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.