Wrexham #1

They came, they saw, they played out a draw. Wrexham and Luton’s reserves – near the end at least – treated us to an entertaining enough 1-1.

Whilst we were tentative initially and didn’t create anything like enough chances, by the second half of the second half we were wholly dominant and playing some nice stuff. A draw was a fair result: Wrexham who played some nice football, and were happy to play most of it in their own half. Their goal was a good footballing goal, but certainly they were permitted to do so because at the start of the move they weren’t closed down, Poku the guilty party. It did also look rather offside to me too from where I was sat.

The ref awarding the penalty was a good case of evening things up. If the game had continued further for any length of time we would surely have won it as Wrexham were looking tired and rattled.
It was interesting to watch the penalty award. Dan Walker was running away from the goal – Belgrano-like and stumbling towards the byline. Stephens (not our Basher, but could have been) put in a pointless and clumsy challenge which Walker could easily have skipped over, but fell over nevertheless. Correctly initially for a fraction of a second, the referee gave a goal kick, glanced towards his linesman, quite methodically who was flagging and the referee instantaneously pointed to the spot. The whole decision process taking less than a second.

Walker and MBH had a bit of a discussion about the taker, understandably, but it was nothing like the Handbags of Howie et al 10 years ago. Walker’s argument won, in fact if MBH had won the argument would have been the first thing he had won all afternoon (boom boom) – his feet being welded to the grass when going up for a header.

Back to the ref for a second. In the week that Mark Tyler said all the refs at this level were rubbish, I actually liked the one this afternoon. He clearly was keen to let play run wherever possible and where other refs would have been having apoplexy, he regularly allowed dodgy tackle after dodgy tackle and kept the game moving. Truly, the ref didn’t want to be the star of the show. Which is a rarity and a relief. There can’t have been too many fouls in the game itself which was much better for it. What was a little strange was that the Wrexham players seemed to be dropping like flies on some sort of coordinated conspiracy to break the game up. However when Moss (good name) fell over before a corner Saunders waved him up, even though he was clearly limping and was substituted shortly afterwards. Bizarre. Something else that was bizarre was their keeper Mayebi. He was worth the entrance fee alone. Insistent on rolling the ball out to his defenders so that they could put themselves under pressure from the off when he did kick it he demonstrated a very strong kick. And then the second time he showed why he likes to roll it out, by crashing it into touch, radar awry. Even when he made a save he dropped to his knees as if to go down injured, before getting back to his feet again. Eccentric. But good value.

Tyler – who was awarded his Loyal Luton player of the season award before the match, a well deserved accolade, didn’t have too much to do. I recall a point blank save from Williams, but apart from that he wasn’t really troubled, apart from when Pilks slipped over on the newly watered pitch.

Luke Graham played at right back. I don’t think he was really that troubled and overlapped on a couple of occasions and even had the balls to put a couple of crosses in. He was replaced by Alex Lacey who has impressed me each time I’ve seen him. Lacey showed a turn of speed and the ability to cross too (and shoot!) I must admit, I’d love to see some of these youngsters incorporated into the first team more and more. How are we ever going to know quite how good they are if we don’t play them more regularly (I know, I know we’ve just GOT to get promoted and that is the most important thing). It strikes me as good practise to give the likes of Lacey (who I think has been injured for much of the campaign) and Watkins more opportunities. When Watkins came on he was a burst of energy that hadn’t been there previously He looked keen, lively and dangerous and unleashed a very hard shot which was just tipped around the post – he had another thunderbolt which was blocked unfortunately. He looks good. We don’t need any more left wingers. We’ve got cover for Jake now, thanks, next question.

In the middle were captain Pilks, and then when Pilks was substituted, captain Kroca, who sounds a bit like a Marvel comics character. Both were sound, Kroca sounder. Pilks sprayed a couple of passes, Kroca played one sublime dink-come-through-ball. He also had a decent chance with a header but put it over.

At left back was the rehabilitated and reintegrated Ed Asafu-Adjaye. I don’t know what Richard Money had against Ed A-A but he briefed against him on a number of occasions and sent him out on loan as soon as he could. Ed was back, and playing again in an alien role did pretty well. Whether it is well enough to give GB the confidence he needs to keep him there and play Jake as a left winger, I’m not sure. But in Murray’s absence it gives him a genuine choice now. Ed got forward well, crossed well with both left and right feet, and defended when he needed to. He was given the man of the match and deservedly so I thought.

Willmott started on the right wing and Dan Walker kicked off on the left. Willmott was somewhat subsdued today, and didn’t get as much of the ball as he would have liked. That didn’t stop him from attacking aggressively on a couple of occasions, but the front two never seemed to be either in the box, or in the right place in the box or perhaps they were in the right place and the crosses were poor. You decide.

Dan Walker looked a little out of sorts on the left I thought. Our burst in the second half coincided with Watkins introduction on the left and Walker switching to the right where he looked much more at home. He didn’t get the passes to test out his pace but did get plenty of chances to cross, when he was on both sides. On occasions his touch was too heavy and his control let him down too – but surely this is the whole point of having a player – so you can play him. So he learns at the highest level possible. I’d love to see him get another game up front as part of a front two. It happened for AMS….

In the middle was the ever-bustling on-fire Godfrey Poku and Adam Newton. For a good chunk of the first half they did seem to be chasing shadows. An unusual partnership in the centre of the park, and I would wager that it will be the last time we ever do see that pairing. Adam Newton had more influence in the second half and Poku closed more people down, albeit at a distance on occasion. You can’t fault his effort, it just his results which let him down on occasion.

Up front we had MBH who must have been confident going into the game. Strangely his confidence and touch on the park seemed to directly match that of the team – like a human barometer. When we were flat MBH was flat, but as we picked up and started to hit our straps MBH looked lively too. He had his chance to make an impression on the game in the first half but didn’t trouble the keeper and blasted over.

Lloyd Owusu was well, Lloyd. I think perhaps he is so muscular he can’t jump as high as he should be able to . He’s a target man who doesn’t seem to win his fair share of balls in the air. However some of his touches and passes were good, he made a nuisance of himself and if you watch him, he demonstrates some of that old pro nouse when ensuring he gets in the way of the keeper or cuts off he path back to the goalie from the centre half, some of the tricks of the trade. It’s the goals thing and winning the headers thing that he is missing.

Jason Walker came on for Lloyd in the second half an immediately out jumped him, despite being a foot smaller. Walker looked lively and hungry when he came on and made a nuisance of himself and played his part in the improved performance at the end.

Ours wasn’t a top drawer performance today, but the dead rubber game was entertaining enough in its own way. Such was the lack of importance of the game (apart from not handing Wrexham a double over us and the corresponding kudos and confidence) it was a little like watching a neutral fixture with no money on the outcome, but just wanting to see a good game and a good performance.

Oops, better do the scores on the doors before the final para:

Tyler 6.5, Graham 6, Pilks 6.5, Kroca 7, Ed 7.5, Willmott 6, Poku 4.5, Newton 6, Walker 6.5, MBH 6, Owusu 5.5. Subs – Lacey 6, Watkins, 7, Walker J 7.

So the season has ended, but also started too. We are now where we realistically where we thought we would be after a couple of months of the season. So – in a way, all that has gone before has been meaningless. You could have recorded the whole season on a virtual Sky plus and fast forwarded the season from August until April and we are still where we thought we would be. Which makes the next two, hopefully three games all the more important. We need three cup-final performances, three good games and the jail sentence and the nightmare are over and we can wave goodbye to non-league forever…

Advertisements
Standard

The Silence of the Lambs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nearly forgot, scores on the doors:

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

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

Standard

Cod Almighty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading – all comments welcome, as ever.

Standard

Luton Teach Dons a Lesson

Albeit for a short while, second then, having beaten the top side 3-0. That’s more like it. It was a good game with a great atmosphere, helped by a noisy turnout from Wimbledon.

I know I’ve said this before, but it is still slightly surreal to think that these two teams played each other in the top flight just 18 years ago, and it was only 22 years ago when both clubs were cup winners in the same year. How times change. We can but hope that the same thing befalls the respective winners in 2010.

With Keane and Gleeson out and Besta on parental leave (something I didn’t bother with) the side had a slightly different look to it.

Tyler started in goal and earned his money tonight. I’ll come on to his heroics in a while, but if there is a better keeper in this division or indeed the one above I’d like to see who he is. We are so lucky to have such an excellent keeper between the sticks. To think when we were two divisions above we had to put up with keepers such as Ovengloves and Emberson, neither of whom was fit to tie Tylers boots. Saying that there was one moment of comedy gold near the end when clearing the ball from the box, next to the dead ball line MT managed to perform an impossible slice somehow squeezing the ball off his left foot at 90 degrees and straight into the Wimbledon fans for a corner at almost point blank range.

At right back Adam Newton came in for Gleeson and looked as sound as a pound, apart from on only one occasion. Poor old Ed is third choice now (not terribly happy about it – just read his facebook comments) but on his performance tonight Newton should stay even when Gleeson is fit again.

In the middle were Kroca (him with the deft touch of a wrecking ball) and Sean Blacklett (for those of you watching it on the telly). Both had good games, Blackett especially, and Krocha scored the second goal of course.

At left back Freddie Murray played, shorn of beard. Once again whenever the ball went out his ball boy dutifully passed him his towel (tonight’s towel was white by the way, the brown one’s in the wash) whether it was for a short throw or a big boomer. Actually we had two towels in operation tonight (yes, we are a two towel club these days) and there was one in operation on the opposite flank, this time for use by A Newton Esq.

Claude Le Goal was the right winger and played well ‘offensively’, but lacked discipline defensively, before tiring at the end. Claude is Claude – hard to believe he was once a defender! I lost count of the number of crosses he put in. But his tracking back and covering were negligent to say the least.

Jake Howells played in the middle, which I can’t recall him doing before. Boy, did he have a good game. He had more opportunities and was more creative in the first half but his work rate didn’t drop and he beavered away in the middle of the park, closing folk down as if he was born to the role. What a headache for Richard Money when Keano is back.

Skipper Pilks reprised his role as a midfielder and also as goalscorer. That’s 8 goals now in 84 appearances – we’ve had strikers with worse records: step forward Mr Feeney…

On the left the ever-dependable Andy Drury played his usual creative game unfettered by Hatton the right back.

Up top MBH who was keen to get back on the goalscoring trail after five games without a goal and he duly obliged. The impressive Atieno played alongside MBH and had a terrific game. It really does make a difference having a big man to hold up the ball up front and win the nod ons.

I can see what Money has done with the team – basically he has ‘done a Mick’ by accommodating the in form players, even if it means playing them out of position. For example – Jake looked bright when he came on against Cambridge, and so stayed for Wimbledon, forcing Adam Murray out. Pilks had a good game in the middle against Cambridge and so kept the role. Newton looked good against Cambridge and Grimsby and so started against Wimbledon. Blackett was playing okay at left back and slotted back in well at centre half and so kept his place. A real headache for Money when Keano and Gleeson are fit again. But perhaps it isn’t a headache, perhaps they bide their time on the bench if the side keeps winning?

It could have been oh so different. Wimbledon camped in our half for the first three minutes. Wimbledon had a cross/shot bringing out a save from Tyler within thirty seconds, and they had three corners in the first three minutes.

However, we found our shape and style after 5 minutes with Claude bombing down the wing, which resulted in a long throw from Newton but a ‘foul’ by Kroca gave Wimbledon the freekick.

A word about the ref Mr Whitton, whilst he had a reasonable game he did seem to blow up for a number of pointless fouls which we couldn’t spot at our end. I can’t recall a recent game where I have said “what was that actually for?” when the whistle was blown, for both sides. He wasn’t whistle happy by any means, but blew for things we couldn’t spot.

Our first chance came after only 7 minutes. Drury played a freekick deep (too deep we thought) but it found Atieno at the far post who beat his man and nodded it back in from where the penalty area joins the dead ball line. The ball fell to MBH chested it and tried an audacious Brko-esque overhead kick which cannoned into the post. Things were looking up.

The following corner was the first in a succession, which just by the law of averages meant that we were going to get a goal off one of them. Drury took it, it was flicked on by MBH but flew out of the goalmouth only for Pilks to loft it straight back in to the dubiously onside Krocha who ran in and tried to get a toe on it, but was adjusted to have shoved the keeper instead.

Only a minute later MBH and Gnapka linked up well on the right, with MBH holding up the knock on from Glaude just long enough before playing him in down the right. Claude’s good cross was luckily headed away by Hatton giving us another corner. This corner found Gnapka’s head at the far post but it went just wide.

Another minute later and again good play on the right between MBH and Claude (after Atieno won the header) let him plump another cross in from the right, but this time Brown in goal snaffled it.

Seconds later Claude was in again but this time played a poor ball in, rushing a cross when he had more time and it went out for a Dons throw. The ball found MBH from the throw and MBH entertained us with a Geoff Thomas-esque sliced shot which only just dribbled out for a thrown on the beach huts side. 11 minutes then and it was all Luton. We came again, Howells floating a cross into the far post for the strikers to get on the end of but it was cleared by Wimbledon.

To be fair to Wimbledon they tried to play nice football – other teams would have sat back and broken up the play at this point, but Wimbledon, naively perhaps maintained their shape and their attacking intentions giving us to room to exploit them all over the pitch.

After 14 minutes, persistence by Barnes Homer again, from a nicely dinked ball down the wing by Pilks won a slightly unnecessary corner. How many’s that now? 3? The Drury corner managed to miss most of the players, but was aimed at Pilks.

A mistake from Wimbledon to hang deep anticipating a long Murray throw allowed him to play the simple ball to Jake Howells who swung in a low dangerous cross which was headed out defensively by Hatton. Newton’s long throw nearly got through to Claude. This was 17 minutes now all Luton still Wimbledon could only clear the ball long, they weren’t even getting a sniff of a sniff.

Drury’s turn next Jake intercepted a poor ball out of defence, threaded in Drury who drove at goal, cut in onto his right and struck a snorker just over the bar, which would have taken the keeper with it if he’d got anywhere near it.

On 21 minutes a great run from Claude played in MBH whose control let him down and he lost possession, the ball was cleared but only as far as Pilks who clipped the ball back into the box. Hatton (I think) was unmarked and unchallenged but still pulled off a spectacular diving header to clear it into harms way out for a corner.

Corner #4 went deep and was headed out by Wimbledon only for Murray to pop up on the right and to play it down the right hand channel for MBH whose cross was blocked and it bounced out for corner #5 on the right. This one was punched clear Drury picked it up again, played in Jake Howells whose cross/shot was tipped over by the keeper for corner #6. Still only 22 minutes remember. This time the corner from the left was plopped straight onto Pilks head and with a flick of the head forced the header in from the far side, just outside the 6 yard box.

It had been all Luton for 20 minutes and the pressure and corners had finally told.

The pressure didn’t let up – on 24 minutes Jake smashed a shot just wide after Atieno had won the ball and Drury played it through. It was similar really to the Hayes game last year – only in the Hayes game all of our chances had gone in by this time – but the domination was completely the same.

The next ten minutes saw a bit of a lull, not really surprising bearing in mind the non-stop attacking we had seen from the Hatters. The next shot was from Atieno who tested the goalie from outside of the box – but didn’t appear to strike the ball too cleanly.

As we sat deeper the Dons had a better chance to get forward and get into it and threatened briefly on 35 minutes with two corners. From the second one the ball was headed out all the way to Blackman at the back in the centre circle. He was chased down admirably by Claude and then slipped to give Claude a clear run at goal, however the Frenchman was easily caught and forced wide by the recovering Blackman, Claude squeezed the ball to MBH who played it straight back to Claude who was by now well offside – a comedy offside. Claude looked like the bad guy in an old black and white movie left holding the bomb as the fuse burnt down.

Then, shortly afterwards, Drury won a throw down the left, right next to the corner flag. Everybody was drawn back into the six yard box, anticipating an incoming exocet from Freddie Murray. The same Freddie Murray I hasten to add who couldn’t throw the ball up until a few weeks ago. Foul throw after foul throw, what has happened to him? I’ve never seen a transformation like it. In cricket it’s the equivalent of Phil Tufnell becoming a great batsman. Anyway – as anticipated by everyone in came the booming throw right into the 6 yard box and right onto Kroca’s waiting head. Simple as you like. 2-0 against the pacesetters.

Time for the Dons to come back – almost immediately from throw, we failed to clear the ball, it came back in, Claude sleepily lost it in the box and it fell to Gregory whose piledriver rattled the post.

The very next move brought off an outstanding, but unconventional save from Tyler. Now Mark Tyler has brought of many a fine save in his short time at the club, but this was possibly inadvertently his finest.

A fast paced break from Wimbledon saw a cross from Hatton which evaded his player but fell kindly for Kedwell off Newton’s shins about 8 yards out goalside of the penalty spot, he hit it first time, hard, low, straight at the goal, the shot was hit hard enough to go through Tyler’s arms, but hit his head and it deflected wide, somehow. Had it his his arms, it would have been comparable to Gordon Banks’ famous one in terms of quality. As it was we can only admire his reactions and reflexes to be able to get something on it at all from point blank.

Other than a few more chances (!) the only other incident was Drury getting another silly yellow card for kicking the ball away, clumsily. For some reason the ref felt he needed to lecture him as well.

It was an outstanding half of entertaining, breathless football. It would have been difficult for the second half to match it. Luton took ages to come out for the second half, keeping the Wombles waiting.

Other than Atieno nearly chasing down Harris on a through ball, and the goal of course, the first 15 minutes of the second half passed without the succession of incidents the first half had.

Our third came after 48 minutes, Murray won a strong header from a throw taken on the right hand side half way into the Wimbledon half, the ball ran to Claude who played in Atieno who instantly played a ball across to MBH who was in the middle of the ‘D’ he took one touch and swung his right foot and whacked it into the corner with the outside of his boot. 3-0 game over. It was a good goal after the two set piece goals. One for the purist perhaps. I was delighted for MBH who showed that the glut of goals at the start of the season on the back of the positive bounce from pre-season were not his total contribution for the year and that Crow would have to sit on the bench for another couple of games. Super, almost nonchalant finish. How he manages to score those, but misses chances Mrs Mosque might put in I’ll never know.

They introduced Yussuf and Wellard to give them more pace and attacking options, Yussuf showed his pace, but mainly seemed to dribble the ball into touch, but at pace.

Jackson ran into Murray on the left edge of the Hatters’ box. From the free kick Gregory was left entirely unmarked from only 20 yards but fortunately he scuffed his shot.

Newton’s long throw caused problems and the ball bobbled just before Drury’s shot which howled over.

At the other end Yukubu’s header from a tidy cross went straight to Tyler’s grateful arms.

On 70 minutes Newton reminded us of his quick turn of pace when he intercepted a weak run from Blackman who accelerated back to hack him down and got a yellow card for his troubles.

Drury took the free kick and drew a weak punch from Brown the keeper.

Two minutes later Gnapka was played in by Drury on the edge of the box his shot was blocked by Harris’ hand as blatant handball as Blackett’s was against Grimsby.

At about this point Blackman incurred the wrath of the Kenny End. I don’t know what he said or did, but I think it might have involved spitting. Poor lad got booed to death after that. In the handful of games he has played in his career he’s probably never experienced the spite and vitriol he engendered from the crowd this evening. Welcome to Kenilworth Road my old son – it was good to see the passion reignited behind the goal. I do think that what we have endured over these past few seasons has managed to water down the fundamentalist support we used to enjoy. Supporting Luton in the near past has been more of an addiction than an enjoyment. The passion and extremes of emotion enjoyed and endured by generations of fans bred a certain, yes, fundamentalist, non compromising approach, not seen elsewhere, other than perhaps the two Scottish clubs. As I say this approach has been compromised in the past few years as the fans have been shell-shocked from the succession of nightmarish controversies and body-blows the club has lurched between. It would be good to get back the full on focus, passion, desire and commitment our fans always used to have.

Newton won a corner which fell immediate victim to yet another random whistle blow by the ref.

Gnapka made a good run into the box, but his tame cross to the keeper was a waste when he could have laid it back to Newton.

With 13 minutes to go Hatton struck at 40 yard free kick which Tyler saved spectacularly by diving to his left. Thank goodness we weren’t using the beach ball they used in the world cup.

On 80 minutes a succession of Hatters passes drew ‘Oles’ from the Kenny End, ending in Drury scuffing a shot in the 6 yard box.

5 minutes left an on came Dan Walker (for MBH) the Bedfordian who we signed in the summer after he impressed against us in the friendly. Though he didn’t get too many touches, he looked lively, hungry and eager. Who’s to say in 4 years time he and Toomey are lining up together up front? Is life that sweet? Whatever life may bring, I wish him all the luck in the world with his Luton career.

Next event was off the field. Newton was announced man of the match, which was fair enough, and Money, who has already publicly defended AN made great play of clapping the decision over his head in front of the crowd. I’m pleased for Newton, though RM is a bit of a twit on occasions. The only two things that annoyed me about Newton’s performance last year was the miss against Southampton (which affected him for the rest of the season) and his singular failure to close down the opposing left back when he was playing right wing. Oh it was frustrating. But, as right back, at this level at least he is tidy and more than competent.

I think the difference between the two teams was that we were quicker, and invariably first to the ball. We pressed higher up – in the first half at least and that gave Wimbledon little opportunity for their midfield to get hold of the ball to play in the dangerous Kedwell. It takes two teams to make an entertaining game though and I wish them, and their long suffering but committed fans well in their long but inevitable quest to play against that travesty of a club based in North East Bucks.

It was the sort of performance and game which makes you want to go and watch them again on Monday and also on Thursday with another one on Saturday. Infectious performance and result.

Scores on the doors:

Tyler: 9.5

Newton: 8 (his shins put Kedwell in for the shot that Tyler headed away, otherwise 8.5)
Blacklett: 7.5
Kroca: 8 (marked Kedwell well)
Murray: 7.5 (assist with throw)

Drury: 8.5
Pilkington: 8.5 (worked harder than a navvy on acid)
Howells: 9 (ran, ran, ran and ran some more – how versatile is he?)
Gnapka: 7

MBH: 8.5
Atieno: 8 (nice to have a player who can hold it up and nod it on and be a general pain in the arse a la Harford, Howard, Aylott etc)

So, it is now off to the far flung reaches of the land for the next two games. As with last year there is no mention in the Mosque household that the Mighty Hatters are playing away in the depths of the North East, otherwise it would be used as an excuse to spend the weekend with my in-laws. Much as I love the Town, unfortunately the avoidance ear-ache and arsepains outweighs the trip up the A1. I’ll have to make do with Ian Pearce and Simon Pitts on the tranny. I’m sure you understand my predicament!

Many thanks indeed for all of the excellent comments to the last post. Please make yourself known if you are far flung. Personally I’ve never travelled further east than Italy or further west than Florida. So it is fascinating to think of people reading this in countries I can only dream of visiting.

Standard

Welcome back M B-H.

The real Matthew Barnes-Homer turned up today, the one we thought we had signed last season, and he scored a cracking strike to grab a deserved win.

I was chuffed to bits for him, because the positive attitude in interviews he has given this term shone out and he seems determined to put his troubles and his poor season last year (nothwithstanding a cracking winner against Stevenage) behind him.

On an August day which reminded me more of a damp and showery April, the Hatters took to the field in their classic pink’n’purple historic celebration shirts. Richard Money didn’t surprise us with the make up of the defence and the midfield, but chose probably the least likely combination of MBH and Gallen up front. I thought he’d start with Barnsey after the excellent pre-season, but I did think he’d give the nod to Craddock, last season’s top scorer, despite his lack of goals in pre-season.

Rarely have we gone into the start of a season in such good shape: strong squad, confident manager (who we have confidence in), finances on a relatively even keel, no points deductions, good coaching staff. No question marks – just stability. Full credit to 2020 to get us to this solid, sound platform to build on.

The team was Tyler – who played pretty well, didn’t have too much to do and nearly saved their goal. His kicking was mainly on target, as per the normal game plan aiming for the right winger, Drury with his long kicks.

At right back was Dan Gleeson – who I was very impressed with. His link up play with Drury was very sound, and he got forward when he could. He played one weighted, swerved pass which was a joy to behold and which I hope to see time and time again this year. He played it with his instep and it went wide round the oncoming left winger but then swerved perfectly back into the path of Drury. It was like a whipped forehand passing shot by a tennis player, a swerve shot by a snooker pro, or like one of Jimmy Anderson’s booming inswingers: absolutely the perfect weighted pass.

In the middle was Mr Kroča (pronounced Crocha) making his debut and the ever reliable George Pilkington.

Kroča showed that not only is he going to tower over the majority of strikers this year as he is a man-mountain but he has a bit of pace, but also doesn’t have the turning circle of a tank unlike Mr Kovacs last year. What a turn up for the books! He scored the Hatters first goal today after a corner on the right hand side by Keith Keane it went outside of the far post for George Pilkington to nod back in (a la Chris Coyne) and Kroca nodded it in. Good goal, great debut.

Pilks, apart from the ‘assist’ had a solid game, keeping their strikers in his pocket all afternoon. Apart from one misplaced pass in the first five minutes, I can’t recall him putting a foot wrong. They defended really well – pushing up enough to ensure that almost all of Altrincham’s passes in the first half were too long, evading the strikers or wingers with an uncanny regularity. Whether it was free kicks or passes from the midfield the balls played were always too heavy for the strikers to get near.

On the left was our friend Freddie Murray – who hasn’t learnt how to throw-in over the summer. He had a good game – other than being outpaced with Altrincham’s first attack down the right. He even got forwards and had a shot! He played well with Jake Howells but the ball seemed to go down the right hand side for most of the second half and so had less involvement.

Jake Howells started on the left wing. Jake had a quiet game, for him, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t play his part. There were plenty of good touches and neat movement, but he didn’t seem to get the chance to get too many crosses in. One thing I noticed and a number of others around me was that dear Jake being only 5 foot tall is going to have to try to jump and reach an awful lot of overhit crosses from Drury this year which have evaded the oncoming strikers. Should’ve eaten his greens.

He nearly topped poor Gallen at one point when the ball came to him in the box on a rebound, falling over on his left hand side he struck it pretty cleanly, and volleyed it full pelt with his right foot, at head height. The striker ducked rather than trying to head it (wisely in my view) and the ball flew wide of the post on the full. Just before half time, having exchanged positions with M B-H who crossed it from the left he was well placed to get on the end of it but their defender (Densmore?) nodded it clear.

Jakey was subbed in the second half by Claude Le Goal, not for the last time this year I suspect, not because Jake isn’t up to it, far from it, but because if Drury continues to play as well as he did today, and they need to add a fresh pair of legs on the wing – or a target man – then Jake will be the obvious choice to make way. One thing I noticed from Howells today was that if he lost the ball, he would then go all out to win it back, wherever it took him.

In the middle were the twins, Keano and Adam Murray, numbers 4 and 14, physically alike, bloody hard to tell apart on occasion from 100 yards. Besta’s not going to help either as he is in a similar mould to those two – shortish, cropped hair. They should have pity on my poor old eyes by putting their names on the backs of their shirts or something like that.

Both players had excellent games, in fact they played so well you sort of didn’t notice them. But if you looked out for them, they were always harrying and closing down. Murray made some excellent intricate passes and two or good crossfield balls to set up his team mates. What a summer snaffle he was. Keane’s corner of course set up the first goal, twice his excellent tackles prevented a counter attack.

Onto Andy Drury, no 11. A brilliant acquisition to get Stevenage’s best player, who would rather play at this level for a proper club, with a decent crowd, than in the football league for a tiny team. It says a lot about the guy, because I have no doubt he would make a big difference to any team in the two divisions above. Compare him, for example, with that waste of space Darren Currie, supposedly a ‘quality’ player when we were in league one. After only one game who would you rather have in the team?

Drury had a sublime game. One of the best debuts I can remember. Perhaps in recent memory bettered only by the debut by a certain Mr Valois. Though I seem to recall that last year Simon Heslop’s debut was outstanding too.

Drury’s positional sense, his running on and off the ball, and his crossing were a breath of fresh air. As I mentioned already, he linked up well with Dan Gleeson, but also linked well with the midfielders and crossed well for the front two. He exchanged position with M B-H on a number of occasions and his one touch passing was a joy to behold. Outstanding, but still with more to give.

Up front we started with Gallen and M-BH. I was surprised that Gallen started, but perhaps it was to counter balance the youthful impetuousity of Barnes-Homer. He did what he usually did, laying off the ball well, good balls into space and a couple of shots, but without quite hitting his straps today. He didn’t look as sharp as he did at the end of last season, but perhaps it takes a few games to get the old legs working. He missed a header at the far post from a couple of yards out after good work from Drury. It was one of those that it was almost harder to miss!

Barnes-Homer had an outstanding game. He was everywhere in the front four, he completely dominated their defence. At one point he had two chances to extend our lead – an excellent shot from the edge of the box which was parried and came back to him and he nearly headed in the rebound.

Anything else? Oh yes, he scored a marvellous winner. He picked up the ball on the left hand edge of the box, he took a couple of touches and whacked it hard to Coburn’s right who was a full stretch, tucked just inside the post at a decent height which made it difficult to stop.

I couldn’t believe it. The game had followed a familiar script to so many before: Luton dominating, don’t get an early goal, finally get one in, continue to dominate but don’t get a second, then up pops the opposition with an equaliser against the run of play making the game look as if it would be 1-1 (which would have been a ludicrous result) but unlike previous seasons, seemingly having torn up the script, Barnes Homer comes up trumps with a well-deserved winner.

It was a bit of a surprise really, and it was a goal out of nothing. When the first substitutions were made, I felt that we lost a bit of shape and width – with Gnapka and Drury (eventually) swapping sides so that Claude was on the right. Danny Crow looked lively and up for it when he came on. He is a strange looking chap – long body and short legs and naturally broad making him look chubbier than he is. An excuse I use too. ‘Big hips’ I call it. Danny Crow has big hips. He also has a good eye for goal and a hunger to do well which was pretty obvious when he came on.

I was expecting less and more from Altrincham. Let me explain what I mean. They played with two men up front and weren’t quite as defensive as I seem to recall. They weren’t quite as hoofy as I remembered, but then again didn’t show any quality at all. What was disappointing was that once again they seemed to time waste and break up the play from the off, and went down far too easily, regularly hoodwinking the ref Mr Thompson, who looked like Adrian Forbes’ older brother. The ref was a big lad actually, you don’t get many refs as bulky as that. Presumably he gets less dissent because of his size. He was pretty prone to giving Altrincham easy fouls, but because our players didn’t go down as if they were shot at the slightest brush, we hardly got any free kicks at all – not stooping to their level. He booked Barnes-Homer when the score was 1-1 when his frustration boiled over a little.

Their goal came out of nothing, completely against the run of play (never has the phrase been used more appropriately), Reeves (their number 8) headed a flick-on past Tyler who nearly kept it out just failing to hook it out of the net.

In the first half after their keeper, Coburn had sliced a clearance in to the ‘Beech’ Huts and got some stick from the Kenny End and an ironic cheer the next time he managed to find a player from a clearance. He turned around and grinned to the home fans which was a nice touch. Plenty of keepers in the past have taken the bait and made all sorts of gestures and hand-signals to the crowd.

Right time for bed now. One thing I haven’t emphasised enough in this report is that we had chance after chance after chance, we dominated the possession and dictated the tempo of the game. On another day we could easily have had four goals. On other days this year we will play worse and score more. We played some fantastic attacking football at times, in the proper Luton Town way. We didn’t quite click all the way through, but hey, it was the first game and I’ll take a 2-1 at home any day. Start slowly and build up unstoppable momentum gradually.

So the scores on the doors:

Tyler….6.5
Gleeson…7.5
Pilks…7
Kroca…8
F Murray…7
Howells…6.5
A Murray…7.5
Keane…7.5
Drury…8.5
Gallen…7
MBH…9

Gnapka…6.5
Crow…7
Craddock – not on long enough, but whose moon-ball at the end took so long to come down that the ref blew for full time with it still 50ft up in the air.

The next real test comes on Tuesday when we are away to Kettering, whose tactics last year bored us to death and whose stultifying antics were enough to send to sleep a hyperactive kid who has been fed only a diet of Panda-pops and Haribos. Mind you that was under Cooper and Kettering are nothing like as ‘good’ without him. However, they appear to be reverting to type with a 0-0 at Gateshead today. It’s good to get the first away win as soon as possible, and I have no doubt that if we play as well as we did today that the three points will be on the way. Unless I can get out of an annoying meeting in Manchester I’ll have to miss it. Next Saturday I’m spending the day at the test match, if Pakistan manage to stretch the game to four days, so I haven’t bothered to even look up where Fleetwood is. Sounds like the name of some motorway services to me.

Thanks for reading, if you got this far and, as ever, I’m always grateful for your comments on the game.

Standard