FA Cup 1st Round – Newport (h)

A good win in a thumping FA Cup tie in the pouring rain. Just a short summary tonight as I have to be up early in the morning. At last I have the internet again, no thanks to BT whose shambolic performance in diagnosing and fixing the phone line was the technological equivalent to Newport’s defence this afternoon.

We started with the 3-5-2 system given outings earlier in the season, Howells and Harriman acting as the wing backs and playing well, though always vulnerable behind. Smith and Doyle patrolling the middle and Guttridge bossing things behind Benson and Cullen.

It seems that with the clocks going back the weather has changed, this was the first rainy and dark game for a long time. The football, or at least the goals were illuminating. I thought it was a good, old-fashioned cup tie with some physicality being permitted which added to the event.

Great to see Guttridge showing the form which set the season alight last year. Not sure how many other clubs would be as effective as we are with creative players such as Drury, Lawless and PRM out of the side. Quite amazing.

The first half was more sleepy, with the teams shadow boxing for the first 20 minutes, then we started to click with Guttridge and Benson going close. Then Newport had an effective spell including an overhead kick from Aaron O’Connor, which Tyler saved well. With about five minutes to go and against the run of play Doyle won the ball, fed in Gutts who had acres of space to run into in front of goal – and give this guy an inch he will take a mile and fired a fantastic left foot shot into the top left hand corner. If it was on match of the day, it would be in the goal of the month competition.

Nothing about the first half suggested that the second would have five more goals. But both sides attacked, neither seemingly fancying a replay. I should say fair play to Justin Edinburgh for doing that, but he hasn’t changed has he? Badgering the ref at half time and then bleating about him afterwards on the radio.

Klukowski’s equaliser was also a good goal, a deep cross headed out was fed back in and Klukowski knocked the ball up and volleyed it in. Not much we could have done about that other than getting the initial clearance further out.

Fortunately, Newport included the clodhopper Minshull in their ranks and it was thanks to him for the phase of play that led to our second goal. He headed poorly to Howells, who was excellent all afternoon and who shimmied turned and put a weakish right foot cross in, which fell poorly for Cullen, but he brought it down, put Guttridge in, who played it back to MC whose shot was parried by the keeper, looping up dangerously only for Paul Benson to bludgeon it across the line. It may have spun in without his intervention, but he made sure.

Newport’s second goal came from Obeng making a good run down the left skipped past Harriman who did his best to bring him down, the ref played advantage and he slipped a cross to O’Connor who stole in, in front of Tyler, played onside by Lacey. That is the casual danger of having wing backs of course, they are inherently vulnerable to a quick break down the wings and getting the ball behind them as they push up. Hey ho – so be it – it made for a six goal thriller though.

3-2 courtesy of a substitution Miller replaced the ever-hardworking Cullen. We won a corner Yakubu sticking the ball behind from a Wilkinson cross. Howells whipped in a low corner which fell to Miller who slotted it home for his first (official) goal for the Hatters. I hope it is one of very many. I like the look of him.

The icing on the cake was an individual goal from Jake Howells, excelling in his wing back role. Driving forward with the ball at his feet he picked up the ball just inside the half way line and ran and ran into the box and slotted it home level with the penalty spot a great individual goal and it just shows what he is capable of – he is a fine Luton player.

Bright pink ball today – eurgh. And because of the rain it appeared to me to bounce like the old leather things they had in my Dad’s day, or like a flat ball you find in the back of the shed.

Much has been spoken about O’Connor’s over the top celebration, I shan’t add anything here other than bigger men are able to shrug off a bit of what they call crowd ‘banter’ nowadays. I’d like to venture that one of the reasons he was let go was because he did let the then negative Luton crowd get to him. He played well enough today and it was a safe bet that he would get a goal. Silly boy, when we play them again just before Chrimbo he will get stick from thousands of fans, rather than a handful. The twit.

Let’s hope that we get a nice home draw in the second round – perhaps a game against one of the smaller clubs left in the competition such as MK Dongs – and then the chance for a third round draw against a top side, or failing that against that lot down the M1 who can show what a well-supported club they are by not selling out the away end again.

Nice that now the BBC have got the FA Cup back they go all out and show the highlights after match of the day in a special programme. What? They haven’t? They are only showing them online? Utter disgrace. They don’t deserve to have the coverage.

In other news, it looks as if we have signed that young lad from Sunderland Lewis Gibbons – John Still hopefully has sniffed out another gem. Let us hope that that is the only sniffing being done. I wish him well. Though I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for Alex Lacey and Fraser Franks, but if he was good enough to be at a premiership club before it will be interesting to see how good he is once he settles in and learns what we are about. It subscribes to the business plan – get good young players who will end up playing at a much higher level, improve them and reap the benefit of them for a couple of years before selling them on.

Finally, I loved the poppy shirts today – there’s not too many things more important than football but showing respect to those who gave their lives is indisputably one of them.

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Bruising Encounter (for Pelly’s shins)

lawless

A hard-fought and determined performance from the Hatters saw a well-deserved victory over the whelk-munching spoilers from Southend.

I’ve given myself an hour and two beers to write this so that I can avoid watching Downton Abbey, so let’s see how far I get.

I loved this game. It wasn’t a footballing classic by any means, in fact, brief glimpses of brilliance aside; there wasn’t enough play between the ref blowing his whistle for the game to really get going. It was a stop-start affair. Mainly stop.

How Southend got to fourth before the game God only knows, their shooting was woeful, and their defence alternated between comedy and criminal.  

But we won, and won well. For the first goal, Griffiths played a ball down the channel outside the narrow midfield and full back into space for Lawless to run onto, he took a touch, turned, put it on his right foot and a put in a sublime curling shot into the top corner.  Does Alex Lawless do simple tap ins? He has had more than his fair share of brilliant goals. You can see why John Still was so keen to get him back into the team. He is a constant, intelligent, creative thorn in any opponents side. And long may he remain in our side. 

The second goal was straight out of the Keystone Kops handbook. A big hoof by Macca I think went all the way down to the keeper and there was a sigh of disappointment at giving possession away so easily. But hold your exasperation Hatters, because comedy keeper Bentley passed the ball to the shell-shocked and bandaged Bolger who in his infinite wisdom slipped it neatly to Drury, who despite slipping himself slid it neatly to Cullen who slotted it past the hapless Bentley. Like any goals against a ‘fancied’ team these felt extra special as we have to work much harder for the opportunities.  

Unlike the bad old days, we are efficiently taking the few chances we get, rather than in the dark years when we seemed to need ten clear cut chances to be able to eek out a goal.

In the second half Southend made two substitutions, played 3 up front and came out all guns blazing, until we snuffed their fire out, and then they had nothing left at all. After that point we merely soaked up their pressure, forced them to shoot (badly) from outside the box and play on the counter attack with the ball going forward to the pace of Pelly and the persistence of Mark Cullen. Each time the ball went to Pelly he was hacked down. Only a ref of such spectacular incompetence could allow such a team of one-dimensional thugs to get away with it for so long.

That Dave Penney (Southend’s assistant coach and JS’s pal) was the only one to go was remarkable. Presumably and official with a pair of kahunas would have stamped out the rather clogging Southend tactics early on, but by turning a blind-eye he only sought to indulge them further. He was good at blowing his whistle. Very good at that. Very good at stopping play. But enforcing discipline isn’t his strong point, against us anyway. He did get four cards out for Southend, but he spared them so many more. But a bit of googling reminded me that Mr Kavanagh was the appalling ref for the Woking game back in March (link here) and also the kindly soul who did manage to find a red card for Macca up at Southport at the start of last season. How he managed to get promoted to the football league I’ll never know. Chances are that we’ll only see him once more this season though. 

It really isn’t how football should be played. For the second week running we were playing against a team of spoilers, who prefer to clog and hoof than pass and move. Southend were like Braintree under Devonshire, or Leyton Orient under Ling. A nasty little outfit. There must be something in the water east of Greenwich. Let’s hope that the next visitors at home are the exception to the rule.

But as the match disintegrated into a bad tempered affair it only served to tweak the volume on the Hatters fans dial and maintain the players’ resolve to keep their defensive and personal discipline.  The only slip really, hardly surprising bearing in mind the provocation, was the altercation with Pelly and the aforementioned Penney on the touchline, after the ball went out. After all that, the ref **was** happy to send someone off, but just not anyone on the field of play.

Alas I didn’t see the much discussed ‘ball-boy’ incident. Cheeky lad.

Michael Harriman from QPR (but don’t hold that against him) slotted in at right back as if he has been playing with the team all season. He had a sound game. Our back four does look good at the moment, and with the effervescent Smith and the strong “you should see him when he’s fit” Doyle playing in front of them it is beginning to look like a very effective unit.

Pelly Ruddock got the official man of the match award, presumably as consolation for having chunks hacked out of his shins all afternoon. Though in fairness, it could have gone to Lawless for his performance, Cullen for his effort (not least at being offside all the time), Wilko and Macca, Doyle and Smith and ahem, a certain Mr Andy Drury might have won it on other days. Drury played just off Cullen, his old role, and was back to his best, having previously been on both wings and in central midfield.  Has to be a good player to keep Guttridge out of the starting XI – if you recall Guttridge was our beating heart last year. And just like last year JS is slowly identifying the best formation and the best players in that formation, whilst all the while experimenting and pushing and testing and bringing back players who were injured. Difficult to have a truly settled team I guess, when we have so many good players whose performances demand selection.

Well time’s nearly up – where did an hour go? Off to Hartlepool next week. Or not as the case may be as I will be consuming beer, sausage und sauerkraut in Germany. Some guys hef all ze luck.

Really enjoyed the game and the spirited performance, the sort of resilient display that gets John Still purring like a Queen. 

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Mark Tyler saves the day & welcome back Smudger

A welcome return to winning ways after a hard-fought 1-0 win. Whilst the performance was better and the battling was excellent, we have Mark Tyler to thank for some excellent saves that kept us in the game.

At the final whistle there was tangible pulse of relief from the crowd – a P-wave of appreciation and acknowledgement of the efforts undertaken.

The team lined up with four tactical changes. Interesting to say the least, especially as John Still had said how well the team performed in the last game. However, we matched Cheltenham’s formation like-for-like with a 3-5-2. Curtley Williams made his debut, whilst Ross Lafayette made his full debut. Smudger Smith returned for his first game since his leg-break horror on Boxing Day and Luke Wilkinson returned in the heart of the defence. Missing out were Drury, Rooney, Howells and Connolly.

Williams and Griffiths pushed up against their opposing wing-backs. Lacey, McNulty and Wilkinson formed a back three. Smudger Smith was the holding man in front of the back three and Pelly and Gutts were further forward. Lafayette and Cullen were up front.

So what of the game? Well we clung on by the skin of our teeth as Cheltenham pressed and pressed in the second half. We had plenty of chances to go two up though, to be fair. The goal came from a throw on the left. Griffiths took the throw to Layette who held the ball up under pressure and forced the ball back to Griffiths, who crossed a lovely ball for an excellent glancing header by Mark Cullen. One up after 7 mins and that was it for the goals, but not the action. If Cheltenham had been able to finish better the outcome would have been different, but I suppose you could say that of us too. Other than the sustained pressure, there was nothing about them that suggested they were worthy of their starting position. Shrewsbury they’re not.

I thought Curtley Williams slotted in well at right wing back. He is a tidy player, good on the ball and seemed to have a good understanding of what was required. He tired in the second half, and went off after about 75 mins looking a bit sore, I hope he is okay. We transferred to a 442 shortly after the start of the second half as Cheltenham had swapped around too. It also helped us to defend and keep men behind the ball. I think dear Curtley forgot he was no longer a wing back though as he was stuck forward out of position with the Robins looking to get the ball behind him. Perhaps it was just as well that he went off!

Lacey was the first substitution when we changed formation, the tactical sacrificial lamb again. I recall he had a free header at the far post from a corner which truthfully he should have hit the target with. This left Wilkinson and McNulty in the heart of defence. Both had good games, apart from one tiny cock up by Nults. He put himself in the line of the ball time and time again, and hurled himself to block shots. What does Sir Ian say in that film? “They shall not pass”? McNulty should have that tattooed somewhere special. In fact I think Wilkinson had his best game for us and made a vital clearance off the line. Boy, they needed to be at their most dogged, we were stretched and pushed and pulled for all our worth and needed to be at our best to hang on.

Scott Griffiths had a good game, though more than once or twice he was caught betwixt and between as he had two players coming at him down the right. This stopped once Howells came on – but in both of the last two games Scott has been badly exposed on occasion with too much to deal with on his own. Anyway – we kept them out and Scott played pretty well, including the ‘assist’. But the clean sheet was really down to Mark Tyler who had a fantastic game. I think I counted four decisive, crucial saves without which we would have conceded a goal. I can see how Cheltenham came from two down last week – they came at us hard – but the last time of defence, M Tyler esq., stood firm. His kicking was really accurate too, in the first half he sent ball after ball out to Williams on the wing and otherwise accurately sought out the heads of Lafayette and Cullen like a heat seeking missile. Early season wobbles behind him, this was Tyler’s latest tour de force.

Pelly Ruddock is in fine form, he had another good game today, and in the first half was a constant threat. With half an hour to go he slotted into right back and took to it like an eager puppy. It didn’t stop him marauding down the flank like a border reiver. He was kicked to death by Cheltenham and each time he was felled the miscreant was decorated with a yellow card – but no more. Somehow it seems a bit wrong to see a team from Cheltenham filled with bruising thugs. The gnarled bully-boys they had at centre half would be better suited to somewhere like Grays, Millwall or Barnsley not the pleasant spa town with the ladies college.

~~intermission~~

Switching away from football for a second – dear reader – I’ve got a little topical question for you. It’s a bit of a moral-maze type question. I’m not sure which I would do. I wonder if you can help me out…

If you are disturbed in the night and hear a noise in the bathroom do you:

a) turn over to see if the wife* has got up for a midnight pee

b) fart & go back to sleep

c) if you are really concerned, get up, put your legs on (if necessary) and walk over to the bathroom door and whisper “Is that you in there my love? Has that curry brought on a touch of the collywobbles? I told you not to have them prawns.”

Or d) immediately reach for the semi-automatic 9mm firearm in your bedside cabinet and loose off a few rounds through the bog door just in case?

 ~~~

Back to the football, Jonathan Smith played the full 90 minutes, which I was surprised at. And he played well, he was everywhere and faultless in his effort and spirit. He was tiring at the end, which meant that some of his passes went astray but he had a really good game – like he’d never been away. I wondered, what with the massed ranks of midfielders JS has recruited, if he’d get many games this year. If he carries on like he does today, Robinson will have a job in getting his place back.

Luke Guttridge was a constant thorn in their side, but not quite as much of a threat as last week – when we moved to 442 he moved out onto the left before Howells came on. He got a standing ovation, from my bit of the Kenny End at least. He came close to scoring on a couple of occasions, including a lovely 1-2, but also did a dodgy back pass too.

Lafayette, also tired towards the end but had a pretty good game I reckon, bearing in mind he’s new to us. It was his strength which enabled Griffiths to cross the ball for the goal. He made some good touches some poor ones. He’s learning and he’s keen- and furthermore, with Benson injured and Alex Wall in the maison du chien, he’s our main man.

Speaking of goals, what a lovely header it was by Mark Cullen. He knows how to sniff a goal, and it was great that he got the winner and only goal. I think that’s just desserts. There’s tons of pressure on him this year in the absence of Gray – and to give him credit I don’t think he’s had two games the same with either striking partners or formations. I hope he goes from strength to strength.

Jim Stevenson nearly got a goal with his first touch when he came on to replace Lacey. From a corner and a melee he twisted and turned and slotted home his fourth goal in a week. However, after thinking about it, lighting up a fag, settling down with a good book and sending a couple of texts, the lino decided to raise his flag, allowing poor Jim in a few seconds of ecstasy only for it to be dashed. I like the look of Stevenson – he seems to be growing with each game, with each touch almost. Not sure why the goal wasn’t given though.

Andy Drury let us have a couple of glimpses of him at his best when he came on to replace Williams. A close shot followed by a lovely dink through for Pelly.

In other news, it’s nice to see Mr D’Urso hasn’t much improved with age. I’m not going to say anything more.

Good to see their keeper Carson foolishly engaged in what I think the young-folk call ‘banter’ with the Kenny End, which basically means he was daft enough to react to the abuse/friendly career advice/fatherhood-news he was receiving from the front row. Which meant that he got it in spades back. Silly boy.

Another comedy moment was when their excellent wing back Braham-Barrett got a kick ‘amidships’ as Blowers would say on TMS. Jesus did he look in pain. He could barely walk let alone run, such was the state of his nether regions. He limped around on tiptoes. I liked the way that he was so concerned about his balls he wasn’t bothered about dropping his shorts in front of us all for the physio to check that everything was still there, and that nothing was hanging off. His pained face gave us an idea of what a Scottish taxpayer would look like post-Independence.

I’m pleased with the win – it was no footballing spectacle, especially in the second half when we were largely under the cosh, but a gritty win which – from the looks of what we’ve seen from this division so far – is what is needed for success whilst we acclimatise.

The next two games are against Cambridge and Blackbird Leys FC and I’m looking forward to locking horns with Richard Money again next week. They’ve had a slightly better start and are 6th – but only 3 points ahead. We let them have a bigger lead last season before we overhauled them…then, after Oxford come the footballing purists and fairplay specialists of Stevenage. Not.

Well done lads, a good win.

PS Just noticed that there are two Luton references in the MoTD title sequence. Sorry if everyone else spotted them first.

PPS I still think that Diego Costa looks like an evil Danny Crow, but without the love-handles.

*or hubby, partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, lover, neighbour, one night stand, window-cleaner, significant other etc etc delete as appropriate.

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And so the journey continues

And what a journey! Proud, as ever, of the club and its fans. 1088 fans drove up to Carlisle in the middle of the holiday season – a level of commitment that would flatter some premiership clubs. At least the cricket was on the radio for some of the journey.

It was sort of fitting that the league would see to it that our first game was Carlisle away, it was like a final test of our resolve, the final paroxysm of spitefulness from the FL, like a scally having been outmuscled and outnumbered flicking a V sign as he retreats down the street, tail between his legs –it’s all they had left to throw at us, an empty gesture a 600 mile round trip to welcome us back. But as many have said this week, better this fixture was on a sunny Saturday in August than a cold Tuesday in February. 

Though a great relief to be away from our friends in non-league, we (like Portsmouth) are still punching below our weight in this division, and whilst we can proudly hold our heads up to be part of the ’72’ again (where did that branding come from?) I want us to be out of league two asap. It’s still an embarrassing division to be in for a club our size and with our support and history.  Our average equivalent league position in the seventeen football league seasons since we dropped out of the top tier in 91/92 is 9th in League One. League One is bad enough, but at least it is like the resting room for those keen to get back into the Championship. The proverbial wardrobe to lean on to get your breath back before you go back for some more. The good news is that the fans, the management and most importantly the board share the ambition to be out of League Two as soon as we can.

So what of Saturday? Other than being grim up north, I thought it was a splendid performance showing the determination and resilience that characterised last season. Whilst we dominated the first half aided by Carlisle’s determination to play a formation that had both me and their players dumbfounded, the second half, or at least the first half of the second half was a different matter with them coming out as if their manager Kavanagh (ex Middlesbrough I think, good fantasy league player in his day) had rebooted them and recharged them at half time. Presumably Carlisle started with three centre halves because they thought they would up against a narrow front three – as it happens it was just Benson causing them bother with Cullen and Howells swapping flanks in support. In any case Kavanagh got it wrong.

The goal was a snappy interplay between our attacking players that would grace any era of the team. Started by Benson, the ball went to Robinson and Howells who played Benson in (who had sprinted into the box) down the right hand channel behind the left back. He approached the byline and crossed across the face of the goal and Cullen popped up at the far post to tuck it in. If you blinked you would have missed it. The Carlisle defenders stood and blinked in the sunlight, patting their pockets to see if their wallets were still there.

It was the type of performance of which John Still is typically proud – a tough away game after a long journey against a decent side. The sort of game you’d otherwise think of as getting a point being a reasonable result. I seem to recall that last season Still described the 2-1 win at Macclesfield as the most battling/pleasing performance of the season, and this was from the same mould. We dominated when we could and dug in when we needed to.

Benson impressed, old war dog that he is. Didn’t win too much in the air seemingly but fought for everything. Started the move and got the all important assist for the goal, and worked his socks off.

Wilkinson played well in the heart of defence,  as did Cap’n Steve, the scouse wall. Connolly, having taken one for the team with the booking was then sensible enough not to sell himself short for the rest of the game though was put under the most pressure as Carlisle’s main tactic was seemingly to punt it ahead of Amoo on the left. Griffiths was characteristically tenacious and occasionally a threat down the left. Determined to turn up to each new season with a shocking haircut. Tyler, unusual bizarre dalliance where he messed around and didn’t clear the ball aside, didn’t need to do that much, but made an outstanding save to keep out Meppen-Walter.

I thought Robinson was our best midfielder and boy has he got a good work ethic and an old head on young shoulders. Drury was good, and excellent in places – not the sort of game for him to impose himself perhaps – or rather – less opportunity to do so in the second half. He still showed elements of brilliance and certainly in the first half pulled all the strings. Alex Lacey played the anchor role ahead of the defence a new role for him (trialled in pre-season) and good to see him starting. Jake played an intelligent game and seemed very alert. Lovely for him to be back in the football league, though of course he made his debut whilst we were in league One. Nice to see that he has bowed to the inevitable hair-wise.

Cullen got the goal an spurned a other good chance….Andre who? Mark has a natural eye for goal a talent and a hungerthat will get us plenty – he doesn’t have Andre’s pace (who does?) and so I guess we will be less of a force on the counter,  but we will see. If we continue to create the chances we did last year – he will have the opportunity for a hatful. I’m chuffed for him to get what was the winner.

So a good win, good to get the first one under the belt. Swindon on Tuesday in the cup (the one that Watford are never bothered about) and then Wimbledon on Saturday. I shall miss the Swindon one because of my new business but wild horses would struggle to hold me back next Saturday. For the record, Swindon beat Scunny 3-1 and Wimbledon drew 2-2 at home to Shrewsbury at the weekend.

It’s lovely to be back in the league. I don’t know what the fuss was all about – it’s like we’ve never been away….

Come on you Hatters

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"McNulty had a quiet game today"

Another splendid run out by the ‘development’ squad. Just as well Wrexham didn’t put up their reserves too or we would have had a hatful.

At present much or most of the Hatters world is rosy. To be able to have a group of youngsters and those used to warming the subs bench (at present anyway) who seamlessly slip in and out the first team is where we always wanted to be. Remember just a couple of years ago where there seemed to be no route from the ressies to the first team. All we had was an enormous squad of first teamers and there was a youth team and ne’er the twain seemed to meet. I must take my hat off to Mr Still. He has created this culture of winning and emphasis on youth in under a year. Be interesting to see what he can do after a couple in charge. Must be nice for him too. Thus far in his career I believe that he has always operated with his financial back to the wall. Whilst we are no Man City (and this is a good thing) it must be lovely for him to have such a financially supportive board and a bit of breathing room to shape and form his squad as he wishes. It seems to be working wonders.

I’m not naive enough to think that everything has been sorted and this is it, but neither am I going to chuck my toys out the pram if we suddenly go on a winless streak. But I’m not sure, unless a freak thing occurs why that would happen right now. The first team are flying at the moment, Gray and Benson in partnership with Guttridge and Lawless  are terrorising the opposition and confidence is high. Long may it continue.

Back to today’s game. Of the recent years we’ve had to endure playing Wrexham twice a year I must admit that Morrell’s current team are a pretty insipid, toothless bunch. Other than a few shimmies into the box when we were still only 1-0 up they offered very little. Perhaps this is because Davis Jnr and Anthony Charles bottled them up so well. Both centre halves had excellent games and JohnStill has a real headache on his hands next Saturday as to who to partner McNulty in the heart of defence in the absence of Lacey and Parry. What has happened to Wrexham? They were real competitors in the past and now they are a shadow of their former selves. Not that I give a toss of course – hopefully, this year or next will be the last time we play them for a long time.  In the past when Andy Morrell brought himself on it was a statement of attacking intent. Nowadays it is the equivalent of waving the white flag.

Davis was the more mobile of the two centre halves– not sure if that is because he is younger  and isn’t coming back from an injury or is Charles just like that anyway? Charles also kept my 2-0 at Ladbrokes intact with a clearance off the line towards the end. At right back Brett Longden made his first start of the year. I think he got better and better as the game went on. A tidy player he gave me no cause for concern whatsoever. The greater exposure he has to this level the better he will get. Who needs cover for Ronnie? Can’t be too long before Brett is the natural choice as stand in.

Capt Boyo Howells was at left back and worked exceedingly hard. He had more impact in the first half than the second, but nevertheless, one slip aside, was sold and sound and positive going forward – putting in a fair share of crosses.

In the middle was a sort of three of Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (‘no15′ from now on), Robinson and Ian Rees who I’d seen come on as sub in the Staines game. All three had tremendous games. I thought Rees looked good against Staines and his touch, movement, passing, intelligence and positional play were outstanding for someone making his first 1st XI start. He looks like a most excellent prospect. In a way it was a shame we didn’t get to see Charlie Smith as he too looked an outstanding prospect when he moved inside in the second half against Staines. Blimey, how are we going to fit them all in? It’s just like the olden days – every good youngster knocking on the door means one fewer foray into the transfer market and a slightly less furrowed brow for Messrs Wilkinson and co. Robinson showed class throughout, like he had in the Staines replay. He showed some fine touches and popped up all over the park. He’s coming on well and is a more than capable deputy for Jonathan Smith at present. No15 was a revelation against Staines, in his element against Alfreton and again dominant today. He has more energy than a truck full of Duracells and loves to burst through on runs from the edge of his own box to the edge of the opposition one – strong as an Ox or “Rhino” as everyone else says. A great acquisition and perfect timing with Parry laid up. Don’t know how long he is on loan for – but AP might struggle to get back in at present.

On the right of a front three was Shaun Whalley. He actually gave us a pretty typical performance. He met with almost no opposition from the left-back Ashton who he skirted around with ease all afternoon, but the end product was sometimes disappointing. Now I know if he was Carlos Edwards standard he’d not be playing for Luton – but am I being unreasonable to expect him to put in a succession of decent crosses? If he did we’d had had lots and lots of goals. Is that unfair? His attempt on goal from a free kick ended up in the upper tier of the Kenny and had to be retrieved by a steward who put in his exercise for the day by climbing the stairs to get it. Alas the one perfect pass he did do found Alex Wall who scored, but was offside. But, that said, he did provide the crosses for both the goals, both from corners and so hey – what do I know? The goals by the way were a cracking header for Cullen where he peeled off and was unmarked at a corner and the second was I think either an own goal or came off Anthony Charles. Either way, the cross came in and hit the unlucky/lucky (delete as appropriate) recipient without them knowing much about it.

In the middle was Alex Wall who is like a human battering ram. Pleased to see him back and I’m glad he is getting back to fitness. Showed some good touches and a couple of heavy ones and got clouted and jumped on all afternoon without making too much of a fuss. When he’s back to being fully fit he will give us a more physical edge when one is needed and we saw that he sublime side of him with his wonderful goal against Halifax and his two goals last year. JohnStill has an eye for a player and Alex Wall one way or another is going to have a good career. He’s already better than Calvin Andrew.

On the left was Mark Cullen – this year’s unluckiest (fit) player. Unlucky, because clearly he has an eye for goal as 6 goals in 13 starts demonstrates – and it is only the excellent form of Andre Gray keeping him out. Good player to have on the bench. He’s not as sharp as Gray of course, and a couple of touches showed that he has to work on his crossing with his left foot at least (no surprise there I guess) but he got the first goal and worked hard from beginning to end.

Oh – and Elliot Justham played too – but Geoff Boycott’s mum could have played in the first half for all he had to do. He has a good kick on him and good positional sense. Again, definitely one to watch. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when Tyler’s time comes to hang up his gloves, we have the ready-made heir apparent in Justham, just ready to slot in – having put so much pressure on Tyler that he is almost forcing his way in. I daresay that is JohnStill’s aim, so the more exposure to the first team he gets the better.

When I was a younger man, unfettered by the responsibilities of fatherhood and my current job, I used to pop up to reserve games as often as I could (the last one I went to I saw Enoch get  hat-trick against a piss poor MK Dons side). Today’s game, and perhaps the Staines one a little more, gave me the wholesome warmth that watching a good reserves game used to do. A good old fashioned work out for the up and coming and a few seasoned pros. JohnStill said that he put out a side capable of winning, and it did just that. We could/should have had more and killed the game off earlier, but there you go. We did go sleepybobos for a short period at the start of the second half, but no harm done. What’s more it gives the manager another look at the players in a first team context and the likes of Gray and co a well-earned rest on a Saturday after a hard weeks training. What!? It sounds as if I’m making a case for the FA Trophy! Surely not?

Meanwhile, in a town 20 odd miles down the M1, the fans of the club with as many trophies as Rochdale went into meltdown after their team continued its long, disappointing run. Apparently dirty Italian money isn’t a guarantee of success. Oh dear, how sad, never mind. How my heart bleeds.

To both of you who were listening carefully to 1CR after the game, you will note that in-between the whingy phone calls from the hornets fans,  whoever was in the studio read out a text saying “McNulty had a quiet game today”. Sorry, couldn’t resist it. They will read out anything those lads.

 

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