A Barrow Victory for Luton

The last time I visited Barrow I was eight years old and I remember two things about it. It was largely brown and it has an excellent toy shop which sold Subbuteo. Well, thirty something years later, I couldn’t find the toy shop, and little else had changed. My mood wasn’t helped by a dodgy satnav and getting wholly lost. I did get there in time to find surprisingly few changes to the team which lost against Ebbsfleet last time.

Tyler was back, and a welcome sight it was too, though his kicking hasn’t improved in the long break he has had.

Keet’ Keane was right back, Pilks and Kovacs were in the middle, and Murray was on the left.

In the middle were Pinky and Perky Hall and Nico, with Gnapka back on the right and surprisingly Adam Newton on the left. This was a surprise and a disappointment. Why play Newton there when he has been off form recently, had an absolute shocker last week and would be playing out of position? Nelthorpe has looked lively each time he has come on and is a left winger by trade. Oh well, ours not to reason why… Up top were Liam Hatch and Tommy Craddock. M B-H was off sick. His mum had sent a note.

The match started in sunshine and got increasinly foggy (at least I hope it was fog and not some radioactive mist from Sellafield) which was how the game was, but in reverse. If you see what I mean. The match started foggy, but with a sunny ending.

It was quite a familar performance to those who have followed the Hatters on the road this year. ‘Professional’ is how Mr Money calls them, but it basically translates as lots of huffing and puffing and plenty of half chances.

Apart from the first corner, Nico’s set pieces seemed to be clicking, a free kick found Pilks’ head nicely, but alas he headed over.

Newton had a sniff after a poor back pass gave him a chance against the keeper, but he was snuffed out and the ball ran to Tommy Craddock, who feeling sorry for the keeper, seemed to pass it back to him. Barrow were direct and physical, ‘typical’ non-league so it was a sort of justice when Bolland had to be taken off after clashing heads with Hatch, I think it was. Like a lot of northern chaps, good at dishing it out, but not quite so good at taking it!

A long hoof and a nod on, caught us out, just last last week and I thought “here we go again” as Chadwick strode into the box. Fortunately his shot ended up somewhere near the lakes.

Chadwick is one of those players who we seem to have been playing a lot recently. Perhaps his own fall from better days has mirrored ours, and he is working his way down the divisions too.

Craddock had another half chance and fluffed it, but at least he was getting some chances to fluff. Apart from an excellent run and shot by Claude down the right, ending up with Hall flashing wide/high that was about it in the first half. End to end with lots of stuff in the air, but not much to show for it.

We started much, much brighter in the second half and looked as if we wanted to take the game to Barrow at long last. Hatch, Craddock and Gnapka both having chances. But still no goal came.

Nwokeji came on for Newton with about half an hour to go. Along with the rest of us, the linesman would have been relieved that Newton went off because it meant he wouldn’t be flagging for offside so often. MN made an immediate impact with a shot from the edge of the box. We switched to a 4-3-3 and looked better for having the pace of Nwokeji troubling the part-timers defence. Jarvis came on about 10 minutes later and had a good game and looked in excellent touch and form.

Barrow had a couple of chances in a short space of time – Jones fluffed a chance after Pilks clashed with Tyler. Tyler then had to make his only real contribution in the game, which was an excellent block. Barrow were suddenly on top for the first spell in the game, as it got increasingly foggy.

Then one of those strange twists of fate that they make films out of. Hatch was ready to be substuited, not because lack of effort, but because the poor lad has just come back from injury and was flagging a little, with Nelthorpe ready to replace him. Claude had taken a knock from Jellyman their left back, and so hobbled off, leaving Hatch in place and Nelthorpe on the left.

This change brought the decisive spell of play from which we didn’t look back.

Jarvis played an excellent ball to Nelthorpe whose shot ‘okay lads, it was a cross’ forced Jones (I think) to clear off his line for a corner. Cue Nico to deliver the sort of corner he used to when he had Howie to aim at and BANG Liam Hatch got his second (well, third really) goal for the town.

A minute later Hatch charged down a hoof from the keeper and Nwokeji failed to make them pay. Another minute later, another corner and almost a repeat effort of the goal, another excellent corner sees the keeper touch it over from another Hatch effort.

He could have had a hat-trick as another minute later Hatch volleyed over. At the end it was all Luton and well deserved.

I must say though, once Money actually played his best players, eg Jarvis, Nwokeji and Nelthorpe, we were a team transformed. I have always avoided advising what my first XI would be on this – but it strikes me that Hatch and Nwokeji up front, with Nelthorpe on the left and Jarvis in the middle would give our next opponents, Oxford, a run for their money. Why can I see it but not the boss?

I was pleased to see Nico start connecting with his set-pieces, albeit long overdue. If he is going to give Hatch an assist every game or even two in every five games, like he did under Newell, then he becomes an important part of the team again.

I was overjoyed with the win. The long journey back would have been too depressing if we had been unable to beat the part-timers, or God forbid, lost. Once you get on the M6 Lancashire seems to go on forever. Once you get away from the damn county, you seem to make some decent progress, but driving through Lancashire is like wading through treacle. At least I had a bit of egg-chasing to listen to on the radio on the way back.

So, it rather sets it up quite nicely for the Oxford game on Tuesday. As ever, I absolutely cannot wait. It is Sunday night, and I’m already counting down the hours. This will be the true acid test.

Now, it seems to be a Luton tradition that we struggle against the weaker sides (or at the very least don’t put them to the sword in the way that we should) and often do well against sides better placed than us. I could list dozens of examples but won’t, because it is bed-time and work tomorrow. This would suggest that Tuesday night under the lights against the top club we will be in for a bit of a rip-roarer. Oh for a repeat of the Hull result when Brko got that header and the roof on the Kenny End lifted by a foot. Oh for the 2-0 against Brighton when Enoch tore them apart.

I hate to tempt fate, and I apologise if this now ruins our chances, but if we win our games in hand, and beat Oxford, and they drop another game between now and the end of the season we will be seriously there or thereabouts. However, a word of caution – we have still to play York and St Evenage away (both still undefeated) and Mansfield and Rushden away. I suspect that it is these results and the Oxford one that will really determine if we are serious contenders or hoping to sneak into the play offs.

Another fact that has crept up on me is our away form. Notoriously poor away from home down the years, this year it is the jewel in our crown.

Here are a few facts for you: Since the Wrexham away game on the 22nd of September – when we were oh so poor, and Mick rewarded the players with a night on the beers with the bus shelter incident – we haven’t been beaten away from home in the Blue Square Premier. This amounts to 7 (seven) away games without defeat. In fact we haven’t conceded a goal away from home in the league since October against Kidderminster, when we won 2-1. It has sort of snuck up on me, and I hate to say it, but it is the underlying away form of a team that is doing quite well.

If we are to kick on from here, and Money’s influence and style eventually takes hold and presuming we do actually hit our straps at some point then we have a very sound base to start from. However, if Oxford sit us back down on Tuesday, then we can reassess our goals.

Righty ho, off to bed then. Apologies if the match report itself was a little more truncated than usual, but I had typed it all out once and then acidentally deleted it, so I had to remember what I wrote.

Many thanks to all of you who manage to make it to the end of the post, and also to those of you good enough to take the time to leave a comment. All feedback is good.

Come on you Hatters!