Barnsey the Hat-trick Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Signings update

Good news this week:

Kevin Pilkington has signed as a second keeper.

New permanent club Captain George Pilkington has signed a two year contract.

Kevin Gallen has signed a one year extension.

We have signed the exCambridge duo of Danny Crow and Dan Gleeson .

Firstly to Pilks #2. He played for us on loan earlier this year when Mark Tyler’s back went and did the dirty on him. Played very well, and this is an excellent signing. The only downside is that I feel a bit sorry for MT. He has done nothing wrong all year and suddenly his place is up for grabs. Nothing wrong with healthy competition I hear you cry. But it still makes me feel a little for him. Ironically, in our second year of non-league we will have a better pair of keepers than when we were two divisons above and we had dumb and dumber in the shape of Ovengloves and Emberson. Isn’t life peculiar?

Secondly to Pilks #1. Great news that the rock at the heart of defence and club Captain has put his faith in us and signed for another two years. Just by having Pilks and Tyler/other Pilks at the back is probably saves us the equivalent of 10 goals a season.

Next: Kevin Gallen. Spurred on by being placed on the transfer list KG’s second half of the season was immesurably better than his first and so having his experience and touch in front of goal is a bonus.

On to the new signings. Dan Gleeson signed earlier in the week. He is a right back who has played most of his career at Cambridge, where he was born. He is 25 and has played for them 176 times. He’s played for the English non league side 7 times too. More healthy competition – this time for dear Ed A-A who was in and out of the side with injury last year, with his run in the side largely coinciding with our glorious run. Even if Ed starts as first choice – at least we will have decent cover for him.

Lastly Danny Crow. I remember him scoring against us twice in the 2-2 last year. Probably not Nico’s best mate – but how long is Nico going to be here? I recall him being pretty short, so he is not the vaunted target man that Money spoke about at the end of the season. It also means that once again we are spoilt for choice up front: Gallen, Craddock, Crow and M B-H. With more to come no doubt. Not forgetting O’Donnell who was signed from St Albans.

It is no coincidence that Gary Brabin – now assistant manager – used to manage Cambridge and knows these two well. I dare say, K Pilks not withstanding, we will continue the trend of buying players from the non-league (Brabin’s knowledge base) and not league players. That is fine as long as they can step up and are ambitious, which I am very sure the new boys are.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on you Hatters! – I can’t wait.


Six Degrees of Separation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed played in Nelthorpe whose shot cannoned off the post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few scores on the doors:

Mark Tyler – 6.5 – handled it twice all game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dodgy Keeper

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

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

More on our friend Pryce later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


London Buses

You wait donkey’s years to see one thrashing and then two come along at once.

Not quite sure what to make of it all. I was pinching myself ten minutes before half time and we were 7-0 up. If we had carried on scoring at that rate all sorts of records would have been broken. At half time double figures were very realistically still on the cards. Well, we had scored 7 in the first half, surely another three was a walk in the park. Alas, we had to be content with 8.

Where to start? What can I say? The overall impression of the first half was that once again we were attempting a high tempo tactic, pressing Hayes and Yeading from the front, which worked tremendously well. Winning the ball back and forcing errors from the opposition was the key to getting so many goals. And good finishing too played its part!

Having found what our best XI is we stuck with it again with Hatch returning to warm the bench. Tyler, Ed, Pilks, Kovacs, Murray, Gnapka, Keane, Heslop, Howells, Craddock and Gallen. Consistency of personnel and formation is a wonderful thing.

Hayes tried to play decent football, but a passing game is not very successful if the opponents are not letting you play. In effect, they played wholly the wrong tactics against us. Perhaps they hadn’t had us watched. Perhaps they know no other method of playing. Time and time again in the first half Keane and Heslop caught the Hayes players in possession and then were not pressured themselves and were able to play the ball forward, or more likely out to the wings.

We could have gone one up almost from the start, Craddock drilling a shot wide, having linked up with Claude. But we were oozing with confidence, we were playing like a side who had scored six goals in the previous 45 minutes. Murray got well forward and crossed from the left it was headed out but only to Gallen who turned and picked his spot and popped the ball into the bottom left hand corner, a welcome start 1-0.

Hayes attacked us then and I think it was Allen-Page who had probably their best shot of the game from just outside the box which was saved effortlessly by Tyler.

It wasn’t long before the ball was down the other end and Claude missed a chance to put us two nil up by putting a header from Keane’s free kick, wide. He only had a matter of seconds to wait before making amends, after a Heslop challenge (I think) the ball was played forward to Gallen who nodded the ball on superbly to Gnapka who slotted the ball into the far corner from outside of the box. It was a class finish from a player in fine form. 2-0.

We had barely taken our seats when a fantastic footballing move set up Howells, who was given far too much space and got into the danger area before playing a perfect cross for the unmarked Gnapka to head in (again) at the far post. 3 up after 13 minutes and the game already as good as over. We were entering fantasy land. I expected Roy of the Rovers to turn up any second. To think, Gnapka could have had a hatrick inside the first 15 minutes. 3-0.

A brief non-scoring interlude when we did our best really to allow them a little spell. Keane, who had missed a chance a few seconds earlier was caught out of wholly out of position, unusually for him and he sauntered rather than motored back. Hayes had a man over, Ed had two men to mark and chose the wrong one, and a deep cross from the unmarked Green found unmarked Marwa at the far post but he completely misconnected his header and it flew wide. Please note, Stevenage wouldn’t have let us off that one.

Anyway back to the goals, and after 23 minutes we went four goals up, though the scoreboard stayed at 3. A glorious through ball from Kovacs – which initially looked like a hopeful hoof, but was as measured a touch as a centre half has ever made – played in Craddock who had more room than a Muslim student on a train – he ran into the box and played it back for Gallen who neatly slotted home. A cracking goal. 4-0.

We even had a goal ruled out: Heslop crossed from the left, Craddock and Gallen played a one two and Craddock shot home. However someone was deemed to be offside (not sure how) and we were denied the fifth.

Not for long…the hot Luton knife carved more holes in the buttery Hayes defence.

Keane intercepted a poor ball out/clearance from the Hayes defenders, he eased forwards into the acres of space afforded him by the obliging Hayes defence and he drove a blistering curling shot into the back of the net, thus saving the Oak Road guttering from further Keane inflicted damage. 5-0.

Half an hour gone and time to enter the realm of the surreal. Now we were in complete and utter charge and everything was going in. This time Claude walzed into acres of space and drove a cross at Craddock who wrong-footed the hapless Masters with a sharp header to his left. 6-0.

Tyler then had to earn his crust. A weakish shot outside the box by Fitzgerald (I think) brought off a tidy save. Then a slice by Ed following a slice by Pilks allowed Ides to bear down on goal, but again he shot weakly at Tyler.

Like an avaricious child tearing his way through a mound of presents on Christmas morning we wanted more goals, and it was time for another one.

Craddock put Howells through to play in Gallen whose neat shot cannoned off both posts, and with Masters still flailing on the floor Howells got a toe to it on what must have been the goal line and poked it in. I think Gallen had thought he had scored, with the way that he started to celebrate, before someone must have made it clear that Jakey had actually completed the act. 7-0.


Believe it or not we had two more chances. Claude breaking down the right had the opportunity to cross in the middle but blasted a shot over instead, going for his second hat trick in a week, and who can blame him? Everything else had gone in. Heslop had a chance which he shot straight at Masters.

Some wag behind me shouted “This is rubbish, bring Harford back”. Big Mick’s start to the season seemed a long way away this afternoon.

So that was 7 in the first half. Not sure when that was last done by anyone. In fact, if you think about it, Luton had by that point scored 13 goals in the preceding 90 minutes. Jeff Stelling must have been doing his pieces on SkySports. Armchair followers sitting at home following the scores would have thought a rugby score was on the cards, folk must have been sitting up and remembering that poor little Luton still existed and were going to clock up double figures. I remember saying at half time “I’d take just three in the second half as long as we get to 10”.

Alas it was not to be. The second half was a less dramatic affair, Craddock’s goal notwithstanding. Town took the foot off the gas a little, not pressing Hayes, sitting back, playing on the break. It makes sense I guess. The game was already long since won, we have two important games in the next week and it was important that no one got injured or indeed got a card.

Kovacs was subbed at half time for Blackett, giving Shane another workout. Or at least a jog around, as he didn’t have too much to do save for a few headers and a panic or two at the end.

Because we were now in effect playing on the break and the balls forward got necessaily longer we got caught offside what seemed like half a dozen times in the second half. Very frustrating, especially when you are anticipating a further hatful.

Craddocks second goal gave us a wonderful comedy defending moment. A super ball down the inside right position by Ed played in Craddock, who had lots of space, as usual. His chip hit the post and bounced out. Craddock, still completely unhindered by defenders pounced on the rebound and then, seemingly in slow motion dribbled the ball back from the goal line around the keeper to back in front of the goal, he paused, looked up, checked his watch, made a couple of calls, and then blasted the ball home. All of this unfettered by the arrival of any Hayes players.

Claude and Gallen didn’t get any more chances to grab their hat tricks as they were withdrawn (to standing ovations) in favour of the lively MBH and the not so lively Liam Hatch. Now I knew Hatch was in the match day squad and was warming up, even before I took my seat. How? I hear you ask. Well as I walking up the steps into the stand I heard various shouts of “heads” and “watch out” and the crowd was diving for cover. Hatchy was in town and peppering the back of the Kenny End, in the way he always seems to do when practising his shooting. Saving his shooting boots for the game itself. Or so I thought, as it wasn’t too long before he was called into action, Heslop playing MBH down the right wing who played in a wonderful cross right onto the toe of Hatch a yard out. At least he managed to miss the back of the Kenny End this time but managed to hit the roof instead, scattering the fans once more. That would have been nine.

A Craddock cross to MBH gave him a chance to score but his shot was blocked. From the corner Hatchy had a clear header which went over. Tommy Craddock then had a chance to score his hat trick after being put in after a good move and a pass from Howells. Unfortunately he emulated Hatch’s effort and the ball went high into the air.

Apart from a few mad panics at our end when Hayes pressed forwards at the end, that was it. We had been outstanding and full credit to the team, manager and coaching staff.

I’ll do some player ratings again for those of you in the far flung corners of the planet, but who take the time to read my reports:

Tyler (didn’t have much to do – but saved competantly when called into action. Some accurate kicking 7
Ed (some good link up play, good crosses, and not much defending) 7.5
Pilks (sound enough at the heart of defence, one outstanding tackle and a little run at one point) 8
Kovacs (only got caught once, otherwise defended stoutly, and played that excellent ball to Craddock) 8.5
Murray (still can’t throw the ball. Once good cross, sound enough)7
Gnapka (murdered them down the right, imperious at times, two goals, only a couple of Claudisms) 9.5
Keane (outstanding ball winning and fantastic goal) 9.5
Heslop (was everywhere, some fantastic challenges) 9
Howells (goal, crosses, hungry even at the end) 9
Craddock (fantastic first half, foot off gas apart from the goal in the second) 9.5
Gallen (two goals, sublime link up play) 9.5

Blackett (didn’t have too much to do but sound enough) 7
MBH (lively, played down the middle then swapped with TC) 7.5
Hatchy (looked as if he needs a game or two, but dominant in the air) 6.5

This was a team wholly without the indulgencies of Hall, Jarvis and Nico. With such a hard-working midfield now, and a high tempo approach, I’m not sure where they fit into the scheme of things. Surely Money will be trying to get Heslop on a permanent deal. He has slotted into our team as if he has been playing here all his life. Most people will be gutted if he doesn’t start next August as a Hatter.

So, we didn’t make double figures. We didn’t get to see if the cheep’n’cheerful scoreboad could do double figures and in a way, it was a little bit flat at the end if I’m honest. It was still a marvellous celebration, but failure to score more than one in the second half was a bit like being at a new years party which ran out of beer before midnight. We greedily wanted more in the second half, rather than being satisfied with 8 (eight).

But eight it was. Incredible. I’ve seen an 8-0 now. My previous record must have been the seven past Shilton. I know it was only the part timers at Hayes – but you don’t get to score eight very often, even against non-league teams.

For the record the scorers and times were: Gallen 7, 23; Gnapka 11, 13; Keane 26, Craddock 31, 56; Howells 35.

Well done Luton, the football and form you’ve been showing us in this wonderful run of wins has been the best certainly since the heady days of the title winning season five years ago. Long may it continue.

Salisbury on Tuesday, which is another ‘must win’ as is the Easter Saturday local ‘derby’ with Hertfordshire’s second best team. St Evenage are so strong and consistent at the moment (I think their winning streak is even longer than ours) that failure to win any game by us, makes the task of catching them at all very difficult.

They now have 78 points to our 73. They have a game in hand, which is being played on Tuesday, and which happens to be against those perpetual wobblers Oxford. A win against Oxford would put them 9 points ahead of us going into our game. Things will be made more interesting if Oxford win and move to 76 points, and then if, if, we beat Stevenage then it could be 78-76-76 which would make it interesting. But that interesting scenario only occurs if Stevenage slip up at home to us and Oxford. Stranger things have happened mind, like being 7-0 up at half time for instance…

Many thanks once again for taking the time to read this and for all of your comments.


Six of the Best

Well, it has been coming for a while. The eventual drubbing of one of these teams was only a matter of time, and yesterday we put Ebbsfleet to the sword.

Sod’s law of course – and perhaps there’s a hint here – I missed the game. Running the annual school quiz evening means that I have to forego one match a year, and alluring though a trip to this particularly grotty part of our Sceptered Isle might be I envisaged that this would be the best spring game to miss. D’oh.

Oh well, I’m delighted for the lads and also the excellent fans who made the way round the M25 to drizzly north Kent.

Wonderful for Claude that he got Luton’s first hat trick since November 2004. Can you believe it? Well done to Claude. Reading the reports, he had a shocking first half and then a brilliant second half. Like only Claude can. He’s a good bloke and a nice man and rather enjoys playing for our club in front of our fans – so I am chuffed for him.

Wonderful for Matthew Barnes-Homer to come on as sub and get a goal, after the horrible week he has had. I wonder who he dedicated his goal to? Poor lad, full credit to him. As I said in my last report, I suspect it might just be the turning point for him. He has, as it were, a fresh start and a clean slate.

Good for Kevin Gallen – up to 12 for the season now, and also another one in the bag for Craddock, taking him to 15 for the year. All other things being equal, if we are to continue on this run and continue with this success at this end of the season, I suspect he will add plenty more.

If you look at some of the bare statistics coming out of this season it suggests that things are moving in the right direction.

Doubling the club’s record for unbeaten games away from home. Setting the record for consecutive clean sheets away from home. Six wins on the trot. First hat trick for 5 1/2 years, first six goal victory since the Crewe game and first time we have scored six away from home since 1964. All of these ghosts have been dispelled. I’m sure there was another one I have missed.

I was trying to remember if I have ever seen a 6-1 – then of course I remembered by first ever game back in 1978, where we were also 1-0 down at half time. That season was the very beginning of what was to become a golden era. Let’s hope that the same is now true.

Now some of us will be thinking, ‘well it was just Ebbsfleet’, and indeed it was just Ebbsfleet and many will be thinking that we should be winning all of these games by that sort of margin. But as I said a couple of weeks ago our club has gone through severe trauma over the past few years and we are just about recovering. We have bottomed out. We are no longer going down, we have passed the nadir and are now on the way back up. How steep that ascent is depends on the quality of the playing staff we can retain and the desire of the board and the ability of the manager and coaching staff.

Another thing to mention of course is that this successful run has largely coincided with the absence of a certain K Nicholls in the midfield. As you know, I have said in the past about Nico’s character, determination and utter loyalty to our club and the cause. However, just like Big Mick, having LTFC written through the core of your soul doesn’t make up for a lack of ability. Which, regrettably poor Nico now demonstrates. I can imagine howls of protest from those fans who thinks the sun shines out of his behind. But it doesn’t, it really doesn’t, and Simon Heslop has demonstrated how effective we can be if we have two proper midfielders in the centre of the park.

Now, what next for Nico? He’s crocked at the moment and out until September. He’s on the transfer list, and I am sure Money will want to get shot of him in the summer, not least because allegedly he takes up a big proportion of the wage budget. Does Nico see out his remaining years in non-league? Does he change to centre-half? (which I think he would be much better at now he is too slow to chase people down) or does he prematurely go into a coaching role somewhere? It’s difficult for some people to swallow I know but we are a better side without him. Loyalty and passion alone doesn’t guarantee you a place in the team, otherwise I might as well go and get my boots on.

So – back to the fantastic victory – where does this leave us? Well, we are actually second now, but that’s because Oxford play today, and St Evenage were playing in the FA Trophy. It means that both sides have lots of games in hand on us, however, all we can do is create pressure and doubt in their camps by still winning. Oxford play Stevenage on the 30th March, the Tuesday before they play us on the Saturday. That week will be the key to their ambition. Should they lose both games, the league could well be wide open and a true three horse race for the title.

Unusually, we don’t have a game on Tuesday, which is a pity when a team is on such a good run: you want to and need to keep playing to keep the momentum. The next game is Hayes on Saturday followed by Salisbury on Tuesday. We really need to keep our form and focus for those two games to keep up the impetus and put us in the strongest possible position to take on Stevenage at their patch.

The league table this morning:

St Evenage…………P34…Pts 72…GD+41

Luton……………..P36…Pts 70…GD+22

Oxford…………….P33…Pts 68…GD+30

Rubbish & Dustbins….P35…Pts 63…GD+32

York City………….P35…Pts 61…GD+16


Kettering………….P35…Pts 59…GD+11

One interesting development which could yet affect things are those 10 teams who are appealing the Chester City points removal. Richard Money described them as “messing their pants”. I expect the worse. We never seem to get much luck with these sorts of rulings, so as far as I am concerned we much assume that the appeal will be successful and that we don’t have those four points we gained on the others. More news on that this week, if there is any progress on the appeal.

So – well done Luton – a well-deserved thumping of Ebbsfleet. Let’s hope it is by no means the last one this season!