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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Six Degrees of Separation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed played in Nelthorpe whose shot cannoned off the post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few scores on the doors:

Mark Tyler – 6.5 – handled it twice all game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where did all the Ballboys Go?

A pleasant day out lead to a pleasant result against a niggly, unpleasant team.

The mighty Hatters did to Stevenage what they did to us back at the end of September, when all was not well in our camp. A tight 1-0 win away from home in a match which didn’t contain much football, but plenty of passion and a good opportunity to shout at the ref on a boggy old pitch.

2,800 official away fans made it an excellent atmosphere, plus the 1000 or so in the home end. Nice of us to help to more than treble Stevenage’s average attendance. Presumably the turnout at the Emirates Stadium was down a bit this afternoon as the Hertfordshire locals turned up to see a home game for a change.

We started with the same XI as against Salisbury, Blackett retaining his position ahead of Kovacs who was on the bench. Ironically, I would have thought that Kovacs would have been the choice against the lump-it and hump-it tactics of Westley and co, as what Kovacs does best is to nod away the headers. It is being run at by nippy defenders he has the problem with. Anyway, Blackett had an even better game than he had against Tubbs and co on Tuesday.

I had forgotten what Stevenage were like. You can see why they have been so successful. It is a team of big lumps and the nippy Yemi Obubade. They close down and then whack it down the middle, there’s not a great deal more to it than that. Oh yes, and they bully too. They are a nasty little side, they remind me of sides put out by Martin Allen or Martin Ling. Roberts their loon-haired lofty centre-half and captain was in the ref’s ear all the game. At one point he raced 50 yards to remonstrate with the ref over a minor incident in which he had no involvement at all. They were constantly trying to make an incident out of nothing. They are the equivalent of some bored unemployed and unemployable single mums stuck on a council high rise estate. All day with nothing to do other than to pick fights and make issues out of nothing.

Their attitude reminded me of another Hertfordshire team not so many miles away. In the first half they attempted to manage the game, with players going down injured when the ref’s back was turned, enabling them to break up the rhythm of the game, to take fluids on and more importantly all traipse over to the touchline for an impromptu ‘time out’ and some ‘wise’ words from Mr Westley. In the second half the ball boys all mysteriously disappeared which I am sure was part of some sort of ruse to break up play or slow things down. It is a tactic the other Hertfordshire team adopt. There must be something in the air.

So – to the game itself. Well, there’s not too much to report – it wasn’t a cracker. It was exciting and I’m damn glad we won, but it was a bit like two titans slugging it out at times.

It was fascinating to see how we would do against a ‘good’ side in form (they had won 8 on the bounce before today). I wanted to see if we had merely grown fat against the weaker sides in the division and just suddenly become good at putting mediocrity to the sword, or if we had made tangible progress. This game would put into context how far we had come since Heslop’s arrival and the turn around in formation, attitude, form and having a settled XI. It was a litmus test as to who would stand out against the sterner opposition.

Let’s remember that recently we have attempted to play a high tempo game, closing down from the front and nicking the ball and playing it quickly down the wings or to Gallen’s feet to spray to the wings or to bring others into the play.

At it happens, they gave Gallen and Craddock almost no room at all. They had done their homework again. They closed down our midfield, and forced us to play it long which was no good for Kevin and Tommy.

It was also good to see how Keane and Heslop would cope with their midfield, having snuffed out the creativity in the last few midfields we have played. Boy, they earned their money today. Neither of them was quite as effective as they have been, but that is not to say they didn’t have good games, just that they were not able to do to Stevenage what they had been doing to the likes of Salisbury, Hayes and Kidderminster. They still harried and hassled and got down and dirty, put the tackles in and worked incredibly hard. They both had to work the whole game at 100% to cope with Stevenage, but cope they did.

At the other end Pilkington and Blackett were absolutely outstanding. Time and time again they needed to get a last-ditch tackle in, or get a foot in or a block in, as well as the barrage of long balls they had to head away. Pilks was absolute class today, wonderful to see how high he can raise his game when needed to. When the game became extra-scappy in the last 20 minutes they picked up the bits and pieces exceedingly well. In the first 20 minutes they actually tidied up and controlled things in a very professional way. Never being too elaborate, but always doing the simple things well. That is one thing I have noticed about Money’s defensive tactics. No full back or centre half is encouraged to bugger-about with the ball. If it needs to go out, it goes out. If the straightforward thing is to hoof it into row Z for a corner then that’s what we do, quite rightly.

So with the first half characterised with us squeezed into playing it long, Roberts and Ashton (I think) spent most of the time heading it away as they are paid to do. I recall us getting a corner after Craddock had beaten their right back to the ball and forced a save. I thought Keane had fluffed the corner seemingly grubbing it to the near post but Pilks did get it into play for it to be cleared.

Stevenage did settle into their game plan quicker, and came at us repeatedly, relying on Obubade to run onto the knock-downs and then to try to score from set pieces. Eventually this relentless pressure paid off, and Obubade ran on passed it to Sills (I think, I really must concentrate on who is who in the opposition) who popped it past Mark Tyler. Fortunately – for once – lady luck came down on the side of truth and justice and lino raised his flag for offside, much to our relief. Tyler wasn’t really tested after that in the first half, for all of Stevenage’s domination; a couple more knock downs and shots, but both well outside the area, and I always think that if outside the area is the nearest you are letting teams shoot, then you must be doing something right, if you see what I mean.

As they all trooped off down the tunnel at half time, including the subs (apart from Gore and Kovacs) Hatch reappeared momentariy to retrieve his jersey from the away bench. Things were about to change.

And change they did. Gallen came off and Hatch started the second half. A canny move by Money. They were allowing nothing to go to feet – so stick someone who could win it in the air. Simple game, football, if you don’t over elaborate. The only danger, of course, of having Hatch is that we tend to then only try and play it long up to him rather than having him as an outlet if necessary. Perhaps that is one to work on for another day, but today it was excused as Stevenage gave us no choice frankly.

Stevenage had a couple of early chances but Tyler saved effectively. Then came the turning point. Matthew Barnes-Homer came on as sub, replacing the Tom Craddock who had been less effective than usual (but still with a high work-rate) for the reasons discussed previously. MBH scored with only his second touch, his first touch setting up the phase of play (I hate ‘phase’ being used – it is a rugby term) for him to score in the first place.

Murray took a throw down the line (hurrah, it stayed in play!) Hatch nodded it on to MBH who surprised the lump Roberts and their right back and took it and sprinted down the left, Roberts caught up with him and stuck it out for a throw level with the edge of the box. Cue Murray again – could he make it two decent throws on the trot? Well, yes he could. He found Jakey Howells in the box who lost out to Bostwick who didn’t clear the ball straight away and Hatch got in and tackled him on the penalty spot, Barnes-Homer pounced on the loose ball in the blink of an eye and slotted it into the back of the net with his left foot: less than a minute after coming on. Cue mass celebrations and relief and delight. So pleased for him.

But blimey, there was still 35 mins to go. I thought Stevenage would come back at us stronger than even they had in the first half, but actually the goal took the wind out of their sails, certainly for the next 10 minutes. Almost as if they were resigned to it. The edge definitely went from their game.

At this point it might be appropriate to have a go at the ref. He was a strange fellow, always trying to keep a smile on his face, but allowing himself to be hoodwinked by Stevenage’s tactics of falling over or making a meal of an innocuous challenge. He missed countless pushes by the Stevenage players but was happy to blow up at the slightest touch from Luton. Why does that happen? That’s how well we contained them today – we had much more work to do because the ref gave them everything and gave us so very little. Hatch was booked for a catching one of their players, so much less than we had been experiencing at their hands but Roberts ensured the ref knew it was the worst challenge in the history of the game and the ref got his card out. Countless times he failed to spot them backing into our players or little pushes and nudges off the ball. Good though, as it makes us all shout and raises the atmosphere and the volume which suits us much better.

With us in the lead we sensibly bottled up the midfield by going to a 4-5-1 with Hatch up front on his own, MBH on the left and Howells at inside left. When it was last ditch time for the last 20 minutes we sank deeper and deeper into our own half. But for all of their chances I was quietly confident that we would keep them out. This wasn’t the Luton team of old who can’t hold a lead or who buckle at the first sign of trouble. They were resolute. They were fantastic.

Despite being barged in the back Jake Howells headed off the line from a knock on from a long throw.

Then one of their players (Drury I think) ran into Ed, but surprise surprise, according to the ref it was actually Ed’s fault. The free kick found our friend Roberts at the far post but he headed it wide.

Dear Claude who had some good knock downs in the first half, didn’t get much of a sniff in the second. He didn’t have a poor game at all, just wasn’t given the chance to have a good one. He didn’t drift off or fall over his feet or do any of the old Claude things. Towards the end a Tyler kick found him rather than Hatch for a change and Hatch bustled into the box to collect the nod on, but their keeper collected.

Newton came on for Howells near the end and went onto the left. He surprised Stevenage (and us) with his pace at the end and got a ball into the box around the right back, but to no avail. He might have been better off to perhaps keep the ball in play near the corner flag and would have been shot I dare say if the resulting open play led to an equaliser.

So that was that – what I have missed out in this report is the succession of balls pumped into our box for us to chase down or clear, lots of last ditch tackles and putting your balls on the line type of tackles. We really did defend well at the end. It wasn’t pretty, it was dogged and determined, and kept us on the edge of our seats. Very small seats by the way, the smallest and most cramped seats I have ever sat in. It was like they had taken a normal size ground and put it on a boil wash and then shrunk it in the tumble drier, leading to the seats being perfect for anyone 4’2 but not 6’2. However to compensate, the jumbo-sausage-bacon-baguettes were a tasty meat-fest.

We took all that the top club had to throw at us: long balls, cheating tactics, dodgy ref and all, and yet still managed to come away with a cheeky win. We had to be at our defensive-best to survive the onslaught, but we managed it. Team work, resilience and a high workrate contributed to our success.

If you didn’t get to the game and wondered what Luton were like – well….we were fab. You would have been proud of the lads. They battled and fought and worked hard, just like you always hoped a Luton team would.

Some ratings:

Tyler – 7.5 – surprisingly didn’t have too much to do. Made a number of key saves when called upon. Kicking accuracy slightly down.

Ed – 8 – tidy enough, a couple of slips under pressure, but a whole host of excellent tackles.
Pilks – 10 – what more could a centre half do in a game?
Blackett – 9.5 – sound as a pound, committed and efficient.
Murray – 7.5 – caught out on the left by their pacy winger chap on a few occasions, but again some excellent cover work in the first half and important challenges.

Claude Le Crosse – 7.5 – not his usual self, but some good touches, including one crunching tackle.
Heslop – 9 – less able to dominate but still a tireless workhorse in midfield
Keane – 9 – only two bad passes at the start in this game, again full effort, committment and concentration
Howells – 8 – less chance to shine in attack, but worked hard both halves

Gallen – 6 – didn’t get much of a sniff, one nice turn in the first half.
Craddock – 7 – high work rate, but not many scraps to feed off

Subs:

Hatch – 8.5 – tons of effort in defence as well as attack, his tackle enabled the goal
MBH – 8.5 – super sub, worked hard in midfield and down the left after THAT goal
Newton – not on long enough

Good result Hatters. That leaves us only 2 points behind Stevenage, but they have a game in hand still.

Let’s compare the run-ins:

We have:

Grays (H) 24th – down and nothing to play for
Tamworth (A) 17th – battling for safety
Histon (H) 15th – more or less safe
Altrincham (H) 10th – nothing to play for
Rushden (A) 4th – play off certainty and jockeying for position

Stevenage have:

Wimbledon (A) – 6th – trying to catch York for the last play off place
Forest Green (H) 21st – battling to avoid joining Grays
Altrincham (A) – see above
Kidderminster (A) – 11th and licking their wounds after their 5-1 drubbing in the cup
Gateshead (A) 19th – battling for survival
York (H) 5th – trying to ensure 5th spot, surely will have already secured play off spot by the last game.

I’ll not jinx anything by trying to make potential point predicitons.

All we can hope for is that Stevenage will now lose a bit of confidence and belief having lost at last. As before, if we continue on our present run then we give ourselves the best shot at the title.

Grays on Monday then. From the sublime to the ridiculous. Some will be predicting double figures (the famous Bristol Rovers game was on an Easter Monday) but 1-0 and a good performance will do fine for me.

Thanks for reading. Happy Easter.

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Slightly Surreal

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!

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Another Trip to the Beach

Having not actually seen any sand whilst we were at Eastbourne, the pitch at York more than made up for it. I’ve known less sandy deserts.

Just a short report this evening, I didn’t get home until nearer three than two, having managed to get lost on the way back (for the third trip running) and then I couldn’t get off to sleep until Mrs Mosque’s alarm went off at 5:15am which, tuned to Radio 4 sent me off to sleep immediately. So in the end I had fewer than three hours kip and have been grumpier than a bear with a sore head who is being poked by kids with sticks whilst being forced to watch daytime television.

I thought, bearing in mind the sandy pitch cut up more as the game went on, we did pretty well. Both sides had plenty of chances, and the good Lord intervened a few times to prolong our incredible and surreal run of games away from the Kenny without conceding a goal.

The team was Tyler, the ‘settled’ back four of Newton, Pilks, Kovacs, and Murray – and a midfield five of Jarvis on the right, Hall, Keano, Nico, with Craddock on the left. Hatch returned up front.

The betting man in me made £20 on the night. A side who hadn’t lost at home all season were playing against a side who have been unbeaten away since God was a boy. For once I put a few bob on the correct score, rather than ‘laying’ Luton and 0-0 seemed the logical choice. If only all bets were that logical!

For a 0-0 it was a good game. Both sides played well. York had more chances than us, but we played the better football. York were a bit more direct, and bearing in mind the size of their strikers and their team in general you can see why. Hatch was marked very well and alas went off making a challenge to win the ball back in the second half.

In the first 45 mins, I felt we played the best football and had the best opportunities but failed to make the most of them (does this ring a bell?). We controlled the game because we were packing and the midfield. However, because the midfield was packed we failed to link up sufficiently with Hatch, who was isolated, and was being well marked.

Nico was doing what he does best and worst, again. His last-ditch challenges and clearances once again made a huge difference but he was running around well off the pace again. It says a lot for him that he manages to keep his temper so (relatively) well these days. It must be so frustrating for him, being made to chase the ball around the pitch by players who wouldn’t have been fit to tie his boots five years ago. Good for him anyway – I think Money is shaving off some of the dafter points to his game: we haven’t seen any match-losing last minute passes to the opposition for a while or indeed two footed lunges in the box in the last minute – but he is on the transfer list and has that hanging over him and yet he hasn’t allowed his game to drop because of it, in fact you could say that it has picked up in the last few weeks. Notwithstanding this, Nico was substituted for Blackett in the second half, shoring up the left hand side of the defence and giving him a run-out too. This meant Craddock moved up front with MBH who had come on for Liam Hatch. MBH seemed a bit more lively in this game than in the last, but still owes us a few goals methinks.

Gnapka had replaced Hall but didn’t make too much of an impact other than a nice move where he fed in Craddock who after a deft bit of skill let it run too far and the keeper picked it up.

The second half was largely York carving out chances, but our defence held firm time and time again. Pilkington and Kovacs were immense at the heart of defence. Keane played pretty well, closing people down where Nico didn’t; Jarvis was quiet on the right, but made a bit more impact when Claude came on. York had a number of opportunities but we held firm and the result was a fair one. I didn’t mind coming away from York with a draw, especially against such a well drilled and strong team who would look perfectly at ease in the division above.

For the record our away results in the league since and including Cambridge have been:

26/9 Cambridge 4-3 win (Harford)
10/10 Kidderminster 2-1 win (Neilson)
17/10 Altrincham 1-0 win (Neilson)
14/11 Grays 2-0 win (Money)
5/12 Chester 0-0 draw (Money)
23/1 Gateshead 1-0 win (Money)
27/1 Histon 2-0 win (Money)
6/2 Barrow 1-0 win (Money)
13/2 Eastbourne 1-0 win (Money)
16/2 York City 0-0 draw (Money)

That’s all I am writing for now as I am fighting to stay awake! How some folk manage to work nights goodness only knows, my respect goes to them.

I’m going to miss the next two games, which is annoying, especially as they are at home, and I can’t recall when I last missed a home game. However, for once, there are more important things at hand, we are moving home next week (further away from Watford) and so there is packing and moving to be done! My internet connection will be down from Monday until next Thursday and so I’ll be ‘off air’ until Saturday 27th. I’ll still post on Saturday, though it won’t be a match report as such (a bit like tonight I hear you say) just my impressions I suppose.

Right – off to bed – I may be gone some time…

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A Barrow Victory for Luton

The last time I visited Barrow I was eight years old and I remember two things about it. It was largely brown and it has an excellent toy shop which sold Subbuteo. Well, thirty something years later, I couldn’t find the toy shop, and little else had changed. My mood wasn’t helped by a dodgy satnav and getting wholly lost. I did get there in time to find surprisingly few changes to the team which lost against Ebbsfleet last time.

Tyler was back, and a welcome sight it was too, though his kicking hasn’t improved in the long break he has had.

Keet’ Keane was right back, Pilks and Kovacs were in the middle, and Murray was on the left.

In the middle were Pinky and Perky Hall and Nico, with Gnapka back on the right and surprisingly Adam Newton on the left. This was a surprise and a disappointment. Why play Newton there when he has been off form recently, had an absolute shocker last week and would be playing out of position? Nelthorpe has looked lively each time he has come on and is a left winger by trade. Oh well, ours not to reason why… Up top were Liam Hatch and Tommy Craddock. M B-H was off sick. His mum had sent a note.

The match started in sunshine and got increasinly foggy (at least I hope it was fog and not some radioactive mist from Sellafield) which was how the game was, but in reverse. If you see what I mean. The match started foggy, but with a sunny ending.

It was quite a familar performance to those who have followed the Hatters on the road this year. ‘Professional’ is how Mr Money calls them, but it basically translates as lots of huffing and puffing and plenty of half chances.

Apart from the first corner, Nico’s set pieces seemed to be clicking, a free kick found Pilks’ head nicely, but alas he headed over.

Newton had a sniff after a poor back pass gave him a chance against the keeper, but he was snuffed out and the ball ran to Tommy Craddock, who feeling sorry for the keeper, seemed to pass it back to him. Barrow were direct and physical, ‘typical’ non-league so it was a sort of justice when Bolland had to be taken off after clashing heads with Hatch, I think it was. Like a lot of northern chaps, good at dishing it out, but not quite so good at taking it!

A long hoof and a nod on, caught us out, just last last week and I thought “here we go again” as Chadwick strode into the box. Fortunately his shot ended up somewhere near the lakes.

Chadwick is one of those players who we seem to have been playing a lot recently. Perhaps his own fall from better days has mirrored ours, and he is working his way down the divisions too.

Craddock had another half chance and fluffed it, but at least he was getting some chances to fluff. Apart from an excellent run and shot by Claude down the right, ending up with Hall flashing wide/high that was about it in the first half. End to end with lots of stuff in the air, but not much to show for it.

We started much, much brighter in the second half and looked as if we wanted to take the game to Barrow at long last. Hatch, Craddock and Gnapka both having chances. But still no goal came.

Nwokeji came on for Newton with about half an hour to go. Along with the rest of us, the linesman would have been relieved that Newton went off because it meant he wouldn’t be flagging for offside so often. MN made an immediate impact with a shot from the edge of the box. We switched to a 4-3-3 and looked better for having the pace of Nwokeji troubling the part-timers defence. Jarvis came on about 10 minutes later and had a good game and looked in excellent touch and form.

Barrow had a couple of chances in a short space of time – Jones fluffed a chance after Pilks clashed with Tyler. Tyler then had to make his only real contribution in the game, which was an excellent block. Barrow were suddenly on top for the first spell in the game, as it got increasingly foggy.

Then one of those strange twists of fate that they make films out of. Hatch was ready to be substuited, not because lack of effort, but because the poor lad has just come back from injury and was flagging a little, with Nelthorpe ready to replace him. Claude had taken a knock from Jellyman their left back, and so hobbled off, leaving Hatch in place and Nelthorpe on the left.

This change brought the decisive spell of play from which we didn’t look back.

Jarvis played an excellent ball to Nelthorpe whose shot ‘okay lads, it was a cross’ forced Jones (I think) to clear off his line for a corner. Cue Nico to deliver the sort of corner he used to when he had Howie to aim at and BANG Liam Hatch got his second (well, third really) goal for the town.

A minute later Hatch charged down a hoof from the keeper and Nwokeji failed to make them pay. Another minute later, another corner and almost a repeat effort of the goal, another excellent corner sees the keeper touch it over from another Hatch effort.

He could have had a hat-trick as another minute later Hatch volleyed over. At the end it was all Luton and well deserved.

I must say though, once Money actually played his best players, eg Jarvis, Nwokeji and Nelthorpe, we were a team transformed. I have always avoided advising what my first XI would be on this – but it strikes me that Hatch and Nwokeji up front, with Nelthorpe on the left and Jarvis in the middle would give our next opponents, Oxford, a run for their money. Why can I see it but not the boss?

I was pleased to see Nico start connecting with his set-pieces, albeit long overdue. If he is going to give Hatch an assist every game or even two in every five games, like he did under Newell, then he becomes an important part of the team again.

I was overjoyed with the win. The long journey back would have been too depressing if we had been unable to beat the part-timers, or God forbid, lost. Once you get on the M6 Lancashire seems to go on forever. Once you get away from the damn county, you seem to make some decent progress, but driving through Lancashire is like wading through treacle. At least I had a bit of egg-chasing to listen to on the radio on the way back.

So, it rather sets it up quite nicely for the Oxford game on Tuesday. As ever, I absolutely cannot wait. It is Sunday night, and I’m already counting down the hours. This will be the true acid test.

Now, it seems to be a Luton tradition that we struggle against the weaker sides (or at the very least don’t put them to the sword in the way that we should) and often do well against sides better placed than us. I could list dozens of examples but won’t, because it is bed-time and work tomorrow. This would suggest that Tuesday night under the lights against the top club we will be in for a bit of a rip-roarer. Oh for a repeat of the Hull result when Brko got that header and the roof on the Kenny End lifted by a foot. Oh for the 2-0 against Brighton when Enoch tore them apart.

I hate to tempt fate, and I apologise if this now ruins our chances, but if we win our games in hand, and beat Oxford, and they drop another game between now and the end of the season we will be seriously there or thereabouts. However, a word of caution – we have still to play York and St Evenage away (both still undefeated) and Mansfield and Rushden away. I suspect that it is these results and the Oxford one that will really determine if we are serious contenders or hoping to sneak into the play offs.

Another fact that has crept up on me is our away form. Notoriously poor away from home down the years, this year it is the jewel in our crown.

Here are a few facts for you: Since the Wrexham away game on the 22nd of September – when we were oh so poor, and Mick rewarded the players with a night on the beers with the bus shelter incident – we haven’t been beaten away from home in the Blue Square Premier. This amounts to 7 (seven) away games without defeat. In fact we haven’t conceded a goal away from home in the league since October against Kidderminster, when we won 2-1. It has sort of snuck up on me, and I hate to say it, but it is the underlying away form of a team that is doing quite well.

If we are to kick on from here, and Money’s influence and style eventually takes hold and presuming we do actually hit our straps at some point then we have a very sound base to start from. However, if Oxford sit us back down on Tuesday, then we can reassess our goals.

Righty ho, off to bed then. Apologies if the match report itself was a little more truncated than usual, but I had typed it all out once and then acidentally deleted it, so I had to remember what I wrote.

Many thanks to all of you who manage to make it to the end of the post, and also to those of you good enough to take the time to leave a comment. All feedback is good.

Come on you Hatters!

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"A bad day at the office"…

… said Mr Money, and that it surely was. On Friday I refused to even contemplate defeat. Perhaps not an unreasonable assumption based on having had three wins on the trot, the fact that we were playing a side at the bottom end of the table, and having lived with a team two divisons above us at the start of the month.

Richard Money described the result and the game as the worst in all of his years in football. I don’t think it was even the worst game this season. Clearly he wasn’t at the Kettering away game, and the home game wasn’t much better, or Wrexham. We’ve had a few stinking performances in the past few years, and whilst it was totally embarrassing to lose to Ebbsfleet, and the defending was woeful, I didn’t think that the performance in the scheme of things was much worse than just ‘piss-poor’. It was rubbish, but we’ve played worse. I’m not making excuses – just trying to reduce Money’s hyperbole a little.

At least we got three goals, only two of which were allowed. I was full of praise of the ref before the game, because it was quite obvious that usual corner of the ground was still frozen and, laughable though it would have been, some of the pedants we have had reffing at the Kenny in the past few years would have called it off. However, fifteen minutes before the kick off was the last time the ref endeared himself to me. His performance was as bad as Luton’s. He was happy to allow us free kicks in our own half, but not any in Ebbsfleet’s half. I lost count of the occasions when a blatant foul by one of their players was given against us. We were truly playing against 12 men. I find it hard to believe that someone can have such a bad game without being bent. If he is genuinely capable of being that poor he shouldn’t be allowed near a pub game.

So, the team for this epic journey was: Pilks in goal, Murray at left back, Keane at right back, George Pilks and new-boy Kovak at centre half. On the right wing Newton, in the middle Nico and Hall, and Craddock the left. Up front, M B-H and Liam Hatch.

Just as in the last two games we allowed the opposition to start brightly. Pilkington got a knock after bravely blocking a shot, whilst still in pain he brought off a world-class save (a phrase I use sparingly) from a cracking long range drive from Peter Holmes (remember him? We could do worse…) Unfortunately the next kick he did was his last, and on came Shane Gore for his league debut. I’m not yet aware of the extent of Pilk’s injury so I don’t know if we have to go and find yet another keeper. Next time I go on about it being a waste having a keeper on the bench, please ignore me.

Alarm bells should have been ringing as they soon had another couple of chances – their lad Ashikodi was getting more room than a tramp on a bus. It was almost as if the players had been told that they would catch something of they went anywhere near him.

The worst culprit of all was Adam Newton, he repeatedly failed to close down their left back who was passing the ball untroubled by any pressure. A bloke behind me shouted “We’re all bloody cold Newton, put some effort in”. He failed to heed the advice, and I’m of the opinion now that Mr Newton won’t be getting a second year at our club. I think there is more chance of a spotty schoolboy with bad breath getting a snog with the Queen.

Then, against the run of play, Liam Hatch scored his first goal for us. Hatch was the one of the few players who looked particularly bothered yesterday, I might count Keane and Ed A-A and probably Craddock as the ones who put some effort in, but Hatch was head and shoulders above anyone else. Literally. Craddock played him in and he powered his way into the box, we thought he had taken it too far and had to go past Charles, however he persevered and drilled a shot into the far corner with his left peg. A good finish from someone who yet again failed to get one into the net in the pre-match warm up.

Did we kick on from this? Did we build on our unexpected luck? No. We were still pedestrian and going forward were caught by their defenders pushing right up. I guess their equaliser was inevitable, but it was so simple. Viera I think it was, was played inside by the lad named Stavros (or something similar) and slotted it home. Never has the phrase “a hot knife through butter” been more apt. Until the second goal that is. Newton was the culprit for me as he failed to close Easton down, Keane followed him, then stopped when he remembered he was right back. Easton moved inside and crossed/passed for Shakes, who took out Gore, and crossed for Viera to poke it in again. Two goals in four minutes would certainly have changed Money’s half time talk and his mood.

It didn’t change the outcome, but he did change the shape. Newton, who by now should have been substituted was moved to right back. Keane was moved to the middle, where he should have started. Craddock stayed on the left, but M B-H was moved on to the right of a three. It was sort of a four, because Asa Hall pushed right forwards when we were attacking to make a front four. However, this meant that there was a whacking great hole behind where the midfield should have been. This made us completely vulnerable to Ashikodi’s pace when Ebbsfleet broke forward. Unfortunately it also meant that we knocked the ball long down the channels to our two strikers pretending to be wingers.

However, suddenly we were back on level terms with the sort of bits and pieces goal we don’t score enough of these days. Ed showed hidden talents with a Delap-esque long throw, nodded on by Asa I think and Craddock bundled himself and the ball into the net. Hurrah for Tom, well deserved.

The reason for their third goal had been hanging around and haunting us for a while now without anyone doing anything about it. It has been the elephant in the room for some time. It has been the occasion murmur in the stands as a point to note, but without causing great concern. It has been the whisper on the lips of those monitoring the tactics. It is this: for some unknown, unthinkingly dim reason, we don’t leave anyone up front when defending corners. We have all 11 players in or around the box. Most of you who read this, Watford fans excepted, will have enough brain power to realise that this leaves us with no ‘out’, no option to clear the ball to when we gain possession. Now, ideally, you need to leave someone up front who can’t contribute to the defence of the corner. Perhaps the shorter of the two strikers, or perhaps a Craddock. Or alternatively someone who can hold the play up and bring others into the game, though often this is a tall striker, who you may want to be marking the opposing centre-half, so traditionally it is a shortish striker, or someone who is really quick, a la Mark Nwokeji.

However, if you leave no one up, this means that, logically, the only thing we should do is to clear the ball into touch, to allow the team to reshape for the throw. But no, that seems to be beyond the thinking of our players and/or coaching staff.

And lo, it came to pass that the Hatters defended a corner and Pilks did play the ball out of the box, not into touch but into the way of the one known as Salmon, who unopposed did whack the ball back in for Mr Ashokodi who did smite the Hatters by cracking it past the goalie and there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth by the good folk Luton-by-the-Lea.

Schoolboy stuff. In fact, most school XIs would be embarrassed by some of our tactics and performance, and certainly by the third goal. Flowery embellishment by me aside, boy, has that goal been coming.

Cue even more booing and chanting. Money said afterwards that when fans started singing “what a load of rubbish” he was joining in. He certainly applauded those in the Kenny End who chose to sing it.

I didn’t. I was so stunned that I started to chuckle like a mad bloke. The scoreline was so shocking to my system that my psyche refused to accept it and so I started laughing like a fool. Perhaps my subconscious was protecting me from what should have been suicidal depression.

We actually scored a third, Craddock worked well down the left and played a delectable ball to Hatch who rose perfectly to power the ball into the net. We celebrated. The Luton players turned and started to run back to their own half. Time passed. The clock ticked. I sent a couple of texts amd composed some notes for this. I made a couple of calls. Then the linesman flagged for offside.

It was almost as it he was waiting for an appeal, as in cricket. He raised his flag, just after one of the Ebbsfleet players raised his hand. Now I sit behind the goal, and so have no idea if it was offside or not, but it didn’t strike me as a blatant one. The referee debated it with his linesman, though I suspect his conversation was something more like “I got Ebbsfleet at 9.4 on Betfair, what about you?”

We pressed and pressed for the last 20 mins, and had a succession of half chances. This is the reason why I don’t think this was our worst performance this year. Compared to some of the non-performances we have put in, at least we were in their half and trying to score for the last quarter of the game.

Nelthorpe came on for about 5 mins and looked good and lively, God only knows why he didn’t start.

And then that was that, final whistle after four minutes of extra time, largely spent by the corner flag at the Oak Road end. Cue booing and jeering and general disgust.

I have been trying to put the finger on our malaise. I think it is because we have almost too many players for each position. Too much choice. Think back to when Newell took over. I think we had 3 centre halves at the club, two right backs, one of whom was a youth player. We two first team central midfielders and two reserve midfielders in Leary and O’Leary.

Now, we have a lot of players, and a lot of players who can play in a lot of positions. We have more strikers than we know what to do with and appease as many as possible by giving them a game, but play them out of position. We have a captain who tries hard, but who is not really up to it any more.

Until we know who our best striking partnership is, who our best left winger is, who our best defensive midfielder is, whether or not we should play a central midfielder in the hole or in the centre circle (Hall can do one not the other) who our first choice right back is (should be Ed) who our best central paring is. Who our first choice left back is. We are spoilt for choice with players who can play in more that one position.

Take Jake Howells. Is he a lightweight left-back or a left winger? If he is a left back then why have we signed Murray for 18 months? If he is a winger then why play Craddock there, or why loan Nelthorpe. What about Taylor Nathaniel? What hope for him if Jakey can’t get a game?

Ed. Is he a centre half or a right back? He did a great job at centre half last season, including the Wembley final.

Jarvis – holding midfielder, central midfielder, attacking midfielder (his preference) or right or left winger?

Claude? Sleepy right back or nippy winger?

Porno? First choice left back or third choice winger?

Do you see what I mean? – It’s no wonder we have not clicked.

Based on the last two performances, injuries notwithstanding, my preference up front would be Hatch, who can lead the line and hold the ball up, with the nippy Nwokeji alongside. What? I hear you say…this means that £150ks worth of Craddock and M B-H would be on the bench. Yes I say. Let them fight for a place, by bagging goals when they come on as sub. Let M B-H score 4 goals for the reserves and insist on a place. No one should be getting a game just for the sake of it.

So, where do we go from here? Money said in his press conference that if he could bring 12 players in on Monday to replace those who appeared today (Hatch apart) he would. However, speculation ahead of the Barrow game is pointless this far out as injuries will have a big say on the team.

Now even though I couldn’t even begin to contemplate defeat in the pub on Friday night, I said that if the result was a draw or a loss, it would be a blip rather than an indicator of where we are. And I still think that is the case, however galling and hard to swallow the defeat was. Money will lead us to salvation, eventually.

Fair play to Ebbsfleet, they, like so many before them, stuck to their game plan, executed it well, and battled hard.

It can’t be so hard for us to do the same can it? All we need is a game plan, some players to execute it who are also capable of battling hard. Oh dear. We’re stuffed then….

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