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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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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Luton sparkled, Diamonds didn’t

Happy New Year to you all – today’s game provided a pleasant start to 2011 in a game made more difficult by some strange refereeing.

Other than the ‘show in the snow’/Dancing on Ice this was the first proper call to arms in the league since the victory against Histon at a time when Wagner and Ann Widdecombe were still very much contenders. We had our own version of them running the line and blowing the whistle this afternoon.

We made one change to the York game with Dan Gleeson returning for Ed A-A – and so the line up was: Tyler in goal, Gleeson – Pilks – Kroca – Jakey Howells at the back. On the right wing Claude, with Keano and Drury in the middle and Amari Morgan-Smith with the bionic faceplate on the left.

Up front was ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow, who looks as if he had a very good Christmas (once again Santa refused to bring him an exercise bike) and MBH who had found his shooting boots over Christmas.

Before the game there was a minute’s silence for the Rushden keeper Dale Roberts and inspirational former Luton skipper Terry Branston. The Kenny End was impeccably silent. No change there then I hear you cry.

The first half I thought we were a bit ring rusty, which I suppose is not really very surprising. But though we were a bit lacklustre at times we didn’t concede a silly goal or anything like that and so made it easier for ourselves when we did inevitably pick up. Scoring the goal just before half time made a huge difference to our approach, confidence and performance in the second half. I think at half time Richard Money must have done a bit of reminding of what we are about, because after the break we played much faster football, much more on the ground and further up the pitch, and playing against a side who were now chasing the game made this much easier.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Rushden. Clearly they came out all guns-blazing driven on by the loss of their teammate, but there is only so long that such resolve can act as your raison d’etre on the pitch without bringing results, and over time, without any long periods of
meaningful domination their resolve was diluted and finally diminished by the goals we knocked in.
The bloke behind me wasn’t sure Rio Charles was playing, such was his non-involvement. He was largely anonymous which must have been hugely frustrating with him wanting no doubt to get one back at the club who let him go, but he was stuck out in left midfield rather than up front. It was somewhat surprising especially as their attackers seemed about as threatening as one of Santa’s little helpers and you would have thought that they could do with a Rio up front.

We made a bright start looking to knock the ball around nicely but mainly basing everything around balls up to Claude – who had a strange day. Often on here I go on about the Claude you get on a particular afternoon depends on the roll of a dice – roll a 6 and you get a world beater – roll a 1 and you get Monsieur Disinterested not willing to go for anything or track back. Well today Claude confounded this theory a little by actually being both brilliant and frustrating at the same time. Hardly jumping for the ball on occasion but giving us a sublime finish on a disallowed goal. Not getting stuck in but supplying the cross for the opener. Limping around and looking to come off before getting a taste for it again and knocking the third in – but more of that later.

We looked the best for the first 15 minutes without really carving too many chances out. The game was too crowded in the middle of the park and we were unable to get the ball down as much as we would have liked. I daresay Justin Edinburgh has made this point to them, let Luton get the ball down and knock it around and they’ll murder you – keep them frustrated by making them play head tennis and you still have a chance.

I have to give Rushden the epithet of ‘well-organised’ which is a bit like saying a movie was ‘well-filmed’. They were hard working but not inspiring. Giving little for their surprisingly low turnout of away fans to cheer or enthuse about and thank goodness that we managed to quell the drum banger as early as we did.

The first major chance fell to Rushden, surprisingly, the clothes-peg seller Power demonstrating that he had the shot of a mule and bringing a good save out of Tyler.

I seem to recall we had a couple of sort of half chances shortly after Danny Crow with one of them and AMS the other.

Shortly after, what surely would have been the goal of the season (all five divisions) was sawn off by a flag-eager lino. Drury picked the ball up on the half way line and weaved his way in and out until he reached the edge of the R&D box whereby he plopped the ball in the path of Claude who accelerated onto the ball on the left and chopped a glorious right footed shot across the keeper Day into the right hand side of the far post. Oh what a goal that would have been.

From then on we seemed to overplay the ball on the edge of the box rather than putting a foot through it and whacking it towards the goal. Not quite overplaying to the extent we did under poor old Mick, but we took too many touches, tried to dribble it in on too many occasions.

Gnapka troubled only the man who fits the bulbs into the scoreboard after a good lay off by AMS.
Barnes-Homer having done all of the hard work in the inside right position cut inside and weakly shot straight at Day.

The last few minutes of the half really got the crowd going. Claude found some space on the right and played a great ball across the goal to find MBH to the left of the penalty spot. His header appeared to be mistimed because the ball looped off his head slowly, slowly, slowly over Day and into the net for the first goal. Perhaps this old cynic does him a disservice. In fact I think I do – it was a beautifully cushioned and weighted header.

Into extra time in the first half Drury went on another mazy run, this time from his own half down the wing only to be met by Osano (I think it was). There was the briefest of contacts. Drury was the man with the ball and running forward, but in doing this somehow he managed to foul Osano accordingl to the ref. I must have blinked and missed it completely. What antagonised the home fans further was that Rushden forged a goal scoring opportunity down the other end from the non-free kick. Fortunately O’Connor passed to Johnson in an offside position.

The half time whistle brought a volley of boos – but not for the mighty Hatters but for the ref who made some ‘random’ decisions (to use the modern parlance). He seemed to be over reliant on his linesman who was having a poor game himself. Never good to put too much weight on a broken crutch.

The second half brought out a different Luton team. Afforded more room initially by Rushden pressing forwards and not pressing us, but latterly in the half by us exploiting the gaps on the break. We found more gaps, played more one-twos and initially at least looked like the potential world-beaters we always do when the ball is on the floor and we are allowed to play. For about ten minutes at least Danny Crow, who had a fairly quiet first half bossed the attacking play and drove the ball around to either side of the pitch and through the defence bringing MBH, Claude and AMS on and into threatening positions. Claude fizzed at first then took a knock and switched off, then having run off the knock suddenly looked bothered again.

Of course the biggest sitter of the day fell to none other than MBH who was played through beautifully by Gnapka with only the keeper to beat and he managed to scatter the people in the upper tier of the Kenny.

Shortly after Rushden had their finest opportunity to make it 1-1, Smith I think it was picked up on a good pass by Gash (formerly of York and Ebbsfleet?) and sizzled the ball wide and slightly high of Tyler’s left hand post.

So typically of MBH – having missed the sitter he then sticks away a much harder chance. I’m delighted for him. I would imagine it would be so easy to knock your confidence missing an easy one – but thankfully MBH seemed undaunted by it. Perhaps that is the difference between a striker and someone like Adam Newton whose season dissolved after missing the sitter against Southampton last January. Strikers get on with it. At least MBH knows he is always going to get plenty of chances playing in this team. Anyway Drury (or Keano, can’t remember which) dinked through a lovely ball for MBH who held off a defender, stayed on his feet and finished left-footed past the diving keeper.

One comment on Rushden and Diamonds I haven’t mentioned is that there was some pretty brutal tackling going on in the middle of the park. I can’t think who they might have coaching their first team there…a couple of cards were needed when I think only one was dished out. Another yellow appeared in the second half when Drury slipped and went under and was caught by one of the Rushden player’s flailing arms. In surely only the very loosest of imaginations was it violent conduct by the Rushden player. Having seen it from pretty close up if Drury hadn’t slipped he wouldn’t have had his head whacked. As it happens I think the ref chickened out by giving a yellow. It either wasn’t violent conduct or it was. If it was then surely it was a straight red. Strange guy.

A good ball from Drury on the left went over the head of MBH – but he wasn’t going to allow that to defeat him today – he tried a spectacular Brko-esque overhead kick which he connected with but which fluttered wide. Now that would have been a great goal if he had caught it right – and fair play to him for trying. Though it wasn’t the case here, and perhaps this is the wrong place to put this comment – I’m all up for strikers being greedy. If a player can think he can get a goal for Luton Town by having a shot well that’s fine with me. Too many seasons went by with us having strikers who would rather fanny about rather than try to stick one in, I’d rather have a glory-hunter any day. And anyway – if the striker can get the shot on target and trouble the keeper, then he will often make chances for his colleagues from blocks, deflections or cock-ups by the keeper – especially at our humble level.

The third goal came in a slightly comedic way – MBH put a ball into the box on the 6 yard line to the left hand side of the goal. It was such a good ball that he actually put two players in – Danny Crow and Claude Gnapka they both muscled each other for the ball for a moment before Claude took the ball and carried on and fired the ball across the goal left footed into the side of the net. Much to poor Danny’s visible irritation.

Off Claude went to do some sort of bizarre gay samba in front of the enclosure.

Rushden did come back at us a bit – there was a brief period where they threatened to threaten, but it did strike me that for them it was ‘one of those days’ where they could try to score all day but nothing would drop. One thing that did impress me was their crossing and corner taking. On more than one occasion a sharply swerving and in-dipping corner troubled Tyler (a bit like one of Jimmy Anderson’s deliveries troubles most of the Austrialian top order) on one occasion drawing out an excellent punch from MT which only went as far as a Rushden player whose shot was cleared off the line by Keano (I think).

Time yet for more fun, Day, the Rushden keeper picked up the ball outside his area but cleared only as far as MBH – who, had he been sharper would have lobbed him straight back over his head. However, he took perhaps a touch too many and did the non-selfish thing of trying to play Danny Crow in, but the ball was poor and by the time Crow had won the ball back, was only in a position to blast the ball over.

There were other chances by both teams, but I think I have got most of them. I’ve managed to exclude a rasping shot by Dan Gleeson which went just wide where he had been found in space and drove forwards – but it was a good effort and Gleeson had a sound enough game – not sure what that says about either Dan or dear Rio.

And so – onto the scores on the doors:

Tyler – 7.5 – handling was good, kicking was fair, rolled the ball out where he could, positional sense and communication is starting to worry me a little. I know it can’t be easy having a Czech lump playing in front of you who probably doesn’t understand everything you say but sometimes MT performances this year suggest that we saw the best of him last year. I’m only talking fractions here of course, he’s still a brilliant shot stopper and of course by far the best keeper at this level, but over time you come to notice these things. Nothing to worry about at present, but most players careers are somewhere on a bell-curve and perhaps MT has just started the beginning of the downward journey. Am I being unfair? Perhaps I am. I don’t mean to do the guy a disservice.

Dan Gleeson – 7.5 – like I said above was tidy and had a good game and had a good shot.

Pilks – 8 – I thought he had a brilliant game – broke up what few attacks they had and was always in the right place at the right time.

Kroca – 6.5 – I watched him closely in this match. He was a bizarre mix of some brilliant tackles, some brave headers but some poor touches and passes. Par for the course at this level. Sometimes at corners he didn’t pick up his man at all and presented more than one free header from crosses.

Howells – 7.5 – in the first half where the play was a bit stodgy Jake’s abilities shone out like a beacon. Less so in the second half as we mainly attacked down the right and not the left. He was the sponsor’s man of the match – which was quite amusing because whilst he did play well, and as you know I am a huge JH fan, I’m not sure he did enough to warrant that today – especially when MBH got two good goals.

Gnapka – hard to score really – sometimes 3 sometimes 9.5. Overall perhaps 8.5 he did after all score a good goal and created the first one.

Keane – 8 – all over the pitch closed down really well in the second half in particular and ran and ran and ran.

Drury – 8.5 – I’d be happier if he was on the wing – but there were some flashes of sheer brilliance from AD today.

AMS – 7 – looked very lively on occasion and overlapped repeatedly with MBH on the left so that MBH was often the widest player picking up the ball.

MBH – 9 – should have had a hattrick – worked hard – not a phrase you traditionally associate with MBH but was all over the pitch, particularly in the second half when the game opened up more. Unselfish in his passing and got a good couple of crosses in. The crowd has a dig at him when he doesn’t really jump for balls played up to or over him, but who can blame him. Good header for the first goal and lovely finish for the second.

Danny Crow – 7 – seemed a bit anonymous in the first half, but came good in the first part of the second. Bit unlucky not to get any clear cut chances, mainly got bits and pieces and half chances from Claude’s knock downs. Chased the ball when he lost it though and demonstrated a good work ethic. I think he was a bit cheesed off towards the end though but should put this game behind him. Big pressure on him now though with Jason Walker on the bench and MBH seemingly with a season-long berth up front. Let’s see how he responds to the pressure.

Walker, Lawless and ‘On fire’ Poku all came on briefly for their appearance money after about 90 minutes replacing DC, CG and AMS respectively.

Overall a good win. I’d like to say we didn’t really get out of second gear – but that wouldn’t be true – we had to work hard in the first half and dominated large sections of the second half where I think we were pretty much in fourth gear. A sound enough start to the year, with no injuries or bookings and with the mighty Hayes and Yeading on Tuesday night which I will miss because I’m going to be in Scotland. Certainly an annoying decision to move that from the bank hols to the Tuesday night.

And so, after the first game of 2011, our record is:

P21 W13 D3 L5 F44 A20 Pts 42 Pos 3rd. Two points per game is normally good enough to ensure 2nd place, but not usually first. However, this year with three teams pushing for the top place it is less likely that someone is now going to run away with the title and get 100 points. But let’s see.

Happy New Year everyone.

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Luton sparkled, Diamonds didn’t

Happy New Year to you all – today’s game provided a pleasant start to 2011 in a game made more difficult by some strange refereeing.

Other than the ‘show in the snow’/Dancing on Ice this was the first proper call to arms in the league since the victory against Histon at a time when Wagner and Ann Widdecombe were still very much contenders. We had our own version of them running the line and blowing the whistle this afternoon.

We made one change to the York game with Dan Gleeson returning for Ed A-A – and so the line up was: Tyler in goal, Gleeson – Pilks – Kroca – Jakey Howells at the back. On the right wing Claude, with Keano and Drury in the middle and Amari Morgan-Smith with the bionic faceplate on the left.

Up front was ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow, who looks as if he had a very good Christmas (once again Santa refused to bring him an exercise bike) and MBH who had found his shooting boots over Christmas.

Before the game there was a minute’s silence for the Rushden keeper Dale Roberts and inspirational former Luton skipper Terry Branston. The Kenny End was impeccably silent. No change there then I hear you cry.

The first half I thought we were a bit ring rusty, which I suppose is not really very surprising. But though we were a bit lacklustre at times we didn’t concede a silly goal or anything like that and so made it easier for ourselves when we did inevitably pick up. Scoring the goal just before half time made a huge difference to our approach, confidence and performance in the second half. I think at half time Richard Money must have done a bit of reminding of what we are about, because after the break we played much faster football, much more on the ground and further up the pitch, and playing against a side who were now chasing the game made this much easier.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Rushden. Clearly they came out all guns-blazing driven on by the loss of their teammate, but there is only so long that such resolve can act as your raison d’etre on the pitch without bringing results, and over time, without any long periods of
meaningful domination their resolve was diluted and finally diminished by the goals we knocked in.
The bloke behind me wasn’t sure Rio Charles was playing, such was his non-involvement. He was largely anonymous which must have been hugely frustrating with him wanting no doubt to get one back at the club who let him go, but he was stuck out in left midfield rather than up front. It was somewhat surprising especially as their attackers seemed about as threatening as one of Santa’s little helpers and you would have thought that they could do with a Rio up front.

We made a bright start looking to knock the ball around nicely but mainly basing everything around balls up to Claude – who had a strange day. Often on here I go on about the Claude you get on a particular afternoon depends on the roll of a dice – roll a 6 and you get a world beater – roll a 1 and you get Monsieur Disinterested not willing to go for anything or track back. Well today Claude confounded this theory a little by actually being both brilliant and frustrating at the same time. Hardly jumping for the ball on occasion but giving us a sublime finish on a disallowed goal. Not getting stuck in but supplying the cross for the opener. Limping around and looking to come off before getting a taste for it again and knocking the third in – but more of that later.

We looked the best for the first 15 minutes without really carving too many chances out. The game was too crowded in the middle of the park and we were unable to get the ball down as much as we would have liked. I daresay Justin Edinburgh has made this point to them, let Luton get the ball down and knock it around and they’ll murder you – keep them frustrated by making them play head tennis and you still have a chance.

I have to give Rushden the epithet of ‘well-organised’ which is a bit like saying a movie was ‘well-filmed’. They were hard working but not inspiring. Giving little for their surprisingly low turnout of away fans to cheer or enthuse about and thank goodness that we managed to quell the drum banger as early as we did.

The first major chance fell to Rushden, surprisingly, the clothes-peg seller Power demonstrating that he had the shot of a mule and bringing a good save out of Tyler.

I seem to recall we had a couple of sort of half chances shortly after Danny Crow with one of them and AMS the other.

Shortly after, what surely would have been the goal of the season (all five divisions) was sawn off by a flag-eager lino. Drury picked the ball up on the half way line and weaved his way in and out until he reached the edge of the R&D box whereby he plopped the ball in the path of Claude who accelerated onto the ball on the left and chopped a glorious right footed shot across the keeper Day into the right hand side of the far post. Oh what a goal that would have been.

From then on we seemed to overplay the ball on the edge of the box rather than putting a foot through it and whacking it towards the goal. Not quite overplaying to the extent we did under poor old Mick, but we took too many touches, tried to dribble it in on too many occasions.

Gnapka troubled only the man who fits the bulbs into the scoreboard after a good lay off by AMS.
Barnes-Homer having done all of the hard work in the inside right position cut inside and weakly shot straight at Day.

The last few minutes of the half really got the crowd going. Claude found some space on the right and played a great ball across the goal to find MBH to the left of the penalty spot. His header appeared to be mistimed because the ball looped off his head slowly, slowly, slowly over Day and into the net for the first goal. Perhaps this old cynic does him a disservice. In fact I think I do – it was a beautifully cushioned and weighted header.

Into extra time in the first half Drury went on another mazy run, this time from his own half down the wing only to be met by Osano (I think it was). There was the briefest of contacts. Drury was the man with the ball and running forward, but in doing this somehow he managed to foul Osano accordingl to the ref. I must have blinked and missed it completely. What antagonised the home fans further was that Rushden forged a goal scoring opportunity down the other end from the non-free kick. Fortunately O’Connor passed to Johnson in an offside position.

The half time whistle brought a volley of boos – but not for the mighty Hatters but for the ref who made some ‘random’ decisions (to use the modern parlance). He seemed to be over reliant on his linesman who was having a poor game himself. Never good to put too much weight on a broken crutch.

The second half brought out a different Luton team. Afforded more room initially by Rushden pressing forwards and not pressing us, but latterly in the half by us exploiting the gaps on the break. We found more gaps, played more one-twos and initially at least looked like the potential world-beaters we always do when the ball is on the floor and we are allowed to play. For about ten minutes at least Danny Crow, who had a fairly quiet first half bossed the attacking play and drove the ball around to either side of the pitch and through the defence bringing MBH, Claude and AMS on and into threatening positions. Claude fizzed at first then took a knock and switched off, then having run off the knock suddenly looked bothered again.

Of course the biggest sitter of the day fell to none other than MBH who was played through beautifully by Gnapka with only the keeper to beat and he managed to scatter the people in the upper tier of the Kenny.

Shortly after Rushden had their finest opportunity to make it 1-1, Smith I think it was picked up on a good pass by Gash (formerly of York and Ebbsfleet?) and sizzled the ball wide and slightly high of Tyler’s left hand post.

So typically of MBH – having missed the sitter he then sticks away a much harder chance. I’m delighted for him. I would imagine it would be so easy to knock your confidence missing an easy one – but thankfully MBH seemed undaunted by it. Perhaps that is the difference between a striker and someone like Adam Newton whose season dissolved after missing the sitter against Southampton last January. Strikers get on with it. At least MBH knows he is always going to get plenty of chances playing in this team. Anyway Drury (or Keano, can’t remember which) dinked through a lovely ball for MBH who held off a defender, stayed on his feet and finished left-footed past the diving keeper.

One comment on Rushden and Diamonds I haven’t mentioned is that there was some pretty brutal tackling going on in the middle of the park. I can’t think who they might have coaching their first team there…a couple of cards were needed when I think only one was dished out. Another yellow appeared in the second half when Drury slipped and went under and was caught by one of the Rushden player’s flailing arms. In surely only the very loosest of imaginations was it violent conduct by the Rushden player. Having seen it from pretty close up if Drury hadn’t slipped he wouldn’t have had his head whacked. As it happens I think the ref chickened out by giving a yellow. It either wasn’t violent conduct or it was. If it was then surely it was a straight red. Strange guy.

A good ball from Drury on the left went over the head of MBH – but he wasn’t going to allow that to defeat him today – he tried a spectacular Brko-esque overhead kick which he connected with but which fluttered wide. Now that would have been a great goal if he had caught it right – and fair play to him for trying. Though it wasn’t the case here, and perhaps this is the wrong place to put this comment – I’m all up for strikers being greedy. If a player can think he can get a goal for Luton Town by having a shot well that’s fine with me. Too many seasons went by with us having strikers who would rather fanny about rather than try to stick one in, I’d rather have a glory-hunter any day. And anyway – if the striker can get the shot on target and trouble the keeper, then he will often make chances for his colleagues from blocks, deflections or cock-ups by the keeper – especially at our humble level.

The third goal came in a slightly comedic way – MBH put a ball into the box on the 6 yard line to the left hand side of the goal. It was such a good ball that he actually put two players in – Danny Crow and Claude Gnapka they both muscled each other for the ball for a moment before Claude took the ball and carried on and fired the ball across the goal left footed into the side of the net. Much to poor Danny’s visible irritation.

Off Claude went to do some sort of bizarre gay samba in front of the enclosure.

Rushden did come back at us a bit – there was a brief period where they threatened to threaten, but it did strike me that for them it was ‘one of those days’ where they could try to score all day but nothing would drop. One thing that did impress me was their crossing and corner taking. On more than one occasion a sharply swerving and in-dipping corner troubled Tyler (a bit like one of Jimmy Anderson’s deliveries troubles most of the Austrialian top order) on one occasion drawing out an excellent punch from MT which only went as far as a Rushden player whose shot was cleared off the line by Keano (I think).

Time yet for more fun, Day, the Rushden keeper picked up the ball outside his area but cleared only as far as MBH – who, had he been sharper would have lobbed him straight back over his head. However, he took perhaps a touch too many and did the non-selfish thing of trying to play Danny Crow in, but the ball was poor and by the time Crow had won the ball back, was only in a position to blast the ball over.

There were other chances by both teams, but I think I have got most of them. I’ve managed to exclude a rasping shot by Dan Gleeson which went just wide where he had been found in space and drove forwards – but it was a good effort and Gleeson had a sound enough game – not sure what that says about either Dan or dear Rio.

And so – onto the scores on the doors:

Tyler – 7.5 – handling was good, kicking was fair, rolled the ball out where he could, positional sense and communication is starting to worry me a little. I know it can’t be easy having a Czech lump playing in front of you who probably doesn’t understand everything you say but sometimes MT performances this year suggest that we saw the best of him last year. I’m only talking fractions here of course, he’s still a brilliant shot stopper and of course by far the best keeper at this level, but over time you come to notice these things. Nothing to worry about at present, but most players careers are somewhere on a bell-curve and perhaps MT has just started the beginning of the downward journey. Am I being unfair? Perhaps I am. I don’t mean to do the guy a disservice.

Dan Gleeson – 7.5 – like I said above was tidy and had a good game and had a good shot.

Pilks – 8 – I thought he had a brilliant game – broke up what few attacks they had and was always in the right place at the right time.

Kroca – 6.5 – I watched him closely in this match. He was a bizarre mix of some brilliant tackles, some brave headers but some poor touches and passes. Par for the course at this level. Sometimes at corners he didn’t pick up his man at all and presented more than one free header from crosses.

Howells – 7.5 – in the first half where the play was a bit stodgy Jake’s abilities shone out like a beacon. Less so in the second half as we mainly attacked down the right and not the left. He was the sponsor’s man of the match – which was quite amusing because whilst he did play well, and as you know I am a huge JH fan, I’m not sure he did enough to warrant that today – especially when MBH got two good goals.

Gnapka – hard to score really – sometimes 3 sometimes 9.5. Overall perhaps 8.5 he did after all score a good goal and created the first one.

Keane – 8 – all over the pitch closed down really well in the second half in particular and ran and ran and ran.

Drury – 8.5 – I’d be happier if he was on the wing – but there were some flashes of sheer brilliance from AD today.

AMS – 7 – looked very lively on occasion and overlapped repeatedly with MBH on the left so that MBH was often the widest player picking up the ball.

MBH – 9 – should have had a hattrick – worked hard – not a phrase you traditionally associate with MBH but was all over the pitch, particularly in the second half when the game opened up more. Unselfish in his passing and got a good couple of crosses in. The crowd has a dig at him when he doesn’t really jump for balls played up to or over him, but who can blame him. Good header for the first goal and lovely finish for the second.

Danny Crow – 7 – seemed a bit anonymous in the first half, but came good in the first part of the second. Bit unlucky not to get any clear cut chances, mainly got bits and pieces and half chances from Claude’s knock downs. Chased the ball when he lost it though and demonstrated a good work ethic. I think he was a bit cheesed off towards the end though but should put this game behind him. Big pressure on him now though with Jason Walker on the bench and MBH seemingly with a season-long berth up front. Let’s see how he responds to the pressure.

Walker, Lawless and ‘On fire’ Poku all came on briefly for their appearance money after about 90 minutes replacing DC, CG and AMS respectively.

Overall a good win. I’d like to say we didn’t really get out of second gear – but that wouldn’t be true – we had to work hard in the first half and dominated large sections of the second half where I think we were pretty much in fourth gear. A sound enough start to the year, with no injuries or bookings and with the mighty Hayes and Yeading on Tuesday night which I will miss because I’m going to be in Scotland. Certainly an annoying decision to move that from the bank hols to the Tuesday night.

And so, after the first game of 2011, our record is:

P21 W13 D3 L5 F44 A20 Pts 42 Pos 3rd. Two points per game is normally good enough to ensure 2nd place, but not usually first. However, this year with three teams pushing for the top place it is less likely that someone is now going to run away with the title and get 100 points. But let’s see.

Happy New Year everyone.

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Let’s all have a disco

So – Charlton escape with a draw in their cup final, they were out-sung and outplayed. Apart from the occasional non league fluff we didn’t look out of place against a side two divisions above us.

For my part I have enjoyed a day with four meals and plenty of ice-cold booze on an ice-cold day. Stopping at the O2 with many other travelling Hatters afforded me the opportunity to feast in the many different restaurants there. With all that food and seven layers of clothes I was probably being mistaken for Happy Harry. I shan’t eat for a week.

Only just got to the ground in time, but in time to hear the team announced, each player’s name greeted by an extra huge roar from the Hatters faithful. Tyler in goal, Howells at left back (wot no Murray?), Pilkington, Krocha, Gleeson at right back.

In midfield Claude started on the right, Drury partnered Keano in the middle, and Amari Morgan-Smith returned on the left.

Up top a welcome return for Danny ‘Big Hips’ Crow who partnered MBH.

So much action to describe, as so often against ‘better’ teams we played well – some of the interaction, interplay and one touch passing was reminiscent of years gone by. They did us, and Mr Money proud.

After some positive in moves initially, boisterously cheered on by the Hatters fans. Our first chance came from a Drury free kick which was tipped over by the Barbi-pink clad Elliot. But then calamity! With their first attack Reid, their left-winger tormented Gleeson without a thought, who stood off him too far and allowed him to cross perfectly it for an unmarked Anyinsah to head past a stunned Tyler. Unusually, for both fans and players alike this early goal didn’t dampen spirits or performance. Luton pressed and passed and passed some more. MBH and Gnapka interchanging positions up front.

Poor Jake got shoved over when shepherding the ball out at the home end, that big bully Benson got a booking for his trouble and a lot of stick from the fans.

The buzzing and lively MBH had a snapshot from 25 yards after collecting a ball from Danny Crow – the shot hit the post and bounced wide. Crow’s turn to have a 25 yard shot, but easily saved by Elliot. We were getting caught offside regularly by a twitchy linesman on the far side – who seemed to wait for the Charlton appeals each time before raising his flag, like a Pakistani umpire in the 80s.

It was all Luton now and Crow had a good chance with a one-on-one with the keeper but was forced wide. A couple of minutes later Keano found his name in the book for deliberate handball as a flick from his arm prevented a break forward by the home side.

Amid more offsides, suddenly the Gods smiled on us for once as not only was there a foul on AMS as he drove into the left hand side of the box (well, I say a foul, his heels were clipped) but the referee spotted it and awarded it. Drury stepped up, with my heart rate going through the roof and drove it down the middle, it catching the keepers legs, but fortunately the rebound off the legs went straight to Drury who headed it home – to a much relieved and jubilant away end. It was 1-1 and certainly no more than we deserved.

Glorious footy and passing by the town saw Claude put the ball in the net, only to be the victim of the flag yet again.

Alas, we were behind again shortly afterwards, after another knife-though-butter move, Charlton’s second chance of the game leading to their second goal. A cross from the right came to Wagstaff who turned and shot saved by Tyler but the ball ran clear and was headed back towards the goal by Jackson, deflected off Gleeson and trundled past the flailing Tyler into the corner.

A corner from Drury found Crow’s head but for the last five minutes Charlton had chances to extend their lead Anyinsah shooting wide, fortunately.

Three minutes extra time produced more pressure from the town but no equaliser.

No changes at the break, but two minutes in Tyler had to earn his money by tipping over a Francis shot. A minute later he made a more comfortable save from the strangely named Llera. Again a good save from a cross by Reid, after Dan left a hole in the right after progressing forwards.

Gleeson got his name taken a second or so later when he blocked Reid, who had been tormenting him all afternoon.

Great tackle to dispossess Jackson by Krocha relieved some of the building Charlton pressure at this point.

Just to make a point here – Keane and Drury had great games in the middle – Keane breaking up the play and laying it off nicely or passing it out to the wings. Drury was creative and much harder working in the middle than I’d imagined. Even Pilkington got in on the act with a Hansen-esque tackle, dribble and pass out to Morgan Smith on the wing (who fluffed it).

On came Atieno for Danny Crow, who, bearing in mind hadn’t played recently, had a great game. Atieno himself put himself around and layed it off nicely – he looked a threat, and I didn’t think I’d ever type that. We didn’t change the game plan and just whack it long when he came on which was pleasing to see.

Still 2-1 down the Town still stuck to the task and from this point onwards dominated the game. However, Charlton were good at getting bodies behind the ball and too often we got into fantastic positions on the edge of the box (it was like playing Histon and Corby again) but this time passed around the edge of the box without taking – or perhaps more fairly getting – the chance to shoot.

Three more chances came and went – Jake shot into the side netting, Morgan-Smith headed wide and Atieno beat a couple of defenders before the ball was shovelled clear.

On came Dan Walker to replace AMH. Oh it would have been good to get the ball behind the right back for Dan to run onto to demonstrate his pace – we didn’t quite manage it – but he was key in the equaliser. With Charlton sitting too deep and letting us dominate the play Dan swept it right to Gnapka who had MBH in tow. MBH overlapped and Claude cut inside run out of room and ran into one of the defenders. The balls momentum carried it to Drury who was unmarked and about 25 yards out who struck a perfect curling shot-come-chip (the sort of strike you dream of) over Elliot’s head and into the top corner – unsaveable and an absolutely fantastic goal. A goal which matched our performance and which merited at least a Luton draw.

Still time for MBH to have a shot, two corners in extra time and a penalty appeal by Claude. He twitsted and turned, mocking the defender, cutting in and out with the ball at his feet. The defender put his arm across him and Claude needed no second excuse to perform his dying swan routine. Was it a penalty? Well the defender did impede him, so strictly it was, but you see that sort of thing all the time and games would be won 8-7 each week if refs always gave those. Perhaps Claude didn’t help himself by going down i) at all or ii) in that ‘I’ve been sniped’ fashion. Anyway we can pontificate for hours here – the ref didn’t give it.

A loud roar greeted the final whistle. Hopefully the players appreciated the fact that we sang from beginning to end (their applause at the end would suggest so). What a shame that the spirit, mood and noise generated away can’t always appear at home. I know it can – I was there for all of the games in the League one winning season when the atmosphere in the last few games was as tangible a force as having an extra couple of players on the field. Perhaps it will surface if we carry on drubbing the Blue Square Premiership’s finest. Messrs Money and Brabin came to the away end to applaud us fans at the end which was good and they got an excellent response back.

As for the difference in the two teams, I saw it like this – their players were marginally technically better than ours – they made fewer mistakes in controlling the ball, they were more faster, and quicker at breaking, they were more incisive man for man – pound for pound. But they were not better. We played more as a team, had more passion and drive and played some cracking passing football which regularly tore holes in their defence. I suppose you could say that it was the same old story – dominating a game where we had lots of chances and should have put more away. But 2-2 was fair. Apart from the technical differences and their pace we didn’t look out of place playing against them, in the way we didn’t look out of place against Rochdale and Rotherham last year and of course we were only narrowly beaten by Southampton when we had a weaker team and squad.

It was a really good game a good advert for cup football and I bet ITV wish they’d picked it.

One benefit of the draw is that we will replay them under the lights at the Kenny which will hopefully be another magical night with the unique atmosphere that you only get on a Tuesday (and the occasional Wednesday) night at Kenilworth Road. They won’t fancy it much, that’s for sure.

We are in the hat for the third round again. Who would I like to see us drawn against? Well obviously Watford at home or away. Liverpool is almost inevitable of course as we haven’t played them for a couple of years. Arsenal would be good and would give us the room to play. Harry’s Spurs anyone? Failing that, hopefully a crappy League two team at home, Dover look like too much of a banana skin to be a bye.

Scores on the doors:

Tyler – 7.5 – made some good saves to keep the score decent when we were still 2-1 down.

Gleeson – 5.5 – only player who looked out of his depth (though he did make some good runs and overlaps) and Reid and Charlton soon picked up on this.

Pilkington – 7 – a rock at the back – came forward well too – but has been making more mistakes than before recently. For example he was nowhere near Anyinsah for the first header, left for dead he was.

Kroca – 7 – two good last ditch tackles. Think he was a bit nervous initially but these nerves dissolved.

Howells – 7.5 – dangerous linking up with AMH on the left – whereas he started as a defender he is clearly a much better winger or central midfielder now. Not pushed off the ball as much as he was when he started at left back. Not outclassed today and looked at home, even though he was playing in a (now) unfamiliar position against a team 40 places above.

Gnapka – 8 – though caught out of position occasionally and not tackling back as much as he might – he drifted and remained forwards and so was still in a much more threatening position when the ball came back to us as it did time and time again. Always a threat.

Keane – 8.5 – played brilliantly all game and dominated the midfield.

Drury – 9.5 – hard working, two goals, pulled strings. Too good for them.

AMH – 7.5 – bright but understandably not as sharp after his lay off. Got in very good positions though and was a thorn in their side. If he can be like this after a month’s lay off and against Charlton away, I genuinely think that the record books might have to be dusted off against the likes of Forest Green Rovers.

Crow – 7.5 – usual hard-working effort backed up by good play off the ball and lovely passes with it in his possession. A bit of luck and he would have got a goal today.

MBH – 8.5 – looked very dangerous today – involved in so many moves and looks more confident than at any time in his Luton career. A constant threat to their centre-halves and when he swapped to the wings got 4 or 5 crosses in.

Subs:

Atieno – 8 – looked confident when coming on and posed a threat.

Walker – not really on long enough to give a proper rating, but involved in the goal and looks good.

Thanks for reading – greetings to those Hatters reading from abroad. Unless you are reading from the Arctic circle I suspect wherever you are was warmer than south London this afternoon 7 layers and beer coat notwithstanding.

Onwards and upwards – Wimbledon on Tuesday….weather permitting.

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Gales in Wales

In the rain, cold and strong wind the Hatters flattered to deceive and went home empty-handed for the second year on the trot from north Wales.

We played in last season’s kit, and whilst the result was better than last season’s the performance was just as uninspiring.

Lawless made his debut and started on the right, Drury was on the left, and Howells in the middle with Keane. Krocha came back from his mystery illness and partnered Pilks in the heart of defence. Up front was MBH but this week his partner was….Gnapka.

We played with the wind with us in the first half not that it made any difference. After 3 minutes we had a corner, but by 4 minutes we had done enough to mess up the game when Murray and Tyler managed to contrive to deceive each other and Murray managed to perfectly cushion a header from their keeper Maxwell’s long kick into the path of Mangan who will never score an easier goal. That was all that was needed to lose the game.

As the half went on Wrexham played deeper and deeper allowing us some room to play and come back into the game. In the second half they closed us down giving us no room to play and played on the counter attack, and that’s all they needed to do. However, had we had two players in the middle up front capable of sticking the ball in the old onion bag then we would have come back and won comfortably, such was the number of decent balls into the box from Messrs Drury, Lawless and Howells.

Corners? We had lots of them. When the wind was with us did we drift them across the face of the goal to the far post? No – they were all short apart from the first one. Though a different sport, Richie Benaud’s old adage of “always do what the opposition wants least” was rarely more true.

Apart from the miscommunicastion with Murray, Tyler played well though until he found his range his kicks only troubled their keeper bypassing our strikers.

Murray – our most improved player of the season was due a bad game and duly delivered. He actually got forward really well and overlapped a number of occasions but didn’t complete a single cross – very frustrating after good build up play from his team mates.

Lawless had a pretty good debut – bearing in mind I thought he was a central midfielder and was half way through a whinge when he put in his first decent cross from the right, he looked very dangerous as a winger. Lovely curling deep crosses into the 6 yard area – if only we’d had a Crow or an AMS to be on the end of it. I have no doubt that if one or other of those had been in the middle tonight we would have won – such was the quality of the crosses, especially in the first half. Lawless demonstrated that he had a good shot on him in extra time in the first half when the ball dropped to him when a corner broke down and only Ashton’s body got in the way causing him to stay down. So we had extra time in extra time.

In the second half Howells moved to the left wing, Drury to the right and Lawless was the further forward of two in the middle. However, strangely, we were worse off with this set up. Because Lawless was further forward Keane was more exposed and overburdened in the middle. Lawless was closed down to the extent that he had very little room at all in the second half.

Jake Howells was most effective in the middle, but also at his best on the left. What can you do? We need to clone him. It was most surprising therefore when Dan Walker replaced him. A few wags near me thought it would be good to remind Mr Money that he didn’t know what he was doing again but they soon shut up after their open mouths filled with rain. Howells had a good chance early in the second half when a nice turn gave him a chance on goal only to drive the ball into the near post side netting.

Apart from a single run, long and quick down the right, poor Dan didn’t get much chance to show what he can do. I’d like to think that if he’d started he would have made a better fist of it than those that did.

Drury showed glimpses of brilliance and some good crosses. If only we could get the ball to him on the floor more often he could transform games on his own.

Dear Claude and MBH looked as if they’d never started a game together, which was true. They certainly didn’t finish it together as Atieno was brought on at half time. The wind didn’t help but they were too far apart on occasions, seemingly playing different games. Atieno made little real difference when he came on – the fact that we were being closed down so readily meant that that more often than not he only had bits and pieces to feed off.

MBH had one gilt-edged chance after 30 minutes after a gorgeous cross from Drury – but did the hardest thing of all which was to head it straight to Maxwell. He had another chance with about a minute to go before half time with a one on one on the keeper but I’m afraid to say no one built their hopes up and no one was disappointed when the shot only troubled the Welsh steward behind the goal who was more surprised than we were to find the ball at his feet.

Keane was the beating heart of the midfield and never gave up the ghost, he played with gusto in the strong wind. He struck a beautiful shot from about 30 yards with about half an hour to go. But I always think that if the closest a side is getting is long-range shots then the opposition must be doing something right.

So it was cold and wet and windy and disappointing. I’d like to have seen a better performance but neither the conditions, or the opposition permitted it. It was galling as a win would have meant we went second, only 2 point behind Wimbledon and with the season back in harness.

Speaking of windy games I’ve been to a few down the years. This wasn’t the windiest by far – but is up there in the top 5 I think. The most recent windy one I can recall is when Nico got sent off in a game where dead ball kickers had to have a second player to hold the ball still at set pieces. Plymouth I think it was?? Most of the other games that day got blown off, if you excuse the expression – but ours remained on.

Score on the doors:

Tyler: 5

Murray: 4
Pilkington: 6
Krocha: 6.5
Gleeson: 5.5

Howells: 7
Lawless: 7
Keane: 8
Drury: 7.5

MBH: 5
Gnapka: 5

Atieno: 5
Walker – not on long enough.

Onto Altrincham for the second leg on Saturday. In my last report I suggested that the second half against Bath might dent our confidence and clip our heels and so it has been – a dodgy draw away to Corby and a damp defeat to Wrexham. What better way to get back into our stride and into the groove than against the bottom club. Let’s hope that RM can trouble himself to get off his arse and encourage the team on Saturday in the way he would expect us fans to.

If only we had a Crow to fly in to the rescue…

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"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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