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.