Not really sure what to make of this one. It is rare that we get to dominate a game so much, but the scoreline suggested that it was a close game.
The beautiful March sunshine hinted at spring, but the cold easterly wind reminded us that it was winter. My impression was that we were miles better than Hayes. I tried to look at it objectively (difficult I know) I tried to ignore the fact that they were part-timers and last year we were two divisions apart. We were better on the ball, we moved the ball better, our first touch was superior and our players man for man looked superior and fitter. However, we seem to have not yet shed the post-Newell hangover of not being able to put sides like this to the sword. Three goals away from home is a good return for a team who had been posting nil nils and one nils away from home, but I don’t think I am being unreasonable or greedy to say we could have had a few more.
Money’s post-match conference suggested we could have had ten, and whilst we did have plenty of chances, “ten” is Money hypberbole kicking in again. We did dominate the game and indeed created lots of shots and headers on goal, however I think that perhaps 5-2 would not have been out of place.
There you go. We won anyway – a win, is a win, is a win.
Hayes’ ground was a funny little place – it reminded me a bit of Aylesbury Utd’s old ground years ago, but of course Aylesbury were a much bigger club than Hayes! It seemed half-built, and was inevitably two thirds full of Hatters.
We started with the same XI which opened against Mansfield:
Tyler, Murray, Pilks, Kovacs-block-of-flats and Newton were at the back. In the middle, Howells, Hall, Keano and Gnapka. Up front Hatchy started with Barnes-Homer.
Machine-like we eased into a two goal lead in the first half. At no point was I in any doubt as to the result, such was the gulf. It was rather relaxing and inevitable. It felt a bit like the surreal 3-0 at home to Grays in the cup.
Hall had an early headed chance (which is a bit of a common theme) from a cross by Jake Howells. Murray blasted a chance wide after Hatch had knocked the ball down. We were caught offside plenty of times and created many opportunities without really turning them into chances. In effect we dominated play, without making their keeper work too hard.
Then, Kovacs-block-of-flats, was caught square by Cochrane who nearly put in Watkins (their lone striker) but Kovacs managed to get his feet to the ball.
As is often the way, we opened the scoring almost immediately afterwards. Keano took a free kick from the left hand side and good old Hatchy made no mistake by heading/forcing it in at the far post. One nil.
Tyler kept us in the game with an excellent save to deny Binns (I think) after Newton was wrong footed. Kovacs-block-of-flats passed the ball out to Claude on the right. He diddled Green their left back (for the umpteenth time) and was bundled to the floor by Ruby, it was undoubtedly a penalty despite Claude’s penchant for collapsing like a house of cards in a hurricane.
With Craddock on the bench and Nico injured (expecting operation – so he might be out for a which is important as we have some key games we need to win in the next few weeks) Claude nicked the ball and insisted on taking it. He took such a short run up that the keeper didn’t have long enough to try and suss which way he was taking it he rolled it to the right. Had the keeper not previously committed himself I’m not sure it would have been terribly good penalty but there you go.
We were now in total control and I felt completely at ease – to quote Danny Baker “nothing can possibly go wrong now”. Shortly, Hall missed a good chance, Hatch drove across the goal, and MB-H shot wide.
My impression at half time was that if we pressed in the second half, we would squeeze at least another couple of goals. However the second half was to prove a different kettle of fish.
Instead, Hayes pressed us much more from the off, which tended to mean that we had to play on the break. But don’t imagine this that meant we were on the back foot, because time and time again we were creating opportunities.
Hayes got back into the game courtesy of Cochrane, who along with Binns and Cadmore were their best players. About 30 yards out on the left, he had the foresight to try a shot which curled past Tyler into the net. Simple opportunism, almost their first chance and suddenly it is 2-1. It didn’t stop us from generating more yet more chances though. MBH shot wide and Hall placed/sliced a shot wide. Hatch limped off at this point having pulled a hamstring.
Craddock came on and looked lively from his first touch. Whilst Hatch and MBH had linked up well, Craddock and MBH were even more sparky. Newton won the ball just inside his own half and played a long and accurate ball to Craddock in the inside left position. He ran with the ball, cut inside and took it to the edge of the box where he played a one two with MBH. It didn’t quite come off but the ball got back to Craddock who lifted the ball into the net with his right foot, catching it just right, on the up after it bounced giving the keeper no chance. Not quite a half volley, more like a well struck four or six.
Shortly after this, Hall had another chance – another header – this time cleared off the line. Binns I think it was. Hayes now had their best period of the game testing Tyler out and forcing him to make a couple of key saves.
Just to dwell on Tyler for a second. He has been outstanding this year. I can recall only one, perhaps two half-errors all season. He strikes me as a model professional and full credit to big Mick for landing his signature at the start of the year. His only weak point is the accuracy of his kicking – which is not great, but nowhere near even half as poor as the likes of Ovengloves or Emberson’s kicking used to be, if you can remember them. His communication with the players is outstanding, as is his positioning in the box. He gets down quickly and is a fantastic shot stopper. He is the keeper we have been looking for between the sticks for a number of years now. When Beresford joined us, he was, for the first two years at least, an excellent keeper. Prior to that, and before our rise and fall in the leagues I seem to recall that Cederic Bertelin was also a fantastic keeper albeit only for a short while on loan. I’d put Tyler in that category.
Over the years we have seen some fantastic keepers at the club: Sealey, Dibble, Feuer, Findlay, Chamberlain, Davis, etc; and whilst Tyler can’t quite be compared to them, I think the impact he has had at the club, and the difference it has made to the team, can.
Howells, who had had a big impact in the first half, but not so much in the second, was replaced by Nelthorpe. More or less his first touch was to cross to Hall from a short corner – and Hall, as so many times before in the game headed wide/over.
Then, with about a minute to go the scoreline, which was only just believable was made unreal again. Cadmore, who had just been awarded the home team man of the match snuck in with a header at a corner. Kovacs-block-of-flats failed to pick him up, from what I could see.
He was at fault again about a minute later, now in injury time, when his cloggy back pass almost put Watkins in.
But that was it. It could have been 4 or 5, might have been 6, but we had to make do with a 3.
I have been boring my mates for ages (ha! deliberate mistake I meant ‘mate’) saying that one day soon we are going to take all of these half chances and get a bit of luck and suddenly get a real hatful. After today, that is even more likely, we are so overdue to give a side a sound thrashing it is unreal. One day, just one day, it will all click and we will post 7 (seven) or 8 (eight) I swear.
So, fair play to Hayes, they made a proper game of it and passed nicely where they could. It was slightly embarrassing that their pitch looks in better nick than ours. I wish them well. Though I can see now why they built the Hayes bypass around the place.
More fun and games on Tuesday of course – and Hatch permitting, we should stick to the same team I think, with perhaps Ed or Blackett replacing Mr Kovacs at centre half.
As with my pleadings before, we just need to keep sticking the ball in the net, and winning and winning. We have three home games on the trot now: Forest Green, Wrexham and Kidderminster all of whom have pretty poor away records. We should get 9 points out of 9 of course and that would place us in a strong position to cement our play off spot – however, Luton being Luton, whoever is in charge, we tend to shoot ourselves in the foot and make the easy games appear hard, and then surprise ourselves in the hard games. Well – looking at the fixture list, we haven’t got any hard games left in March – I don’t know if that is good news or bad!