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…

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9 v 12

Mr Money asked for passion, and passion he got from both the fans and the players. As ever, in adversity, the players, fans and manager were drawn together, and the atmosphere at times was as good as we’ve had for many a year. Certainly since the Oxford win last year. Typical Luton: we only start playing with intensity with our backs to the wall.

Yesterday in his press conference Money called for us fans to put all of the angst and the reasons for our frustration (which I conveniently listed for him in my last piece) behind us and come together to wholeheartedly get behind the team. Whilst Money’s press conference was quite surreal in its own right, the fans did what he asked and got right behind the players from the off. It was quite reminiscent of times gone by. And wonderfully refreshing.

Whether this is a new start, a new covenant between the fans and the manager, or a temporary cessation of hostilities we will have to see.

It depends entirely on the players. If the players can continue to pull together and fight and demonstrate that they want to progress in the league as much as they wanted to get to Wembley then poor form aside, the determination will see us through. Today, the Town fans came together and collectively said “well we are keeping to our side of the bargain”, and, egged on by the increasing noise and support, the players responded. We were indeed the 12th man – or more accurately, after the ref had had his say, the 10th man.

And it will be the ref’s actions which get remembered about this game. Already hell-bent on penalising Luton for challenges that he was happy to turn a blind eye to for Mansfield – he did himself no favours when he dismissed Claude and Lawless in quick succession within final six minutes of the ninety.

Ironically, the first time Claude showed a bit of effort for a long time resulted in him getting his first card. The ball was running out on the right hand side of the goal, the Mansfield defender was attempting to shepherd it out behind the goal. Claude dashed across and put a challenge in, right on the line winning the ball fair and square but bundling the Stags player over in the process.

Unfortunately the ref saw it differently and booked the Frenchman, and it was this booking which was his ultimate downfall because when he felled Spence with a late challenge on 84 minutes he deserved the yellow card, but got a second yellow and a red for his troubles. What was very frustrating was that Morgan-Smith (who was sub) had already stripped off and was ready to come on when Claude got his red card, ensuring that instead of making the substitution we had to quickly reshuffle the pack and tactics. In hindsight of course we should have taken the opportunity to sub Claude a minute or so earlier, but I think either we waited until the Luton corner was taken or the fourth official denied us the chance. But it was too late to do anything about it after that.

Five minutes later that well-known dirty-player Alex Lawless was given a straight red for – well I’m not too sure. I think he made a sturdy challenge on Nix I think . The meal Nix made of it you would thought Lawless had wrestled him to the ground and given him a good shoeing too. Nine men now then, and time to hang on.

Extra time was truly backs-to-the-wall time. Each kick and clearance by a Luton player was greeted with a cheer, whilst every time a Mansfield player was on the ball they were roundly booed. The support reached fever pitch when Danny Crow chased down a Mansfield player in possession of the ball dallying by the goal line at the Kenny End. Crow sprinted (yes, not a typing error) twenty five yards to close the player down. All it meant was that the ball went out for a goal kick but that demonstration of the never-say-die attitude ratcheted up the noise to another level and brought the home fans to their feet in a paroxysm of support, appreciation and fervour.

This brings me to a fundamental part of supporting Luton and an important point which needs to be noted at this stage. Crow’s charging the ball down when he could quite easily have not done so wasn’t the only example in the game of a Luton player putting in an extra effort to sprint and close down a player or the keeper. But it is the sort of effort that all fans notice, appreciate and applaud. If all Luton players did that, every game, never again could us fans walk home and decry a lack of effort or commitment to the cause. We love players to put it about, and to charge after a lost cause and to show that they care. And to be fair to Crow his first few games he was synonymous with this. If Matthew Barnes Homer had spent his entire Luton career charging about and chasing things down it would be ludicrous to imagine that anyone could ever accuse him of a lack of effort. Running down balls that appear a lost cause and by closing players down it demonstrates the sort of passion and commitment we expect from players. It creates a joint sense of purpose and unity between the players and the fans (whereby the players commitment matches the fans’), and what’s more it puts the wind up the opposition. My point is this – if it is so easy to win fans over by demonstrating that you will give your all in a Luton shirt (like Nico and Sol always used to) why don’t players always do it? If Money had wanted to get the fans on the players’ side notwithstanding all that has gone on this week, a simple instruction to chase everything down, however seemingly pointless it might be, would always, but always, endear that player to the fans.

Anyway – on with the summary, if you had any doubts at all that the ref had money on Mansfield to go through he saw to it that Mansfield got a penalty just before the end of extra time. The ball was crossed from the right hand side to Briscoe who hit it hard on the edge of the box and the ball cannoned off Pilks arm behind for a corner. Ball to hand surely? Yes the arm went up, but did he deliberately play the ball with his hand? Only Pilks will know. The Mansfield players didn’t spot it. In any case, it was a sickener and only compounded the Luton fans’ belief that the ref was bent. Put it this way – the referee did nothing in the game to delight and surprise us into thinking he was being even-handed. Briscoe managed to blast the ball at Kevin Pilkington, who saved it but parried it and Briscoe was first to the ball and banged it in. The police and stewards who by now were surrounding the perimeter and were en masse in front of J block twitched nervously as fans spilled onto the playing area in disgust. Fortunately we didn’t give the FA an opportunity to throw the book at us, though I am sure they will try, as the ref was no doubt pelted when he ran off the field, looking as frightened as a paedophile in Portsmouth.

The players were called into (another) huddle at the end by Money and no doubt he told them to bottle the spirit and the passion they had shown, and furthermore if they showed that spirit and passion from here on to the end of the season, they would have no worries – which is surely true. Following on from the huddle the players split to re-applaud and acknowledge the home fans who responded by intensifying their appreciation.

Kevin Pilkington started the game in goal – as he has done throughout the competition. Whilst he made some good saves (and saved the penalty) and made some easy saves looked good, he let himself down with some shocking Emberson-esque kicking. And whilst his kicking was inaccurate he did also opt to lump it far too often, especially when the better pass was the build up from the back. Towards the end of the second half he started playing it out a bit more. However on one occasion he threw the ball out to Jake but the ball lost all of its energy on the damp and bumpy pitch and merely served to play Mansfield in. Says a lot for football at this level – he didn’t have a great game, but if it wasn’t for the penalty he would have kept a clean sheet.

Luke Graham slotted in at right back as Dan Gleeson is injured. It was Graham’s long ball which played in Owusu for our goal. Graham was occasionally outpaced on the wing – but then again he is a centre half. One or two of his passes went astray too which gave away possession needlessly. He supported in attack though – didn’t overlap and covered pretty well. We also have to remember that he is doing the job of two players at right back, as dear Claude rarely does the hard yards these days. He had one excellent chance to put us in the lead from a great free kick from Keano – forcing the goalie to pull off an excellent save.

In the middle Kroca had an effective game, but was slightly less sure of himself than in recent games. He went up front once we had gone a goal down, but it was too late.

George Pilks had a pick up in form today. Okay – he gave away the penalty but I don’t think fans are ever going to record the game as ‘that one where Pilks lost it for us’. He showed that underneath his cleancut Captain Perfect exterior beats the heart of an angry man when he shoved Istead who tried to push him out of the way when he was standing over the ball when they won a free kick 2 yards outside the box. I suspect he’d had enough by that stage, having had no protection from the ref when the aforementioned Istead studded him. The way things were going he was lucky to stay on I guess – but perhaps reducing us to 8 men would have made the ref’s partisanship a bit too obvious. Istead didn’t get a talking to on either occasion though, which in itself was ludicrously poor refereeing.

Jake was back to left back with Murray’s hamstring gone. He had a good game, closed his man down well, showing a lot of commitment in the challenge and getting forward and supporting play very well. He deserved to go to Wembley.

I have mentioned Claude already. He put in a tad more effort, but was largely ineffective – he put in one good cross and three weak ones from what I can remember. He did have some urgency about his play, but was the obvious choice to be subbed before his dismissal.

In the middle of the park Keith Keane was hard work, drive and effort personified. Continually putting in ball-winning challenges his work rate was incredible.

Alongside him Lawless played well, without perhaps showing all of the brilliance he can do . He actually had to work very hard in the middle of the park. I recall one lovely through ball he played to Claude. Presumably with a straight red he will miss some games – the challenge was not made with malice, it must be worth an appeal, the alternative is having to start with Carden for up to three games…

Adam Newton started on the left and had a really good game. He was involved in almost all our attacking play and showed us the player who scored against us for Brentford in our last game in the league. His effort and work rate went unrewarded but epitomised our spirit and performance this afternoon. He was substituted after 70 minutes, which was fair enough, because he has not long come back from injury. Presumably with Claude missing Tuesday’s game now with suspension, he will slot in on the right. If he performs like he did today he would deserve to keep his place and to relegate Claude to the bench.

Up front were Lloyd Owusu and MBH. Owusu had a great chance where his not quite cleanly struck shot beat the keeper but trickled across the line. Once again, not a shred of luck. He scored our goal with a thumping shot from LG’s long ball but missed a sitter shortly after. He worked hard whilst he was on but didn’t get the service from the back that he would expect. He was replaced by Big Hips Danny Crow after 77 minutes, which was fair enough, because the old boy does get a bit tired.

MBH – a man transformed since the Kidderminster game. He harried, chased and pressed. Got into good positions and heart-warmingly didn’t drift out to the left or right all the time but stayed in the middle. When Jason Walker replaced Adam Newton, Walker went up front and MBH moved to the left, which made sense, because MBH can cross a ball and Walker is a hustling bustling goal poacher. When we were down to nine men he led the line on his own, with Walker and Crow playing behind him in a sort of midfield with Keith Keane on his own behind them. Like a sort of Christmas tree formation – not a real Christmas tree of course but a plastic Christmas tree that has been in and out of the loft a few times and seen better days and lost a couple of branches.

Walker had much longer in this game than his usual 30 seconds, albeit in an unfamiliar position for most of it. He worked hard and looked dangerous when on the ball. One day, with a bit of luck, and a run in the side, he is going to knock out goals for us like the Royal Mint prints notes. He has even shorter legs than Mr Crow – at no point was there flesh showing between the tops of his socks and the bottom of his shorts. It would be easy to spot if there was because his torso is whiter than a Scottish prisoner who has seen a ghost.

Danny Crow – I have already mentioned him – he worked hard and looked hungry – again, like Walker he performed in strange circumstances but gave his all for the cause.

Amari Morgan-Smith. A much discussed player in the forums this week. A player who was talismanic when he came on board at the start of the season. A player whose recent career had involved scoring for fun, but after his injury had been a shadow of his former self, the flame extinguished. He came on for the knackered MBH with 8 minutes to go and did look sharp and did chase things down.
Circumstances meant that this wasn’t a game where he would be judged on performance so much as effort when our backs were to the wall.

So, as a game it will be memorable one in the fans minds. There wasn’t a ton of great football played, but it will be remembered as a good cup tie, blighted by the sendings off and the penalty decision.

Quick scores on the doors:
Pilks K – 6
Graham – 6.5
Pilks G – 7.5
Kroca – 7
Gnapka – 5
Keane – 8.5
Lawless – 7
Newton 8
MBH – 8
Owusu – 7.5
Walker – 6.5
Crow – 6.5

In the scheme of things it was just an FA Trophy game – which counts for nothing other than a chance to have a splendid day out at Wembley and an opportunity to win another cup 3-2. The same FA Trophy we were prepared to risk playing the youngsters in in the first few rounds as it was considered a nuisance. The same FA Trophy we will be embarrassed to remember that we were competing for, when we are eventually back in the league (in the same way that Watford always pretend they don’t want to progress in the League cup, because it is a meaningless trophy, apparently).

But what this game might be remembered for is far more important. There is a chance that this game was the turning point in Richard Money’s relationship with the fans. He has the same foibles and faults that he had before – but there is a chance that the passion and commitment shown by his players and also the fans, has reignited the relationship between the two. Yes, there is a chance that Tuesday’s game at Rushden might be the same-old same-old; but what is exciting is there is a chance, just a chance, that today we saw the start of a new contract between the players and fans: we will sing and shout and create an atmosphere that most clubs but for the top few can only dream of, if you will always give your all.

Will the re-engagement last? Only time will tell.

Thank you for all of your excellent comments after the Richard Money piece. During the week the hundreds of people visiting the site tipped the ‘page view’ total over the 100,000 mark, which is both amazing and humbling. My thanks for your continued support.

Come on you Hatters.

DM

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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?

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You’ve got to be Kidding

I started to write my report this evening and then PDW posted his. I can’t improve on his words – so why bother. I think that Claude has switched off defensively. He only switches on when we are attacking but drifts out of the game when we are on the back foot. I actually thought it was a good game punctuated by random and wholly wrong decisions by a very strange ref.

MBH had a great game and deserved his goal. He worked hard and was everywhere on the pitch. Shame he wasn’t in the middle on a few more occasions in the second half, but he can’t be everywhere.

George Pilks is making more mistakes – Kroca looks as solid as a rock. Tyler went down in slow motion for the goal. Carden showed some good touches, but is quite slow. Keano had a good game. Jake showed moments of brilliance as did Freddie Murray. Owusu was fine but became more and more anonymous as the game went on, wheezing like a 40 a day man by the end.

Anyway – those are my thoughts – I agree with PDW, why water the pitch before the game? You had dried rolled sand and mud – why turn it in to a bog or quagmire by watering it? Wonders will truly never cease.

PDW’s report:

Four things sprang into my mind, as we were camped inside Kidderminster’s half after their equaliser, never remotely looked likely to regain to lead after a decent first half performance.

What more (or less) does Claude have to do to be dropped? The way he allowed Vaughan to wander past him just prior to the free kick which they scored from was quite majestic. If things are not working and need freshening up, why does Money just allow things to drift? Why is there no plan b and you are allow to make subs which aren’t like for like? Does Money not notice Owusu needs gas and air after an hour? ( All that diving must take it’s toil).

Not that any local hack would have the bottle to ask the manager. So, they are just idle thoughts really.

Our inability to take our chances and score more than our allocated one goal per game whilst playing modestly, was always likely to catch up us somewhere. In terms of creatively, we are largely reliant on Lawless, and if he is absent, for all the huff and puff, effort there is little to trouble teams even at this lowly level.

Whilst a draw against the form team (who but for their points deduction would be above us) in the league is hardly a disaster. Realistically that is our Championship chances gone, although like affordable petrol prices it has been that way for a while. Unless Crawley blow up dramatically or better still get blown up. Kidderminster are no mugs, a perfectly competent side. the form team in the league. Quite possible we may meet them in the shambles that is the dicgrace of the play offs. They would be a tough nut to crack in it. Function well as a team but without many highly skilled individuals

Pre-match, looking at the pitch, which had a vague semblance of grass, amongst the mud. Never thought, what it indeed was for some water on it. Hey presto, up pop the sprinklers. There were a good number of Scandinavian Hatters in the Beech Huts, which at one stage threaten to outnumber those travelling from Worcestershire. Fair play to them, all mentalists.

With Willmott out (thigh injury apparently, thank goodness his yellow booties are unhurt) becoming the latest casualty of the Press Conference curse. It’s amazing how players aren’t mentioned in it as injured but fail to pop on the Saturday. If Money doesn’t want to let the opposition know. Fair enough but that don’t bother disclosing any information.

There were the following changes to the team which beat Forest Green on Tuesday. Gleeson, looking far from fit replacing Graham, Howells switched to the left wing for Willmott, with Carden coming into the middle. While Carden is perfectly adequate at his job, he doesn’t do anything more spectacular than Godfrey would do. At the moment Carden is the better player with more know-how, but Poku has over a decade in hand and if you can’t blood players in this league, when can you? The games stacking up, a loan spell is not possible I appreciate, but hope for Poku’s sake, he isn’t left to stagnate in the way that Asafu-Adjaye has and all that early promise that EAA showed has gone.

Personally would prefer Howells in the middle to give us control on the ball, if Lawless is injured. Then fill in on the wing with Morgan-Smith. Granted he isn’t playing that well currently, but at least has pace. To be honest, whatever team we selected, who could pick holes in it, as too many players are below par currently

Talking of pace, the quickest in which Owusu made sure he tripped over Briscoe’s trailing leg was stuff of Olympic Gold. After Barnes-Homer had initially driven across from the left, jinking past three Kidderminster defenders, before flicking the ball in Owusu’s direction. That’s two games in a row he has tried to cheat. Same old Brentford. He has done well for us since january, but he can cut that out for a start. A doris tottering on eight inch high heels on sheer ice after a skinful would keep their feet better.

Generally the first half was a decent open end to end match between two well matched sides, the pitch isn’t easy to pass and move on, but few pitches have been recently, it’s the same for both sides and you have to adapt to it or moan as the manager does. We moved the ball around well at times, Murray, Howells and Barnes-Homer tended to be in the thick of our better moves. At times, it did almost get scrappy, start stop unaided by a shocking referee, even by Conference level, who missed at least a dozen obvious fouls, after booking Owusu for going down like a whore’s drawers, seem to lost his cards (and his marbles) by not booking everyone else but elected to chat players up. Not that it was a dirty game, but as always there are two or three tackles which are worthy of a caution.

Barnes-Homer had a barn storming performance against his former employers. A cracking goal from difficult angle, was motion personified for most of the afternoon. Maybe we should tell him he is playing against his old clubs every week. Doubt he is difficult to fool. Seriously if he could turn that kind of performance in more often, the team would benefit from it greatly.

To be fair, to Kidderminster, both their centre halves Briscoe and Albrighton were outstanding throughout, defending deep. They were hard to break through and impossible to get behind. They left only Canham up front, with McPhee, one of their more influential players off him. But they broke quickly down the flanks, Blair and Gittens looked tricky customers, quick and accurate. Kidderminster looked to pass it patiently, with the odd hoof down field, but they look a well drilled outfit. Pilkington struggled against the height of Canham, would it not have been an idea to swop Kroca over?

Barnes-Homer showing some fine determination and workrate (usually well hidden), by chasing down and blocked Briscoe’s attempted whack up the line, MBH kept his composure, rolling the ball across to Owusu, his stabbed attempt shoved around the post by Lewis.

As seems to be the case it at the moment, we take twenty minutes to get going. Up to now, all Kidderminster had to show was a wildly optimistic lob by Canham from miles out following a quick throw from the left, which Keane had needlessly conceded.

Pilkington was adjudged to have fouled Canham (the forward had backed in for ages long before Pilkington had even touched him). Generally we weren’t good enough at set pieces all afternoon, either attacking or defensive. Shaw’s free kick from their right was allowed to drift to Briscoe at the back post on his own, to nudge the ball across goal, the lino had somewhere found a red shirt offside.

Some super build up between Keane and Owusu just failed to find Glesson overlapping. Howells whipped in a corner, barnes-Homer taking a touch or two before hooking over off Williams.

Blair cutting past Murray, who remains vulernable against direct players , attempted to play Gittens in, Gleeson hoicked his clearance up and not away, but recovered sufficiently to calmly knock the pass away.

A strong tackle in midfield by Keane on Gittens, pass picked by Carden, sending MBH away with a great knock with the outside of his boot, Briscoe, turned the ball behind. We were starting to get some joy down our left, as their right back Sharpe didn’t get much help from his team mates.

Calude nailed the scoreboard but not the goal with a thumping header froma Howells centre. Then MBH and Howells, linked to feed Murray, popping in a low centre, Owusu had to rush his shot but scooped it wide with his left foot. He couldn’t let it rush across his body as would have been closed down.

Howells played a free kick, Kroca in space maybe should have gone for goal rather than laying it to Owusu who in turn shifted possession to MBH before striking goalwards only for Briggs to get a vital block in.

Daniel Lewis’s long boot ( not his left foot), caused Pilkington a problem, nodding sideways gifting the ball to Blair, was cross was perfect for Gittens, from point blank range could only head straight at Tyler. A yard either side and it would have been curtains, or should that be carpets. Pilkington is struggling with his direction with heading recently. Another popped off his head in the second half, but fortunately landed straight at Tyler.

Immediately we scored, a brilliant individual goal by MBH. Taking a pass played at awkward height from Gleeson, chested it, turning away, stepping past Briscoe and hitting across the ball at an angle, curling the ball in between the keeper and near post in before seemingly to veer back and onto the far post. It looked in from the Main Stand. The referee dawdled and it took the lino an age to flag for the goal. Fantastic piece of football from a player who still got booed when he was named MOM – it was probably ironic but with our crowd you never know.

We had another narrow escape shortly after our goal. McPhee’s right wing corner, Owusu mistimed his leap and header then to Albrighton, fine first touch, second to strike, Canham lifted the ball onto the bar.

Down the left Williams, Gittens swung in a cross for Canham who has over all Murray, before turning the ball towards the goal which Tyler helped over. Only then was the foul given. Good lord, if Canham had got any more closer or touchy feely, it would have been sexual assault. Another close shave, after a corner was cleared but came back straight away, McPhee stabbed wide and was caught by Pilkington. Corner given. How I don’t know.

We ended the half on the front foot, Howells prod towards Murray, graet cross cutting across the ball, Lewis the keeper in no mans land, Owusu should have done better than hammer his header away. Barnes-Homer went close, long ball by Murray, over Owusu, MBH beat Briggs before drilling over.

Second half was poor. We started sloppily, as we always tend to do. Conceding a daft free kick, Keane body check on Williams, nice of Claude to wave the left back through. Fine delivery by Gittens to the back post, Shaw’s header beat Tyler rather easily, Tyler seemed to get down too low and ended up pushing the ball into the net.

We never recovered. If Kidderminster had some more belief rather than back pedalling for their point, we may have lost. We had plenty of the ball, but run out of ideas, the lack of replacements didn’t help. Danny Crow maybe a worthy candidate for a modern day Mr Creosote, but changed the game at Guiseley and did OK at Forest Green, surely worth a go for the knackered Owusu. Teams have sussed us out now since Owusu arrived. We do severely lack a player who can pick the game by the scuff of the net and run at defences, commit challenges. Make something happen. Keane and Carden’s fine impression of crabs is all well and good, but it’s not going to break down a stubborn defence.

Claude’s one piece of good play, dancing past Briggs, wrong footing Albrighton before rolling in MBH to cross which was deflected behind. The corner, came out, played back it by Kroca off Williams, the ball span forward and very high before Lewis, running towards goal, had to help it over the bar.

Murray, probably our best attacker in the second half, shifted the ball centrally to Keane, flick forward nudged into Owusu’s path by Kroca but could only steer it wide.

A few tackles start flying in. Shaw’s wasn’t very sure footed as he went over the top on Gnakpa. After a romantic chit chat, only a free kick was a,llowed, no booking . Owusu deserved a caution for diving, but diving isn’t going to break people’s legs like that tackle could have done.

Excellent slide ball by Carden, Claude run at a timid looking, back pedalling Williams, he beat him once, then gain, but with people queuing up, decided to shot. Keane shinned over the top after some outstanding centre forward play by MBH chesting down Owusu’s flick, waiting for support and rolling Keane in. It needed changing, some new ideas, but none came until it was too late.

All possession in the world is worthless unless you are creatively or at least having a shot. Which Owusu did, seizing upon a poor Sharpe pass, he was thirty yards and the ball sailed wide, but at least he tried something.

A weak tackle by Keane, was easily ridden by Shaw, passing the ball forward, for a moment Blair looked like he may get there, but Murray blocked off his run, extremely well. With ten minutes to go AMS came on for Howells, who admittedly lost any influence on the game second half, but there were far more deserving cases to be hooked off.

The only opportunity AMS came was a one two with MBH and Briscoe, managed to turn behind.

So, it ended all square. For all the play and set pieces we had we didn’t creative much. Hopefully when Willmott and Lawless this should improve. But with our struggle it to beat the teams around us, yet to beat one of the teams currently in the top five. It doesn’t auger well for the play offs.

Mark Tyler 6.5, Dan Gleeson 6, Zdenek Kroca 7, George Pilkington 5.5, Freddie Murray 8 , Claude Gnakpa 3.5, Keith Keane 5, Paul Carden 6.5, Jake Howells 7( Amari Morgan-Smith), Matthew Barnes-Homer 8.5, Lloyd Owusu 6 .

Subs not used – Luke Graham, Danny Crow, Godfrey Poku and Kevin Pilkington. Booked – Owusu.

Kidderminster – Lewis, Sharpe, Briscoe, Albrighton, Williams, Blair, Shaw, Briggs (Morris ), Gittings, Canham (Matt ), McPhee

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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.

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Duds in the Mud?

A game of two halves on a heavy pitch on a cold day against a good team from the North East which we had plenty of chances to win. Unfortunately lady luck was not smiling on us today and presented Gateshead with two deflected goals.

It all started so promisingly Lawless had a shot in the first few seconds and shortly after that Claude nodded on Tylers long kick into the path of the on-rushing Danny Crow but whose shot dribbled wide of the far post.

Luton started with Tyler in goal. Tyler had a reasonable game and couldn’t really have done anything about the deflections. He rolled the ball out when he could which is always a good sign. Ed replaced Dan Gleeson at right back- and fortunately Gleeson’s injury is not a break. Ed had an okay, a few heavy touches on occasion but got forward well, though some of his passing let him down. Pilks ever realiable at centre half will be gutted about the deflection off his shin to give them the first goal. Kroca had a good game and since we’ve been trying to sign the violent McGurk has noticeably improved. In the second half he had no one to mark and sent himself forward in the last few minutes and very nearly got an assist. At left back Jake had a mixed game. I think he will be disappointed. Whilst he defended well, and showed his obvious class on occasions, his crossing was unusually poor.

In the absence of Drury, MBH started on the left. He’s an intriguing character. Some fans support him, some fans look for him to fail, some fans expect him to fail and give him no chance. Today he worked hard where he could but being an attack minded player left the left flank vulnerable because he didn’t track back very well, and when he did is more likely to block than tackle. He went inside when he should have gone wide and only got a couple of his normally pinpoint crosses in. Today, he looked like what he was: a striker playing in left midfield. What happened when he was substituted was disgraceful. I’m not sure if the fans response was ironic or genuinely meant. When he was subbed cheers rang out. He didn’t play too badly, there was a howler of a miss, and those around me thought later on that Crow should have gone off instead (progress for MBH). Like I say, I’m not sure if people were cheering because finally MBH got subbed and normally it is anyone but MBH comes off (some think he is Money’s bastard love-child) or because they didn’t think he played very well and don’t like him. I know he needs 10 chances for every goal he scores – but he is our leading scorer this year and some of his passes and crosses this season have been sublime. Poor lad, I don’t think he’s ever going to win some fans over – even if he gets a hat trick in the play off final. It’ll still be “For F*cks sake Barnes-Homer you’re sooooo lazy”.

Enough of such things – in the middle came in Lawless for Poku. I felt sorry for Godfrey. On Tuesday he was indeed “On fire” and did very well. Lawless however is more experienced and a more attacking player. Ironically, for the first half hour at least Poku is exactly what we needed – a defensive midfielder who could close down the close-passing of the Gateshead players because there were big holes where Poku would have been when they were attacking. As it happens, Lawless was given the sponsors man of the match award and had a good game, attacking at least. I did like the look of him at right back too when we were pressing at the end. One cross-field pass in particular was exquisite. His vision and ability to play a through ball would suggest that he will be a good player for us, and on another day and on a level playing field (literally) he would have torn Gateshead apart.

Keano was alongside him. Keano had a fantastic game on Tuesday, but I thought he looked a bit tired today. Some of his passing went astray and sometimes he was a big leggy when chasing down an opponent. Not his best game, but by no means a poor game. We are spoilt by his high standards – he is the beating heart of our team.

On the right was Claude LeGoal. Today he was a right mixed bag – he looked disinterested at times, failing to tackle back, track back or get in position to receive the ball. I know he wasn’t disinterested, but that is how it appeared. Strangely though for all his disinterest – he got the equaliser, tormented their defenders and towards the end put in four or five good crosses. Perhaps he is transmogrifying into my namesake Mr Moss? The further forward he gets the more interested he gets. There were a few Claude classics today. At times he is Lord Stumblebum, tripping over his own feet and contriving to kick the ball out. But at other times he is a real threat and our most dangerous player.

Up top were ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow, who got the first goal, but missed a couple of sitters, and Lloyd Owusu. Big Lloyd had another good game, or 61 minutes to be accurate and won the ball well and laid it off intelligently. He oozed experience. He did have a good opportunity to give us the first goal, but his header was surprisingly weak. A handful at this level.
We used three subs:

Poku for Owusu – Godfrey came on, pushing MBH alongside Crow, for 6 minutes, and Lawless to the left. He had another good game without the impact he had against York.

Atieno replaced MBH (to the cheers I described earlier) whilst he looked committed and lively he missed a couple of good chances which would have won us the game. If Barnesey is frustrating, and Claude infuriating, then Atieno is exasperating. I think Money signed him hoping he’d be like Lloyd, but instead got another MBH who is better at heading, but worse at shooting.

Watkins came on for Ed with 6 minutes to go – Lawless dropping to right back for his third position of the day (though he wasn’t ‘back’) with Watkins moving to the left. In the short time he had Watkins had more of the ball and looked better than on Tuesday, though on one occasion showed his inexperience when he cut the ball back rather than taking on a defender and shooting. Overall though he looks like an excellent prospect. Perhaps his advancement will cease Money’s predilection for purchasing wingers.

So to the match – yes we had a very bright start, and dominated the first few minutes. But what was this? An away side not only coming with an attacking intent, but playing, and beating us at our own game. For half an hour Gateshead out-Lutoned Luton. Neat passing, running with the ball and pressing from the front, playing in white and black it was like we had suddenly taken ourselves on in a hideously bizarre time accident. That’s where the comparisons stop – because they had tons of luck and we find fortune a capricious mistress at best.

After ten minutes Liddle made a mazy and unopposed run, cutting an un-closed-down swathe through our midfield and then shooting at Tyler. A shot Tyler would have easily saved had the oncoming Pilkington not managed to get a shin on it, cruelly deflecting it past the flailing keeper.
One down then but no panic – we were still attacking well and the game looked full of goals. Kroca nearly doubled his tally of volleyed goals for the week with a clever volley at the near post from a Lawless corner. He gently hung the ball in at that useless height that wouldn’t clear even the smallest of defenders but Kroca stole in and whacked it, but this time across the goal and past the post.

Worse was to come – two minutes later, again aided and abetted by our surprise at a team playing the ball on the floor Brittain got down the right and just as Jake Howells remembered to close him down, Brittain’s cross deflected off Jake and spun over Tyler and into the net. Two goals – against the run of play and a shocked crowd did an unusual thing. Instead of booing – cheering and applause rang out urging the Hatters forwards. For a while at least.

A couple more chances for Barnes-Home made me start to think that it was going to be ‘one of those days’ whereby we had tons of chances but never scored. But fortunately those fears were allayed five minutes later when Danny Crow got back onto the scoresheet. Owusu won the ball well, it dropped for MBH who played a lovely ball through the defence to Crow who had only the keeper to beat. This keeper (Deasy) didn’t bring him down and instead Crow rounded him well to get a goal back.
Next it was Owusu’s chance to equalise, but his header went straight to Deasy. Gateshead nearly broke to get a third, but Claude got the equaliser when Kroca’s head on from a Howells free kick fell to him and he stabbed it in. 2-2 and game on.

It got better still. Claude was played in down the right and cut inside running into the box heading for goal. Their skipper, Clarke felled him. I thought it was in the box but wasn’t. However Clarke had already had a card for clogging Owusu and for the second time in a week, we were going to be playing a substantial part of the game against 10 men. He deserved to go. I don’t know why Gateshead made such a bloody fuss. Deasy in particular gave the ref huge dissent when the half time whistle went. He should have got a card but didn’t get one.

So a four goal thriller in the first half. The game was open and unpredictable. The sending off was the worst thing that could happen with the scores level. In the second half Gateshead kept just one up front, and your proverbial two banks of four behind the ball. This meant that the majority of the half was bitty and disjointed. They sat back, time wasted, sat back some more. The duff ref made some dodgy decisions, they timewasted: you get the idea.

Other than the chances – not much to discuss. MBH blasted over sending the carers in the wheelchair section scurrying for cover.

Claude got behind the defence and put a decent ball in – this time it was Lawless turn to dent the roof of the stand. From the outside.

Again Claude got in down the right with a good run – his cross was too long though, but Jake managed to rescue things and put in a cross himself, alas Kroca couldn’t head it well enough to test the keeper.

Claude once more got through and gave Mr Crow a chance – which he put over. Got the theme here?
Into injury time and it was panic stations – last ditch stuff. Our man on the right Mr Gnapka got another cross in – it eluded the diving Atieno who should have got something on it. Seconds later Keane pumped a long ball forward Kroca, by now playing as a striker got his head on and knocked it down but the feckless Atieno stabbed it wide.

That was that. We should have won. On other days we would. On other days it would have been an unremarkable 2-0. Today it wasn’t. Disappointing but no one died. What it does show is that without Drury we certainly lack a bit of flair.

Overall towards the end we suffered from our old phobia of being frightened to have a shot, fannying around the edge of the box, trying to find an angle then playing another player in, rather than trying to actually get a shot in, on target. When you are playing against 8 defenders you can try to find the perfect position all day, but sometimes it ain’t going to happen, so you have to have a go – hope for a lucky bounce or a ricochet and hope that the rebound comes to a Luton player. Easy for me to say of course. The home fans got tetchier and more desperate as the half went on and this anxiety transferred itself to the Luton players.

The land of the tattoo, of shops without coats, and the lionisers of that awful Cheryl Cole could only spare 28 of its kind to venture forth into the God’s own town. Newcastle must have had a home game. Hats off to those hardy fans who braved Bury Park, it must be a culture shock to them. But seriously, half a coach-load is not good. If we were playing in Outer Mongolia I’m sure we’d muster more.

Money was upbeat after the game but not about the performance, which he said was not our best.

On another day we would have won easily, we had an off-day but all is not lost. It wasn’t a bad performance. We did well to come back and nearly got an equaliser. We got a point. Yes, we should have won at home and made up two points on Crawley, but all is not lost. And we certainly did not deserve the handful of boos that rang out or the shout of ‘disgraceful’ from the troglodyte who sits on the same row as me.

Some scores on the doors:

Tyler : 6
Ed: 5.5
Pilks: 6.5
Kroca: 6.5
Howells: 6
Claude: 7.5 and 4
Lawless: 7
Keane: 6
MBH: 6
Crow: 6
Owusu: 6.5
Subs: Poku: 6, Atieno 5

On to Grimsby on Tuesday and another enforced absence from me due to work commitments I’m afraid. I’ll be pleased when this month is over because it has been a pain and when work over-interferes with your home life (and blogging) then it is time to start considering whether it is worth flogging yourself to death for a company you have begun to hate. On Tuesday I’m going to be overnighting in Newcastle ironically, somehow I don’t think they’ll have Premier Sports on in the Red House.

As ever, I welcome all feedback and comments and would be delighted to hear what other Hatters thought about the game, whether present themselves or following from around the four corners of the globe.

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Luton sparkled, Diamonds didn’t

Happy New Year to you all – today’s game provided a pleasant start to 2011 in a game made more difficult by some strange refereeing.

Other than the ‘show in the snow’/Dancing on Ice this was the first proper call to arms in the league since the victory against Histon at a time when Wagner and Ann Widdecombe were still very much contenders. We had our own version of them running the line and blowing the whistle this afternoon.

We made one change to the York game with Dan Gleeson returning for Ed A-A – and so the line up was: Tyler in goal, Gleeson – Pilks – Kroca – Jakey Howells at the back. On the right wing Claude, with Keano and Drury in the middle and Amari Morgan-Smith with the bionic faceplate on the left.

Up front was ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow, who looks as if he had a very good Christmas (once again Santa refused to bring him an exercise bike) and MBH who had found his shooting boots over Christmas.

Before the game there was a minute’s silence for the Rushden keeper Dale Roberts and inspirational former Luton skipper Terry Branston. The Kenny End was impeccably silent. No change there then I hear you cry.

The first half I thought we were a bit ring rusty, which I suppose is not really very surprising. But though we were a bit lacklustre at times we didn’t concede a silly goal or anything like that and so made it easier for ourselves when we did inevitably pick up. Scoring the goal just before half time made a huge difference to our approach, confidence and performance in the second half. I think at half time Richard Money must have done a bit of reminding of what we are about, because after the break we played much faster football, much more on the ground and further up the pitch, and playing against a side who were now chasing the game made this much easier.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Rushden. Clearly they came out all guns-blazing driven on by the loss of their teammate, but there is only so long that such resolve can act as your raison d’etre on the pitch without bringing results, and over time, without any long periods of
meaningful domination their resolve was diluted and finally diminished by the goals we knocked in.
The bloke behind me wasn’t sure Rio Charles was playing, such was his non-involvement. He was largely anonymous which must have been hugely frustrating with him wanting no doubt to get one back at the club who let him go, but he was stuck out in left midfield rather than up front. It was somewhat surprising especially as their attackers seemed about as threatening as one of Santa’s little helpers and you would have thought that they could do with a Rio up front.

We made a bright start looking to knock the ball around nicely but mainly basing everything around balls up to Claude – who had a strange day. Often on here I go on about the Claude you get on a particular afternoon depends on the roll of a dice – roll a 6 and you get a world beater – roll a 1 and you get Monsieur Disinterested not willing to go for anything or track back. Well today Claude confounded this theory a little by actually being both brilliant and frustrating at the same time. Hardly jumping for the ball on occasion but giving us a sublime finish on a disallowed goal. Not getting stuck in but supplying the cross for the opener. Limping around and looking to come off before getting a taste for it again and knocking the third in – but more of that later.

We looked the best for the first 15 minutes without really carving too many chances out. The game was too crowded in the middle of the park and we were unable to get the ball down as much as we would have liked. I daresay Justin Edinburgh has made this point to them, let Luton get the ball down and knock it around and they’ll murder you – keep them frustrated by making them play head tennis and you still have a chance.

I have to give Rushden the epithet of ‘well-organised’ which is a bit like saying a movie was ‘well-filmed’. They were hard working but not inspiring. Giving little for their surprisingly low turnout of away fans to cheer or enthuse about and thank goodness that we managed to quell the drum banger as early as we did.

The first major chance fell to Rushden, surprisingly, the clothes-peg seller Power demonstrating that he had the shot of a mule and bringing a good save out of Tyler.

I seem to recall we had a couple of sort of half chances shortly after Danny Crow with one of them and AMS the other.

Shortly after, what surely would have been the goal of the season (all five divisions) was sawn off by a flag-eager lino. Drury picked the ball up on the half way line and weaved his way in and out until he reached the edge of the R&D box whereby he plopped the ball in the path of Claude who accelerated onto the ball on the left and chopped a glorious right footed shot across the keeper Day into the right hand side of the far post. Oh what a goal that would have been.

From then on we seemed to overplay the ball on the edge of the box rather than putting a foot through it and whacking it towards the goal. Not quite overplaying to the extent we did under poor old Mick, but we took too many touches, tried to dribble it in on too many occasions.

Gnapka troubled only the man who fits the bulbs into the scoreboard after a good lay off by AMS.
Barnes-Homer having done all of the hard work in the inside right position cut inside and weakly shot straight at Day.

The last few minutes of the half really got the crowd going. Claude found some space on the right and played a great ball across the goal to find MBH to the left of the penalty spot. His header appeared to be mistimed because the ball looped off his head slowly, slowly, slowly over Day and into the net for the first goal. Perhaps this old cynic does him a disservice. In fact I think I do – it was a beautifully cushioned and weighted header.

Into extra time in the first half Drury went on another mazy run, this time from his own half down the wing only to be met by Osano (I think it was). There was the briefest of contacts. Drury was the man with the ball and running forward, but in doing this somehow he managed to foul Osano accordingl to the ref. I must have blinked and missed it completely. What antagonised the home fans further was that Rushden forged a goal scoring opportunity down the other end from the non-free kick. Fortunately O’Connor passed to Johnson in an offside position.

The half time whistle brought a volley of boos – but not for the mighty Hatters but for the ref who made some ‘random’ decisions (to use the modern parlance). He seemed to be over reliant on his linesman who was having a poor game himself. Never good to put too much weight on a broken crutch.

The second half brought out a different Luton team. Afforded more room initially by Rushden pressing forwards and not pressing us, but latterly in the half by us exploiting the gaps on the break. We found more gaps, played more one-twos and initially at least looked like the potential world-beaters we always do when the ball is on the floor and we are allowed to play. For about ten minutes at least Danny Crow, who had a fairly quiet first half bossed the attacking play and drove the ball around to either side of the pitch and through the defence bringing MBH, Claude and AMS on and into threatening positions. Claude fizzed at first then took a knock and switched off, then having run off the knock suddenly looked bothered again.

Of course the biggest sitter of the day fell to none other than MBH who was played through beautifully by Gnapka with only the keeper to beat and he managed to scatter the people in the upper tier of the Kenny.

Shortly after Rushden had their finest opportunity to make it 1-1, Smith I think it was picked up on a good pass by Gash (formerly of York and Ebbsfleet?) and sizzled the ball wide and slightly high of Tyler’s left hand post.

So typically of MBH – having missed the sitter he then sticks away a much harder chance. I’m delighted for him. I would imagine it would be so easy to knock your confidence missing an easy one – but thankfully MBH seemed undaunted by it. Perhaps that is the difference between a striker and someone like Adam Newton whose season dissolved after missing the sitter against Southampton last January. Strikers get on with it. At least MBH knows he is always going to get plenty of chances playing in this team. Anyway Drury (or Keano, can’t remember which) dinked through a lovely ball for MBH who held off a defender, stayed on his feet and finished left-footed past the diving keeper.

One comment on Rushden and Diamonds I haven’t mentioned is that there was some pretty brutal tackling going on in the middle of the park. I can’t think who they might have coaching their first team there…a couple of cards were needed when I think only one was dished out. Another yellow appeared in the second half when Drury slipped and went under and was caught by one of the Rushden player’s flailing arms. In surely only the very loosest of imaginations was it violent conduct by the Rushden player. Having seen it from pretty close up if Drury hadn’t slipped he wouldn’t have had his head whacked. As it happens I think the ref chickened out by giving a yellow. It either wasn’t violent conduct or it was. If it was then surely it was a straight red. Strange guy.

A good ball from Drury on the left went over the head of MBH – but he wasn’t going to allow that to defeat him today – he tried a spectacular Brko-esque overhead kick which he connected with but which fluttered wide. Now that would have been a great goal if he had caught it right – and fair play to him for trying. Though it wasn’t the case here, and perhaps this is the wrong place to put this comment – I’m all up for strikers being greedy. If a player can think he can get a goal for Luton Town by having a shot well that’s fine with me. Too many seasons went by with us having strikers who would rather fanny about rather than try to stick one in, I’d rather have a glory-hunter any day. And anyway – if the striker can get the shot on target and trouble the keeper, then he will often make chances for his colleagues from blocks, deflections or cock-ups by the keeper – especially at our humble level.

The third goal came in a slightly comedic way – MBH put a ball into the box on the 6 yard line to the left hand side of the goal. It was such a good ball that he actually put two players in – Danny Crow and Claude Gnapka they both muscled each other for the ball for a moment before Claude took the ball and carried on and fired the ball across the goal left footed into the side of the net. Much to poor Danny’s visible irritation.

Off Claude went to do some sort of bizarre gay samba in front of the enclosure.

Rushden did come back at us a bit – there was a brief period where they threatened to threaten, but it did strike me that for them it was ‘one of those days’ where they could try to score all day but nothing would drop. One thing that did impress me was their crossing and corner taking. On more than one occasion a sharply swerving and in-dipping corner troubled Tyler (a bit like one of Jimmy Anderson’s deliveries troubles most of the Austrialian top order) on one occasion drawing out an excellent punch from MT which only went as far as a Rushden player whose shot was cleared off the line by Keano (I think).

Time yet for more fun, Day, the Rushden keeper picked up the ball outside his area but cleared only as far as MBH – who, had he been sharper would have lobbed him straight back over his head. However, he took perhaps a touch too many and did the non-selfish thing of trying to play Danny Crow in, but the ball was poor and by the time Crow had won the ball back, was only in a position to blast the ball over.

There were other chances by both teams, but I think I have got most of them. I’ve managed to exclude a rasping shot by Dan Gleeson which went just wide where he had been found in space and drove forwards – but it was a good effort and Gleeson had a sound enough game – not sure what that says about either Dan or dear Rio.

And so – onto the scores on the doors:

Tyler – 7.5 – handling was good, kicking was fair, rolled the ball out where he could, positional sense and communication is starting to worry me a little. I know it can’t be easy having a Czech lump playing in front of you who probably doesn’t understand everything you say but sometimes MT performances this year suggest that we saw the best of him last year. I’m only talking fractions here of course, he’s still a brilliant shot stopper and of course by far the best keeper at this level, but over time you come to notice these things. Nothing to worry about at present, but most players careers are somewhere on a bell-curve and perhaps MT has just started the beginning of the downward journey. Am I being unfair? Perhaps I am. I don’t mean to do the guy a disservice.

Dan Gleeson – 7.5 – like I said above was tidy and had a good game and had a good shot.

Pilks – 8 – I thought he had a brilliant game – broke up what few attacks they had and was always in the right place at the right time.

Kroca – 6.5 – I watched him closely in this match. He was a bizarre mix of some brilliant tackles, some brave headers but some poor touches and passes. Par for the course at this level. Sometimes at corners he didn’t pick up his man at all and presented more than one free header from crosses.

Howells – 7.5 – in the first half where the play was a bit stodgy Jake’s abilities shone out like a beacon. Less so in the second half as we mainly attacked down the right and not the left. He was the sponsor’s man of the match – which was quite amusing because whilst he did play well, and as you know I am a huge JH fan, I’m not sure he did enough to warrant that today – especially when MBH got two good goals.

Gnapka – hard to score really – sometimes 3 sometimes 9.5. Overall perhaps 8.5 he did after all score a good goal and created the first one.

Keane – 8 – all over the pitch closed down really well in the second half in particular and ran and ran and ran.

Drury – 8.5 – I’d be happier if he was on the wing – but there were some flashes of sheer brilliance from AD today.

AMS – 7 – looked very lively on occasion and overlapped repeatedly with MBH on the left so that MBH was often the widest player picking up the ball.

MBH – 9 – should have had a hattrick – worked hard – not a phrase you traditionally associate with MBH but was all over the pitch, particularly in the second half when the game opened up more. Unselfish in his passing and got a good couple of crosses in. The crowd has a dig at him when he doesn’t really jump for balls played up to or over him, but who can blame him. Good header for the first goal and lovely finish for the second.

Danny Crow – 7 – seemed a bit anonymous in the first half, but came good in the first part of the second. Bit unlucky not to get any clear cut chances, mainly got bits and pieces and half chances from Claude’s knock downs. Chased the ball when he lost it though and demonstrated a good work ethic. I think he was a bit cheesed off towards the end though but should put this game behind him. Big pressure on him now though with Jason Walker on the bench and MBH seemingly with a season-long berth up front. Let’s see how he responds to the pressure.

Walker, Lawless and ‘On fire’ Poku all came on briefly for their appearance money after about 90 minutes replacing DC, CG and AMS respectively.

Overall a good win. I’d like to say we didn’t really get out of second gear – but that wouldn’t be true – we had to work hard in the first half and dominated large sections of the second half where I think we were pretty much in fourth gear. A sound enough start to the year, with no injuries or bookings and with the mighty Hayes and Yeading on Tuesday night which I will miss because I’m going to be in Scotland. Certainly an annoying decision to move that from the bank hols to the Tuesday night.

And so, after the first game of 2011, our record is:

P21 W13 D3 L5 F44 A20 Pts 42 Pos 3rd. Two points per game is normally good enough to ensure 2nd place, but not usually first. However, this year with three teams pushing for the top place it is less likely that someone is now going to run away with the title and get 100 points. But let’s see.

Happy New Year everyone.

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