Bruising Encounter (for Pelly’s shins)

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A hard-fought and determined performance from the Hatters saw a well-deserved victory over the whelk-munching spoilers from Southend.

I’ve given myself an hour and two beers to write this so that I can avoid watching Downton Abbey, so let’s see how far I get.

I loved this game. It wasn’t a footballing classic by any means, in fact, brief glimpses of brilliance aside; there wasn’t enough play between the ref blowing his whistle for the game to really get going. It was a stop-start affair. Mainly stop.

How Southend got to fourth before the game God only knows, their shooting was woeful, and their defence alternated between comedy and criminal.  

But we won, and won well. For the first goal, Griffiths played a ball down the channel outside the narrow midfield and full back into space for Lawless to run onto, he took a touch, turned, put it on his right foot and a put in a sublime curling shot into the top corner.  Does Alex Lawless do simple tap ins? He has had more than his fair share of brilliant goals. You can see why John Still was so keen to get him back into the team. He is a constant, intelligent, creative thorn in any opponents side. And long may he remain in our side. 

The second goal was straight out of the Keystone Kops handbook. A big hoof by Macca I think went all the way down to the keeper and there was a sigh of disappointment at giving possession away so easily. But hold your exasperation Hatters, because comedy keeper Bentley passed the ball to the shell-shocked and bandaged Bolger who in his infinite wisdom slipped it neatly to Drury, who despite slipping himself slid it neatly to Cullen who slotted it past the hapless Bentley. Like any goals against a ‘fancied’ team these felt extra special as we have to work much harder for the opportunities.  

Unlike the bad old days, we are efficiently taking the few chances we get, rather than in the dark years when we seemed to need ten clear cut chances to be able to eek out a goal.

In the second half Southend made two substitutions, played 3 up front and came out all guns blazing, until we snuffed their fire out, and then they had nothing left at all. After that point we merely soaked up their pressure, forced them to shoot (badly) from outside the box and play on the counter attack with the ball going forward to the pace of Pelly and the persistence of Mark Cullen. Each time the ball went to Pelly he was hacked down. Only a ref of such spectacular incompetence could allow such a team of one-dimensional thugs to get away with it for so long.

That Dave Penney (Southend’s assistant coach and JS’s pal) was the only one to go was remarkable. Presumably and official with a pair of kahunas would have stamped out the rather clogging Southend tactics early on, but by turning a blind-eye he only sought to indulge them further. He was good at blowing his whistle. Very good at that. Very good at stopping play. But enforcing discipline isn’t his strong point, against us anyway. He did get four cards out for Southend, but he spared them so many more. But a bit of googling reminded me that Mr Kavanagh was the appalling ref for the Woking game back in March (link here) and also the kindly soul who did manage to find a red card for Macca up at Southport at the start of last season. How he managed to get promoted to the football league I’ll never know. Chances are that we’ll only see him once more this season though. 

It really isn’t how football should be played. For the second week running we were playing against a team of spoilers, who prefer to clog and hoof than pass and move. Southend were like Braintree under Devonshire, or Leyton Orient under Ling. A nasty little outfit. There must be something in the water east of Greenwich. Let’s hope that the next visitors at home are the exception to the rule.

But as the match disintegrated into a bad tempered affair it only served to tweak the volume on the Hatters fans dial and maintain the players’ resolve to keep their defensive and personal discipline.  The only slip really, hardly surprising bearing in mind the provocation, was the altercation with Pelly and the aforementioned Penney on the touchline, after the ball went out. After all that, the ref **was** happy to send someone off, but just not anyone on the field of play.

Alas I didn’t see the much discussed ‘ball-boy’ incident. Cheeky lad.

Michael Harriman from QPR (but don’t hold that against him) slotted in at right back as if he has been playing with the team all season. He had a sound game. Our back four does look good at the moment, and with the effervescent Smith and the strong “you should see him when he’s fit” Doyle playing in front of them it is beginning to look like a very effective unit.

Pelly Ruddock got the official man of the match award, presumably as consolation for having chunks hacked out of his shins all afternoon. Though in fairness, it could have gone to Lawless for his performance, Cullen for his effort (not least at being offside all the time), Wilko and Macca, Doyle and Smith and ahem, a certain Mr Andy Drury might have won it on other days. Drury played just off Cullen, his old role, and was back to his best, having previously been on both wings and in central midfield.  Has to be a good player to keep Guttridge out of the starting XI – if you recall Guttridge was our beating heart last year. And just like last year JS is slowly identifying the best formation and the best players in that formation, whilst all the while experimenting and pushing and testing and bringing back players who were injured. Difficult to have a truly settled team I guess, when we have so many good players whose performances demand selection.

Well time’s nearly up – where did an hour go? Off to Hartlepool next week. Or not as the case may be as I will be consuming beer, sausage und sauerkraut in Germany. Some guys hef all ze luck.

Really enjoyed the game and the spirited performance, the sort of resilient display that gets John Still purring like a Queen. 

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"Never Refuse a Cross"

It’s funny how a freak occurrence can sometimes change a match. Matt Robinson’s ’very deep cross’ rather liberated the Hatters this afternoon. Followed by good finishes from Gray and Benson it meant that we finished on a high after our mini blip.

We started with the same back five as usual. But there was a change in midfield – out went McGeehan, for presumably a well-earned rest, Parry took his place and Lawless played alongside him with PRM who replaced Robinson in front. The top three were the same, Howells, Benson and Gray.

This was a very different game to the Woking one, but no less disjointed. For great chunks of the game we couldn’t string two passes together or get the ball down much. Chester snapped at our heels, literally – I counted five yellow cards in the first half. But instead of playing on the front foot like Woking did, they sat back and frustrated us with only one man up front.  That’s not to say they didn’t attack us – they did, Rooney in particular (their Rooney that is, the brother of, not our new one) came closest and brought a good save out of Tyler before half time.

We came back more in the second half, but were still frustratingly not quite gelling, the little one-twos were not coming off and we were not getting the high tempo possession in their half we need in order to dominate. Benson, whilst leading the line well, wasn’t able to find Gray or others with his touches, in the first half at least. At one point I counted eight successive touches by him which didn’t find an orange shirt. A poor ratio for him, but that isn’t meant as a criticism.  Rather it is a symptom of the way we were playing rather than the cause.

PRM didn’t have the best of games. He’s a little out of sorts at the moment  – when on loan he was the best midfielder in the division by a long chalk. Today he showed glimpses of brilliance, one or two driving runs, a couple of lovely one twos, but the end product isn’t quite as good as it was. Is he lacking form? Confidence? Or is he tired? Robinson did look likely when he came on – possibly a little peeved at not starting, but he brought it down an added a degree of control that hadn’t been there. His unintentional lob of the beanpole Chapman lightened the mood and brought a sigh of relief. After hard work by Lawless on the left the ball came back to Robinson who was on the touchline and he turned and crossed the ball in – a nice curling, overhit cross which managed to lob Chapman. The sort of luck we don’t often get.

By the time Gray scored his goal, we were getting back into the harness. Now, with Chester pushing forward a little more they were vulnerable to the break and the second goal was fairly typical for this season, Robinson quickly passing it to Cullen (who had come on for Howells, meaning a rejiggle of the team and formation) and Cullen directing it in front of Gray who muscled his way into the box and who finished with confidence and aplomb.

Howells has been a little bit out of form for a couple of games now, and perhaps another one who needs a rest to recharge his batteries. Perhaps that’s why Rooooooney has been brought in?

Someone who had a fine game and who even rounded it off with a lovely left-back’s shot was indeed Scott Griffiths who worked very hard, pushed forward at every opportunity and who had a good all round match.

Franks at the heart of defence was still a little wayward in his passing but sound in his defending. Parry looked a little off the pace, but that’s hardly surprising as he hasn’t started since November time.

And what of the new boy Mr Rooney? Must be the first player who’s had his own (well, not his own really) chant before he’s even kicked a ball for us. Certainly a good cameo and I’m not going to be the first or last to say that he has a touch of the Kissocks about him. Presumably without the hissy fits and dodgy accent, but certainly with the dodgy hair. It was his control and run across the face of the goal and then pass to Henry which enabled the cross and thus the goal (ahem) by  Mr Benson who may or may not have used his arm at some point in the move, but finished nicely in any case.

Football’s a funny old game they say, and indeed it is. On Monday, we couldn’t have scored in open play, if we’d played until Tuesday, but should have had a couple of penalties, which would have won us a game we lost. Today, we get a fluky first goal and a dodgy third goal, in a game we deserved to win.  Swapping Saturday’s fortune for Monday’s misfortune and we’d still have our unbeaten run in place. It’s funny how Lady Luck asserts her authority in games. Mind you – what did Gary Player say? “The more I practise, the luckier I get”. Which is a rather nice, trite axiom, which Ed Smith did his best to disprove in his book about luck.

The next three games, all away, and which will all have been played within the next 10 days. You could argue that these three are going to be amongst the toughest three of the season. With our current form, sans Guttridge you’ve got to think that we might have a good fight on our hands at each. Grimsby and Halifax are both excellent sides at home,  and so it isn’t going to be easy, whilst a resurgent Dartford will be hoping to get something from the game. Whilst we were in our purple patch you’d have been thinking at least two wins and a draw. Not so sure now.

These three games, for us and Cambridge will really bring the end game of the league into focus. In the event that we win all three – and Cambridge draw two of theirs and lose the other then we will be champions. It’s that close now. Of course if we stutter and stumble and say only get a couple of draws and Cambridge win theirs then we will still have a 7 point lead with 6 to go. If both sides draw all three games, then we will still need just two wins and a further draw from the last 6 to clinch it.

JohnStill will of course be talking about winning all three and will set out his stall to do just that, though in my heart of hearts I can’t help thinking that he might take three draws at the moment. We will see. I’d like to pass my personal thanks to whoever put the fixtures together. Right now I can’t think of two grimmer trips in a week than Cleethorpes and Halifax. Okay, okay perhaps Middlesbrough and Barrow in a week would be worse places to go to, but a very unlikely combination.

Right, it’s late, I’m off now – well done LTFC on the win, and if you wondered about the heading, I’m quoting Matty Robinson quoting JohnStill when talking about his goal on youtube.

Come on you Hatters and #imgladorangewon

*picture credit goes to the official site.

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More of the same…

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A brilliant attacking burst at the start of the game ensured the result with still 75 minutes to play. The mighty Hatters carried on where they left off in the second half against Nuneaton with a magnificent team performance where there were no weak links.
 
Rudderless Wrexham weren’t too bad a side, defending apart. They made plenty of chances and half chances in the first half, could have had a penalty and if the sitters they missed had gone in, the scoreline and the outlook would have been very different, if not perhaps the result. We started with the same XI for the third game running – well, if you can’t stick with the same team when your previous results have been 5-0 and 7-0 when can you? Feel sorry for Mssrs Cullen, Ferdinand, Parry, Lacey and Meade who can’t even get a sniff.
 
What can I say? When the side switches it on and play high-tempo one touch football on the edge of the opponents box we are irrepressible and there is such control, confidence, skill and ability that even when the one twos don’t quite come off, there are still going to be chances, the ball still has to be dealt with and pressure still applied.
 
Ogleby missed a sitter in the opening seconds, his first of many. Our first goal was almost immediately after. It was our first attack of the game and scored after 131 seconds. Gutteridge stroking home from the edge of the box having been played in by that man Benson after excellent persistence by Howells. The second was down to Andre Gray’s persistence as he was presented with the ball a couple of times having seemingly lost it, but he motored on through and struck it home having originally been put through by Franks. The Wrexham defending was a bit like “after you…no, after you…have another go Andre, because we know you are the leading goalscorer in the division after all, we wouldn’t want you to go without”.
 
 
The third goal was a lovely move with a series of one touch passes starting with PRMs pass an culminating in Guttridge bagging his second and his 12th for the season. How Boothroyd must have kicked himself for letting him go. Probably refused to roll around the floor with half an hour to go with his team one up…
 
We had to wait a bit for the fourth, but ultimately Henry got a nose bleed and assist by crossing for Benson after a strangely slow motion move where Wrexham seemingly escorted us on.
 
Despite what JohnStill said afterwards, I thought whilst the second half was disciplined and we played some lovely football it was little more subdued, with the foot off the gas a fraction. We switched to 4-4-2 with Howells and Guttridge on the flanks, though to be fair the attacking movement is so fluid that many of the roles are interchangeable at times. I did think there were times when there was a hole in front of the Wrexham centre halves which would have been filled by a lively Guttridge buzzing around. Howells was felled for the penalty and got up and offered the ball to Guttridge, who, like the consummate professional declined it to allow Howells to pop it home. To be fair, if the ball had rolled slightly differently we could have had three more in the second half. Wrexham did play their part, not hacking us to death but still trying to pass it around, to their credit. Being the superstitious type – I don’t mind us missing a few half chances when we’re five up – I’d rather that then when we are scrabbling around for winner, get your misses out of the way when you are already five up!
 
Meanwhile Richard Money was doing his pieces for Cambridge as their season further implodes. He’s now worried about making the play offs – he’s not bothering about us. He’s thrown in the towel for the title race – as his players Matthew Barnes-Homer et al seem already to have done.
 
Again, our performance and finishing was confident, superb to watch and so gratifying after the seasons of dross we’ve had to endure.  This is, without doubt the best team we have had since we were in the championship. Full credit to JohnStill. He said it might take 20 months  when he started a year ago.  Well – on the anniversary of his appointment we are 14 points clear at the top, with 14 games to go. That means even if we only drew our away games and won all of our home games, Cambridge would have to win each of their remaining games to finish ahead of us. I’ll let you ponder as to the likelihood of that.  Anyway I suspect on current form Barnet will overtake Cambridge shortly. Without Davids they look much better. In any case, maths aside we need to keep the pressure on, play well again on Saturday and let the table take care of itself. Can’t wait until Saturday. My congratulations to the team and the club for extending this breathtaking run of form and results. I keep pinching myself but it really is happening…
 
No report after Saturday by the way as I’m going up to Scotland immediately after the game. They don’t have the internet up there. Last time I was in Glasgow I watched as they burnt a wicker effigy of Tim Berners-Lee. 
 
Come on you Hatters!
 
 
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Un-BULL-lievable

What an excellently enjoyable game of football. That is two outstanding wins in a week. The first in Macc. was a hard earned scrappy win, the sort of game we would have lost in the past, whereas this afternoon was a glorious second-half feast of a victory.

In a game where the referee chose to be lenient on Hereford, but harsh on the Hatters we still managed to romp home. Once we got out of first gear with Andre Gray’s first goal I didn’t think we ever looked like not winning, let alone conceding. And, much like the Nuneaton game two weeks ago, any rustiness or lack of cohesion in the first half was swept away with a tide of goals in the second.

And what goals they were.

The first goal came after nice move and a good interchange on the edge of the box. McGeehan curled in a low shot which the keeper failed to grasp, and in effect parried it to Gray who pounced like a cat on a bird and instinctively poked it in. Good – that was 1-0, pressure off, and playing into the wind. We had plenty more chances, but weren’t quite dominating in the way we can. It all changed when we played with the wind in the second half, but we didn’t succumb to any temptation to use the breeze by playing it long.

The second goal came from an inswinging Howells corner. McGeehan rose well and jumped competitively to win the ball, he hung like a spring salmon in the air, and took one for the team in the process, hurting his arm, and playing like a bird with a broken wing thereafter. Benson got on the end of McGeehan’s header and forced it home. It was probably going to go in anyway to be fair.

The third goal was smartly taken penalty by Jake Howells, however it was not the penalty but the build up to the award of the penalty which was impressive. It all started with a long cross field ball by Scott Griffiths to Howells, on the right. He played it back to Ronnie Henry who fired a fast ball forward to PRM who had lots of room to turn and drive into the box (just for a change!) and play a one-two with Luke Guttridge before being scythed down by the Gypsy-beast James.

The fourth goal was my favourite, and another move that would be more at home four divisions above, or at the Nou Camp. Think quick, sharp, high tempo passing – Luton football at its best. Guttridge played the ball back to McGeehan who played the ball inside to PRM who burst forward and injected more pace into the move on the edge of the box. He laid it inside for Guttridge who drifted to the left then slotted it inside to Benson standing on the penalty spot who touched it back for that man Ruddock who clip/chip/curled the ball perfectly into the top corner. He couldn’t have caught it more perfectly. A beautiful move matched by an exquisite finish. Little fast triangles, impossible to defend.

Three goals still to go, including a hat trick. McGeehan went off shortly afterwards, clutching his arm – he got a great reception as he gingerly made his way to the tunnel. A very lively Matt Robinson replaced him.

Benson started the fifth by muscling the ball back in the centre circle. It went back to Guttridge (there’s a theme here) who played a direct ball forward in front of Gray, which was, frankly a bit cruel. Fast striker vs knackered defender. Only one winner. Gray took the ball into the box and, carefully slotted the ball into the far corner giving the keeper no chance.

On came Jon Shaw, back from injury and on the bench, he replaced Benson, who had had a lovely game. Shaw’s first involvement was under-jumping for a ball, or rather being outjumped for the ball – and I thought ‘here we go again’ but fortunately this is the new version of Jon Shaw and that is the last time that happened.

Another lovely passing move resulted in Guttridge sending Lawless down the left wing stretching the play and getting to the byline. Another player you don’t really want to be facing when you are tired and five down. Lawless got to the byline, crossed it left footed and Gray darted it in for his hat trick of hat tricks this year. Who was the last Hatter to do that?

Last goal came from a free kick would you believe? Matt Robinson struck a right foot shot from 20 yards out, and the keeper made a fantastic save to touch it onto the bar, but the ball looped up and there was not one but two Luton players following it in from about a foot out – Shaw and Lawless, I think they both touched it, or rather the ball hit both of them, with possibly Lawless having the last touch. I don’t know, from where I was stood at the Kenny End I had a pretty good view. My instinct was that Shaw got the touch, but his body language suggested he might be a bit lucky to claim it. Anyway – doesn’t matter it was a goal – a seventh goal – and the drubbing was complete.

Who looked good, who looked bad? Difficult to find someone who struggled in any way. I suppose you could say that McNulty made a couple of uncharacteristic errors in the first half, that Guttridge took a while to get into the game and that Andre Gray shot rather than passing on two occasions once he had had this hat trick, but that was about that, the splitingest of split hairs. The second half saw a succession of confident flowing moves from a side top of the table who are playing like they are top of the table. This is the Luton side we always envisaged and hoped for (and arrogantly assumed) when we dropped down – a class above the rest and looking like a Ferrari in a garage full of Fiestas. 

Hereford, able to live with us for the first half but were simply blown away in the second half as our fitness levels made a difference and our class shone through.

Poor old Hereford. Another proper club fallen on proper hard times. Decent fans. I hope things turn around for them. Of course, it was only five seasons ago they were in league one rubbing shoulders with Leicester, Leeds and Brighton. Mind you, we know a thing or two about falling down the divisions.

We were quality. There wasn’t a weak link. I’m not sure there is a weak link. Players who were out of form when they came to the club (eg Ronnie Henry) and players who were out of form at the start of the year (Griffiths, Gray) have come good and are in top form. Players such as Cullen, Ferdinand and Meade can’t even get in the match day squad, everything is going well. Once again I must take my hat off to the players and the manager JohnStill for their performance and attitude this year, which has been spot on. They are taking it a game at a time, playing with confidence and at high tempo and not getting complacent. Still has filled the squad with willing talent, bursting to impose itself on games. And long may it continue.

Brilliant today, brilliant. It feels good to be a Hatter right now – everything comes to he who waits…

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Gateshead in the rain #2

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If it’s Gateshead then it must be raining. A wet afternoon and a cracking game. The Hatters played at such a pace in the first half that perhaps it was inevitable that they would run out of puff at some point. When we did we let in a couple of sloppy goals – but not before we had scored four crackers. On the final Saturday before Christmas,  an excuse for lower crowds in the days before Amazon, just under 7000 Hatters made the place rock and the Oak Road sang like the old days. For a while in the first half we were irrepressible, and at times there was clear blue water man for man between each Luton player and his Gateshead counterpart – for  a little while it was men against boys.

The side picked itself, with Joe Davis slotting in alongside McNulty. Lawless however played on the left, rather than the right, which was interesting. He set up one goal and scored two others and was in fine form.

The scoring was opened by the in form Paul Benson – who led the line superbly all night. It came from a lovely cross from Lawless from the byline across the face of the goal to the far post.

The second was down to Alex Lawless’s persistence in front of goal. Having lost the ball a couple of yards out he tackled the defender span around and lashed the ball in the net with his left foot.

Persistence was the name of the game for the third goal. On the far right wing, but the dugouts Lawless closed down the dilatory Sirrell and the ball ran to his colleague who barely had time to control it before Ronnie Henry intercepted and his interception became a perfect through ball for Andre Gray. Gray took a couple of touches, ran with the ball a little way, didn’t bother to try to create an angle and just blasted it past the goalie into the net. Nothing prevented the goalie from saving it, he wasn’t obstructed or impeded – he was on his line, but Gray just blasted it as hard as he could into the back of the net.

The fourth goal was a beauty too. It began at the back whereby McNulty and Henry tidied up a Gateshead loose ball, with them pressed up the pitch, Henry slotted the ball to Gray on the right who took the ball from his own half and played the ball into the path of Benson who rounded a player and then reversed a shot into the opposite corner. The keeper got his fingers to it, but could only parry the ball to Lawless who calmly slotted it in.

Steve McNulty was simply awesome all afternoon. His tackling, heading and positional play was outstanding. He even had a tete-a-tete with Hatch right at the end with the ex-Hatter (and fellow Mastermind contestant) goading our lovable scouse and picking up a booking in the process. He kept on and on and wouldn’t let it lie (clearly debating that the atomic weight of xenon is indeed 131.293, not 131.294) but fantastically  (in the hypocritical way that cricketers go and have a beer with the bloke whose mother they were slagging off a few minutes earlier at the end of the game) turned around and shook McNulty’s hand the second the whistle was blown. No hard feelings Macca. McNulty also lambasted Lawless for the first Gateshead goal. Nice to see the passion and annoyance about conceding one when four up. Glad it didn’t develop into a Batty/Le Saux tiff.

Scott Griffiths has gone from strength to strength over the past few weeks, he pressed further forwards than usual and on two or three occasions took an active part in play in the box – and even had a shot, a left-back special. His commitment on the touchline and interplay with Lawless was the key to the first goal: he played Alex in to cross for Benson’s header. I think he did go a bit sleepy bo bos for the Heed’s first goal – but I’ll forgive him that.

On the right Ronnie Henry roamed forward on occasion with great effect and brought a challenging extra element for Gateshead to contend with.

Davis was also tidy and competent.  I recall one bone-cruncher of a tackle he did – on the no 7 (Larkin?) the tackle had to be perfect, because something bad would have happened if he had been out by an inch either way.

The middle three comprised of PRM, Guttridge and Smudger Smith. Smith was quietly competent with some composed tackles – he pressed their midfield effectively and never let them settle on the ball. He had an outstanding game. Guttridge was utterly dominant and pulling all the strings in the way he does, more so in the first half than second. PRM at times looked way too good for the conference, between you and me he looked a bit too good for Luton a couple of times. What a difference his presence is making. The original box to box man, driving forward, skipping around people, scattering Gateshead players as he went.  As it happens today, he wasn’t a key contributor, but didn’t need to be. I recall possibly the miss of the season in the second half when he volleyed a Guttridge corner, it’s not many shots that run the risk of going over the roof at the Kenny End.

Gray was superb on the right and tormented Sirell like a cat playing with a dying mouse. Sirrell must have hacked at him, dragged him down, rugby tackled him and all sorts in his attempts to stop him, but without much success – even at that. Gray is in top form at the moment, with 7 goals in his last 5 days. He is tormenting defenders with his pace. Long may he remain at LTFC.

I won’t say anything about the defending for their second goal – basically Turnbill put in a deep curling cross to the far post that evaded everyone but that cheeky-chappy Liam Hatch at the far post. I’m sure JS would have gone potty at conceding that type of goal. Thank goodness it is a rarity these days.

I hope we can build on the performance today and eagerly look forward to the Barnet games and the Kiddy game next week. The Christmas period is key – I must admit we could have had easier ties – but we’ve got to play these sides sometime – they will be fearing us more than us fearing them.

Today’s game, the Gateshead goals aside was a superb performance for the Town. These are the performances and play which you want to bottle and keep forever. The pace, the touches, the vision, the confidence and self belief and the ethos were as good as they have been for a long, long time. It is a pleasure to watch them. How many times in recent years have we been able to say that? There are so many good things going on at the club from the youth team, through the ressies and the first team that I must take my hat off to the club and more importantly to JohnStill and his back room staff. I’m a happy Hatter as at Christmas 2013. By the way, it seems that everyone in the football world is following our recent (but not future) habit of sacking the manager, they’ve been falling like flies this week. I’m pleased to see that we’ve extended JohnStill’s contract.

Some scores:

Tyler 7

Henry 8

McNulty 8.5

Davis 8

Griffiths 8.5

Smith 8.5

Guttridge 8

PRM 7.5

Lawless 9.5

Benson 8.5

Gray 9

 

Happy Christmas to all of you out there who take the time out to read this blog. I wish you all the best and here’s to a successful 2014 for everyone.

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Typical

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Typical, no goals for ages, then three come at once. Cue Relief all around. Ah – so that’s what a goal is. From a low point against Wrexham I hope that today’s improved performance engenders some further confidence and self belief.

The catalyst? Tricky one…but I’d like to suggest that it was a certain A Lawless Esq, from the Valleys. Poor that we should be seemingly so reliant on one player, but today the difference was obvious almost from the kick off. He didn’t play behind the striker but on the right hand side of the front three, Guttridge holding on to his place behind Benson as the ‘lone’ striker. Not being in the centre didn’t diminish Lawless’ influence, and made a significant impact on the game and the team. Within minutes of the start he had already got to the byline and put in a dangerous cross, a basic but important part of football that has been missing from the start of the season. His assist for the first was almost identical, a run and a cross from the right onto Benson’s head for the goal. He capped off his performance with the third goal after he rounded Julian in the Dartford goal and slotted it in. Whether or not the ball was carried across the line by the Dartford defender I neither know nor care.

Guttridge got the second with a canny deflection from about 20 yards to give us a 2-0 lead at half time. Howells broke forward from a corner and played Guttridge in. Guttridge had a super game. Whilst our midfield was so wholly superior from the outset Guttridge had an outstanding game in the ‘hole’ behind Benson. Pulling the strings is an understatement.

The difference between this year’s Dartford and last year’s is that they afforded us so much time on the ball. The fundamental error to make against the Hatters. Mind you – that’s probably the last time it’ll happen this year, so just as well we made hay. A small side, a team of full of friendly but hyperactive dwarves,  they did try to play properly which is credit to them. You might think representing Dartford they’d be a brutal, ugly team, but they went about things the right way. Alas, the good die young.

Benson had a terrific game too. Not only does he win the season award as the first striker to get a goal for us this year (17th September must be a record for that) but he covered yards and yards and yards, won knock downs aplenty and linked up play – controlling that part of the field.

It was the sort of performance we always anticipated and expected on dropping down to the 5th tier. Part time Dartford away to mighty Luton should always be a tidy 3-0 – but our seasons at this level have suggested that this should never be expected, because it has almost never been delivered. But tonight it was, at a canter really. We showed the confidence of pre-season. It struck me that the win was never in the doubt.

That’s not to say it was a complete walk over. Griffiths had another mixed game. At present rightly or wrongly I feel that he is at present the weakest link in the team. If his tackling is good then his distribution is poor. When his positional play is poor his marking is excellent, and when his marking is poor his passing can be good. He can’t get everything going at once quite yet.

Tyler was stretched enough to make a good couple of saves, but otherwise was fairly redundant. His kicking was mixed and I really wish he’d throw more, especially in games like this where we are afforded so much time on the ball. Punting it up to Benson (or realistically onto the head of the opposing centre half) is a good way to lose possession and for spells of the second half the only way we would concede possession.

At the back, Steve McNulty was an absolute colossus. Metaphorically of course. If Lawless hadn’t got MoM then McNulty surely would. Not only did he win the ball, but he did his utmost to ensure that he distributed it to feet and/or set up a play, rather than just hoofing it into the crowd. Quite, quite brilliant today. Like Lawless truly a division or class or two above. The first time the ball came to his feet at the start of the game he did the ol’ Brazilian two-step around the oncoming striker, very cheeky, very well played.

Parry. I like Mr Parry. Unfussy, good position-wise and hardworking, we have genuine stiff competition for the defender to partner McNulty in defence. My friend Pete said he was better in the middle of the park, but one dodgy corner aside looked completely at home.

Henry the skip was sound enough as ever. Didn’t cross the half way line as much as I would like but continues to excel at what he does best which is tidy defending.

Jim Stevenson – second time I’ve seen him and this was his first home start. I thought he put himself around well and helped to be part of that midfield three which ran Dartford ragged. I was pleased. If that is Stevenson at the stat of his Luton career I’m encouraged and excited about what we might see in a couple of years time. Sound start indeed.

Smudger Smith – hard working again though with fewer tackles but more time on the ball than against Grimsby. An important part of a midfield which dominated Dartford.

Jake Howells. Whilst he didn’t get many crosses in, he linked up play very well, as well as positionally being in the right place at the right time. His attitude was spot on. He was replaced by Dave Martin, who I hadn’t seen for a while. Dave offers something different, his pace being the biggest difference I think. Whilst his first couple of touches didn’t quite go to plan, Martin adds a different dimension. I think his confidence needs building up after being dropped after a poor start. I don’t know why, but he reminds me (and apologies to anyone under 40) of a footballing Derek Randall in appearance, perhaps slightly less in demeanour. Rags was all twitchy and laugh a minute, and whilst Martin seems to be enjoying it, (but doesn’t twitch), it is his body language, languid style and shifty shuffle that reminds me of the Retford-born batsman.

Five minutes after Howells was replaced by Martin, Whalley replaced Lawless. Now Shaun has never had bigger boots to fill. I want Shaun to be a success, as does everyone at the club, and more importantly the manager believes he can be successful. John Moore said that SW needs to move his game to another plane to continue to outwit defenders. The jury’s still out. I don’t think we serve wingers like Whalley and Gray particularly well, because we aim to get the ball to them by accurate, to feet, pin point pass – rather than by playing into space behind the defence for the defenders to run on to. Fine if you have players like Jake, but you have to exploit the fast players’ strengths if you have them, and perhaps for him that is the difference between here and Southport, this year and last. Perhaps last year he had more time to get his crosses in, whereas this season he’s normally been closed down faster than a junkie is in a supermarket by a security guard, when loitering near the jaffa cakes.

So that was definitely more like it at last – you could see the relief on all concerned, not least the crowd, not a boo to be heard. Need to start stringing a few performances like that together. They’ve been few and far between this season, or to be fair non-league as a whole. And now I’m looking forward to Lincoln on Saturday…

Scores on the doors: Tyler: 6.5, Henry 7, McNulty 9, Parry 8.5, Griffiths 5.5, Smith 7.5, Stevenson 7, Guttridge 9 (loses half for a silly yellow card) Benson 8.5, Howells 7, Lawless 9.

 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading, as ever all comments good or bad welcomed. Apologies for the lack of reports recently, trips abroad with work, whilst pleasant, really do rip into your blogging time. I must have a word with my boss.

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What a Gray Day!

Two good goals from Andre Gray were cancelled out by Christian Jolley’s efforts from Newport. An open game which Luton had the best of in the first half and Newport the second.

Just the briefest of reports tonight – I’m off around the country first thing tomorrow, taking in Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Leeds, before heading down to Southend, which means I’ll miss Thursday’s game against Ebbsfleet. Sad face type thingy.
Once again we played the positive 4-2-3-1 – with Martin and Gray excelling in their wider roles and with, in the first half at least, Lawless bossing the midfield to the extent that dear Jon Shaw was almost redundant leading the line.

Two individual errors cost us the goals. Rowe-Turner playing against his bogey team got in the way of Brill or if you like Brill failed to call for a ball which LRT then failed to get rid of with Jolley benefitting from a couple of strokes of luck with the ball falling into his lap to squeeze in their first and the equaliser.

For their second, a straightforward cross was inexplicably punched by Brill under no pressure and the ball worked its way out to Jolley who slashed a drive into the corner. Poor from Brill who otherwise had made some fantastic saves to keep Newport at bay.

Gray scored the first of the game – a well worked shortish corner on the left saw Martin swinging a cross across the goal to his buddy Gray standing completely unmarked at the far post and he volley it in.

His second was a rasping volley after retrieving the ball on the turn which had bounced away from him but bounced in such a way that he was able to swing his foot through it perfectly to win this season’s “careful son, if you bust that net, it’ll come out of your wages” award. A beauty.

Both sides had another clear chance each for a third. In the first half LRT cleared the ball or rather nudged Washington sufficiently to be able to clear the ball a yard or so from the goal line, having got around Brill. Seemingly it was a certain goal, and 9 times out of 10 he would have found a way to stab it into the net. How relieved were we? A bit of luck for a change.

At the other end, an interception/challenge from a Newport player effectively played a 20 yard perfect through ball through to Gray, who on a one on one with ol’ Lenny Pidgely blasted it over. Harder not to score surely than to score – but there you go. Gray’s a funny old chap, give him a split second and he’ll bury the ball on instinct alone, give him a second or two to think about it and his touch deserts him and he suddenly transmogrifies into McNulty in front of goal. Goal-fests apart, he’ll deservingly end up as our leading scorer this year. I hope we can keep him in the summer and JohnStill turns him into a slightly more refined player, it won’t take too much to double his tally in our promotion winning season next year – he’ll certainly get the chances.

There we go – I said it was short! I’ll do a longer season review at some point – mid-April seems a bit early to be saying ta ta to me but there you go.

Thank you for reading this year and enduring the rants and moans. I hope it wasn’t all negative in a season which otherwise has been pretty mediocre and couldn’t have got much worse really. Perhaps two cracking wins in the last two games will see us grab 7th or something like that, so it won’t seem too bad or ‘mid-table’.

I’m looking forward to seeing a few changes at KR over the summer, the much alluded to big news, some new signings and some genuine progress next year under JohnStill and team. I think we’ve seen a few green shoots of recovery, though we are still a long way short of being a good-enough team to sustain a threat next year. Fortunately JohnStill would be the first to hold his hand up and admit that, which makes a change from his three predecessors. Let us hope that no sugar daddies pour their money into one of our league opponents next year, so that we have the relatively level playing field we’ve had this year (not that it made any difference of course). And I do hope that the other Hatters, Stockport stay up, hopefully at the expense of Gateshead (only because of the travel and the inevitable trip to my in-laws – not because I don’t like Gateshead) and of course six points might make all the difference next year, so come on you Hatters!

 

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