Albeit for a short while, second then, having beaten the top side 3-0. That’s more like it. It was a good game with a great atmosphere, helped by a noisy turnout from Wimbledon.
I know I’ve said this before, but it is still slightly surreal to think that these two teams played each other in the top flight just 18 years ago, and it was only 22 years ago when both clubs were cup winners in the same year. How times change. We can but hope that the same thing befalls the respective winners in 2010.
With Keane and Gleeson out and Besta on parental leave (something I didn’t bother with) the side had a slightly different look to it.
Tyler started in goal and earned his money tonight. I’ll come on to his heroics in a while, but if there is a better keeper in this division or indeed the one above I’d like to see who he is. We are so lucky to have such an excellent keeper between the sticks. To think when we were two divisions above we had to put up with keepers such as Ovengloves and Emberson, neither of whom was fit to tie Tylers boots. Saying that there was one moment of comedy gold near the end when clearing the ball from the box, next to the dead ball line MT managed to perform an impossible slice somehow squeezing the ball off his left foot at 90 degrees and straight into the Wimbledon fans for a corner at almost point blank range.
At right back Adam Newton came in for Gleeson and looked as sound as a pound, apart from on only one occasion. Poor old Ed is third choice now (not terribly happy about it – just read his facebook comments) but on his performance tonight Newton should stay even when Gleeson is fit again.
In the middle were Kroca (him with the deft touch of a wrecking ball) and Sean Blacklett (for those of you watching it on the telly). Both had good games, Blackett especially, and Krocha scored the second goal of course.
At left back Freddie Murray played, shorn of beard. Once again whenever the ball went out his ball boy dutifully passed him his towel (tonight’s towel was white by the way, the brown one’s in the wash) whether it was for a short throw or a big boomer. Actually we had two towels in operation tonight (yes, we are a two towel club these days) and there was one in operation on the opposite flank, this time for use by A Newton Esq.
Claude Le Goal was the right winger and played well ‘offensively’, but lacked discipline defensively, before tiring at the end. Claude is Claude – hard to believe he was once a defender! I lost count of the number of crosses he put in. But his tracking back and covering were negligent to say the least.
Jake Howells played in the middle, which I can’t recall him doing before. Boy, did he have a good game. He had more opportunities and was more creative in the first half but his work rate didn’t drop and he beavered away in the middle of the park, closing folk down as if he was born to the role. What a headache for Richard Money when Keano is back.
Skipper Pilks reprised his role as a midfielder and also as goalscorer. That’s 8 goals now in 84 appearances – we’ve had strikers with worse records: step forward Mr Feeney…
On the left the ever-dependable Andy Drury played his usual creative game unfettered by Hatton the right back.
Up top MBH who was keen to get back on the goalscoring trail after five games without a goal and he duly obliged. The impressive Atieno played alongside MBH and had a terrific game. It really does make a difference having a big man to hold up the ball up front and win the nod ons.
I can see what Money has done with the team – basically he has ‘done a Mick’ by accommodating the in form players, even if it means playing them out of position. For example – Jake looked bright when he came on against Cambridge, and so stayed for Wimbledon, forcing Adam Murray out. Pilks had a good game in the middle against Cambridge and so kept the role. Newton looked good against Cambridge and Grimsby and so started against Wimbledon. Blackett was playing okay at left back and slotted back in well at centre half and so kept his place. A real headache for Money when Keano and Gleeson are fit again. But perhaps it isn’t a headache, perhaps they bide their time on the bench if the side keeps winning?
It could have been oh so different. Wimbledon camped in our half for the first three minutes. Wimbledon had a cross/shot bringing out a save from Tyler within thirty seconds, and they had three corners in the first three minutes.
However, we found our shape and style after 5 minutes with Claude bombing down the wing, which resulted in a long throw from Newton but a ‘foul’ by Kroca gave Wimbledon the freekick.
A word about the ref Mr Whitton, whilst he had a reasonable game he did seem to blow up for a number of pointless fouls which we couldn’t spot at our end. I can’t recall a recent game where I have said “what was that actually for?” when the whistle was blown, for both sides. He wasn’t whistle happy by any means, but blew for things we couldn’t spot.
Our first chance came after only 7 minutes. Drury played a freekick deep (too deep we thought) but it found Atieno at the far post who beat his man and nodded it back in from where the penalty area joins the dead ball line. The ball fell to MBH chested it and tried an audacious Brko-esque overhead kick which cannoned into the post. Things were looking up.
The following corner was the first in a succession, which just by the law of averages meant that we were going to get a goal off one of them. Drury took it, it was flicked on by MBH but flew out of the goalmouth only for Pilks to loft it straight back in to the dubiously onside Krocha who ran in and tried to get a toe on it, but was adjusted to have shoved the keeper instead.
Only a minute later MBH and Gnapka linked up well on the right, with MBH holding up the knock on from Glaude just long enough before playing him in down the right. Claude’s good cross was luckily headed away by Hatton giving us another corner. This corner found Gnapka’s head at the far post but it went just wide.
Another minute later and again good play on the right between MBH and Claude (after Atieno won the header) let him plump another cross in from the right, but this time Brown in goal snaffled it.
Seconds later Claude was in again but this time played a poor ball in, rushing a cross when he had more time and it went out for a Dons throw. The ball found MBH from the throw and MBH entertained us with a Geoff Thomas-esque sliced shot which only just dribbled out for a thrown on the beach huts side. 11 minutes then and it was all Luton. We came again, Howells floating a cross into the far post for the strikers to get on the end of but it was cleared by Wimbledon.
To be fair to Wimbledon they tried to play nice football – other teams would have sat back and broken up the play at this point, but Wimbledon, naively perhaps maintained their shape and their attacking intentions giving us to room to exploit them all over the pitch.
After 14 minutes, persistence by Barnes Homer again, from a nicely dinked ball down the wing by Pilks won a slightly unnecessary corner. How many’s that now? 3? The Drury corner managed to miss most of the players, but was aimed at Pilks.
A mistake from Wimbledon to hang deep anticipating a long Murray throw allowed him to play the simple ball to Jake Howells who swung in a low dangerous cross which was headed out defensively by Hatton. Newton’s long throw nearly got through to Claude. This was 17 minutes now all Luton still Wimbledon could only clear the ball long, they weren’t even getting a sniff of a sniff.
Drury’s turn next Jake intercepted a poor ball out of defence, threaded in Drury who drove at goal, cut in onto his right and struck a snorker just over the bar, which would have taken the keeper with it if he’d got anywhere near it.
On 21 minutes a great run from Claude played in MBH whose control let him down and he lost possession, the ball was cleared but only as far as Pilks who clipped the ball back into the box. Hatton (I think) was unmarked and unchallenged but still pulled off a spectacular diving header to clear it into harms way out for a corner.
Corner #4 went deep and was headed out by Wimbledon only for Murray to pop up on the right and to play it down the right hand channel for MBH whose cross was blocked and it bounced out for corner #5 on the right. This one was punched clear Drury picked it up again, played in Jake Howells whose cross/shot was tipped over by the keeper for corner #6. Still only 22 minutes remember. This time the corner from the left was plopped straight onto Pilks head and with a flick of the head forced the header in from the far side, just outside the 6 yard box.
It had been all Luton for 20 minutes and the pressure and corners had finally told.
The pressure didn’t let up – on 24 minutes Jake smashed a shot just wide after Atieno had won the ball and Drury played it through. It was similar really to the Hayes game last year – only in the Hayes game all of our chances had gone in by this time – but the domination was completely the same.
The next ten minutes saw a bit of a lull, not really surprising bearing in mind the non-stop attacking we had seen from the Hatters. The next shot was from Atieno who tested the goalie from outside of the box – but didn’t appear to strike the ball too cleanly.
As we sat deeper the Dons had a better chance to get forward and get into it and threatened briefly on 35 minutes with two corners. From the second one the ball was headed out all the way to Blackman at the back in the centre circle. He was chased down admirably by Claude and then slipped to give Claude a clear run at goal, however the Frenchman was easily caught and forced wide by the recovering Blackman, Claude squeezed the ball to MBH who played it straight back to Claude who was by now well offside – a comedy offside. Claude looked like the bad guy in an old black and white movie left holding the bomb as the fuse burnt down.
Then, shortly afterwards, Drury won a throw down the left, right next to the corner flag. Everybody was drawn back into the six yard box, anticipating an incoming exocet from Freddie Murray. The same Freddie Murray I hasten to add who couldn’t throw the ball up until a few weeks ago. Foul throw after foul throw, what has happened to him? I’ve never seen a transformation like it. In cricket it’s the equivalent of Phil Tufnell becoming a great batsman. Anyway – as anticipated by everyone in came the booming throw right into the 6 yard box and right onto Kroca’s waiting head. Simple as you like. 2-0 against the pacesetters.
Time for the Dons to come back – almost immediately from throw, we failed to clear the ball, it came back in, Claude sleepily lost it in the box and it fell to Gregory whose piledriver rattled the post.
The very next move brought off an outstanding, but unconventional save from Tyler. Now Mark Tyler has brought of many a fine save in his short time at the club, but this was possibly inadvertently his finest.
A fast paced break from Wimbledon saw a cross from Hatton which evaded his player but fell kindly for Kedwell off Newton’s shins about 8 yards out goalside of the penalty spot, he hit it first time, hard, low, straight at the goal, the shot was hit hard enough to go through Tyler’s arms, but hit his head and it deflected wide, somehow. Had it his his arms, it would have been comparable to Gordon Banks’ famous one in terms of quality. As it was we can only admire his reactions and reflexes to be able to get something on it at all from point blank.
Other than a few more chances (!) the only other incident was Drury getting another silly yellow card for kicking the ball away, clumsily. For some reason the ref felt he needed to lecture him as well.
It was an outstanding half of entertaining, breathless football. It would have been difficult for the second half to match it. Luton took ages to come out for the second half, keeping the Wombles waiting.
Other than Atieno nearly chasing down Harris on a through ball, and the goal of course, the first 15 minutes of the second half passed without the succession of incidents the first half had.
Our third came after 48 minutes, Murray won a strong header from a throw taken on the right hand side half way into the Wimbledon half, the ball ran to Claude who played in Atieno who instantly played a ball across to MBH who was in the middle of the ‘D’ he took one touch and swung his right foot and whacked it into the corner with the outside of his boot. 3-0 game over. It was a good goal after the two set piece goals. One for the purist perhaps. I was delighted for MBH who showed that the glut of goals at the start of the season on the back of the positive bounce from pre-season were not his total contribution for the year and that Crow would have to sit on the bench for another couple of games. Super, almost nonchalant finish. How he manages to score those, but misses chances Mrs Mosque might put in I’ll never know.
They introduced Yussuf and Wellard to give them more pace and attacking options, Yussuf showed his pace, but mainly seemed to dribble the ball into touch, but at pace.
Jackson ran into Murray on the left edge of the Hatters’ box. From the free kick Gregory was left entirely unmarked from only 20 yards but fortunately he scuffed his shot.
Newton’s long throw caused problems and the ball bobbled just before Drury’s shot which howled over.
At the other end Yukubu’s header from a tidy cross went straight to Tyler’s grateful arms.
On 70 minutes Newton reminded us of his quick turn of pace when he intercepted a weak run from Blackman who accelerated back to hack him down and got a yellow card for his troubles.
Drury took the free kick and drew a weak punch from Brown the keeper.
Two minutes later Gnapka was played in by Drury on the edge of the box his shot was blocked by Harris’ hand as blatant handball as Blackett’s was against Grimsby.
At about this point Blackman incurred the wrath of the Kenny End. I don’t know what he said or did, but I think it might have involved spitting. Poor lad got booed to death after that. In the handful of games he has played in his career he’s probably never experienced the spite and vitriol he engendered from the crowd this evening. Welcome to Kenilworth Road my old son – it was good to see the passion reignited behind the goal. I do think that what we have endured over these past few seasons has managed to water down the fundamentalist support we used to enjoy. Supporting Luton in the near past has been more of an addiction than an enjoyment. The passion and extremes of emotion enjoyed and endured by generations of fans bred a certain, yes, fundamentalist, non compromising approach, not seen elsewhere, other than perhaps the two Scottish clubs. As I say this approach has been compromised in the past few years as the fans have been shell-shocked from the succession of nightmarish controversies and body-blows the club has lurched between. It would be good to get back the full on focus, passion, desire and commitment our fans always used to have.
Newton won a corner which fell immediate victim to yet another random whistle blow by the ref.
Gnapka made a good run into the box, but his tame cross to the keeper was a waste when he could have laid it back to Newton.
With 13 minutes to go Hatton struck at 40 yard free kick which Tyler saved spectacularly by diving to his left. Thank goodness we weren’t using the beach ball they used in the world cup.
On 80 minutes a succession of Hatters passes drew ‘Oles’ from the Kenny End, ending in Drury scuffing a shot in the 6 yard box.
5 minutes left an on came Dan Walker (for MBH) the Bedfordian who we signed in the summer after he impressed against us in the friendly. Though he didn’t get too many touches, he looked lively, hungry and eager. Who’s to say in 4 years time he and Toomey are lining up together up front? Is life that sweet? Whatever life may bring, I wish him all the luck in the world with his Luton career.
Next event was off the field. Newton was announced man of the match, which was fair enough, and Money, who has already publicly defended AN made great play of clapping the decision over his head in front of the crowd. I’m pleased for Newton, though RM is a bit of a twit on occasions. The only two things that annoyed me about Newton’s performance last year was the miss against Southampton (which affected him for the rest of the season) and his singular failure to close down the opposing left back when he was playing right wing. Oh it was frustrating. But, as right back, at this level at least he is tidy and more than competent.
I think the difference between the two teams was that we were quicker, and invariably first to the ball. We pressed higher up – in the first half at least and that gave Wimbledon little opportunity for their midfield to get hold of the ball to play in the dangerous Kedwell. It takes two teams to make an entertaining game though and I wish them, and their long suffering but committed fans well in their long but inevitable quest to play against that travesty of a club based in North East Bucks.
It was the sort of performance and game which makes you want to go and watch them again on Monday and also on Thursday with another one on Saturday. Infectious performance and result.
Scores on the doors:
Newton: 8 (his shins put Kedwell in for the shot that Tyler headed away, otherwise 8.5)
Kroca: 8 (marked Kedwell well)
Murray: 7.5 (assist with throw)
Pilkington: 8.5 (worked harder than a navvy on acid)
Howells: 9 (ran, ran, ran and ran some more – how versatile is he?)
Atieno: 8 (nice to have a player who can hold it up and nod it on and be a general pain in the arse a la Harford, Howard, Aylott etc)
So, it is now off to the far flung reaches of the land for the next two games. As with last year there is no mention in the Mosque household that the Mighty Hatters are playing away in the depths of the North East, otherwise it would be used as an excuse to spend the weekend with my in-laws. Much as I love the Town, unfortunately the avoidance ear-ache and arsepains outweighs the trip up the A1. I’ll have to make do with Ian Pearce and Simon Pitts on the tranny. I’m sure you understand my predicament!
Many thanks indeed for all of the excellent comments to the last post. Please make yourself known if you are far flung. Personally I’ve never travelled further east than Italy or further west than Florida. So it is fascinating to think of people reading this in countries I can only dream of visiting.