleased, and neither were the others in the gents who had made the same assumption as me. I’d missed three of our four goals, much to the amusement of those sitting around me when I returned to my seat.

Nelthorpe was given a whole half in the second half. Murray was withdrawn and Jake moved to left back. Why not? The game was already won and it was time for Nelthorpe to show us what he could do in more than just a ten minute cameo. Grays also made a substitution the hapless Roberts-lookalike Reynolds was replaced by Gowaki, having been given the run around for the preceeding 45 minutes.

Early on in the second half Howells played it forward for Heslop to flick on Craddock snapped up the flick and shot straight at the keeper.

Heslop then won the ball and played in Claude Le Crosse who raced into the box for Craddock who missed the shot.

We won a corner just short of the hour, Keane played a perfect corner in for Gallen to bang the header in from close range. It was a hatrick – his first by all accounts. And only our second since November 2005. Well done to him. I’m genuinely delighted and amazed at his turnaround in form in the second half of the season doing all he can to win that renewed contract after being told he was surplus to requirements. He has 17 goals now, an excellent return.

Time for our second string strikers (who would be most teams first XI strikers) to get another run out. Reward for their sterling service in the second half against the Stevenage hoofers. Barnes-Homer looked very lively again and Hatch was surprisingly fleet of foot.

Though our play had been pretty long in the first half (a dangerous trend) it got even longer now with the introduction of Hatchy. We must watch that. Having a big man up front makes it too easy just to lump it up to him all the time. We (and Hatch) are better than that. It makes us too lazy.

Hatch was soon in the action when Ed crossed it in nicely which Hatch latched onto and his header produced a fine save from Garner. Poor Garner didn’t have too bad a game. He (and the woodwork) were the difference between since and double figures. We’ve had worse keepers than him at the club in the past.

The next chance was pure route one – Tyler long kicked it to Hatch who nodded down for MBH to fire into the Kenny End. Strange – he had been practisiing crowd dispersal before the game – good to see him reproduce it during the match!

Ed played in Nelthorpe whose shot cannoned off the post.

Heslop found MBH who brought a save out of Garner, Claude Le Crosse, by now playing as a third front man in effect whacking in the loose ball. However, it was not to be, as he was just offside.

Cross after cross came in, header after header went just wide or over. We hit the post (can’t recall who shot).

Then it was time for Hatch to get on the scoresheet. A lay off from Pilkington (unchallenged) to Keane who play in a lovely first time cross to Hatch who dived in at the far post and scored with a Howard-esque header. It was 6-0.

Gnakpa played the ball down the left to Nelthorpe who slipped over in crossing it it went across the face of the goal Gnapka steamed in but Garner pulled off a good save from close range.

Ed took a throw on the right to Hatch who won the header and played it inside to Claude and then sprinted down the win, Claude played it back to him and Hatchy demonstrated why he isn’t a winger.

Keane took a free kick from the right. Instead of crossing it to the far post he intelligently laid it with a perfectly weighted pass across the edge of the box to Heslop who took his time and struck it beautifully – it swerved and dipped and was heading just for the top left hand corner but alas it struck the bar and bounced down and out. That would have been a pearler.

That was more or less that. Once again we had taken a side apart completely and much like Salisbury we could have had two or three more quite easily. If the chances had gone in like they were with Hayes then we would have had double figures. I’m not just saying that.

I felt sorry for Grays – clearly whoever owns the club has got a bit of a West Ham hangup with the kits looking like their away kits from the eighties and Julian Dicks in charge. Back to the Blue Square South they go and I wish them well for the future.

Where does the win leave us? Annoyingly St Evenage beat Wimbledon 3-0 and don’t really look like dropping the ball too much. We can only hope that our pressure makes them do a bit of a Devon Lock (timely Grand National reference). They are still just 2 points clear with a game in hand.

A few scores on the doors:

Mark Tyler – 6.5 – handled it twice all game.

Ed – 8- defended stoutly and some excellent crosses
Pilks – 8.5 – sound as a pound some key passes from front to back
Kovacs – 8 – ditto
Murray – 7.5 looked good in the first half

Le Grapka – 8.5 – fantastic effort, crosses, headers, all he lacked was a goal. Even gave us a comedy moment or two.
Heslop – 9 – if only that shot had gone in – covered all the pitch AGAIN
Keano – 9 – looking a bit knackered now, and it is hardly surprising
Howells – 9 – first half was sublime. Brilliant interchanging and passing with the strikers

Gallen – 10 – Hatrick within an hour. What more can I say?
Craddock – 9.5 – work rate supreme – two goals. 20 in all now. Aim for 30 Tom…

MBH – 8 – eager beaver when he came on.
Hatch – 9 – won everything, 100% effort, really wanted it, and got a good headed goal.
Nelthorpe – 8 – flashes of brilliance – linked up well with Howells on the left.

Lovely to see us drubbing sides good’n’proper at long last, week in week out (Stevenage excepted). I am getting quite used to it. One day I will think back to this end of season run with the fondest of memories. Let’s just hope it can continue at Tamworth (where?) on Saturday. Luton are in blistering form at present – it would be a crime if we didn’t go up after all this…

I won’t be going to that one as I have used up all of my brownie points. The reservoir is dry. Mrs Mosque is getting a bit huffy about all of the games in close succession so to sneak in another away one at the weekend will be impossible. So I’ll be listening to Simon Pitts instead.

As I finish this report this evening (Tuesday) I read with delight that Claude has won the player of the month award and that RM has won the manager of the month award. Both well deserved and my congratulations to them both. Since he had his mum’s soup Claude has been a revelation. Perhaps they should sell it at the ground…

Thanks for reading and welcome to the Hatters who tune in from all (and I do mean all) around the world.

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Dodgy Keeper

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“Dodgy Keeper, dodgy keeper” the fans sang at the Salisbury goalie. It was the Salisbury fans that sang it first though.

Goodness me, the poor lad, Ryan Pryce I think his name is. He had a mare. His kicking was shocking, it struck me that he must be the bastard lovechild of Mark Ovendale and Carl Emberson. Surely the keeper shouldn’t be looking for nod ons from his own centre halves?

More on our friend Pryce later.

Luton played really well once again. Salisbury were shapeless and insipid and had less of a clue than dear Hayes and Yeading, the difference between the two games were that all of our chances were netted in the Hayes game, but not in this.

Even the pedantic fool of a ref couldn’t spoil another excellent performance. Amongst many other things, such as restarting the second half twice because of encroaching and giving Tyler the hurry up for time wasting (we were 4-0 up, and he wasn’t timewasting) having failed to do the same for their keeper, my personal fave was instead of awarding a blatant penalty he booked Jakey Howells for simulation. Watch it again on youtube if you can find it. Simulating he wasn’t.

There was a twenty minute spell before half time where we were unremittingly brilliant. The constant siblime attacking pressure leading to our second goal. Never has a goal seemed more likely than Craddock’s goal this evening.

Only one change to the line up this evening, Shane Blackett came in for Kovacs, who is on 9 yellow cards. Blackett had a really good game. Salisbury seemed to play a sort of 4-4-1-1, or 4-5-1 and Blackett marked Tubbs who was the furthest up of their forward players and was almost acting like a sweeper at the rare times in the game when Salisbury ventured into our half. He played well, twenty goal Michael Tubbs, their talisman, didn’t get a sniff. He didn’t even get a sniff of a sniff, such was our dominance in defence and mastery in midfield.

Other than the goals, it is very difficult to describe the game this evening. Luton dominated from beginning to end in an excellently entertaining game. The only two surprises being that we didn’t score earlier and didn’t score more. At times yet again – please take it from me – we played the sort of scintillating football that the ex-pats amongst my readers will recall from the Luton teams of their youth.

The nearest Salisbury came was at the start when Flood, their left winger, who started brightly but dimmed faster than a light bulb from pound-land, crossed in a ball, near to Tubbs which Pilks managed to muff but Freddie Murray hooked clear.

Gallen was full of neat touches and intelligent passing all night. Some of his link up play wouldn’t have been out of place divisions above. A couple of times before we scored he set Craddock up. Craddock also had an opportunity to head home from a Keane corner – his header was so close I was convinced there was a hole in the net. He came as near to scoring as I think it is possible to. In fact I’m not convinced it didn’t go in, because I couldn’t see how he could have missed. Was it wide or high? It was almost easier not to score from where he was. That’s not meant as a criticism by the way, once again Craddock sizzled from beginning to end.

Tyler earned his money with his one save of the night from a sharp shot by Shepherd, which he saved with commensurate ease. Despite dominating the first half we didn’t score before about ten minutes before the end of the half. Keane took a corner which wasn’t cleared properly, it went to Ed whose shot was blocked and it flew to Pilks who played it back in down the middle to Claude who rose and timed his header absolutely perfectly, I think it flew in off the bar.

We then moved into a period of total domination – a period of play whereby it wasn’t a matter of if but when. We drove forward continuously. A series of neat passes put Murray in down the left he crossed it and Craddock moved in and slotted it in off the post.

So 2-0 at half time and the result really wasn’t in doubt – we were playing so well that it was a matter of how many. After all the grief and angst our fans have been put through over the last three years it was lovely to wander around behind the goal at half time to see the relaxed mood and the feeling of anticipation and the smiles on people’s faces.

We won a corner early in the second half – Keane, ignoring the crowd imploring him to “shoot” played it short to Ed who crossed it to Claude whose header went over.

It was time for the third shortly after. I was deliberately watching Keane at the time to see what I could pick up from his positioning. We were defending a corner or a throw on our right, right in the corner. Their number 8, Clarke was unmarked as they lined up, and I caught myself remarking “watch your man, Keano”. Keane moved towards him as the throw/kick was taken, and sure enough the ball was played towards Clarke. It was fascinating to see Keane at first anticipate and then accelerate towards where the ball was played, he took the ball off Clarke’s toe and then sprinted up the right wing from half way in his own half to just inside theirs, he then played a wonderful crossfield ball from left to right in the path of Craddock who was on the edge of their box and not offside. He dribbled further, played it inside for Howells to strike home from where the penalty spot would be if it wasn’t so muddy.

With us three up it was time for Pilks to nearly-score to celebrate the birth of his son. I say nearly score, I meant, completely miss his volley, but it would have been good I’m sure, had he connected.

Off came Howells, Gnapka and Gallen for Nelthorpe, Newton and Gallen in the space of a few minutes. Newton was the first. One wag near me implored Salisbury to keep it in play so that Newton would be delayed in coming on, stating that we were only 3 up. No such luck as Pryce volleyed the ball into touch yet again, managing to completely miss both sets of players despite them being conveniently lined up on the pitch in front of him.

Newton started on the left and then swapped sides when Nelthorpe came on. Newton looked pretty lively bearing in mind he hasn’t featured recently, but didn’t demonstrate anything to suggest that he was threatening Claude or Jakey’s places. Nelthorpe looked very keen and tricky when he came on. But then again he always has. I recall him setting up Hatch to nod on to Craddock who stuck it in the side netting.

Ed played another long crossfield ball to Craddock on the edge of the box, our old friend Pryce came out to meet him, bizarrely when there was no need, much to Craddock and the crowd’s delight. What was Tommy to do – he could perhaps have dribbled it round the hapless keeper and had a pop himself. Instead cut inside keeping the keeper at an unhealthy distance from his goal and he played in Gallen who played it off to the right and in came good old Simon Heslop, Des Linton-like at the far post, to bundle in the goal. 4-0, which would have been our biggest win of the season until two Saturdays ago.

Poor old Salisbury really didn’t offer much in the game. Despite being outnumbered Heslop and Keane pressed and won the ball from them all game, once again playing the ball down the wings or the channels for the wingers or Craddock to run on to. Salisbury were timewasting from about 10 minutes in, so they got their just desserts really, not that they really pushed forward once they went behind.

I felt sorry for the keeper Pryce it can’t be fun when you have such an off game in front of so many people. Then my mate reminded me that he had actually played against us before where he did the same piss-poor kicking throughout the game.

So we won, convincingly, but unfortunately St Evenage – Hertfordshire’s third biggest club after that lot down the M1 and Hitchin Town – (I jest of course, Hitchin are a much bigger club than Watford) also won – their run of wins being 8 to our 7. A real clash of the titans in this league. In the event of a Hatters victory on Saturday we will be only two points behind them, but they will still have a game in hand as a reader correctly pointed out in a post last week.

If we get that close then anything can happen. If they can feel us breathing down their neck it only takes a couple of slip ups because of the pressure and we are in. They’ve got to slip up at some point and if we keep winning we will be in the position to take advantage when they do.

Here are my player ratings – for what they are worth:

Tyler 7 – had only one save to make, but his kicking was accurate
Ed – 8.5 – improving every week, creating chances now and only one slip in the game 8.5
Pilks – 8.5 one error whilst defending and one when attacking. Model pro and an assist.
Blackett – 9 – kept snuffed Tubbs out brilliantly.
Murray – 8 – still crappy throws, but an assist and much overlapping sound in defence

Claude Le Crosse – 9 – still imperious, great headed goal and loving every minute of it
Heslop – 9.5 – covered every inch of the pitch, again and got his first Hatters goal
Keane – 9 – three consecutive passing errors in the first half, but more than made up for it with the exquisite crossfield pass and brilliant tackles all evening.
Howells – 8.5 – lively the whole game, got even better as the game went on, another goal too.

Craddock – 9 – worked his socks off again, goal, again #18 now.
Gallen – 8.5 – intelligent link up play, deft touches and another assist.

Newton – 7.5 – attacked well in the spell he had
Nelthorpe – 7.5 – showed good skills and positive intent
Hatchy – 7 – much better than the other day, looked fitter, more than just nuisance value

So off to the most local of local derbies on Saturday with 2,800 Hatters in the away end, plus another one or two in the home end will hopefully sing us to victory. And, furthermore, another couple of opportunities for me to get lost for the umpteenth away game running whilst trying to find the one pub that is open and from there a car park in town.

Come on you Hatters, Saturday will be a true barometer of how far we have improved recently.

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