"For the benefit of the players, here are the names of the crowd"

This old joke was appropriate for the Forest Green fans for the first time at a match I have attended. I counted seven. Officially it was eighteen – God knows where they appeared from – perhaps the eleven on the pitch were included too?

A good, entertaining game and a deserved win, on the first cold football night of the season – heavens above, this is October – we’ve got six more months of this. The win seemed on the cards as soon as the first goal went in. 9-1 wouldn’t have flattered us, and if the ball had gone in with every shot as it did for the first half hour against Hayes earlier this year then we would have had double figures. Surreal isn’t it?

To be fair, I think this is the sort of result we should expect – such was the gulf in class between the two teams. What is more all six were good outfield goals – always a good sign that a team is playing well: the percentage of goals from open play.

So onto the team, and then a description of the Luton goals. First thing to note was, and, you are not misreading this – we played an unchanged team! Hurrah! The penny has dropped! Ten goals in two games with the same XI, there’s a message in there somewhere.

In goal was Mark Tyler. What can I say? He had so little to do in the game, his only exercise was in trying to outsprint Styche when he should have whacked the ball clear. A battle he was never going to win. Styche won the race, sold Tyler a dummy, tackled him, controlled the ball, and calmly placed the ball in the net at an acute angle. Nice finish. I suspect MT will get more ribbing due to the fact that in the end the goal counted for nothing than he would have done if we had lost because of it. To be honest from what I read and hear, he’s not been at his best over the last few games. However, that said, he’s still the best keeper we’ve had in a long time, everybody goes off form occasionally, and it isn’t costing us games.

At right back was Dan Gleeson. I think Dan is the weakest link in the defence at the moment. He was quite inspired at the start of the season, but is making too many errors at present. Flood (for that was his name) beat him on a number of occasions last night, on the few occasions they did get forward. As with Tyler – it doesn’t matter so much if the team is playing well, but these mistakes will otherwise lead to goals against better opposition. Pick your game up please Dan. Ed is waiting in the wings…there is only so many times he can put “what have I got to do to get a game” on his facebook profile before someone tells Mr Money. Frankly I don’t think Ed’s face fits with RM – Money made some dodgy comments about him last year I recall too. I suspect, unless he proves (or gets a chance to prove) that the right back berth should be his (which it should) before the end of the season he will be out of the door.

In the middle was Kroca and Pilks. The centre halves had more attacking to do than defending – Krocha often stayed forwards after a set piece, not that it did much good. He made one mistake at the back, but otherwise had a largely untroubled and unremarkable game.

Captain Pilks had a strange game for him too. Watching him closely in the first half, it struck me that he made more mistakes in this game than he normally does in half a season. By mistakes I mean, poor defensive headers that go straight to the opposition and passes that go out or to an opponent. Again, it didn’t really matter today. Get the mistakes out of the way in games like this, or rather in the first half of a game like this, because I think he was blemish-free in the second half.
He did hit the bar with a good header from a Drury corner shortly after we went one up – I seem to think he had another header sometime towards half time too.

On the left was the improving Freddie Murray. He had licence to get forward down the left and that he did, linking up well with AMS.

He had the ‘assist’ for the first goal, had a hand in the second, and was chopped down in the box for a penalty that wasn’t given. He also did a Sol Davis style tackle on one of the Forest Green team which earned him his first card of the season. He was also back on long throw duty but I think things have become confused at the club. In the first half a ball boy would pass the towel to Murray (the brown one this week) even in his own half, so he was able to take a nice defensive throw to his own player in his own half. Conversely in the second half the club didn’t have the nous to tell the ballboy to take his towel over to the other side and Murray had to take long throws with no towel or borrow one from the Luton bench (a white one, those stains’ll never come out). As it happens the long throws tended to miss the tall Luton players completely and he reverted to his normal style of foul-throwing at every opportunity.

On the right wing was Andy Drury scorer of the first goal, and set up the second. He tormented their left back, scuffed a shot and also blasted the freekick-that-should-have-been-a-penalty sky high and wide. He was subbed at half time – apparently him going off is now a point of mirth for the team. Good player to replace him though. Claude Le Goal, was more like Claude Le Tormenteur and spent the second half tormenting their poor left back McDonald. Claude is the perfect player to introduce as a sub – especially against tired defenders. He is the last thing some cloggy carthorse wants storming down the wing at you. What chance have you got to second guess what Claude is up to? He doesn’t know himself half the time.

He set up the fourth and fifth goals, blasted one shot wide and had another saved on the line. Not a bad effort for 45 minutes work. Appropriate really that he only had half a game, most of France has only been working for half the week this week, so perhaps it was fitting.

In the middle of the park were Keith Keane and Jakey Howells. Keane had a good game, charging opponents down- linking up the play and generally played intelligently. He drove a shot wide towards the end which was pretty much a gilt edged opportunity laid on by I think Jake had a quiet game for him (well he is out of position) apart from one cracking defensive tackle on half way to win the ball back. He didn’t lack effort though and worked hard in the middle.

He was replaced after an hour by Godfrey ‘on fire’ Poku – who showed welcome pace and presence in the middle and looked ‘well up for it’ to quote Jay from the Inbetweeners. He has a slightly rolling gait – he reminds me of someone, I don’t know who it is. He is clearly full of energy and raring to go. I wonder if he gets a start against his old club? Actually, knowing RM’s lack of sentimentality he probably won’t even be on the bench. Anyway – with us being a man down with Adam Murray off to Mansfield it doesn’t hurt to have another midfielder in there who in time might release dear Jake to go back onto the wing.

On the left was Amari Morgan-Smith who was so far forward most of the time he was virtually up front. He’s a strange lad – in one move he demonstrated that he only has a right foot as he bumbled down the touchline, but 5 minutes later popped up with an excellent left foot cross for Claude. See? You can do it. He tormented the right back (Hodgkiss I think) at will. One bit of brilliance was putting Claude in through the middle of the park with a defence-splitting pass which would have wowed the pundits used to commenting on the overpaid flouncers four divisions above.

Up front was Big Hips and Alice-band-free Danny Crow – presumably someone has already made the Sansom disconnection. Another start for Crow, another brace. Is that five goals in six starts now? Telegram for Mr Money, telegram for Mr Money…One other thing Danny Crow does is work very hard. He chases down the defenders like he is told to do and doesn’t give up. He is a real crowd pleaser. Even when he was crocked before he came off he was hobbling one minute and towering down on some hapless defender the next. Excellent effort Danny. His passing and vision were good too, especially his reverse pass for the first goal.

Alongside was MBH who now has a return of nine goals from 16 starts which is a great return for anyone. He does have his fair share of chances for those nine, but he is still getting them. Today was no different, he must have had half a dozen decent chances – I’m not going to list them all here but he did take his goal well. His interplay was much improved too and got plenty of crosses in. He fell out with Dan Walker towards the end as Walker (understandably) bore down on goal and shot, rather than passing to MBH – he got his own back a minute or so later snubbing Walker who was in a better position and had a go himself.

Speaking of Walker, he does add a crispness to the attack. His goal was a cracker, I might as well describe it here and then progress onto the others. He picked it up about 25 yards out and moved forwards unfettered by the oncoming defender and buried it beautifully into the corner of the net from approx 20 yards. Fantastic strike. He looks good. He is lively, tall and pacey. If he plays he will score I am sure. No more strikers please. We have plenty. Stick him on the bench every week and bring him in if someone gets a knock.

I’m aware I’ve missed out plenty of shots and action, but there were so many, and we were so dominant that it was hard to document and remember them all. There were two lulls in the game midway through both halves when the ball wasn’t brought down and played, but bobbed around in the middle or where the keepers took it in turns to whack it to each other. Other than that we were on fire and dominated and deserved every goal we got.

Onto the goals then. The first one took a bit of common sense from both the ref and Fred Murray. A lovely footballing move led to Murray who played the ball to Crow and who played it through for MBH who was offside and the flag was raised. Only MBH wasn’t offside because he didn’t touch it and Murray zoomed down the left and crossed it for Drury. Forest Green had all stopped, because of the linesman’s flag. But Drury hadn’t stopped, controlled it, took it past Bittner and it was a legitimate goal. Much to Forest Green’s anger and our delight. Well done ref, the sort of refereeing we need. Can we have that rub of the green in the playoff final please?

Keane played the ball down the left for Murray who took the ball down the wing for about 10 yards before playing a ball outside the defender into the path of Drury who drilled the ball across the face of the goal for Amari-Smith to bang in from 5 yards. 2-0. 2nd of hopefully very many for AMS – he hasn’t looked out of place by the step up in class from Ilkeston town.

The third goal after 34 minutes was a comedy effort strikers must dream of. The hapless Bittner punted it straight to Danny Crow who intercepted it half way in their half and then sprinted with it to the edge of the box and fired it past the keeper. 3-0.

I’ve mentioned Tyler’s mistake and so onto Hatters goal #4. A crossfield ball played to Claude down the right he hoodwinked McDonald the leftback, showed a neat turn of pace, cut inside and played the ball to Crow who finished took his chance well at the near post.

I’ve described Walker’s goal and so onto MBH’s – goal 5. On the edge of the box he played the ball to Gnapka who cut inside and rounded McDonald (you’ve read this before somewhere) and passed it back to MBH who slotted it home nicely.

The comedy moment of the night, apart from Tyler’s muff and Murray’s towel troubles? MBH falling on his arse when scoring the fifth goal right in front of the Kenny. He came up smiling.

Right – it’s bloody late, so I’ll post this now and be done with it.

Quick scores: Tyler: 5, Gleeson 5, Pilks 6.5, Krocha 6, Drury 7.5, Howells, 6.5, Keane 7, AMS 8, Crow 9, MBH 7. Claude 8, Walker 7.5, Poku 6.5.

Stalbans on Saturday, where, hopefully I will have the bar to myself for an hour like I did against Grays last year. Hic.

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A poor night for the Stags

Quiet game this evening, nothing much to report, certainly not three missed penalties, certainly not two sending offs or two players getting their first goals, one on his debut.

First, a word about the Darlington and Gateshead results. I didn’t go – so I didn’t see it first hand, and can just comment on the reports and what I listened to. I was so furious at the results I couldn’t be driven to write about them. It strikes me though, that from the start of the ‘week of the long journeys’ Money was already preparing excuses for the bad performances.

If I heard it once I heard it a dozen times about the two long journeys in a week and how the poor loves had to spend 4 hours cooped up on a luxury coach before playing football for 90 minutes. From the off it was sowing a seed in the players’ minds that they had an excuse for failure. And believe me, 1 point out of 6 in the fifth tier is failure.

Let’s just remind ourselves for a second that we weren’t relegated because of poor performance. We’re not here because we were a rubbish team, so it is outstanding how quickly we have reconciled ourselves to being a non-league team rather than a league team temporarily evicted to the conference. Just as a test batsmen who is only playing county cricket eventually lowers his standards through not playing at the top level, or how the English rugby team would be if we never played against the southern hemisphere teams; so we have lowered our standards to the division we find ourselves in.

How quickly the fan base has grown used to being kicked in the guts – ten years ago if we had lost away to Gateshead there would have been a riot in the offing. We wouldn’t have just allowed the manager to shrug his shoulders and blame the ref and the long journey.

It so annoys me this business about the journeys to the north east. It’s only 250 miles, and it isn’t Outer bloody Mongolia. It’s the same trip that the fans have to make, in addition to their working day, and furthermore I hasten to add, it is the same length of trip that some of us have to do in order to earn a living. Last Christmas I had to drive to and from Scotland (in the snow and ice) down to Hertfordshire – it took a damn sight longer than 4 hours, and I had to get up the next morning and do the same trip again in the opposite direction, knowing the snow and ice, queues and disruption that awaited me. I had every excuse to pick up the phone and to call in a sicky, especially as hadn’t got in until late, but that would be giving in, and the mortgage doesn’t pay itself. That is why the excuse of the long journey gets my goat so much. So many people who watch the Hatters have to put themselves through so much more each week to earn a crust than the minor privation of sitting on a coach. It is not as if they are ten million pound highly-honed racing thoroughbreds, but non-league footballers.

It’s an excuse, not a reason, for poor performance, and I thought Richard Money was bigger than that.

I’d also like to take my hat off to the travelling fans who did make it to either or both games, not using the long journey as an excuse.

Rant over – but you can expect RM to start rehearsing the excuses for the ‘trek’ to Barrow on Saturday…

And so onto this evening – a noisier than usual home crowd I thought, perhaps some were here to witness the death-throes of Money’s time as manager, as another defeat would surely have (rightly or wrongly) engendered a mini crisis. As it was, the paying guests at the Kenny this evening were treated to a host of talking points, not perhaps the finest game of footie ever played, but certainly an entertaining one.

So, where to start? I’ll go through the team. We started with Mark Tyler, who actually had little to do this evening. He threw the ball out where he could and kicked pretty accurately towards Claude.

At right back was Dan Gleeson who had a tidy enough game, whilst still filling me with a distant doubt that perhaps Ed should be playing. Or even Adam Newton…

At left back was Freddie Murray, who now shorn of beard was also shorn of towel in the first half, and it (the brown one) only appeared on the right wing in the second and so no long throws tonight. How strange. It is like that particular tactic can only be used occasionally or Murray forgot how to do it already. In any case, Murray had a good game, getting forward and supporting debutant Amari Morgan-Smith and making a couple of crucial challenges. Murray has improved in this past year.

In the middle was Mr Dependable George Pilkington who had his usual wholly reliable game, and Mr Krocha who was equally inconspicuous by his presence. Blackett was on the bench, a tad unfortunate bearing in mind the sound performances he has been putting in.

On the right was Claude Le Goal. Claude, Claude, Claude. What can I say that hasn’t been said already? At times brilliant, at times frustratingly unwieldy and clumsy on the ball. And inbetween times tormented the left back and got cross after cross in. He became Claude le Stroppe for a little while after snubbed by MHB for the third penalty.

In the middle was Jake – yes, still in the middle – who had a more attacking game than against Gateshead, by all accounts. Apart from a quiet first 20 minutes he was a gem and a delight. No wonder Money is playing him out of position now, just to fit him into the team (a la Mick). He was at times back to his brilliant best last year, but combining it with a never-say-die tackling back bustling midfielder.

To those of us who hadn’t travelled up to the north east, it was good to see Keane back. Though his booking on about 6 minutes clipped his wings a bit, he sailed close to the wind with a few challenges in the second half, but he did have a good game.

Left wing was ‘new boy’ Amari Morgan-Smith, signed only earlier that day and popped straight into the team. Must be a bit galling for Dan Walker and JJ O’Donnell that the new lad got straight in, but there you go. He had a splendid debut. He harried and chased from the front, as well as linking nicely with Freddie Murray and Jake Howells. Not quite sure why he was played on the wing when he’s a striker but there you go. I can’t see him getting too many crosses in, but I guess he will cause anxiety when he picks the ball up on the left and runs into the box. Oh, and he got a goal – but more of that later.

Up front was ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crowe who started for once (hurrah) and didn’t let us down. He worked incredibly hard and played others in really well. Oh, and he got a goal (and missed a penalty) too.

MBH had a quiet game and needs a break. Whilst he did make some nice lay offs he did seem a bit off the pace and a bit distracted. He sort of got in the way a bit at times and his poor form was made all the more obvious by the fact that those around him were having cracking games. His penalty miss was legendary.

It strikes me that now we have two players (eg Crow and Morgan-Smith) who clearly know where the goal is that perhaps they should start up top and Jake move back to the left. If Drury’s fit then he can go onto the right, giving the Claude the chance to come on and dazzle them from the bench.

And so onto Mansfield. Never in the field of football conflict has a side so high up the table been flattered by so few goals conceded. It only shows how utterly rubbish this division is that a side like that can get to 2nd (second) can score 9 (nine) goals in its previous two games yet be so unutterably crap. Ten men or not, there were times in this game when you thought that the Mansfield players had been kidnapped on the way to the game and replaced by strangers who had never kicked a ball. It just shows how poor this league is – and if we don’t cream it, eventually, it will be a human travesty. And what a dirty, nasty little team they were. Newton was scythed down by Silk and Mills committed GBH on Morgan-Smith. They lost it completely after the second penalty was awarded and after the ball had been cleared a minor melee ensued right in front of the Oak Road end. We were all shouting “get stuck in” and “knock his head off” which is of course wholly irresponsible behaviour for responsible adults. Mansfield were rattled and lost composure. The lack of composure was epitomised by their skipper, Foster who had been booked when the first penalty was ordered to be retaken, leading the protests and then got his marching orders shortly afterwards for his part in the dust up. Whatever form or shape they had prior to this disintegrated and they became a disorganised, vicious rabble, giving non-league a bad name. This wasn’t helped by the manager David Holdsworth who demonstrated the calm demeanour and intelligent diplomacy imbued in him by ten years spent at the club down the M1 (which has still never won anything) and was promptly sent off and took his place in the main stand.

If you haven’t picked up that we got three penalties in the game then I apologise. We managed to miss them all, which must be some kind of record. The first one was awarded when Keano drove a long ball forward from a free kick to Kroca who rose well but headed the ball into Mills (I think) I can only assumed he handled it because the ref blew for it immediately, much to the annoyance of the manager and Mansfield players.

If that wasn’t enough, it was time for a repeat performance of the Howard incident at York all those years ago and the Pilks and Craddock quarrel last year. A sure sign of indiscipline and disharmony in the ranks. If you recall, MBH who had scored two penalties against Kettering, muffed one and deflated himself and the season against Newport.

Claude wasn’t having this and grabbed the ball and wasn’t giving it up. Presumably MBH was the nominated penalty taker but the indecision was obvious for all to see. I would have thought that before the game/in training the manager would say “right MBH is taking the penalties if one is awarded” and you would expect the on-field captain to back this up.

However, despite much confusing gesticulation and handwringing from the bench, Claude insisted on taking it, and Pilks stood on the half way line, not getting involved.

Needless to say, Claude fired a weak penalty to the goalies left which was saved. However, presumably due to encroachment, the penalty was retaken (cue uproar from the Nottingham end). This time, step forward Danny Crow. His penalty was much better, bringing off a fine save from the keeper. Pandemonium, astonishment, bewilderment, resignation and anger prevailed on three sides of the ground.

Shortly into the second half, guess what? We won yet another penalty. Gnapka was tripped in the box, but this was a genuine trip not a Claude special. The ball found its way to Claude, who grabbed it but needed to do up his laces. He knelt down with the ball in front of him keeping an eye on his prize like a cat keeping its still twitching prey close to hand. But no one can both double-knot his laces and also hold onto the ball and MBH with the sharpest move he made all night, grabbed the ball and plopped it on the spot, much to Claude’s annoyance. Claude sulked for the next ten minutes. Mansfield then did their predictably cheaty best to delay it being taken, but when MBH did take it, well, what can I say? I doubt if a penalty has ever been missed by a greater margin. Dozens of people in the town centre ducked.

Money hinted strongly afterwards that Crow was the nominated penalty taker. I know being rewarded a penalty is rare for our club compared to others, and I know, that not being experienced or employed on the playing side of things, who am I to suggest as to what the players should or shouldn’t be practising, however I’d like to hint that perhaps, just perhaps, in addition to the long throws and the far-post corners, Mr Crow et al might like to practice burying the ball in the old onion bag from 12 yards – call me crazy for suggesting it if you like.

Fortunately, after the third miss, we didn’t have to wait too long for the first goal. Goals were inevitable, not just because of how poor Mansfield were (to those of you who can remember think back to Huddersfield March 2003) but because we were pressing forward, closing things down and knocking the ball around nicely. Danny Crow, surprise surprise, rewarded his first start with a goal, from a pass from Howells from a short corner. He buried it with aplomb.

It became two up not too long afterwards ‘new boy’ Morgan-Smith showed some of the raw goal scoring ability that netted him 21 goals last season for the unfortunately now defunct Ilkeston Town, a travesty that a club can go out of business for £47k which is less than half some players in the premiership’s weekly wage. How can that be right?

Keane lobbed the ball into the middle from the free kick, the goalie punched clear and AMS (see what I did there?) whacked the ball in from the edge of the box with unnerving aplomb. MBH take note…

After that, we sat back after the substitutions and lumped more people into the midfield. I swear at one point we were playing a formation of 3-6-1. When Crow came off to an excellent, and well-deserved bout of applause he was replaced by Atieno reprieved from his weekend sending off. MBH was replaced by Adam Murray who played well and was sort of furthest forward in the midfield, and AMS by Newton, I’m still trying to work out where he was supposed to play. My feeling was that if we would have plenty more goals if Money hadn’t buggered around with the formation.

The intensity and thus I suppose the enjoyment of the game was ratcheted up by the actions of the ref. Whilst I think we got the rub of the green from him, he did himself no favours by booking a Mansfield player in virtually the first minute for the first challenge, and Keano shortly afterwards, and once you have set the bar so low you can expect plenty of bookings and/or red cards to follow. He didn’t disappoint us, and Mansfield delightfully played their part by being a bunch of dirty sods.

It was a good game and a good atmosphere, enhanced as ever because it was under lights, and enhanced further by the ref and by Mansfield being a bit rubbish, dirty and down to ten men. If all football games were as packed with incident and controversy I suspect attendances would be twice as high.

Off to Barrow then, more excuses for Money if we don’t get a result because clearly a journey up the motorway to Cumbria in a coach is the footballing equivalent of a blindfolded, barefoot trek to Kathmandu carrying sixteen times your bodyweight whilst juggling burning axes. Have I made my point?

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