Millwall must be Quaking in their Boots!

 

As sure as night follows day Greggy Taylor was dropped, Paul Buckle, a man who makes no mistakes himself, has cast him asunder like an unforgiving wife after his one rather public mistake. Farewell Greg…

…meanwhile back on the pitch – today I was looking forward to seeing the new pairing of ‘Stavros’ Thomas and Steve McLumpy. The new Donaghy and Foster. That’s Donaghy and Foster as they are now of course, not c1988. One was a no show still waiting international clearance/left his passport in Pathos and the other one well, erm, had a good game actually.

In the absence of Thomas, Kovacs has a surprise reprise, and no wonder, because he’ll be needed against Millwall next week. He nodded the ball away quite happily all afternoon, almost as if he was playing against Grant Holt again – probably not well enough for the manager though. Alongside him, the pot-bellied McNulty barely put a foot or head for that matter wrong. His passing was more accurate than Kovacs’ and, what he didn’t have in speed, he made up for in positioning. He was a comedy nuisance to their keeper at corners too – worth the entrance fee alone for that. His first clearance got a ‘hoof’ accompaniment from the crowd (and he had been greeted with a chorus of you fat bastard) – but most clearances and passes after that were greeted by a semi-surprised ironic cheer. I anticipate a status amongst fandom somewhere between Enoch and Roper.

And what of the 1-1? Well I thought the first half was quite bright and a reasonable game, spoilt only by the whistle-happy and card-happy ref, who did make some strange decisions, usually only after the away dugout leapt up and appealed like a Pakistani slip cordon. The ref was only too happy to oblige. He added to his impressive tally of red cards this year in the second period by sending off Lawless and ex Watford chancer Al Bangura. Lawless got done in the now traditional double-tap. His first foul warranted a card, but still fresh and recognisable in the ref’ s mind gave away a silly freekick about a minute later when he seemingly went through the back of his man, leaving the ref little choice but to give him a second one. Bangura went after giving someone a slap near the tunnel, which was convenient as he didn’t have far to go. In piled both sets of players, but alas, rather than a full-scale pagga it was handbags and a bit of pushin’, which ultimately saw JJ get a yellow. I’m sure J block and those in the enclosure by the tunnel gave the former human trafficking ‘victim’ a hearty send off and wished him well for the future. They must have done because he gave them a cheery wave back, sharing the love.

The second half was a more dreary affair, with less quality and fewer chances from either side. On came super-subs O’Donnell and Fleetwood, ably assisted by Mendy. Mendy and O’Donnell replaced the two wingers Martin and Nielson when we needed to play more narrow across the middle to match FGR’s three following Lawless’ sending off.  I thought Martin made three or four good runs, and hugged the touchline well. He didn’t get to the byline and crossed a bit more hopefully from the deep, and in the first half of the first half his crosses didn’t look that dangerous, save for the all important one for the goal where Gray mistimed a header which went up rather than in, but still managed to come down and find the back of the net. The first goal in a long time which was preceded by an ‘Ohhhh’ for missing the chance, before it actually dropped in. Gray could have had a second after another good pass by Martin, but failed to squeeze it in.

Of course it need not have been 1-1 – the ref, having missed a blatant handball by Stokes in the box, also failed to spot Gray being felled by Oshodi, but fortunately the lino spotted it, and the ref spotted him. Alas Gray’s penalty posed more of a threat to those people sitting in the upper tier of the Kenny than Russell in the FGR goal.

It was another set-piece that led to their goal. Matt Taylor (no, not that one) continuing his good form by heading Klukowski’s free kick pass Tyler at the free post. Not sure who was supposed to be marking him, but they didn’t. Hang on, it’s probably Greg Taylor’s fault.

Over all in the game we did have plenty of chances and half chances – Shaw has a good couple, I recall Nielson volleying Martin’s cross and Fleetwood, Gray’s replacement, had a chance near the end.

McLumpy got the traditional award of man of the match award to a new player in his first home game. Ugly old beast he may be, but he just about warranted it today, perhaps Martin pushing him closest.

Millwall presumably sent someone to watch that and how they must be quaking in their boots now. Fortunately, once again we will have to play deeper and on the counter I presume, and not like we did today at all. I don’t think we showed anything today that will have them losing sleep.

The cup run really is papering over the cracks this year. Just like last season we have limped along, not at any point looking settled or looking like hitting our straps. 14 points behind Grimsby now, and yes, I know we have half the season to play and three games in hand, but realistically, unless a miracle happens and the form of the team is transformed, grubbing into the play offs is the best we can do, once again. For goodness sake.

Let me remind you – as if you needed it – this, in a season with no sugar daddy club in it. No Fleetwood, no Crawley. No Oxford, no York, no Stevenage or even bloody Wimbledon.  All the big boys have gone. This is the most open, weakest Conference season for many a year, yet we are floundering in the league. Drifting in an open sea (or sewer?). What does that say about the players, manager and coaching staff? PB has a worse record this season than dear Mick (who was pilloried, for having no tactical clue) by Richard Money (who never had the fans, and who eventually lost the players, than Gary Brabin (don’t get me started) all of them were doing better at this stage than PB (who doesn’t make any mistakes himself). This should have been the season we cruised this division. Instead seemingly we just go further and further back with each new season despite all the new signings. Whatever we do seems to just makes things worse.  The signings get more and more expesive but seemingly continue to dilute the quality. My old mum used to say don’t fiddle with it you’ll only make it worse. So true – but what could we have done?

Anyway – doom and gloom aside, in the cold light of day, we got a point today at home to the side in third. In almost any other league we’d go away slightly disappointed – but we’d be saying a point is a point. But the opposition was Forest Green and we are in non-league. We need to leave please! Give me the chance to write weekly upbeat reports please!

Tuesday, away to Dartford, who have been in freefall more or less since they beat us. I’m going to try to make it – but will be driving back down from the north west and will be relying on the M6, M42, M40 and M25 being kind to me to make it, hmm…

Next Saturday Millwall return in an FA Cup game for the first time since the 13th March 1985. I trust they will be better behaved guests this time round. I’m looking forward to the game, and who knows…could our luck hold for a third time? Wouldn’t that be superb? Dare we dream of greater things once again…?

Come on you Hatters – time to click and to start winning. The skill’s nearly there, now show us you care!

 

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We Dared to Dream… (FA Cup 4th Round – Norwich City away)

 

…and that dream came true. Into the last 16 we go and our FA Cup odyssey in this most peculiar of seasons continues. For those of you who think that football started in 1992 we are the first team in the fifth tier to beat a premiership team, and in any case the first 5th tier v 1st tier win since 1989.

What I can’t get my head around though, is the gulf in quality I thought there would be, over what was in fact two seemingly reasonably evenly matched teams. Though some of our touches were heavier and our passes slightly less accurate there was no doubting the togetherness and teamwork that epitomised today’s display in the way it did against Wolves. I was anticipating a potential whoomping, such was the esteem that I had afforded the Premiership team – how wrong I was.

Good time to play Norwich of course, like Wolves they had been on a bad trot and they were not playing with the swagger, belief and confidence of high-flyers. No – there was only one team out there that had a unity of purpose and a one-ness with their supporters. We fed off them and they fed off us. Every clearance, throw, pass, block and interception was cheered. When Paul Buckle and Gary Sweet talk to potential players about joining Luton they must mention the crowd, the 42k at Wembley, the history and the passion and that on the good days, it is very, very good. Well fellas today was that special day, just like the ones they sold to you.

Interestingly where Norwich were superior was their pace in counter attack and their ability to place direct balls on the floor through the channel. But we coped with that well, other than a couple of times when Taylor was substantially outpaced down the left, but our defensive organisation readily dealt with the outcome. Mark Tyler was called on to do a couple of fantastic saves. But I think the fast counter attack was half their problem really. These top teams now are so used to playing each other in a non-tackling and sitting deep kind of way (to such an extent that I bet my mate £25 for every time we were caught offside today eg  that we wouldn’t ever be) that they don’t seem to have a plan B. Whereas today the boot for Luton was very much on the other foot. Used to trying to break down teams intent on defending (not that that was our pure intention today) today the pressure was off completely because we knew that we would be in for a battle and that we could happily try to play on the break feeding Gray a la Wolves. Actually, whilst we had to dig deep and defend solidly, we were in control or rather not under pressure for good chunks of the game, pressing in our half, and so didn’t have to rely on just breaking against the run of play. Such was the solidness and vigour of our play, Mr Buckle made three attacking substitutions and fair play and hats off to him, it was those changes which won us the game. First of all, he took Mendy off, and Mendy was having a good game in the heart of the midfield, and brought JJ on the left.  JJ has twice the pace of Jake who started on the left and who swapped into the middle, but Jake has more attacking vision that Mendy, so it increased our attacking outlook. Then, after 75 minutes, when other managers would have looked to clog up the midfield and hang on for a draw, he swapped Shaw for Rendell and Gray for Fleetwood. Both in the same positions like for like – eg one playing slightly behind the other, Rendell to nod the ball on and to get on the end of crosses and Fleetwood to spearhead the attack with his pace. From Norwich’s point of view it was out of the frying pan and into the fire. They had brought Holt on for the second half – we brought Rendell on for 15 minutes. One was more effective than the other. I have no idea what they both earn but I’d suspect Mr Holt might earn 20 times more than our Scott. I’m thinking we got infinitely value from our investment today…

Rarely can three substitutions have had a greater influence on the outcome of a high profile game.  Fleetwood picked up a headed clearance from Kovacs in midfield, ran into space,  then played a wonderful ball through to the screaming and accelerating JJ O’Donnell sprinting into the inside left channel. He raced to the byline just inside where the penalty box meets the goal line. He dragged it back perfectly for Scott Rendell who beat his man and poked it in. Byline gets another goal (please sir, can we have some more?). Queue mayhem, Brko style. I think you needed to be there to appreciate it. But the noise/reaction and reaction certainly goes down in the books in recent memory alongside Brko’s Hull winner, Brko’s equaliser against the scum and Keano’s winner against Oxford. Superb. Utterly superb. That was big.

Now that goal came after 80 minutes, which meant 10 minutes (or 13 with extra time) hanging on. Only it wasn’t really hanging on. Other than the freekick given away on the edge of the box (er, and the handball that wasn’t), nerves aside, I didn’t really think that fate would snatch the win away once we were in front. No – it was our day and we were going to have the headlines and head into the record books. The glory was ours and ours to keep.

So, all the papers tomorrow will talk about giant killing or biggest FA cup shock in a quarter of a century. But it’s not really a giant killing is it? A giant killing would be Liverpool losing to Tamworth or Hyde. Because Norwich are not giants – just a good, well run, decent club (with sporting fans) enjoying some seasons in the sun in the top flight, whilst we are a football league team residing in non-league waiting to come back and resume our journey back up the leagues. It’s a premiership team vs a non-league team in billing, but let’s remember we were competing on equal terms in 2006 and one day will do so again.   It’s stupid isn’t it? Here’s a club that labours in the mud against Woking, gets out muscled by Braintree and implode against Dartford, but who keep clean sheets against teams who are scores of places above us. I’ve got it. I’ve sussed it: In actual footballing terms, if ever a club was to the Manor Born it is us isn’t it? We are the Audrey fforbes-Hamiltons of the football world. Forced to live in the gatehouse whilst the noveau-riche Richard DeVere wallows in cash in the manor house. We are the aristocrats forced to sell the country mansion and made to move into a council flat. We are the public schoolboys reduced to attending an inner city comprehensive. It’s not nice on the shitty side of the street, but boy we’re at home in posh company. We might wander around the playground with gob on the back of our blazers, but our table manners are second to none. Bizarre analogies aside – that’s it isn’t it? We’re much more at home at the top table – it’s the hard yards against Shitkickers FC which we struggle with. We’re at home swimming with the dolphins, instead we find ourselves having to avoid the flotsam and jetsam whilst hiding from the sharks.

Today the footballing Gods who have shunned us so regularly in the past – and indeed who regularly send us nasty-smelling packages in the post – smiled. Yes, a clearance off the line (and no it wasn’t over the line because I was dead on the line where I stood), yes, blocked shots, yes, it might have been a cheeky handball by LRT, (but then again it might have been a penalty against Gray) but we lived with them, and anyway, how guilty have we been of not taking our chances in the past against inferior opposition? Today, rather than taking it, we dished some out and got the fortune and reward that is due to those who wait long enough.

Of the players themselves – what can I say? Lovely for Mark Tyler, not only to have a great game with good saves, but to come back to the club of his youth, playing a top notch game on his home ground and keeping a clean sheet would have been very, very special. He must feel a million dollars tonight. I’ve already mention Greg Taylor – but in a negative sense. But it was his block in the first half that kept us in the game, and his height at set plays and positional sense in the second half which earned his corn. Henry at right back has settled into his role now. Solid and unspectacular he added intelligence down the right, but defended really well. As did Kovacs and LRT. Ironically, Kovacs didn’t have too much heading to do today – clearances yes, but he didn’t spend his afternoon nodding away long balls hoofed forwards. He was however, a colossus at the heart of the defence. A man-beast. LRT is ten times the player at centre half than he was at left back against Newport. It’s hard to believe they are the same player.

Whilst JJ’s arrival led to the goal, Jake had a really good game at left mid. He picked up the ball in lots of space and used it well, though of course not with pace. He did however have his  best game for a long time. Jon Smith in the middle was a giant. He made two visible passing errors but did not look out of place. What a good piece of business he really is. Mendy I’ve mentioned. Lawless the Brush (Delia this week) had a good game and was played in well by Rendell shortly after Scott was introduced. His shot on the stretch arrowed into the side netting. He put some lovely crosses in and looked at home. Jon Shaw was in a war for 75 minutes and did well. Wasn’t the most effective he has been recently but duh – he was playing against top-flight defenders. Gray ditto. Ideally the focus point of the breaks, Norwich had done their homework and gave him less opportunity to torment them. He was clear through though when tangled with, but a Norwich defender (not sure which one, these premiership players all look alike to me) interfered and snuffed him out/bundled him over. When Fleets came on he was a fresh threat and his pace was an additional headache. Rendell will get the plaudits with his goal and deservedly so – he looked hungry and keen in the 18 minutes he was on the pitch.

They say that you have to experience the lows to appreciate the highs and boy is that the case with Luton Town. I know we are unique in terms of promotions and relegations and promotions again, and dropping out of the league with a record points deduction, three administrations and four years in shit street – but I think we can add today’s win to the list of highs. In future years when we are swanning about back in the league and glossing over and failing to mention the ahem, ‘non-league years’, (like the timeline display at Beaulieu which mysteriously misses out Lord Montague’s ‘middle years’) today was a light in the darkness we will happily look back on with pride. No more, do you remember that draw at Charlton? It’ll be ah – we laboured to get out of the 5th tier but yes, but do you remember that win at Norwich? Oh yes, I was there.

Bring on the Arsenal, I fancy a bit of the Emirates please – I’ve got a taste for this high life.

 

 

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The Calm before The Storm

 

As I type this we are in the quiet, nervous period between the two games. The eye of the storm if you will, where all that happens is that the respective managers give out positive messages, whilst concentrating 100% on the task in hand.

Whatever happens tomorrow (and I was one of the ones who were too slow off the mark to get a ticket) in this past month, since the last Bank Holiday Monday we have seen an unprecedented about-turn in our performances and fortunes.

A month ago if you had told me that the team that we were all happy to slag off, who were underperforming and limping along without a win in eight games would then go unbeaten in the next seven, with six clean sheets on the trot I wouldn’t have believed you – I don’t think anyone thought that the change around would be so comprehensive and effective.  It is fairy-tale Roy of the Rovers stuff – and is down to the discipline, determination and drive of Paul Buckle.

I can’t think of such a turnaround in a season before. To go from zeros to heroes in such a short space of time (Buckle had 24 hours) is utterly, utterly remarkable. Pinch yourself.

It isn’t just the results that are different. It is the fact that in the past few games we have been resilient at the back, we have always been first to the loose ball, we have closed down from the front,  got stuck in and winning challenges, and delightfully attacking at pace on the break. A little bit of the early 1980s Hatters have rubbed off on non-league Luton. Furthermore, if you could have devised a playing style and an attitude to get the Luton faithful on your side – this would be it. This would truly be it. For me, this is what I’ve been waiting for all these years.

It was so wonderful to be in a very nearly full Kenilworth Road once again. The atmosphere spurred the players on the way that the boos dispirited them previously. And what a buzz for Andre Gray. Playing in front of a few hundred a few weeks ago and now a near full Kenilworth Road – no wonder he is responding. Fleetwood too was on fire (in a Poku way) his determination for the first goal and his left-foot finish for the second raised the roof at the Kenny End once again. Good to see AMS back and playing again – and big Macca did his job well too when he came on.

Having gone all of the season without a performance or result against the teams in the top 5, to go and whoomp Fleetwood and whack Wrexham was very special and out of the blue. It would have fascinating to see what would have happened if we had been like this from the start of the season. This is most certainly the method that we should have been applying since that first game away to Wimbledon in August 2009.

My only worry is that having had all those chances to make it three, or four or even five against Wrexham, that fate turns around and slaps us in the face and punishes us for the profligacy once again. Perhaps, however, the fact that Wrexham have to get two goals, may enable us to counter attack for a third one in the tie?We can but hope.

But if we have a modicum of luck and play as well again as we have in the past two games, we shouldn’t give Wrexham a sniff, should we???

As the clock ticks around to 4 30pm tomorrow, I’m going to be getting more and more nervous – just one more sound performance and we are at our home-from-home again. …

All the best to those lucky ones of you going up to Wrexham in the morning – well done & sing your hearts out for the lads, I’ll be watching from behind the sofa…

Come on you Hatters.

 

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A win, a sleep, a whinge and a rant.

 

GB, you are driving me bloody mad

A win is a win certainly, but this victory against the bottom club was rather lacklustre and uninspiring. In fact at one point I nodded off.

I was delighted to get to the game in any case and like most people hoping for a goal-fest. Some dodgy organisation by me as well as a simple failure to check the rearranged fixture list meant that I was supposed to be 50 miles away. At times during the game, I wished I was.

The tempo of our play was so slow that it perpetually gave Bath the chance to get everyone back. If ever a game cried out for an ability to suck a side onto us before breaking out quickly this was it, especially after going one up. O’Connor, our fastest player, warmed the bench all afternoon, inexplicably. Kovacs’ header should have been the catalyst. Instead the players just hit the snooze button.

Watkins, oozing confidence after his Italian-Job , did his best to pep up a pedestrian midfield – once brought on – and, of course, showed Crow et al, in the most emphatic way possible, where the old onion bag was.

Stuart Fleetwood, our new left winger (irony) also sparked some life, pace and energy into the performance, too little too late.

Was I being unrealistic to expect a side that had played so well against Gateshead would continue in that vein and not lurch back to its Swindon Supermarine form?

I don’t know what it is with them. I think that since our last quality flair players left, eg Drury and Gnapka, we simply lack the quality to readily and regularly unpick sides who park the proverbial bus.

It is the inconsistency that drives me potty. Good one week, average or poor the next. Just as a good performance gives us hope that we might be getting into something good, the next game we take a step or even two steps back. The daft thing is – despite all of this – we are comfortably third, haven’t shipped a goal at home in the league since the Fleetwood game and are in the semi-finals of the FA trophy. Just think about how good we could be if we hit our straps. Invariably we will surprise everyone at Wrexham, then disappoint against York. We’ll struggle at Darlo then put three past York at home, only to lose at Forest Green. Get the picture? An unfamiliar and unreasonable prediction?? At worst it should be two draws and three wins. Let’s see…

What is it about Fleetwood that makes them win week in week out? Are they that much better than us, man for man? Is it their style, their money, the way they play, the belief or the motivational ability of the manager? Some managers have it, some do not.

I genuinely think that we would be more or less third anyway this season – with almost anyone in charge, be it Dickie Dosh, Big Mick, or my Mum. Perhaps our default position would be 3rd position in the league and the play offs. If we do nothing much in a season of non league, we finish 3rd anyway. What we need is a manager who is capable of transforming us into that side who can take the table by storm. There just is not that spark there. We need to be going into the play-offs as the form team in top gear, not bobbing along in the comfort zone. There is just no evidence that that is going to be the case. Unfortunately.

Look at Wrexham this year – once they shed the shackles of Saunders’ inability to win anything, they’ve pushed on, arguably with a weaker team in parts.

Look at Oxford – were they that better than us when they went up? They’ve held their own in the division above and are knocking on the door of the play-offs this year. They had something.

Look at that shower in Hertfordshire who we beat 1-0 at their place two seasons ago, a nothing club, with a mediocre attendance, they adopted a style and a winning methodology which has transformed them from also-rans to knocking on the Championship door. It can be done – certain managers have it – others do not. (By the way I am not, for one second, advocating we play like Westley’s side did – I’m just making a point that he’s got it, when others haven’t).

Let’s look at the some of the squad we had for the first season in non league under Mick and Rick: Craddock, Hall, Heslop, Gallen, Gnapka and even Burgess were better than we have now, and all of them could contribute that spark to create something out of nothing. Since we began our policy of recruiting mostly non-league journeymen, we have gradually drifted down to that level. We have ceased to be a league club temporarily banished from the league to serve time in the non-league wilderness – we are now a non-league club. A big non-league club, but a non-league club nevertheless. We are the same as York, Wrexham, Cambridge and Mansfield. We are in the company of Alfreton, Braintree and Hayes and Yeading and eat at the same table as Ebbsfleet, the comedy computer club.

Whatever the reasons for being here, the playing staff and manager have reconciled us to the circumstances we have found ourselves in, and have become part of those surroundings. Rather than trying to stay proud, aloof and separate (ie a league club in exile) we have assimilated ourselves to non-league. Rightly or wrongly, we are part of the dross now.

How do we get out? There’s the million dollar question. We need a manager with that certain something, that spark that makes good teams into great ones. A manager who is going to go on to better things, a manager who we would genuinely feel gutted if he were tempted away. We need to play a combination of youngsters who are going to go on to be good, and to recruit players through purchase and loans who will go on to play at a higher level , enjoying the benefit of their growth an improvement whilst still at this club; and a core and backbone of more experienced professionals whose experience can rub off on the youngsters. We need a settled team playing in a settled formation; a team that picks itself. We have too many players who are quite good, but whose form doesn’t insist that we cannot afford not to pick them. We need a smaller squad of better players, not an enormous squad of slightly better than mediocre players. Presumably both cost the same?

The 2020 board are rightly not chucking money at things, and are trying to run the club in a sustainable way. This is a good thing. We are not failing to get promoted because we are being run on a budget, but because we are not good enough. Other clubs do so much better with less than we have. The manager is the key.

We have too many players who are good, but not good enough. We need players who are good enough to one day play at least two divisions above and who will drag us up through the league finding their own personal level whilst they are in the squad. Players who prove to be too good for non-league.

Moving onto the reserves and fringe players: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, if our youngsters at the club aren’t good enough to be hammering on the door whilst we are in non-league why are they at the club? If they can’t get a league game when we are in this division, when will they ever? If they are not good enough to be challenging whilst we are in the fifth tier, what makes you think they will suddenly be better if we are further up the football league? Of course they won’t.

For the good – but not good enough – players in the first team and reserve teams surely the natural conclusion is a Night of the Long-Knives? A cull? A clear out? Am I suggesting this? Hell yes. Whichever manager comes in in the summer*, I’m expecting a contract bloodbath in June. Just like BFJ did when he came to the club. Too much mediocrity and inconsistency. Not enough aspiration to be better. Really want to get out of this league son? Think you can play in League Two son? Can you? Can you? Then fucking show me you can.

And all this after a 2-0 home win. It’s madness isn’t it? Perhaps I’m expecting too much? Perhaps I’m being unreasonable? Perhaps it is just me? I don’t think so though, I’ve been coming to this ground and watching football for too long. I know when something isn’t quite right.

Just the long trek to North Wales to look forward to…

 

*assuming play-off heartbreak, again.

 

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Lambs Chopped

 

After what seemed like an eternity since the last home league game the Hatters comprehensively beat a rather subdued Tamworth team.

Andre Boucaud made a belated debut in a midfield comprising a rare start (in the league) for JP Kissock and Alex Lawless. Up front was the ever-willing and sharp Stuart Fleetwood, with Howells on the left and O’Connor on the right.

Osano reprised his role at right back in an otherwise unchanged back division of Taylor, Pilks, Kovacs and Tyler.

Fifteen degrees warmer than this time last week (though it didn’t always feel it), today’s crowd and indeed the players experienced some of Bedfordshire’s best rain. Fortunately, this had cleared up by half time which was just as well as the electricity, thus the floodlights was cut off for much of the second half. I don’t know if it was because Gary hadn’t paid the bill or if all of Bury Park was cut off, but it was quite pleasant enough to sit in the gloom for forty minutes. In fact the lights came back on just before the end in an embarrassing late entrance, a little like Derek Smalls’ late exit from his pod in This is Spinal Tap. Ah the irony of having NiceIC as match sponsors.

Osano went off shortly after the goal which was a shame (yes, I did type that) because he had been in so much space out wide on the right touchline, you had to wonder if he was playing in the same game. Or if he’d wound the team up the wrong way and they were avoiding him like a smelly kid in the playground. Strangely, one of the few times we did manage to get the ball to him he surged into the box and shot/crossed, the ball found Fleetwood to took a touch and neatly rounded the keeper for an expert finish which warmed us up.

Brabin said afterwards that Osano had felt his hamstring tighten with all the exertion, and so they brought him off as precaution. Lawless slotted in at right back, breaking up a promising midfield three – and Watkins came in, with Boucaud moving back to the deeper of the three midfielders.

We had three hungry midfielders after that, and their desire to dominate showed. Kissock was always lively, he played some good through balls and cross field balls as well as his characteristic dribbles and step overs. Watkins was as dynamic as usual and Boucaud impressed me – with his work rate, his passing accuracy and his vision (but not his shooting!). Seems to be a good addition to me – but how many midfielders do we have now? Especially as he sees Henry in a free role – what chance has young Watkins got with Keano waiting in the wings – and Poku – good enough to start with Southport each week and not a sniff of the bench for us. How far back is Henry behind all those? Bodes well for the cup next week though…

Fleetwood’s goal puts him level with AMS on ten goals for the season. Unlike Danny Crow who doesn’t like playing on his own up front, Fleetwood seems to relish it. When McAllister came on later on Fleetwood moved to the left, but still up top. Now those two looked as if they had played together before as McAllister nodded on to Fleetwood with impunity – despite being marked by the enormous Watford lump Francino Francis.

However in the first half it was Greg Taylor who first earned his crust – a fine header, more or less off the line kept out a shot from Marna (last seen at Kettering). That was more or less their only shot on target apart from Pilks snuffing out a point blank shot from Reece. Poor Reece – he seemed to be less popular with his colleagues than Osano was with his – hardly got a pass all afternoon. I fully expect to hear that he has signed for Coventry tomorrow having been sent there today.

In the first half we dominated without being convincing, we were a bit ring-rusty I thought. However the second half we completely bossed the game, without getting to the point of mercilessly tearing them apart. Apart from the first five minutes that is. I don’t know what it is that Brabs says to them at half time. Knowing that the opposition are going to come out fighting, he seems to underwhelm them into underachievement. Fortunately today, they threw off the shackles of his motivational speech and carried on embracing some decent footie played on the front foot.

Shortly it was 2-0 – JPK won a free kick on the left. He took the freekick and swung across a lovely booming millionaire’s cross to the far post where Kovacs was waiting having jumped up and down like a mad thing trying to get Kissock’s attention and got a free header to double the score. McAllister was already on the touchline ready to come on and the deal was completed with Kissock being replaced. Jake moved into midfield and for the last 25 minutes played alongside Boucaud in front of the back four, with Watkins being the most advanced in the midfield.

Luton kept on pressing coming close on a number of occasions and played bright attacking, entertaining football having gained confidence from the second goal.

The third goal was an interesting one – Howells had started the move playing the ball to Kovacs staying up the pitch, as he had got a taste for this goal scoring lark. He didn’t quite get his head on it, but in effect nodded it on for Fleetwood to pick up on the left. Fleetwood played in a deep cross to the far post where Howells ,tucked around the corner, headed it back in, Kovacs pounced on it but I think it was Francis’ shins that did the deed. Kovacs celebrated as if he’d scored it, but I think it was a little tongue in cheek.

The last ten minutes was all Luton, driving for the fourth – confidence oozing from every pore – it didn’t come. The usual disease of not being able to convert a higher percentage of chances. But there you go. For the record, Willmott came on at the 90 minutes were up for O’Connor who had worked his socks off all afternoon.

Kovacs and Pilks had sound games at the back and completed most of their passes – hey Pilks even played a cross-field ball to O’Connor, who unfortunately didn’t control it and it rolled out. Taylor had an excellent game and nearly got another goal. Most unlike a Luton left-back. Must be something about the surname. Lawless filled in well at right back and had the freedom of the park in the way that Osano had.

Tyler had barely anything to do – I like the way he recycles ball quicker than Kevin Pilkington and looks to throw the ball out when possible.

Even though Tamworth had the first half-chance in the game, I never thought the result was in doubt. I don’t think it was the same Tamworth that battled through to play Everton in the cup or indeed the team that with 10 men got a draw at Fleetwood. Perhaps we didn’t let them play – perhaps we played too well for them – perhaps we are a great side after all!

Good or bad, we had a good solid win today that put me in a good mood. The Hatters are five points clear in third and I think it is something like thirteen games unbeaten in the league. No, it doesn’t look like Fleetwood or Wrexham are going to slip up, but it is a good time to get a bit of form and confidence. Always good to be the form team going into the play offs – hey you never know, we might not need to go to penalties…

 

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O’Connor sizzles, but the dream is over for another year…

 

A spirited performance from the Hatters wasn’t enough to see us go through. 4-2 flattered Cheltenham a little because though they were a tight, bright, well-organised team, we went through long spells of the game in control.

It was the same old story – chance after chance – but at least there was more than one goal. And those goals came a sizzling on-fire Aaron O’Connor. Even if he hadn’t got any goals his performance would still have been sufficient to have outshone his coleagues.

I often get the feeling we are in for a treat of a game when a better opposition come and score an early goal. Remember Liverpool? Remember the 3-2 against Reading? Game on!

Actually ITV must be gutted that we are out – we are FA Cup TV gold.

The formation was an attacking 4-3-3. Now I have no problem with a proper 4-3-3. It is an attacking formation. Pleaty would often play 4-3-3 and there was nothing wrong with that. However, his midfield would be wider with the midfielders strung across. Ours tends to be a bit narrower with a holding midfielder stuck behind two central midfielders. That tends to necessitate that two of the front three have to act as wide-ish men. But I think for it to be a proper attacking formation you need three proper front men, not two wingers and a striker. Otherwise there is a danger of it soon becoming a 4-5-1. Ian Blackwell anyone?

What should happen of course, if one of the front three goes wide on the wing to pick up the ball the other one of the front three drifts into the box to make a front two. With us I suppose though the front three would be Willmott/AMS on the left O’Connor/AMS on the right and a proper centre forward in the middle.

Personally I would have a big man as part of the front three. Just think: if we’d had a tall man in there yesterday, how many of the crosses which sailed over the top of dear Danny Crow would have been connected? Whilst we still have him, I’d play Brunty in there, otherwise Wright.

There is nothing wrong with having a big man in the front three – you need someone to get on the end of the crosses. However, if we do play a big man in the front three we mustn’t change the way we are playing. Just because you have a big fella up there, does not – I repeat does not – give you the excuse to lump the ball up there at every opportunity. This is for two reasons 1) it’s not what we do. 2) it’s pointless I think, unless you are playing a striker just off him to nod the ball onto/lay the ball off and then we are talking about a 4-4-2 instead.

To use a cricketing example to illustrate my point: Perth is the fastest, bounciest cricket pitch in the world. Because it is so bouncy sides get tempted to bowl short stuff all the time and get carried away with seeing the batmen hop around and the keeper taking the ball above his head– however the sides that prosper at Perth are the ones that pitch the ball up and make the most of the extra bounce off a good length or fuller pitched delivery. Playing with a big man up front is the same. Just because he’s there you don’t have to pump the ball up to him. He’s an outlet, an occasional Plan B or a release valve when clearing the ball – but not the raison d’etre. So many managers’ eyes light up (Mr Money anyone?) when suddenly they have the option of a 6’ 2”plus bloke in there. The game plan changes and the slow build up becomes a hoof it up the middle chaps. No. No. No. He’s there to get on the end of your crosses, to pose a threat at set pieces. Back to Pleaty for a second – he wasn’t averse to having a big player up there (eg Aylott, Big Mick, etc) but you could hardly accuse him of being Mr Route One. No, leave that to the Hertfordshire teams.

I think that 4-3-3 suits the players we now have. We have flair players like Kissock and Dance. Busy midfielders like Watkins, and in theory Lawless (who was, I thought, much improved when playing the deeper of the three yesterday when Keane went off) and holding players like Keano and Hand.(and Godfrey ‘on fire’ Poku – who is indeed on fire at Southport).

With Willmott or Howells or AMS (when fit) on the left, O’Connor or Dance or AMS on the right of a front 3 and Brunt/Wright as the middle man I think that should (**should**) be a real attacking force in this division. In fact – any other team would waltz it with that line up I’m sure.

I would have loved a big tie in the third round (Cheltenham got Spurs) but in a way, nice though it would have been, it would have been papering over the cracks that have appeared and the huge doubts I now have as to the Manager’s ability to get us into the play offs and out the other side. A cup run, or money spinner in January would have diverted attention from the real matter in hand.

Now, a couple of years ago, you will recall that a member of the first team playing squad told me about the shenanigans that were going on under Mick (see link here). I deliberately don’t pass on some of the occasional snippets I hear because it would jeopardise the players trust in me, put him in a tricky position and break my anonymity I guess, potentially.

However, I’ve decided to mention a couple of the chats I’ve had recently. I could detail things at length, but to put them in a nutshell, the first team squad feel that Brabs acts as if he is one of the boys and not the gaffer, he is too close to them and sees himself as one of them (David Brent anyone?) I’ve also been told that the discipline and training the first team get is more akin to a country club than a football club, the players spend a lot of time not training as hard as they might, having a laugh and Brabin lets them get away with it, when others don’t. But thirdly, and something I’d not heard before is how much respect they have for Alan Nielson. His training methods are seen as spot on, widely respected and he has a good awareness of the game and tactical nous. What I learnt however that from the players perspective (and not Neilson’s I hasten to add) GB contradicts some of the things they are working on with AN, i.e. they are working on one thing with AN and then Brabin comes in and says the opposite– and that Nielson is constantly undermined in front of the players. This is interesting, but a little disturbing. I’ve always felt a bit sorry for AN. He was quite happily and successfully working as youth development coach – was reluctantly promoted to first team coach, caretaker manager for five games, then assistant manager to Money, then unceremoniously bumped to First Team Development manager, when Brabin leapfrogged him, and now Brab’s buddy Carden has been brought in. All the time he uncomplainingly gets on with it, and the reserves’ and youngsters results under him this year have been encouraging. It seems to be that he is as likeable, solid and dignified as a coach as he was a player.

Whilst getting two goals in a game has been a rarity recently and should be applauded – conceding four wasn’t so good.

The first goal was a route one comedy of school boy errors – the second goal was an own goal off Gleeson, but the cross should never have been allowed in the first place. The third goal was a good move – in fact Cheltenham appeared to up a gear just when they needed to. Another sign of a good side. The fourth goal – well…Kovacs was deputising as that big striker I have been going on about and so perhaps it is not a surprise. Four goals flattered them a bit – three didn’t though.

What can I say of our defenders? Pilks is seemingly less sharp than he was, perhaps because he is not being tested out at a higher level week in week out. He is only 30, and should be reaching his peak, though to be fair he has spent most of the season injured. Kovacs seems a much better player than we was when he was with us before, though as yesterday showed, he is prone to the odd howler or two. Both should have no problem with anything non-league throws at them though. On the right yesterday Dan Gleeson came back to replace Curtis Osano. It didn’t improve things. Seems bizarre to fling Gleeson in against Cheltenham, when there is a park kick about next Saturday. In any case, Keano is a much better right back than either Osano or Gleeson, so why wasn’t he playing there for the big game? Error of judgement in my humble opinion. What annoys me about Gleeson is his unwillingness to close an oncoming winger down, he is seemingly happy to escort him to the byline. However, when he does put a tackle in he is one of the best tacklers in the team. It is so frustrating. Whilst it didn’t seem as if he was fit yesterday, Brabin insisted that he was match fit. So there you go.

Jake is one of the best crossers and passers in the team and so we are better served with him playing further up – however, because Murray has been injured this year and because Taylor was cup-tied had to play at left back for the umpteenth time. Whilst his positioning and his all round play is better than Gleeson’s unfortunately his lack of pace is what lets him down. He is sometimes outpaced and then fails to stop the cross going in. He’s a really good tackler too if he gets the opportunity to put one in.

Blimey – reading this back sounds like one big whinge – for which I apologise.

What I must say is that I really enjoyed the game yesterday. It was a good cup tie and very entertaining we got our money’s worth.  Our performance was improved and, like I said at the top, for long periods of the game we held our own. How many crosses did we get in – I stopped counting at 10. Or perhaps Cheltenham allowed us to dominate as much as they wanted us to – before they upped a gear. For a little club (average crowd 3,000) they’ve done spectacularly well and just demonstrate what a canny manager can do on a limited budget at any level. Swap ya?

A couple of weeks ago when I said that the next five games were ‘must wins’ and that a club in our position should expect at the very least four wins and a draw from those – I forgot that we were playing Cheltenham instead of Stockport. Nevertheless – of the four league games (Newport away, Telford home, Lincoln away, and Tamworth away) we should be getting 10 points from those games. Well as we have already dropped two against Telford so that means we need to win at Lincoln on Tuesday and Tamworth on the 17th. Anything else should not really be acceptable with the good players we have at the club.

Work prevents me from going up to Lincoln on Tuesday, and family commitments prevent me from seeing Swindon Submarine next Saturday (a game I was looking forward to – I love the unreserved seating games) and also the trip to Tamworth. So I’m having a through-no-fault-of-my-own mid-season break. I’ll be getting withdrawal symptoms.

On Boxing Day we have the unfortunate Kettering who are in freefall that the moment, having only got 2 points from their last seven games. Again, that and the return fixture on New Year’s Day should be nail on certainties, as should the home games against Newport and Stockport.

So really, truly, not wanting to burden the team with too much expectation we should really win the next six league games. Shouldn’t we? We should get 18 points. Am I being unfair? Okay, okay, we know that slip ups do occur and so I would expect us to get perhaps 16 points in those games. Four wins and two draws would give us 14. I’m thinking that would be poor, against teams with an average position of 18th – when we are looking to be promotion contenders.

What I’m trying to get at here is how poor do the results have to be in must-win games for the board to sit up and take notice? If we win all six then fine, perhaps, things would have been turned around – confidence will be high and things will start to click. Suddenly the luck will go our way. But what happens if we only draw at Lincoln? What happens if we stutter to a draw at Tamworth? What happens if we only narrowly beat Kettering, but then draw away to them? What happens if we only draw at home to Newport and/or Stockport? What if – heaven forefend we lose one of them? Where is the cut off? There are some who think it has already passed, but there must be an point if reached that would mean another change at the top.

Personally, I just want to put the crappy performances behind us, for things to be sorted out, for the air to be cleared and to start banging them in. There were glimpses yesterday that things were coming together a little. Perhaps all we need is a lucky break, and the season will kick on from here – the team will suddenly click and we will start scoring for fun again. It could be – it should be. I truly hope so. My grave misgivings aside, I would love Gary Brabin to be on the pitch at Wembley at the end of the season giving a big two fingers to all of the doubters, myself included. His point will have been proved. Whether or not we will remains to be seen. It is never boring being a Luton Fan.

Come on you Hatters!

 

 

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Confidence is everything

Confidence and self belief. Once we rediscovered it, we played like you would expect us to play against a depleted Barrow team.

The first five minutes were like a hangover from the previous two games. A through ball played in the nippy Macreth down the right channel and he outpaced Jake completely, popped in a shot over Tyler and we were one down. Easy as that. We were all shell-shocked, but not entirely surprised. Cue silence – and a few boos. So where do you go from there? It could have been a pivotal moment in the season. You can descend into a nightmare, lose all of your confidence there and then and ship a couple more, or you can regroup and start again. To be fair we did the latter. But the key thing is that we were able to do the latter. Poor Barrow, they were outplayed – ravaged by injuries and suspensions and down the the barest of bare bones. We were able to play, and played our way back into it. And, if you give a sucker an even break, he will take it.

Once we had equalised, we started to have more of the play and from about half and hour through the first half onwards we totally dominated. Further Luton goals seemed inevitable, though half time seemed to come at the wrong time, because by that stage it was all Luton. However, contrary to that belief the break clearly helped to rejuvenate because we came out and Willmott had his second within seconds of the restart. From then onwards we more or less ran the game and got three more goals in the next 20 minutes. We played, well, you know how we play when we are ‘in the zone’, short passing, fast paced, creative attacking football. When sides give us space and room and allow us to play then we generally take the mickey.

And that was the difference – give us a sniff, and, if we get a goal and remove the pressure on ourselves and remove the self-doubt – we go out and play in an unfettered attacking way. Close us down, make it hard for us, get men behind the ball and you throttle us. We become stifled and ponderous, our confidence sapping away. Barrow did the former, Cambridge the latter. Cambridge snuffed us out like a candle in a gale.

So it would appear as if the key is to get the team to continue to play in a confident and world beating way, even when confronted by an opposition who don’t give us any chance to play. And that sums up the frustration we experience as fans. We know the likes of Lawless, Kissock, Willmott, Howells, Fleetwood, AMS and even Dance should be head and shoulders above the vast majority of the dross in this division. Man for man – we are miles better. We should be taking the piss like we did in the second half today fairly regularly at home, whilst showing resilience, patience and our class away from home. Self belief and confidence is the key to this set of players. Shatter it, and the second half against Bath, the performance against York and the second half on Tuesday are the result. Once we have the confidence and space to play then we can tear teams apart. Self-doubt and having our confidence-bubble burst is the enemy: once we remember that we are mortal, once we realise we are flying and then look down to check, we crash down to earth.

And so a little of the game. Given an excuse to play 4-3-3 (or more realistically, 4-1-4-1) by Tuesday’s performance, GB duly obliged. Tyler started in goal, Osano returned at right back, Keane to his favourite role of centre half (and very good he was too) alongside Kovacs. Howells stayed at left back. Antwi dropped to the bench, and there was no place for the returning Beckwith.

In the middle – Hand held (see what I did there?) with Watkins and Dance in front of him and O’Connor wide on the right and Willmott wide on the left. Up top was AMS all on his own, with Big Hips Danny Crow moving to the bench. Fleetwood phoned in a sickie first thing. Strange that, because he seemed fine in the Dog and Duck on Friday night*.

I’ve already described their first goal. The move that led to our equaliser was the first suggestion (other than a promising drive by Howells) that we might be in for a good afternoon after all. Kovacs, surely the much improved twin brother of the bloke who was here two years ago played a glorious ball wide into space for O’Connor to run on to. Now let’s get back to basics. O’Connor’s main virtue thus far has been the fact that once he gets through the gears his top speed is pretty damn sharp. But have we exploited it? No. And I think Kovacs pass was the first time since August that he had had a ball into space in front of him to accelerate on to. Which he duly did, right into the box before he was impeded and the ref after a little think about it, pointed to the spot. Hurrah. But this was a penalty, and this was Luton Town, and recently when the pressure is on, we ain’t been good at them. Today, it was Willmott’s turn to miss. A fairy ordinary spot kick to the keeper’s left was parried out, and fortunately for the third time this year we profited from the rebound, Willmott following up well.

The real turning point could have been Tyler’s point blank save from Boyes. 2-1 would have confirmed our vulnerability and dissolved the confidence we were gradually building. Chances for O’Connor, AMS, Kovacs and Watkins followed in the run up to half time. O’Connor was looking a threat down the right, linking up well with AMS – whilst deal Willmott on the left looked a bit remote and out of touch. Brabin said afterwards he told him to come inside more in the second half. My beef with Willmott is that he doesn’t push on enough when we have possession, if he is in space I would want him pushing up level with the striker(s) ready to receive the ball in space – but instead comes deep for the ball and poses less of a threat because of it. He certainly posed a threat within a minute of the restart. O’Connor gave their left back a torrid time all afternoon – he took the ball forwards before the move broke down. The Shadow, James Dance picked up the ball in the box, and turned and jinked nicely and got a cross in across the face of the goal for Willmott to stick in for 2-1.

Nine minutes later it was 3-1 after an good move involving O’Connor and AMS – the main tormentors. AMS unselfishly squared the ball to Watkins who made space for himself and foxed the centre half by dragging the ball back and coolly slotted the ball into the far corner.

We weren’t done yet – The Shadow James Dance netted his first goal for the Hatters and earned me a fiver off my best mate when AMS and O’Connor again combined down the right to squirt the ball to Dance who smashed it in.

Barrow had a chance almost immediately at the other end and on another day would have made it 4-2 when James Owen’s shot was cleared off the line by Kovacs. Not their day, but certainly ours.

Time for a couple of subs. O’Connor had pulled up and to use the common parlance ‘felt his hamstring’ and was pulled off, much to his reluctance for Danny Crow – AMS going to the right. A few minutes later Kissock replaced Watkins – who had lost a contact lens and so was wandering about with one eye seeing 2020 and the other one not, most disconcerting.

Kissock, given free reign to roam and do tricks again, did just that. Like a smart Alec in a classroom of Neanderthals he was always likely to get a thump for his trouble. A skilful player at this level will always attract scything challenges like ghosts around pacman.

We weren’t done yet. The last goal was a bit of a rarity, a bit of a collectors item. Willmott, by this stage oozing confidence (and keen for his third) put a lovely ball through over the top of the defence for AMS to stretch his legs and run onto and coolly and calmly took the ball around the keeper (to the keeper’s left) and slotted it home easy as you like. Good lad.

Barrow had another chance when they hit the post from Ferrell’s shot. Despite our dominance, had Barrow taken their clear cut chances, they would have had four. Too many. Mind you – if we had taken all of our chances we would have had about twelve – so that’s fair enough. But what I am saying is, on another day the result could have been quite different if the Cumbrians had had a bit more luck.

Now, I could list all of the chances we had in the second half, but PDW does that infinitely better than I ever could – so I will leave the match description at that. Needless to say, we had plenty more chances to get more. Very entertaining it was too. They were cueing up Crow for a goal by the end, but to no avail try as he might he couldn’t test out the keeper.

Let’s go through the players:

Tyler – looked to roll the ball out where he could, but kicked the ball slightly more often than usual. This tactic is slightly incongruous as all he had to aim for is the heads of O’Connor and AMS, both of whom were towered over by their respective defenders. However, to be fair AMS won more than he should have done in the air. Tyler’s save was a potential game-changer. He earned his money with that alone. Things could have been very different otherwise.

Howells – Tidy enough going forward, but today Jake was shown up a bit by Macreth. Three times he outpaced him down the right flank, and did him like a kipper on the fourth. I know we all prefer Jake to be playing as a winger, but this was a bit of a wake-up call to the boy from the valleys (that’s the Lea valley). Do I think Freddie Murray would have done any better than Jake today? Probably not.

Kovacs – sound as a pound and was bossing them around as if he was skipper, which I am sure no one has a problem with. His clearance off the line was excellent as was his defensive positioning all afternoon. And – it was his pass that played in O’Connor for the penalty. He is an improved player – since we ‘loaned’ him to Hereford…

Keano – a quiet, but defensively excellent game. When Pilks returns who would be for the chop? Another selection nightmare. In a month’s time, presumably we will have the luxury of Pilks, Keano, (I’m presuming Kovacs will have returned to Hereford by then) Beckwith, Blackett and Antwi fighting for two places. Personally of course, I’d like to have Pilks and Keano (and/or a returned Kovacs) with Beckwith as back up. Let’s see where we are this time next year.

Osano – had a good game at right back and linked up really well with O’Connor and AMS. Put in two good crosses. A very different player from the stumble-bum who played against Stockport.

Hand – solid enough, won the ball and found his own team mates with his passing. He closed the Barrow players down more effectively than we had been in previous weeks.

Watkins – another good game once he got into it. He is a good player – determined and skilful.

Dance – I’d venture his best game for us. Interestingly in the second half with the wingers tucked in a little more Dance managed to overlap on both sides and get crosses in. He seemed to revel in the creative role he was given and did well.

Willmott – two goals can’t be sniffed at. Strangely enough I thought in the first half he was lost and remote with his crossing a bit hit and miss. Much more in the thick of things after the restart.

AMS – My man of the match. An absolute terrier today. Linked up really well with O’Connor. Gave Barrow’s defence a torrid time. He threatened with the ball, and when they were in possession he chased down, tackled back and harried and parried. Well taken goal. Eight goals in ten starts this year. That record would suggest he’s on fire and he certainly was today.

O’Connor – now that’s more like it. The real Aaron O’Connor turned up today, and GB must have been delighted. He kept faith in him whilst all week we have been asking what he add to the club. Remember the turning point was him accelerating onto Kovacs direct ball into space ahead of him for the penalty. Looked good in partnership with AMS down the right.

So it was a good performance – similar to Southport in as much as we went behind early on, but got back on level terms and then really hit our straps in the second half. Barrow are a better side than Southport were though. Where does it leave us? Well it rather vindicates the 4-3-3 approach again. And it leaves GB with a headache. You’d rather want to capitalise on O’Connor’s blistering performance and link up with AMS by playing him out there again, but what of Stuart Fleetwood? Three games with him in the side and we get 1 goal in 270 minutes. With him out of the team, and a different formation we bang in five. If we revert to 4-4-2 to accommodate Fleetwood you could have AMS and Fleetwood up front, but who on the right wing? Dance’s performance doesn’t merit being dropped and neither does O’Connor’s. If we stick to 4-3-3 then if we accommodate Fleetwood then AMS would presumably go down the right. Who’d be a manager?

So – it was a great and very entertaining performance, on a beautiful afternoon. However:

1) We always say – well, I always say – we should be putting sides like Barrow to the sword in this way anyway – so this should be the standard we aim for each home game. It’s non-league for goodness sake, and we weren’t relegated from the league because we were rubbish. I know we have been remodelling the finances behind the scenes, but being sustainable doesn’t mean being non-league. We are still a bigger club (in terms of fan base, history, income and achievements) than all of the division above us, most of the division above that, and one or two of the division above that. So let’s remember this a bit more – it all adds to the self-confidence I have been banging on about.

2) Beating Barrow at home is to be hoped for. But if we want to be serious about winning the league we need victories away from home too. That’s why we have to carry the confidence and self belief with us. The difference between this game and the last was that Cambridge didn’t let us play. We must learn to assert our attacking agenda on even the most efficient defensive units at home and away.

3) In the next month we play four of the five teams above us. This will be a true test of how realistic our ambitions to finish top is. By fireworks night, we should have a good idea if our season is going to sky rocket or fizzle out like a damp sparkler from the corner shop.

The team still need to do more to convince me that we are on the road to something big – as I said on Tuesday night, the bad memories of Bath, York and Cambridge will linger for a long time, like an unsuccessful UCCA form. And, alas it will take more than one thrashing of Barrow to convert those embarrassing performances from the recent trend, into a distant ‘blip’. In this topsy turvy division, where no one is truly asserting themselves we have never, and probably will never, get a better chance to put a country mile between us and the also-rans.

On to next week. A welcome and rare Tuesday night free of football. It gives the team the chance to recharge the batteries and gets players like George Pilkington a week nearer to a comeback. Then we have the test of Kidderminster away on Saturday. We should have nothing to fear from them, and if we put the fixture in context it is they who should be doing the worrying. Let’s keep the confidence engendered by a good home win and inject it into our away performance to give us a convincing away win.

Come on you Hatters!

*only joking of course.

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