After the ‘latest’ nadir against Gateshead, tonight’s 3-0 win was a refreshing and long overdue good performance.

Trying a new combination of players in a 4-2-3-1 formation, after about half an hour the players started to click, and once Dave Martin’s sweetly struck shot snuck in off the post, a weight was lifted off their shoulders and suddenly the team have a bit more confidence and thus freedom to start playing more cohesively as a unit. The outcome was a well-deserved 3-0, which could easily have been 4-0 or 5-0.

Well done to Lincoln to start with even less of an idea than we did, nice to play a team struggling even more than we were to find its feet. Good time to play them. Mind you we could have said that about Gateshead. The difference was, where previously Lincoln’s handful of early breaks proved fruitless tonight, in previous games this year they would have snuck a goal and put us on the back foot from the off. Not tonight. There were no clues to the eventual complete control of the game in the first half an hour, other than perhaps Martin’s disallowed (but excellent) offside goal from a gorgeous cross from the effervescent Gray. In fact I remember remarking that it was the longest half an hour of football for a long time, such hard work it was to watch. We did take a while to get going. There was too much in the air, and too many poor passes and woeful control. For a little while it looked as if it would once again be ‘one of those nights’. But a couple of bits of quality made the incisive difference. In a way that has been wholly lacking this year, and to be fair in the past 3, we took some half chances and turned them into goals. We were wasteful early on, peppering the scoreboard and Mrs Patel’s back garden with shots, but it clicked and we looked sharper than for a while.

Brill remained in goal, Mark Tyler has a dicky back. For some reason he got a bad press from the people around me, but I thought that was unfair. Apart from a couple of wayward kicks (hey, this is non league) his kicking was longer and as accurate as Tylers, whilst also showing a propensity to roll the ball out where he could. He made a couple of good saves, which were key. I thought he had a good game.

Returning at right back was Mr Henry returning after his spell on the sidelines. He had a solid, untroubled game and got in a number of handy crosses. He was, to be fair, largely untroubled by Lincoln, but was very sound. He gave his shirt away at the end, I wasn’t sure why he did that (with so many games to go, and presumably with him staying…) but someone pointed out that he is having an op next week and so it was his last game this year.

Simon Ainge moved to the middle. After a big wobble in the first ten minutes when presented with the opportunity to deal with a ball over the top of him, which he was running back to he had the opportunity to knock it back to Brill or stick it out for a throw. Both were sound options, but instead dear Simon chose to fanny about with it, and lost possession, which he won back and then lost again. Not good and you could see what little confidence he had melt out of his boots and it took a while and some decisive headers and clearances before it came back. He looked better by the end of the first half.

Alongside was our old friend Steve McNulty. A most unlikely looking footballer and indeed captain (even with Ronnie on the pitch) he played well. It was his quick thinking and glorious, incisive through ball at a free kick, which saw Andre Gray through, in space and racing towards the byline, he cut it back and we had 2 (two) players running in on the end of it. Dave Martin was the lucky recipient for his second.

At left back making his full debut was Scott Griffiths who looked tidy, efficient and untroubled. A couple of good crosses too and he linked up well with Dave Martin at times.

In front of the back four sat the excellent Matt Robinson and Jonathan Smith. Smith looked a bit leggy I thought, though made one or two good challenges and runs and broke up the play well. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was Smith who put Gray through for the second – it was a good through ball showing great vision.

Robinson looked increasingly at home. Well done Mr Buckle for spotting him and bringing him in. He looks like a half decent footballer, and will some more experience and a bit more confidence, we might have a cracking player on our hands.

In front of those two we had a wider attacking midfield three – Gray wide on the right, though he did swap and drift a couple of times, Martin wide on the left and Alex Lawless behind Jon Shaw.

Gray looked sharp, eager and confident, and it didn’t need the first Luton goal for him to have confidence, as he was brimming with it from the start. He was tormenting the poor Lincoln defenders. And what a pain in the arse he proved.  He showed great composure (not something he has always had this year) in rounding the keeper and slotting the ball home. Let’s hope that is the first of many like that.

Lawless in the middle, looked composed and confident.  Clearly JohnStill’s favourite boy, he was the playing just behind Shaw in the middle, a position which suited him tonight very well. He was instrumental in the brighter moves throughout and revelled in his attacking role. On the left, Dave Martin had a fantastic game and was unlucky not to get the man of the match award, and even unluckier not to get four. How lovely to have an attacking winger who has an eye for goal. In cricket batsmen (and sometime bowlers) talk about being ‘in the zone’ whatever a bowler bowls at you, you feel in complete control and in charge. Well Dave Martin must have felt like that tonight. He will want to wrap tonight’s memory up and keep it safe forever. Four goals wouldn’t have flattered him. As I said above, he was unlucky with his first one, Gray’s perfect cross finding him offside, apparently. His second one was a goal from the second it left his foot. His third chance, second goal was from a Gray cross again, and his fourth chance, second  disallowed one was again when he got on the end of an Andre Gray cross yet again, but the ref blew up for Lawless’s fisticuffs with Boyce on the edge of the box, which was a shame. There’s a theme there isn’t there – Gray cross, Martin goal. JohnStill spoke of combinations being key at the end in his press conference, well – there’s one there John.

Of course the last piece in tonight’s jigsaw, or jigshaw if you will, was John Shaw, who played as a ‘lone’ striker. He was more lone in the first half, played further forward from the midfield three behind and was acting as an out and out target man, and gave the players the excuse, for perhaps too long, to perhaps play it too long too. If you see what I mean. Whacking it up to the big front man is the last refuge of a scoundrel if it is the only tactic you employ, and it could have gone dangerously wrong. In the second half Shaw drifted deeper, won the ball more on his own terms and accordingly, the Town looked brighter and better because of it. No longer did they have the clumsy option to hit it long, now, they were driven more to finding reasons to play it on the floor and we looked much better for it. Shaw played well without being outstanding, but the formation suited him too I thought.

He was replaced with Alex Wall who looked like an over eager puppy when he came on. He posed more immediate problems than the tiring Shaw.

It was one of those games which you didn’t really want to end, the interplay in the latter part of the second half was entertaining and truly made you wonder where on earth we had been all year and why we couldn’t play like that every week. Even Scott Rendell (as sub for Lawless, and playing in his best position, eg behind the front man) looked much better and linked well with Gray, though he does look a little less hungry at times and his lack of pace is obvious on occasions. There were chances aplenty and I’m confident that another 20 minutes would have brought more goals such was the dominance at the end.

So more tinkering from JohnStill looking to find the right combinations of players and right formation and partnerships. He said he was excited by his continuing challenge of identifying which players to keep and which to let go.

Hot on the heels of tonight’s game is Friday’s against Grimsby. We’ve already seen them score seven against us this year and I have no desire to see them get any more. I know that JohnStill may well tinker and swap some more in his search to find the players he needs, but it would have been lovely to have played Grimsby with the team and formation we had tonight to see how we matched up with a side in the play offs. Oh well – early days.

Hopefully the Gateshead debacle was indeed the nadir of our footballing history, our lowest position, the lowest attendance and our worst defeat at this level. Like Alan Partridge we are bouncing back. And, like Alan Partridge Steve McNulty suffers from a fat back.

A while back, I remember half jokingly longing at some point in the future for a boring mid table season, after three successive relegations, followed by three seasons of play off frustration. Little did I suspect that we would get exactly that this year. Be careful what you wish for eh? Four years ago it would have been inconceivable to envisage a mid-table finish in the conference, but that it what our recent form, and constant turmoil has led us to experience.  With four games to go we have a chance at least to try to threaten 7th this year. Two games at home to teams going to be in the play offs and two away games to sides struggling against the drop. Then by Saturday week it will all be over for another year. Seems such a rush at the end doesn’t it. On Saturday evening I just wanted the season to end there and then, but after tonight I can’t wait until Friday for the Grimsby game. At least JohnStill has four more games to find out about his existing players and to tinker with formations, partnerships and combinations.




A game of two halves!

Well that one certainly was a game of two halves. JohnStill would have been delighted with the work rate and character seen in the second half. It contrasted sharply with a disjointed and forlorn first half.

The game overall was an improvement on the boredom of Nuneaton. But for some good saves towards the end by Bittner it would have been a home win. Oh, and those penalty shouts. Not sure how the handballs were missed by the ref, but there you go. Oh and that one from Smith that was over the line but missed by the officials. Something JohnStill will have to budget for and practice against is twelve men, not eleven. It was quite amusing hearing the pint-sized Italian whinger Zola complaining about the ref the team down the M1 had this afternoon in a similar way eg ” were playing against twelve men”. I’d swap Watford’s luck for ours any time of the day. The deluded dwarf doesn’t know he’s born. Watford and Luton: the luckiest club in existence and the unluckiest. Pick the bones out of that one Ed Smith.

JohnStill has said he wants players who are hungry, who want to learn and improve. And he has a track record of improving players. Sounds perfect for our organisation. Let’s hope that he finds some gems in our youth set up, and brings them into the first team, and brings them on, rather than recruiting willy nilly from the old pro’s home. His journey at Luton will be a fascinating one. He clearly knows the outcome he is seeking and has set out the steps he wants to take to get there. He has only ever been at little clubs with a tiny budget, it will be interesting to see what he does with a few more funds available.

Now that 2020 have finally bitten the bullet and shunned the ‘instant success’ route after 4 seasons, presumably incentivising JohnStill for long term success rather than instant one season return, perhaps JohnStill will recruit and grow accordingly. It puts Money’s, Brabin’s and Buckle’s quick fix purchases into context now. Clearly their incentive was the one season return, and accordingly their dodgy purchases were along those lines, pro’s who could in theory step into a role and give instant reward, rather than growing a player and building a team. Of course, the quick fixes didn’t work and we are now still where we were four years ago. I suspect the board will always regret the decision to do it that way rather than the 2-3 year approach they have now adopted. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Some of us thought naively, it was going to be oh so easy.

The first half was listless and once again the players played as if they’d only just met. We did carve out half chances, and perhaps on another day one of them would have gone in and the pressure would have been off. Hereford were atypical opponents, ie they didn’t turn up and put 11 men behind the ball. They played some good football, though had a tendency to go down as if shot, to rant at the ref over every decision and one or two of them clearly thought they had more goalie in the team such was their propensity to handle the ball in the box. Hereford played some good football and in the first half we played some terrible football.

As an aside, I wonder, now that we are no longer in danger of getting promoted this year if sides will come and approach us differently. Will more teams fancy it and come and have a go now? Or will our reputation and size, rather than our league position still determine how sides line up against us? If it is the former then it will be a welcome change; if it is the latter then it will be interesting to see JohnStill’s methodology for prising open stubborn defences.

Hereford could have had two or three goals in the first half and it was a delight and a relief to see a side squander as many chances as we do. Their goal was a lesson in how not to defend, Jackson received the ball on half way and then proceeded to accelerate towards the Hatters defence. Not one tackle was put in, he was not closed down – he was escorted to the goal like a steward at the Kenny End showing a Sunderland fan to his seat. It was a great run and a good goal, but awful defending and the new lad Goodman was at fault as much as anyone. But, he’s young and learning his trade and we all make mistakes. Better that we benefit from all his good defending whilst he’s here.

So onto the team.

Mark Tyler – still shop stopper extraordinaire, but his kicking has lost a little direction and borders on the Emberson at times (but not to the degree of the hapless Bittner whose kicking was worse than piss-poor). There was a huge ironic cheer when he chose to roll one out rather than hoof it aimlessly. Shame he doesn’t do it a bit more. The goal seemed to go past him in slow motion too.

Ronnie Henry was sound enough at right back and got forward well in the second half.

McLumpy fortunately wasn’t closed down enough to make the stumble-blunders he managed against Mansfield. Some of his passing went astray – but he put his head where he needed to when it mattered.

Goodman – mentioned his part in the Hereford goal – but otherwise he was okay. His shot at the end where he blasted it over was a tad greedy when a pass would have been better – but little things. Tidy home debut – but needs to adjust his sights so that his clearances don’t make the people in the Main Stand Enclosure dive for cover.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Kovacs returns and Thomas is back from suspension. Who would you choose? We’ve got a choice of four now. I’m not sure how impressed JohnStill would have been with Thomas getting sent off like that. I know who I’d go for.

Taylor – went missing in the first half and was defensively woeful. Had a hand in the Hereford goal – but improved in the second half before being subbed.

Lawless – kept trying and was instrumental in the improvement in the second half. Was certainly trying to impress the new manager. If you had to pick a player of the season at this point, would it be Lawless? Not much choice this year I know.

Mendy – Dr Clutz in the first half, and was focus for much of the angst, picked up slightly better in the second, but was subbed.

Smith – tried to get the ball wide and played it forward and again improved markedly in the second period.

Howells – best game in a long time in the first half, was a perennial pain down the left hand side. Moved to his favourite position of left back when Martin came on in the second half. I’m using irony there by the way…

Gray – seems to be splitting opinion amongst the fans. Some grumble and groan at his poor control and first touch whilst others remember that just over a year ago he was carrying a hod and playing at Hinckley. If he hangs around in the summer, it will be fascinating to see if JohnStill can add him to his long list of improvers. He definitely has something (eg pace, and an eye for goal) let’s hope he can just get better and better.

Rendell – half chances in the first half and another who splits opinion. Some see him as a slightly lazy player who should be better in the air for someone with his height and role, others remark upon his positional sense and point to his movement for the Norwich goal, and all the goals he has got this season. I suspect a decent manager would liberate him from the shackles of the target man and give him a different role.

Anyway – he was replaced by Alex Wall who made his home debut and was a breath of fresh air. His presence on the pitch allowed us to up a gear and for the last 20 mins we more or less camped in their half. How lovely to have a target man who regularly won the ball. I’m glad we’ve got him. The last decent target man we had got 100 goals – how lovely if he can even get a third of that in his time with us. He got his noggin on the balls played up to him and nodded down and held up as necessary. He looked a little raw, but looked very, very up for it and keen. I’d like to see him start alongside an experienced quick striker who can anticipate where the ball is going to drop. Lovely to create a partnership between a front two again. What a concept. Dare we dream? Welcome Alex. Let’s not get too carried away. Promising start, long way to go. Let’s hope he can grow, improve and we get the benefit of that whilst he is with us.

O’Donnell – added to the improved momentum and added some intelligent passing.
In the 17 minutes David Martin on the pitch he was nearly the villain, but as it turned out the hero. A spectacular interception in front of his own goal had Tyler at full stretch to keep out what would have been a classic own goal and on Danny Baker’s next video (do they still do videos? Am I showing my age?) It might have been goal of the season. Perhaps he was just warming up, because trebles all round with three minutes of time to go when the ball fell to Martin on the edge of the box and he drove in the equaliser. Relief. Such was our dominance at that point that we could have gone on to win it. And had we played another ten minutes I suspect we would have done.

We made it harder than it needed to be really – but the game was open enough for Hereford to have been 3-1 up at half time, but for us to have won 4-3. Despite the officials’ best efforts we came away with a draw. The performance in the second half would have brought a little new found optimism that we can at least play just a little bit.

But it takes a long time to turn a tanker around. We were dropping like a stone when JohnStill inherited the team and it takes while for the negative momentum he inherited to drain away, to stop, regroup and to start in the opposite direction. It is fire fighting initially. It is time for the manager to see what the players can do. The steepest of steep learning curves for players and staff alike. But JohnStill is a wise old bird. I wonder what he made of Kenilworth Road on match day? It’d be lovely if he can eventually get it rocking again. One day…one day…

Looking forward to Hyde on Tuesday. What a topsy-turvy season they have had. Bottom when we played them earlier this year, but had a spurt of form in the autumn which saw them climb to mid table including a 7-0 win against Woking, and beating Newport away, But their current run of form, six straight defeats and one win in twelve, has seen them fall back to the relegation zone again. Surely a good team to be playing…or am I tempting fate?


Millwall must be Quaking in their Boots!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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