The Silence of the Lambs

I think you could describe this evenings performance as ‘workmanlike’ but comfortable. We did what we needed to do against a well-drilled side hell-bent on closing us down and ensuring we didn’t have to room to play as we liked. Fortunately we made plenty of chances to ensure an untroubled home win.

So many times in the past this has resulted in a draw or a catastrophic defeat but we were competent enough tonight to ensure that Tamworth weren’t given a sniff. I did wonder, once they went a goal down, if Tamworth had a plan ‘B’. They didn’t. If anything they squeezed us more in the second half giving us even less space. Despite the lack of room and some players having two or three men on them as soon as they got the ball, we still managed to knock the ball around nicely at times and get plenty of shots in and so credit is due for that. Tamworth knew what they had to do – they came with a game plan not to let us have any room and almost succeeded. Their cunning plan was not helped by their keeper Mitchell having to go off injured after only a quarter of an hour and following a scramble for the ball with MBH. He was replaced by a big lump. I have no idea if the big lump is a defender, midfielder or striker. I do know that he seemed to have difficulty in kicking a stationary ball as far as the half way line – which is something you would have thought most men could do – kick a ball 50 yards. I do also know that he was a reasonably good keeper, not afraid to punch or get stuck in, made a good point-blank save and didn’t let his side down.

To be critical he was slow to move for Owusu’s goal and out of position slightly for Barnes-Homer’s but what can you expect? To be critical of us we should have tested him more, put more crosses in and had more shots.

We started with Tyler in goal, Gleeson at right back, Kroca and Pilks at the back and Freddie Murray at left back.

Both full backs got forward when they could – perhaps not overlapping as well as they might, but both got into dangerous positions with even Freddie getting into the box for the first time since he has been with us. Murray really has improved this year – his crosses are excellent, his defensive positioning good (if his pace sometimes lets him down) and his confidence has been sky-high since he returned.

Kroca had another sound game at the back – he is looking more and more in command, and for my money is a better player than Pilks now. Kroca has improved whilst G Pilks has become slightly more inconsistent and error-prone. We are only talking a few degrees here, not a catastrophic loss of form, just a slight, but noticeable decline. Sometimes players are carrying knocks for a whole season or have family problems or worries that affect their game week in week out – they are only human after all. I’m sure Pilks will pick up and to be fair to him apart from a dodgy header today and a couple of stray passes, he didn’t have too much to do and was tidy enough.

On the right was Claude Gnapka – nominally at least at right wing. He drifted around the pitch and in and out of the game all evening. Brighter in the first half than second – I thought after about 55 minutes he was a walking substitution. He needs a good dose of his Mum’s soup. I will pay for her to fly over. At one point he was put clear through into the box. Instead of running with the ball, he found it necessary to dally and to turn around with the ball at his feet not once but twice which gave the defenders the chance to both regroup and also to challenge him.

In the middle was the excellent Keane who was enjoying a full on midfield tussle with his opposite number. He worked really hard all night winning ball after ball in a tightly packed midfield. Well done Keano.

Alongside him returned Alex Lawless for Paul Carden. Lawless is a more offensive player and so gives us slightly more in terms of playmaking and attacking options – whereas Carden strikes me as another Adam Murray/Besta (Money must have a thing for short, balding midfielders). Lawless showed glimpses of his class tonight and should be pleased with his return to the team.

On the left was the bright and lively Jake Howells. Now he also showed some real glimpses of his abilities tonight, but was a bit bogged down and didn’t get into as many wide positions as I would have liked – one counteraction to Tamworth’s crammed midfield would have been to try to get the ball wider down the flanks and behind the defenders which didn’t happen other than Claude once and Jake once. Jake did cross the ball for Lloyd’s header, from an innocuous free kick in the position where we so often concede silly free kicks (such as Saturday or say Southampton away last year for example) and so often leads to a goal.

Up front was Lloyd Owusu who put in his usual 60 minutes of bustling hold ups and nod-ons – but was kept on for almost all 90. He got his 6th goal in 9 starts, an excellent record and his header was well-taken. However having him up front does make us prone to just lumping it down the middle, rather than the slow build up from the back. You can be too reliant on having a big bloke up front to aim for all of the time. It is the easy way out.

MBH was here there and everywhere, putting in exactly the amount of effort we accused him of lacking for so much of the season. He has a funny role. When the ball restarts he is alongside Lloyd up front, but so often he moves to the left or right, linking up with or interchanging with Claude (supposedly) or Jake and the ball is played to his feet and for him to make the play. Again I suspect, in theory at least, if MBH is on the left, Claude is supposed to move in the middle to have a second body in the box. He sometimes does, sometimes doesn’t. The number of times we get crosses into the box and there is only one player in there is criminal. This is because the crosser of the ball is so often the striker who you would expect to be in the box and to pick up the pieces. I am sure if MBH was played in a more conventional role he would have 26 goals by now and not 16. He took his goal well though his crisp shot did take a deflection to beat the big lump for the second occasion.

If there is any criticism of the team recently – it has been a lack of goals, I think this is first time since the Darlo-drubbing we have got two goals in a game. I’m convinced a more traditional 4-4-2 with the wingers wider and getting more crosses in would result in a glut of goals with Lloyd to aim your crosses at and MBH to snap up to loose balls in the box. But what can I say? Some of the link up play and build up which involves MBH deliberately drifting wide is very attractive and also absolutely key to Money’s strategy. I would be happier if we could just get more bodies in the box. Too many times half decent crosses from MBH or even from Murray, Jake or Claude ends up being too long for the lone striker with no one to pick up the bits and bobs.

So there you go – a match report with not much description of the match. If I get a chance tomorrow night I might add a bit more. It was good to get another win – we’ve not made any real ground up on Crawley who drew tonight, as the points difference is only back to where it was before Saturday’s draw. Perhaps Crawley’s result and draw puts the Kidderminster performance and result in a better light now though, one in the eye for the boo-boys and oxygen thieves.

On Sunday now we have to traipse up to Mansfield for the first leg of the FA Trophy. As far as I’m concerned the only time we should be playing at midday on a Sunday should be in a closed-down Watford for the local derby. The twitchy Nottinghamshire police have done us no favours – perhaps they thought the massed hordes of Hatters fans would have too much for them to handle. Let’s hope that the Hatters players are too much for Mansfield to handle instead.

The two legs are excellent practice for the play-offs in May if nothing else…

Nearly forgot, scores on the doors:

Tyler: 6 – can’t recall a shot on target!
Gleeson: 6.5
Pilks: 6
Kroca: 7.5
Murray: 7.5
Claude le snooze: 4
Keano: 8
Lawless: 7.5
Howells: 7
Owusu: 7.5
MBH: 8.5

J Walker and AMS – not on long enough. Why give them such a short period of time to make an impression?

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Cod Almighty

A triple slap in the face this afternoon: the first home defeat since Crawley in October, Crawley winning after being behind against Wrexham and Jake Howell’s knee looking particularly unpleasant after a brutal challenge by Pond.

It had all started so well – an Owusu goal after seven minutes put us in a deserved lead, but in the same way that Liverpool did against us in the famous 3-5 defeat all those years ago, I think we immediately thought that it was going to be all-too-easy and Fleetwood were only too happy to put us back in our place, within a minute.

It wasn’t the worst performance by a long chalk – had Lawless’ shot gone in, had two of the three penalties been awarded and MBH’s shot been slotted in it could have been different, however, I always got the feeling that Fleetwood always had another gear whilst we were flat out – or rather just flat.

Fleetwood played well and so we didn’t. They were more often first to the second ball and their front players were quick and incisive. They weren’t angels though – plenty of late challenges, niggles, handbags and, oh, knee stamping.

The first half I thought we edged and it was a very good half of football. For the fifteen minutes before the half time whistle we were dominating and half time came at exactly the wrong time. Unfortunately by ten minutes of the second half the match was all over.

After seven minutes Barnes-Homer, England superstar, was played in down the right and eased his way around Gregan, and put in a lovely cross for Lloyd to ease in. Before you could retake your seat Seddon was played in by Viera through a defence squarer than a dungeons and dragon nerd slotted the ball home as easy as you like.

It was only Tyler’s outstretched arm which kept it to one moments later from Viera’s shot. Another easy move strolling past our static defenders.

Lawless whose touches, vision and passing were standing out by this point crossed for Claude who mistimed his header which went over. Claude had a disappointing game today. Actually he had a very disappointing game. I got the impression today that he felt that it didn’t matter how much effort he put in – he could just drift in and out of the game as much as he liked because he backed himself to provide a sparkle, a bit of magic to turn the game. He didn’t. His positional play was poorer than usual. Neither getting into a wide enough position to receive, nor pushing far enough forward when attacking nor tracking back at all when defending. He was all over the shop, he gave us a couple of good runs and crosses all afternoon. His opposing left back today was the veteran dwarf Alan Wright. I just don’t think the penny dropped that he was the weak link in their defence. Our first goal came down their left when Wright was pushed forward and was diddled out of the ball by Claude and Owusu and passed with ease leaving a big hole behind him. Another trick that was missed was that at restarts and goal kicks we had two choices to aim the ball at. Owusu – who was marked by Gregan, equal in height and jumping ability, or Claude, supposedly out on the right, with only Tom Thumb marking him. What would you do? We chose to pump the ball down the middle to Gregan who joyfully nodded the ball away all afternoon. He’s paid to do that you know.

Dan Gleeson had a great chance (he’s going to get a goal one day soon) where he cut inside and ran with the ball before driving a shot at goal which was deflected wide for a corner.

Tyler had to be at his best shortly after when touching over a free header by McGuire (I think it was). McGuire was later carried off – couldn’t see what for – but I think it may have been the legacy of a hard clonk from Owusu, which was payback from an earlier niggle.

Just before half time, caught up in a period of dominance the ball rolled out to Lawless about 22 yards out, he caught the shot perfectly and beat the keeper but unluckily cannoned back off the bar. Goal of the season if it went in – unfortunately it didn’t.

Shortly after Lawless put in a nice ball to Owusu whose nod on found MBH who shot just wide.
And so at half time I felt good. It was a good game of football with two attacking sides who had had plenty of chances. I was thinking it might be a 3-3.

How wrong I was. Tyler, defending the Kenny End in the second half was soon called into action with a full length, but slow motion save from Clancy. A fantastic goal from Barry a couple of minutes later put us on the back foot. After AMS was felled on the left the ref played the advantage, but although no advantage accrued too much time had passed for the ref to pull it back. Fleetwood worked the ball around unchallenged by the Hatters and Barry’s clipped shot flew into the inside of the goal giving Tyler no chance at all. There was no closing down – they passed the ball as if it was a one touch training game, making our defenders and midfielders look like clumsy mugs, including I’m sad to say our normally wholly reliable captain who was off the pace today.

1-2 down at home – goodness, it’s not allowed is it? Cue the Oxygen Thieves in the Kenny starting to boo and the calls of “Money out” started. Amazing. Fortunately for once the boo boys were drowned out by a couple of choruses of “Come on Luton”. There was more grist to the moaners mill 120 seconds later when Barry played in a lovely ball for Seddon to run onto, he danced past Kroca and easily rounded Tyler. They were taking the piss at this stage and our defenders had just switched off.

Money tried to change things around – on came Luke Graham for the disappointing and leggy AMS, who added a degree of sharpness to the back. Gleeson and Howells pushed up as wing backs to partner Lawless and Keano in the middle with MBH, Lloyd and Gnapka up front. Since his injury AMS has been half the player he was when he first started for us, I don’t know if his confidence has been affected, whether he is still playing with an injury or if his initial buzz has worn off because he is being played out of position the whole time, but he’s not the player he was.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see how much impact the new formation would have because Howells was stretched off with his leg in a brace after a karate kick challenge by Pond. How he stayed on I will never know – but I do know that whenever the ref was called on to make a proper decision he didn’t have the balls. He flunked at least two penalties and should have sent off Pond.

More head tennis and little shape followed. Poku replaced Howells, and as we didn’t have any left sided players on the bench (or fit?) we reverted to 4-4-2 with Gleeson at left back Pilks at right back, Claude on the left Lawless on the right. By this stage it was an unwitting buggers-muddle and I don’t think we troubled their keeper, Davies, in the second half. That’s not to say we didn’t have any chances – Luke Graham’s header was cleared off the line and Pilks headed over. But we lacked purpose, spirit and the personnel to take the game by the scruff of the neck and to make something happen. We sold the player who could do that to Ipswich.

The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough. Well done Fleetwood, they knew how to play against us and did us like kippers. Hardly a crisis, our record in the league since the Crawley loss is P15 W10 D3 L2 F30 A8 Pts 33. Unless the wheels come off completely in the next three months we will be in the mix for the play offs at the end of the season. However, whilst I’d be happy getting Wimbledon, I don’t want to be playing Fleetwood again if we can help it.

Scores on the doors:
Tyler: 6
Gleeson: 6.5
Howells: 4.5
Pilks: 4
Krocha: 4
Gnapka: 3
Lawless: 7
Keane: 6
AMS: 4
MBH: 5.5
Owusu: 5.5

Subs: Graham: 7
Poku: 5.5
Walker – not on long enough.

Money correctly pointed out in his post match conference that a number of the players seemed to have an off day at once. Fair enough – get that defeat out of the way – unbeaten from now on until the end of May. Fair exchange is no robbery.

Do we change things? We’d kept 7 clean sheets in 8 games this year. I suspect Howells will be out now for a while, Freddie Murray will be back. Is it time to rest Kroca for Graham too? Though MBH has been setting up goals a plenty he hasn’t scored in seven games. Time for a start for Jason Walker before he loses the goal-touch he had at Barrow? Though Owusu has got four goals in five starts we need a player alongside him to find his touch in the way that Tommy Craddock (remember him?) did this time last year. We desperately need some pace when attacking. Hopefully Willmott will be back soon – and Dan Walker has a good turn of pace. Claude wants his arse kicking for his lack of effort today, but from having a plethora of wing options a few weeks ago, suddenly the cupboard looks a little bare if the first choices are out of form.

Anyway – one defeat doesn’t a season ruin. Let’s get back on track on Friday in Wales.

Thanks for reading – all comments welcome, as ever.

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Duds in the Mud?

A game of two halves on a heavy pitch on a cold day against a good team from the North East which we had plenty of chances to win. Unfortunately lady luck was not smiling on us today and presented Gateshead with two deflected goals.

It all started so promisingly Lawless had a shot in the first few seconds and shortly after that Claude nodded on Tylers long kick into the path of the on-rushing Danny Crow but whose shot dribbled wide of the far post.

Luton started with Tyler in goal. Tyler had a reasonable game and couldn’t really have done anything about the deflections. He rolled the ball out when he could which is always a good sign. Ed replaced Dan Gleeson at right back- and fortunately Gleeson’s injury is not a break. Ed had an okay, a few heavy touches on occasion but got forward well, though some of his passing let him down. Pilks ever realiable at centre half will be gutted about the deflection off his shin to give them the first goal. Kroca had a good game and since we’ve been trying to sign the violent McGurk has noticeably improved. In the second half he had no one to mark and sent himself forward in the last few minutes and very nearly got an assist. At left back Jake had a mixed game. I think he will be disappointed. Whilst he defended well, and showed his obvious class on occasions, his crossing was unusually poor.

In the absence of Drury, MBH started on the left. He’s an intriguing character. Some fans support him, some fans look for him to fail, some fans expect him to fail and give him no chance. Today he worked hard where he could but being an attack minded player left the left flank vulnerable because he didn’t track back very well, and when he did is more likely to block than tackle. He went inside when he should have gone wide and only got a couple of his normally pinpoint crosses in. Today, he looked like what he was: a striker playing in left midfield. What happened when he was substituted was disgraceful. I’m not sure if the fans response was ironic or genuinely meant. When he was subbed cheers rang out. He didn’t play too badly, there was a howler of a miss, and those around me thought later on that Crow should have gone off instead (progress for MBH). Like I say, I’m not sure if people were cheering because finally MBH got subbed and normally it is anyone but MBH comes off (some think he is Money’s bastard love-child) or because they didn’t think he played very well and don’t like him. I know he needs 10 chances for every goal he scores – but he is our leading scorer this year and some of his passes and crosses this season have been sublime. Poor lad, I don’t think he’s ever going to win some fans over – even if he gets a hat trick in the play off final. It’ll still be “For F*cks sake Barnes-Homer you’re sooooo lazy”.

Enough of such things – in the middle came in Lawless for Poku. I felt sorry for Godfrey. On Tuesday he was indeed “On fire” and did very well. Lawless however is more experienced and a more attacking player. Ironically, for the first half hour at least Poku is exactly what we needed – a defensive midfielder who could close down the close-passing of the Gateshead players because there were big holes where Poku would have been when they were attacking. As it happens, Lawless was given the sponsors man of the match award and had a good game, attacking at least. I did like the look of him at right back too when we were pressing at the end. One cross-field pass in particular was exquisite. His vision and ability to play a through ball would suggest that he will be a good player for us, and on another day and on a level playing field (literally) he would have torn Gateshead apart.

Keano was alongside him. Keano had a fantastic game on Tuesday, but I thought he looked a bit tired today. Some of his passing went astray and sometimes he was a big leggy when chasing down an opponent. Not his best game, but by no means a poor game. We are spoilt by his high standards – he is the beating heart of our team.

On the right was Claude LeGoal. Today he was a right mixed bag – he looked disinterested at times, failing to tackle back, track back or get in position to receive the ball. I know he wasn’t disinterested, but that is how it appeared. Strangely though for all his disinterest – he got the equaliser, tormented their defenders and towards the end put in four or five good crosses. Perhaps he is transmogrifying into my namesake Mr Moss? The further forward he gets the more interested he gets. There were a few Claude classics today. At times he is Lord Stumblebum, tripping over his own feet and contriving to kick the ball out. But at other times he is a real threat and our most dangerous player.

Up top were ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow, who got the first goal, but missed a couple of sitters, and Lloyd Owusu. Big Lloyd had another good game, or 61 minutes to be accurate and won the ball well and laid it off intelligently. He oozed experience. He did have a good opportunity to give us the first goal, but his header was surprisingly weak. A handful at this level.
We used three subs:

Poku for Owusu – Godfrey came on, pushing MBH alongside Crow, for 6 minutes, and Lawless to the left. He had another good game without the impact he had against York.

Atieno replaced MBH (to the cheers I described earlier) whilst he looked committed and lively he missed a couple of good chances which would have won us the game. If Barnesey is frustrating, and Claude infuriating, then Atieno is exasperating. I think Money signed him hoping he’d be like Lloyd, but instead got another MBH who is better at heading, but worse at shooting.

Watkins came on for Ed with 6 minutes to go – Lawless dropping to right back for his third position of the day (though he wasn’t ‘back’) with Watkins moving to the left. In the short time he had Watkins had more of the ball and looked better than on Tuesday, though on one occasion showed his inexperience when he cut the ball back rather than taking on a defender and shooting. Overall though he looks like an excellent prospect. Perhaps his advancement will cease Money’s predilection for purchasing wingers.

So to the match – yes we had a very bright start, and dominated the first few minutes. But what was this? An away side not only coming with an attacking intent, but playing, and beating us at our own game. For half an hour Gateshead out-Lutoned Luton. Neat passing, running with the ball and pressing from the front, playing in white and black it was like we had suddenly taken ourselves on in a hideously bizarre time accident. That’s where the comparisons stop – because they had tons of luck and we find fortune a capricious mistress at best.

After ten minutes Liddle made a mazy and unopposed run, cutting an un-closed-down swathe through our midfield and then shooting at Tyler. A shot Tyler would have easily saved had the oncoming Pilkington not managed to get a shin on it, cruelly deflecting it past the flailing keeper.
One down then but no panic – we were still attacking well and the game looked full of goals. Kroca nearly doubled his tally of volleyed goals for the week with a clever volley at the near post from a Lawless corner. He gently hung the ball in at that useless height that wouldn’t clear even the smallest of defenders but Kroca stole in and whacked it, but this time across the goal and past the post.

Worse was to come – two minutes later, again aided and abetted by our surprise at a team playing the ball on the floor Brittain got down the right and just as Jake Howells remembered to close him down, Brittain’s cross deflected off Jake and spun over Tyler and into the net. Two goals – against the run of play and a shocked crowd did an unusual thing. Instead of booing – cheering and applause rang out urging the Hatters forwards. For a while at least.

A couple more chances for Barnes-Home made me start to think that it was going to be ‘one of those days’ whereby we had tons of chances but never scored. But fortunately those fears were allayed five minutes later when Danny Crow got back onto the scoresheet. Owusu won the ball well, it dropped for MBH who played a lovely ball through the defence to Crow who had only the keeper to beat. This keeper (Deasy) didn’t bring him down and instead Crow rounded him well to get a goal back.
Next it was Owusu’s chance to equalise, but his header went straight to Deasy. Gateshead nearly broke to get a third, but Claude got the equaliser when Kroca’s head on from a Howells free kick fell to him and he stabbed it in. 2-2 and game on.

It got better still. Claude was played in down the right and cut inside running into the box heading for goal. Their skipper, Clarke felled him. I thought it was in the box but wasn’t. However Clarke had already had a card for clogging Owusu and for the second time in a week, we were going to be playing a substantial part of the game against 10 men. He deserved to go. I don’t know why Gateshead made such a bloody fuss. Deasy in particular gave the ref huge dissent when the half time whistle went. He should have got a card but didn’t get one.

So a four goal thriller in the first half. The game was open and unpredictable. The sending off was the worst thing that could happen with the scores level. In the second half Gateshead kept just one up front, and your proverbial two banks of four behind the ball. This meant that the majority of the half was bitty and disjointed. They sat back, time wasted, sat back some more. The duff ref made some dodgy decisions, they timewasted: you get the idea.

Other than the chances – not much to discuss. MBH blasted over sending the carers in the wheelchair section scurrying for cover.

Claude got behind the defence and put a decent ball in – this time it was Lawless turn to dent the roof of the stand. From the outside.

Again Claude got in down the right with a good run – his cross was too long though, but Jake managed to rescue things and put in a cross himself, alas Kroca couldn’t head it well enough to test the keeper.

Claude once more got through and gave Mr Crow a chance – which he put over. Got the theme here?
Into injury time and it was panic stations – last ditch stuff. Our man on the right Mr Gnapka got another cross in – it eluded the diving Atieno who should have got something on it. Seconds later Keane pumped a long ball forward Kroca, by now playing as a striker got his head on and knocked it down but the feckless Atieno stabbed it wide.

That was that. We should have won. On other days we would. On other days it would have been an unremarkable 2-0. Today it wasn’t. Disappointing but no one died. What it does show is that without Drury we certainly lack a bit of flair.

Overall towards the end we suffered from our old phobia of being frightened to have a shot, fannying around the edge of the box, trying to find an angle then playing another player in, rather than trying to actually get a shot in, on target. When you are playing against 8 defenders you can try to find the perfect position all day, but sometimes it ain’t going to happen, so you have to have a go – hope for a lucky bounce or a ricochet and hope that the rebound comes to a Luton player. Easy for me to say of course. The home fans got tetchier and more desperate as the half went on and this anxiety transferred itself to the Luton players.

The land of the tattoo, of shops without coats, and the lionisers of that awful Cheryl Cole could only spare 28 of its kind to venture forth into the God’s own town. Newcastle must have had a home game. Hats off to those hardy fans who braved Bury Park, it must be a culture shock to them. But seriously, half a coach-load is not good. If we were playing in Outer Mongolia I’m sure we’d muster more.

Money was upbeat after the game but not about the performance, which he said was not our best.

On another day we would have won easily, we had an off-day but all is not lost. It wasn’t a bad performance. We did well to come back and nearly got an equaliser. We got a point. Yes, we should have won at home and made up two points on Crawley, but all is not lost. And we certainly did not deserve the handful of boos that rang out or the shout of ‘disgraceful’ from the troglodyte who sits on the same row as me.

Some scores on the doors:

Tyler : 6
Ed: 5.5
Pilks: 6.5
Kroca: 6.5
Howells: 6
Claude: 7.5 and 4
Lawless: 7
Keane: 6
MBH: 6
Crow: 6
Owusu: 6.5
Subs: Poku: 6, Atieno 5

On to Grimsby on Tuesday and another enforced absence from me due to work commitments I’m afraid. I’ll be pleased when this month is over because it has been a pain and when work over-interferes with your home life (and blogging) then it is time to start considering whether it is worth flogging yourself to death for a company you have begun to hate. On Tuesday I’m going to be overnighting in Newcastle ironically, somehow I don’t think they’ll have Premier Sports on in the Red House.

As ever, I welcome all feedback and comments and would be delighted to hear what other Hatters thought about the game, whether present themselves or following from around the four corners of the globe.

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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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Roper, you’ve let yourself go!

A splendidly entertaining game that could easily have delivered half a dozen more goals saw the Hatters progress to the next round against Charlton.

The game had everything. Shots, goals, sending offs, the Corby mascot pretending to be manager, someone’s Dad lumbering around in defence, and an opposition keeper who when not retrieving the ball from the net, or making excellent saves seemed to have a predilection for the half way line.

Where to start? There’s enough material to write a small book.

It was lovely to watch a game in the sarf again – having been to Wrexham and Altrincham last week (sorry no Alty report, too much work on). Actually if I had done an Altrincham report I would have said that travelling from Wrexham to Altrincham is a bit like only having influenza rather than pneumonia – obviously offending any northern readers in the process, so it is just as well I didn’t put that*.

Visiting Bury Park at this time of year you get to see the attractive Christmas lights on your way in – a cunning collection of bright neon blue and white twinkling lights giving you the impression you are surrounded by police cars. Of course, at certain times of the day in Bury Park, you are surrounded by police cars. Perhaps it is to lull the local residents into a false sense of security.

Only 3000ish fans appeared last night 400 of those being a noisy bunch from Corby whose singing chanting and that blessed drum kept on all night – fair play to them. Ironically of course they shut up once they scored their goals.

The fans who did turn up were treated to a very entertaining game, the result of which wasn’t truly in doubt at any point in the match.

I don’t think most of the Luton players really got out of second gear and for large spells of the game our wingers were just queuing up to get an unchallenged cross into the box. It was for the most part our attackers vs their defenders. Our great build up play meant that we created the opportunity for goodness knows how many shots – but our lack of clinical finishing meant that only 4 went in. I don’t think we’ll ever get a better chance to break the nation’s scoring records unless we are drawn at home to Stockbridge Park Steelmen in the Trophy next week. If we had had a half-fit hungover Steve Howard last night, he would have scored a dozen. But there you go – we won and that was the important thing.

We started with Mark Tyler in goal, the improving Dan Gleeson at right back (material improvement in the last two games) Pilks and Ed A-A at centre half and Freddie Murray at left back.

In midfield, Claude started on the right. Well, I say started, other than his well-taken goal I don’t think he did start really. An onfire Gnapka last night would have caused football carnage that would have been embarrassing to watch it would have been so one-sided. He picked up in the second half and never gave up, but some of his play in the first was lacklustre and unenthusiastic to say the least. But that’s what you get with Claude isn’t it? You roll a dice before kick off – if it comes up 6 you get an outstanding display – and if it comes up 1 you get the impression that he mind is somewhere in the Dordognes. This is why, with Jake and Drury fit– I’d always have Claude as your berserker to bring on at half time or as a shock troop for the last 20 mins.

In the middle, with Mr Lawless cup-tied, was the aforementioned Mr Howells and Keith Keane. On the left was Andy Drury who was in sublime form this evening. I truly think that when on form he is the best player in this division. I actually suspect he is the best player in the division above too. Shhh. Howells too had an excellent game winning the ball well and driving forward. When he moved to the wing he was crossing it for fun.

Up front were MBH and Atieno. Well done to the pair of them for getting three goals between them, but I think in their heart of hearts they know that they might have had so many more.

The game itself was played in its entirely in missly cold November rain – the players were regularly losing their footing, but it didn’t detract from the enjoyment at any point.

Onto the game – I’ll not describe all 31 chances or we will be here all week and to have written them all down I would have needed to bring a second notebook. Actually how do rate us when we were playing opposition who the youth team would have beaten? (Liam Toomey would have got a few I can tell you.)

MBH had a crisp shot on target in the first minute which was really a sign of things to come.
Drury’s turn next with a shot which whacked into one of their players and went behind for a corner. From the corner taken by Drury, it fell conveniently to the feet of MBH who brutally tucked it away, we got the early goal we needed to ensure that the remainder was really a matter of how many whilst not exerting too much effort.

Pilks passed it wide to Drury who intelligently passed to MBH but who managed to shoot at the keeper MacKenzie. MacKenzie is a funny chap – he looks about as sporty as a social worker, untidy shambling gait and uneven arms – you really wouldn’t think he had made a career as a sportsman. In fact I can only think of one player who looks less like a sportsman I can think of – but more about him in a minute.

Murray’s pass into the box was cleared by their centre half, it only went as far as Keane whose shot his Ateino bumped to MBH who popped it home, albeit from an offside position. Alledgedly.

By this stage Drury was really enjoying himself and was on a one man campaign of humiliation. He picked up a wonky back pass, spotted MacKenzie who, just for a change was a mile off his line, and tried to lob him. Fortunately for Corby the keeper managed to grab it.

MacKenzie saved from Drury shortly afterwards after a lovely pass by Howells when he could have shot himself.

But it was Drury who really almost could have played Corby on his own. A wayward pass by Hall, was hit straight to Drury. He looked up, and went for a lob over the keeper. McKenzie managed to back pedal and catch the ball.

Claude went down under pressure by Charlton, nothing doing. A great piece of football, but lacked the finish between Drury and Howells. Howells on the edge, unselfishly, passed to Drury, who couldn’t beat McKenzie rushing him out of goal quickly.

Another lovely move saw some fine passing and a dummy saw Murray cross with Atieno missing it but Charlton (I think) blooked MBH’s shot.

Other than a little ding-dong between Jarman and Drury in the first 5 mins the game was a fairly tame affair – and so Jarman’s sending off was a bit odd to say the least. The ball was kicked off by a Luton player and happened to roll into the dugout. It naturally got stuck between some feet, and if he had waited a fraction of a second longer the ball would have popped out. However Jarman charged in after the ball a bit too keenly and then reacted with a swipe when it wasn’t immediately forthcoming. In a split second this rapidly descended into pushes, pulls, grabbing and punches. You know – the usual handbags.

Now Jarman stuck me as not a terribly pleasant chap early on, but he must also be as thick as two short planks because, if he had thought about it, for even a fraction of a second, he would have realised that there is a rather big and a bit mental scouser sitting on the Luton bench. Chucking a fist or two around with him in there is the equivalent to hurling a match into a factory full of fireworks, as he was to find out momentarily when none other than G Brabin esq, grabbed him by the throat in full scally mode and but for the intervention of the rest of the bench and half the players and the ref it would have been Jarman’s last act.

When he was shown a straight red for violent conduct he looked more relieved than anything. He didn’t protest half as much as he should have done, it had probably dawned on him by them that he had just had a brush with death.

Brabin was sent off too and hopped into box #15. Oh the temptation to go and speak to him to tell him that the box costs £2k a year would he mind buggering off. I hope someone offered him a cup of tea.

Corby are managed by Graham Drury who I genuinely thought was a small ball boy for the first 15 minutes. He took the incident well I thought, getting up on a box to consult with the ref once Jarman had gone but accepting the decision like a professional.

MBH had another chance to score after being played in by Keano. At the other end Corby had a brief sojourn into our half when Charlton crossed it and one of their strikers went down under a challenge from Pilks. A penalty it was not. However the diminutive Graham Drury hopped up and down like an angry elf.

Just to rub salt into his wounds Atieno scored to double the lead shortly afterwards. Howells passed to MBH who got into position to shoot but his shot would have gone wide, only for Atieno to crash in and stick it in.

Gleeson had his first decent chance for a goal soon after that and Claude missed a couple too. Pilks had a chance from a corner and shortly before half time Drury changed the pace with an aggressive run, cutting inside and trying an elegant drive cum chip into the left hand corner of the goal. Only an excellent tip over by MacKenzie prevented the goal of the season.

We had more extra time in extra time when Charlton went off to be replaced by Liam Dolman. Now what memorable physical characteristic does Liam have? What can I say? Erm, it’s hard to put it, he has a touch of the – now Dave, be PC, be PC, he’s a….no. I must be sensitive to people’s feelings.

Imagine Jonny Vegas in a Newcastle shirt. That’s what Liam looked like*.

Okay, so I exaggerate, but a fatter bloke I’ve never seen on the pitch at the Kenny. He made Jan Molby, Ian Roper and David Owen look positively waiflike. What is extraordinary is that he got away with it. In days gone by a certain group of songs would have been dusted off and sang in his honour. I can only think that people were too surprised to sing them or too cold. Or that they genuinely thought he had a problem and so spared his feelings. He did get plenty of encouraging comments, my favourite of which I used as the headline. I did think that perhaps he was the chairman or a lifelong fan paying his way to get a game. But no – he’s a pro or rather presumably a part-timer. I can only speculate what he does when he’s not playing football – but I suspect he doesn’t list ‘marathon runner’ as his favourite pursuits and has never had a paper round in a block of flats.

As for his performance, well he marshalled the back four well enough, puffed a bit and cleared it when necessary, getting his foot to it to hoof it out on occasion. When Dan Walker came on I thought it was just cruel, it would have been like the tortoise and the hare, but rather than stick him in a position for Dolman to try and keep up he was on the wing as usual and therefore didn’t have to mark him.

In the second half it was more of the same indomitable Hatters pressure. For the second time we had the ball in the net – this time Murray was offside before he crossed it for Atieno to stick it in.
Atieno had another chance for his second when after a lovely cross by Dan Gleeson was touched onto the right hand post by MacKenzie.

Corby went close when Mackay slashed a shot wide. If only he’d looked up because his colleague Diggin (a half time sub) would have had a straightforward chance.

Gleeson had another chance – so did Drury – and then it was time for the third goal. Remember by this stage the Hatters had the full run of the midfield and Howells played a lovely ball down the wing to Drury who was in space and unchallenged. Drury put in another fantastic cross low across the face of the goal to Atieno who tangled with the keeper and then poked in the rebound from about 2 yards.

On came Godfrey ‘on fire’ Poku and Dan Walker for the ideal opportunity to get more first-team minutes under their belt. Poku replaced MBH and Claude went up front and Walker replaced the excellent Drury. Jake moved to the left and Dan went to the right. Poku has energy, grit and determination and a good eye for a through ball. Needs to work a bit more on his positional side of things because and we have an uncanny knack of conceding goals when he is on the field – a coincidence of course – but if others have to cover and close down opponents for him, it leaves gaps that would otherwise be filled. Anyway, that is exactly why he needs first team experience. Walker played well too – for such a big lad he has genuine pace and is a real livewire and threat in front of goal. I just hope that the signing of his namesake from Barrow won’t limit his chances further.
Poku had a shot, Walker should have shot – but passed to Atieno who will never have a better chance to get a hat trick but who fluffed it to the keeper. Walker got his chance a few seconds later zooting past the tiring, slow and overweight defence like he was on roller skates, but shot wide.

Claude had a go, Walker had another go. And now it was time for another sub – JJ O’Donnell making his debut, replacing Murray. He played left wing with Howells dropping behind him. O’Donnell played brightly – he did look a bit nervous initially but showed that he can cross and take corners (albeit one curled out before coming back in), My only comment about him initially, other than he looked a good prospect was that he seemed a bit easy to bundle off the ball – needs to build his strength up a tad.

Walker had another go, I think Poku did too and then Poku played Claude in with a lovely ball and Claude drove into the box and fired a powerful shot under the keeper for 4-0.
Then it all went a bit funny and panic-stations. For some reason. Their Walker got a goal after Ed’s clearance bounced back off him from no distance after Diggin had got into the box from a vacant left back hole left by naughty Jake.

A corner two minutes later gifted them another goal (what is it with us an corners?) 11 men in the box against the tiring man-short Corby and we still couldn’t get the corner clear. The big lad Dolman was unmarked headed it towards goal, it was cleared off the line but only so far as Hope who stuck it in.

With them fancying their chances, we had another couple of late chances with Claude managing to hit the post and fluff another shot. And then it was all over with a convincing win. 6-0 wouldn’t have been unfair and so 4-2 paints a strange picture. But we are through off to the Valley in a couple of Saturdays time. They’ll think we will be a push over – and we will play well because we always do against the better teams. Should be a cracker.

So all in all we had tons of chances, dominated the midfield, and should have scored more, but I’m not beating them up about it because it was a good game of football and an excellent spectacle.
As far as the scores on the doors goes it is difficult to judge the absolute score or performance because of the weakness of the opposition. But here goes:

Tyler: 6
Gleeson: 7
Pillks: 6.5
Ed AA: 6.5
Murray: 7.5
Gnapka: 6
Howells: 8.5
Keano: 8
Drury: 9
MBH: 7
Atieno: 7.5

Subs:
Walker: 8
Poku: 7.5
O’Donnell: 7

So – onto our new signing Jason Walker. I always welcome new good players – and Jason has an excellent record at non-league level. It’s intruiging that yet again we are recruiting from non-league and not the league itself, but good young non-league players have gone on to do well at level, so it is not necessarily a bad thing. Would you want a Jason or a Dan Walker as you progress through the leagues or a team full of old lags who are steadily working their way down the leagues as their career declines?

The only other point is we are back to where we were last year. How many strikers have we got for goodness sake? Let’s list them (in no particular order, ahem)

Jason Walker, Danny Crow, AMS, Dan Walker (who Money plays on the wing), MBH, Atieno. Not to mention Gallen out on loan to Barnet – destined never to return.

Goodness knows who Money’s first choice will be. Crow and Jason Walker? MBH and Jason Walker? When AMS is fit again will he be back on the left? Will this push Drury to the right and Gnapka on the bench? With Lawless around now, does this mean Jake will be on the bench? So many players…so few spaces…

What it does reiterate is this club’s ambitions to get out of this division this season. We are recruiting all of the good players elsewhere in this division. Between us and Crawley we are trading blows over the best non-league players. The good news from our point of view is whilst they may be able to offer big wages or signing up fees we can offer big crowds, a proper history and a sustainable platform.

Things are hotting up. Now to put that ambition into practise by stuffing Histon again tomorrow.

Come on you Hatters!

* my apologies to northerners and overweight people. Hopefully you took my comments in good spirit. Anyone knowing me would know that I’d give Mr Dowman a run for his money in terms of waist measurement, though I reckon I’d beat him in a very slow race.

** sorry for the late post, last night instead of finishing this I went to a beer festival in a medium size town in Hertfordshire. It meant I also skived off my Question Time moderating duties on Biased BBC. Tut tut Mosque, must try harder.

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They came, they saw, they wasted time.

Richard Money was full of praise for Newport County in his post match summary – must admit I had a different opinion of them from where I was sitting.

In their defence they were a well organised side who didn’t spend the entire match with 11 behind the ball – conversely though, they took every opportunity to time waste and break up play and looked happy to accept the draw as soon as it was 1-1. They were aided and abetted by a referee who seemed to gleefully allow them to do this despite it being blatantly obvious, so they took the mickey even more, knowing he would allow them to get away with it. Once again we played against a team happy to writhe around in pain at the slightest knock, ably supported by the ref. Amazingly they took the ball to the corner flag to run things down 13 minutes short of the final whistle blowing – mind boggling.

You can’t win them all – but we could have won this one – Barnes-Homer lumping his penalty effort right into the arms of the keeper who had moved to his right. Crow (I think) had gone down under a heavy challenge from their right back, and he certainly made it look as if he had been shot, but a penalty it was.

We started with Tyler in goal – who was not at fault for their goal and who had a quietish game with only a handful of saves to make, readily choosing to play the ball out to a defender rather than hoofing it. He made an excellent save half way through the first half after a cross/shot from Henry on the right.

At right back was Dan Gleeson, who, under greater pressure in this game had fewer chances to dazzle and shine and was in fact caught out of position on a couple of occasions when Newport broke quickly he was caught between a rock and a hard place, not knowing to cover the left winger or the forward as he was back pedalling. Other than that he was pretty tidy all game.

George Pilkington was largely dependable at the back. He spent the game marking their big lump (Reid?) and will know he’s been in the wars tomorrow. I must admit, it did strike me as odd that he was marking the huge bloke, whilst 6′ 27″ Krocha marked the relatively small Matthews. Krocha got our equaliser, just 5 minutes after their opener when he jammed in a scuffed shot from MBH. Other than that the big man played assuredly well at the back against what might be the best strike force he gets to face in the division.

Murray played well at left back. He got outpaced in one of Newport’s first moves down the right, but as he so often does, seems to adjust his positioning to cater for the pace of the oncoming winger. He got forward more and more today playing his part in plenty of interchanges with first Drury and second Howells on the left. I think I counted at least a couple of crosses from him too.

On the right was Claude le Goal. Today he was a bit Claude le snooze and it was partially his failure to both pick up and then close down his man that gave Henry the opportunity to burst into our box and score after 25 minutes. Sometimes we get dozy Claude, sometimes we get world beating Claude. Today we got the one who was in dire need of his dear old Ma’s soupe again. More often than he has been recently he moved out of position, drifted inside and fluffed passes. However, for all of that, this version of dozy Claude is nothing like the one we had at the start of last and for the 08/09 season: he still overlapped well down the right and put 2 or 3 excellent crosses in. He was the odd man out though and I thought it was pretty obvious he would be first to be substituted. I suspected half time, but RM gave him 10 minutes in the second before he brought on Howells, moving Andy Drury onto the right.

In the middle Besta and Keane paired up again, Murray having been Tom-Dick for a couple of days. Besta had a better second half I thought than first. He did pepper the game with excellent challenges, but once or twice failed to find his man with the pass. That’s not meant as a criticism by the way – comparing to what we have had in the midfield in the recent past he’s a vast improvement, but he wasn’t quite on his game – probably not used to being chased by Welshmen.

Keith Keane was sent off in extra time minutes for a reckless tackle on Matthews as a broke quickly. He had already been given a booking twenty minutes earlier when he clonked the mascot-sized Morgan on the edge of the box (Henry curled just wide from the freekick) and so got another yellow and a red, which means he misses Saturday’s game at Tamworth. Murray (if he is better) is an outstanding replacement. Money hinted that Poku would come into contention too as he has been ‘on fire’ in recent weeks. Apart from a couple of misplaced passes and a heavy touch Keano had an excellent game and fought and battle really hard – giving nothing away, one devastatingly hard but fair challenge in particular stands out.

Drury started on the left and then swapped to the right when Jakey came on, and swapped into the middle when Keano was sent off. He had a marginally quieter game than against Alty, but was given much less room. Don’t get me wrong by the way – I’m not having a pop. Our boys played some surreal sublime passing football at times – some cracking one touch stuff reminiscent of the club at its very best, and some interchanges and lay-offs and running which would wouldn’t have been out of place many, many positions above us in the football league. What is not in doubt is Drury’s touch or vision, he played some excellent through balls this evening. With ten minutes to go he cut inside and had a left footed shot which went across goal and would have slotted nicely into the far corner, Thompson made an excellent save to deny what would have been a class finish. He was well marked though, our friends from the valleys having done their homework.

Up front was Kevin Gallen and MBH. Gallen had an excellent chance in the first half to get onto a Claude cross but didn’t quite connect. His passing and hold up play was up to its usual high standard but his impact on the game faded into the second half and he was replaced with Big Hips Danny Crow after about 65 mins.

MBH. Oh Matthew, Matthew. How many chances did you have tonight? Hats off for getting into so many goal-scoring positions but blimey you didn’t half fluff some chances tonight. I swear someone had swapped your shooting boot for an orthopaedic brogue. On another day, MBH would have had another hat-trick, even without the missed penalty. He worked hard, interchanging positions with Claude on occasion, but without being quite a bright and incisive at he was allowed to be on the opening day, courtesy of some much cannier marking. After about 10 mins he hit a fierce shot straight to their keeper from outside the box. He missed a header from a Howells cross just before he was subbed. Looking less sharp than against Alty and Kettering he was subbed for Craddock after 80 mins. TC got an excellent welcome when coming on (just like at the weekend) but didn’t really have enough time to have an impact.

Though we played some fantastic footie at times, in the second half I think we lost our shape and our way a bit. There was width at times, but too often the break through the congested middle of the pitch appeared to be the route forwards, rather than the more cultured wing play in the first half.

A couple of comedy moments to note – when their keeper, Thompson received the ball in open play he was always wont to stand there with the ball at his feet unless made to pick it when when an oncoming Hatter ran him down. The first time this occurred, on the right hand side of their box both strikers Gallen and MBH looked at each other as to who should charge him down. Though he was much further from the keeper and after a second or two of looking at each other, Gallen ran in as if to say “I’ll go then shall I?”. The Second gem was a lesson in how to turn attack into defence. Receiving the ball from a throw in deep into our half Henry (I think it was) passed the ball back to his keeper to retain possession, but managed to mis-kick it which had Thompson sprinting from his box to try to prevent the ball from running out for a corner. Needless to say he failed.

So, in summary, once again we played a high tempo passing game and dominated a match which we certainly deserved to win. At times our class and passing were made Newport look like Sunday league duffers, which they weren’t. I was very disappointed that we didn’t manage to get a second, and think that Thompson, their keeper deserved man of the match for them. I was also disappointed once again that the referee was so naively blind to the blatant tactics and attitude of the visiting team. I know, I know, I should expect it – we are their cup-final and all of that.

Oh, before I forget – my scores on the doors:

Tyler: 6.5
Gleeson: 6.5
Pilks: 7.5
Krocha: 8
Murray: 7
Claude: 6
Besta: 6
Keano: 7
Drury: 7.5
MBH: 6
Gallen: 7

Howells: 7
Crow: 7
TC: not on long enough.

1-1 then, on another night 3-1 would not have been out of place. Off to Lords on Saturday, so I’ll miss yet another game (part timer). We are still top – three wins and a draw from the first four games which is not a bad return. Looking at the early table there are some surprising names in the top few: Eastbourne, Forest Green and Southport, whilst York and Kettering are in the drop-zone. Early, early days.

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So near but yet so far…

Oh well – ‘nine straight wins’ gets rebadged as ‘eleven games unbeaten’ after the 1-1 draw away to Tamworth. Stevenage won so Luton are four points behind them, and Stevenage have a game in hand.

Realistically then, if we still hope to finish top then we need a bit of a miracle. I guess it was always a long shot, bearing in mind the start that we had.

I didn’t go to the game yesterday and only caught the last 10 mins on the radio. Pilks scored against the run of play in the first half for his sixth of the season, and his first one in the daylight. Des Lyttle (the Des Lyttle?) equalised with a header when we failed to clear it.

Hatch started instead of Gallen, who was recovering from a knock. Blackett resumed his place in the heart of the defence and Kovacs was relegated to the bench.

Looking at the match statistics it sounded a fairly open game both sides had double-figures worth of chances. We were certainly going for it at the end trying to get the win.

Gnapka hobbled off in the first half and MBH was brought on in his stead. Seems odd to me, and perhaps a bit complacent/self indulgent by RM, but I think you should swap like for like if you can, and Adam Newton who was on the bench should have been the choice, rather than a striker on the wing. In this case it meant Tommy Craddock who scores his goals when playing as part of a front two was stuck out on the right.

Anyway, apparently in the second half we played 4-5-1 with Hatchy on his own until they equalised. Jarvis made a rare appearance replacing Jake, and then Gallen came on to replace Hatch. We pressed and pressed at the end but to no avail.

So the table looks like:

1:Stevenage…….P40….Pts87
2:Luton………..P41….Pts83
3:Oxford……….P40….Pts79
4:Rubbish & D…..P41….Pts75
5:York…………P41….Pts74
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6:Wimbledon…….P41….Pts64

In the form we have been in no one will look forward to playing us in the play offs. If we stay second then it will be York in the play offs, presumably with us at home in the second leg. I seem to recall we drew 0-0 up there on the sandy beach, and we drew 1-1 at home, when AN was in charge with Nico doing his level best to hand it to them in the last minute.

Histon on Tuesday. They are battling to stay in the league. I will be dashing back from Leeds that day, hopefully getting back in time. What is going to be interesting is how I manage to change from my whistle into my Luton gear. Look out for a car swerving in and out of the outside lane of the M1 whilst the driver slips on his lucky shirt whilst removing his tie…

Hopefully, all things being well, normal service will be resumed on Tuesday both in terms of match reports and also a thumping win.

Come on you Hatters!

PS – Happy Birthday LTFC – 125 years old today – a proud and interesting history which some ‘bigger’ clubs can only dream of.

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