Luton Teach Dons a Lesson

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:

Tyler: 9.5

Newton: 8 (his shins put Kedwell in for the shot that Tyler headed away, otherwise 8.5)
Blacklett: 7.5
Kroca: 8 (marked Kedwell well)
Murray: 7.5 (assist with throw)

Drury: 8.5
Pilkington: 8.5 (worked harder than a navvy on acid)
Howells: 9 (ran, ran, ran and ran some more – how versatile is he?)
Gnapka: 7

MBH: 8.5
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.


A day at the Seaside

About 80 miles to the west, Southampton and Portsmouth had been thrashing out a local derby. It was definitely the south coast’s main feature to our B movie. Quite surreal to be watching our club hoof it around a freezing cold and muddy field in Eastbourne when 25 months earlier we had graced Anfield.

A visit to Eastbourne meant three things: a detour to Lewes to meet an old friend, a chance to have a couple of pints of Harveys Ale and a trip to the brewery shop, and another opportunity to get completely lost in a strange seaside town I had never been to before. Fortunately I didn’t miss any of the game.

Just as well, because most of the best play was in the first ten minutes, capped by an excellent Asa Hall goal from outside the box, clubbed into the corner, giving the keeper Knowles no chance.

We started where we left off against Oxford, all drive and determination. Before he scored Hall had already brought off a good save by Knowles following a Craddock run and cross.

The first ten minutes were all us, but then Tyler was brought into action having to block a chance from their centre-half Pullen at the far post from a corner.

I made a note then there was a lull at this point and I think it was here that we transformed from the confident side that took on and beat Oxford, to the competent side which has gone all of these games away from home without conceeding a goal.

Hall had another chance from a Nicholls corner.

Taylor had an opportunity for Eastborne, Kovacs being caught square (again) but he shot wide.

After about half an hour Jarvis got a bloody nose for his trouble and wandered around like a window-licker with toilet paper stuffed up his nose.

A good move started with Craddock dribbling the ball into the box before crossing it to Gnapka, Elphick (I think) cleared it, only as far as Nico who then played Gnapka in for an excellent chance which the Frenchman drove wide.

Just before half time the strangely named but constant pain in the neck Enver-Marum had a chance to level it, before Tyler pulled off an excellent save.

Half time then, and as ever, we had had lots of half chances and ensured both Knowles and the little man who retrieved the ball out of the car park both earned their money.

Before I carry on I’d better name the team. Tyler remained between the posts, Newton stayed at right back, Kovacs and Pilks in the middle and Murray on the left. A settled back five then. In the middle a threesome of Nico, Hall and Jarvis, with Jarvis on the right of the three, and Craddock was on the left, but slightly further forwards, but not quite up front. MBH started up front in his ugly yellow boots, but took them off at half-time fortunately. It was tricky for MBH because whilst he was involved in much of the play in the first half in the second half he was increasingly isolated, and not being a Hatch, couldn’t get on the end of the long balls or hold the play up as well. That said, we did play some good intricate football today and often it was the pitch which confounded us.

Apart from the attempt just before half time the Eastbourne Borough threat had subsided as the half wore on. However, they almost equalised from the kick off – the lively Benjamin shooting wide.

Pilks then played a good ball to Hall who got it out to Craddock who linked up with MBH but the ball bobbled and it went into the car park again.

We started to kill off the game by pushing up and causing Eastbourne to go longer and longer, this meant that all Kovacs and Pilks had to do was to pick up the pieces which they ably did.

Craddock scrambled a ball to MBH who got it back to Craddock who crossed it wide to Gnapka who messed up again and tripped over his feet.

MBH laid it wide to Craddock, Hall tried to flick it to Murray who was overlapping (I kid you not) Gnapka picked up the ball and passed to our old friend Asa who shot from 30 yards this time – having mastered the 20 yard effort earlier.

Glenn Austin tripped Murray as he was threatening to go around him and got the first yellow card of the game.

Then is was Jarvis’s turn to keep the little man who retrieved the balls busy, by launching one out of the ground after a long throw by Newton found its way to Jarvis from a mass of bodies. The ball must have bobbled on a cowpat I think.

Hall won a header and found Newton on the right, who in turn played in Jarvis, Pilkington played it forwards but lost possession – however Eastbourne just hoofed it when a proper counter attack would have been more effective.

To be honest I started drifting off at this point and started thinking about work and what time I will have to bunk off to get to York for 7:45.

MBH got to the byline and a right foot cross found Newton however it looped up and Knowles scrambled it away. The resultant shot took a deflection and we won a corner. Which Nico fluffed. He had another bite of the cherry but Knowles gathered easily.

Eastbourne struggled to find their men up front, their play usually broke up of its own accord – but where it didn’t Luton invariably did the simple things well at the back.

From a Luton throw on the right Jarvis passed the ball into the path of Gnapka who won a corner. Nico managed to reach Kovacs this time and it bounced out to Craddock who played a horrible slice into the car park. Cue the little man, who was working up quite a sweat.

Someone who hadn’t been working up a sweat was Mark Tyler who thankfully was alert enough to make an excellent save from Enver-Marum whose shot was heading for the top right corner from about 10 yards out.

MBH was replaced by Nwokeji with about 10 mins to go – as ever he made a nuisance of himself in the short time available to him.

Gnapka made a poor challange on Benjamin which was later than a late bus, and picked up a yellow card.

Elphick did an impersonation of dear Brko with an overhead kick but it was well saved by Tyler.

As usual Nico made lots of last ditch tackles and excellent blocks today, however it’s all the rest that so often lets him down. If I had to pick a Hatter to put his neck (or indeed any other part of his anatomy) on the line it would be Nico. If only he were a centre half, he could nod stuff away and get in the way all afternoon, without having to worry about the passing and catching up with the nippy midfielders of the world.

Apart from another couple of ballooned efforts from Craddock, that was about it – I must admit, it was one of those games that once we were one up the result didn’t really seem in doubt.

Having watched the team away from home a number of times under Money now, this seems to be the theme, keep it tidy at the back by denying the home side the opportunity to pass it around. A sort of stifling play. Not very pretty, but it has proven to be very effective. In fact it is now over 700 minutes without conceding a goal away from home in the league. That must be a club record by some distance I would have thought. We seem to have discovered a (not very pretty) methodology. If by following this methodology away from home it means we get to trade the likes of Grays, Salisbury and Eastbourne for the likes of Port Vale, Bradford and Northampton then so be it. Mind you, even that doesn’t seem terribly enticing.

Six points in six weeks against Eastbourne then – I do hope they don’t go bust and do a ‘Chester’ on us. How those St Evenage fans must be twitching at the thought of losing six points.

What a bad position Chester are in. To be wholly fair to the Conference organisers they have bent-over backwards to accommodate them this year. Allowing them to start the season late and now they have missed the last two games. The first because their players went on strike and now because the Police wouldn’t police the local derby and so the council shut the ground. It’s not looking good for them I must admit. Somehow though, I think the authorities will still manage to find a way of preventing them going out of existence. Which is the right thing, of course.

Looking at the forcast now, it looks like more snow on Tuesday, so that might just decide whether or not I nip off work early to set off for York. It might just tip the balance.

So we remain 5th, level on points with Rushden, but with a game in hand on them. As I said before we still are yet to play Stevenage, York, Mansfield and Rushden away. It is those fixtures, and perhaps the Chester expungification that will decide how far towards the top we go. You never know…

My thanks to all of you once again for leaving so many positive and constructive comments on the blog. In addition to those Hatters living abroad who post on here (and no, I don’t include Wales or Scotland in that) looking at that widget thing on the page it seems that I have regular visitors from the US, Canada, Albania (Albania!!) China, Japan, Malaysia, Qatar, Singapore and one has cropped up from South Africa, in addition to Spain, Austria, Sweden and France a bit closer to home.

Welcome one and all. It makes me feel very humble to think that people thousands of miles away in countries I will never get to visit take the trouble to read my rantings.

Come on you Hatters!


Amazing Grays…

…or not as the case may be. A match more like a pre-season friendly ended up with the Hatters deserved 3-0 victors.

Because of the anticipated small crowd it was one of those unreserved seating games where the Upper bit of the Kenny, and the David Preece Stand were closed. This gave me the opportunity to sit behind the goal like I used to, and also to make a personal discovery. Since moving from the bearpit to a slightly more reserved location a few seasons ago (coincided with our slide down the divisions..mmmm..) I have clearly honed my shouting technique to ensure that the players and ref can still hear me thirty rows back. However, I shocked myself yesterday when shouting at one of the players, as I used the full force from three rows in, which frankly could be heard at the Oak Road end. I think poor Mark Tyler put his hands over his ears. I turned down the volume from 11 from then on.

Yesterday was of course an FA cup qualifying round game, the first time we had played in the equivalent of this round since beating Great Yarmouth 15-0 in 1914. The FA had it in for us even then because we should have got a bye, and made a mockery of having to play at that level even then. I read in the programme that three goals was the fewest goals number we had scored in a tie in this round, so it was fitting that we didn’t break that particular record yesterday.

Strange game for me yesterday as I was unfettered by friends or by Godson and was all on my lonesome for the first time since the Plymouth game last year. My Godson had received a one-match ban from his Mum for bunking off his flute lessons, apparently there was further punishment in store for him as he had to go and see his mad Granny too.

It was like a ghost town behind the goal in the Kenny bar, and I think at one point I had been the only customer for 20 minutes. At least being on my own gave me the chance to read the programme from cover to cover for a change and also to sink three pints. However, I still had plenty of time to spare at about 2:30pm so reluctantly I took my seat early and watched the players warm up and play dodge ball from all of the stray shots.

Three things stood out from the pre-match warm up – firstly Rio Charles knows where the goal is instinctively and was knocking them in for fun. Secondly, yesterday at least, Liam Hatch couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. He must have had twenty shots at goal, just one on one with Shane Gore, and didn’t hit the target once let alone score a goal. Can it be that difficult receiving and hitting a ball into the net from 12 years? Even I might have got one on target, and I was a very slow left back who never scored in over 150 games.

Thirdly, it struck me what a good keeper Shane Gore is. I think he would have easily made the team if we hadn’t had Tyler, or if we still had Dean Brill.

So, onto the match: Tyler started in goal and had very little to do other than put his hands over his ears and to kick the ball to the opposing centre halves. Reynolds started at right back and treated us to the heaviest contact on a back pass I have seen for many a year, giving them a corner early on. White and Blackett teamed up in the middle, both having sound enough games, and I think Blackett is much better at centre half than left back. Howells started at left back and had a cracking game I thought. He linked up with Burgess really well down the left, made some good runs, got some crosses in and generally did very well. I think he must be the most improved player this year, and he has come on leaps and bounds since Mick left.

In the middle we started with Burgess on the left who played about 80 minutes. He did look at bit tired and wasn’t completely in the game, but it was a good workout. In the middle was Asa Hall, now back to his best and surprise surprise Pilks who played in the holding role because Nico had the ‘flu. He showed what a quality professional he was and how poor Nico has been by not putting a foot wrong and looking as if he had played there for years. The only thing that let him down slightly (and only slightly) was his distribution, but if he kept things simple he was excellent. On the right Adam Newton started, and had a sound if not spectacular game.

Up front, we started with Rio and the returning Kevin Gallen, who must have been pleased to get 90 minutes under his belt again.

We started well with Burgess and Howell linking up nicely to put Gallen in and created a few chances from the start. It was only about 10 mins before the first goal came when Pilks, aiming to take the leading scorer mantle back from Craddock, shot and Blackett pounced on the rebound.

Grays weren’t showing much at all hardly surprising bearing in mind they were missing all of their loan players, including our own Geo. Beavan esq. The only one who stood out for me was the long haired Jamie Slabber, who played some nice passed and laid the ball off well, but couldn’t shoot for toffee, which is just as well as I think all of their decent chances fell to him.

Reynolds redeemed his early blunders by powering forward a la Ed Asafu-Adjaye and struck one from about 25 yards which brought of a great save from their keeper.

Meanwhile Rio was having a great game. He must have managed two or three runs down the right resulting in good crosses, the best of which presented Gallen with an easy header to make it two nil but he put it wide.

The second goal was as inevitable as the BBCs baiting of Nick Griffin. Newton ran down the right crossed well (I do like Adam Newton) and their poor centre half Rnkovic put it in his own net, a fraction of a second before Gallen would have done. Later on Rnkovic was involved in an amusing off the ball incident with Rio, which they both saw the funny side of. Rnkovic outpaced Rio down our left to then shield and to see the ball out. As the pair of them ran back up the pitch Rio clipped his heels as if to say ‘that’ll teach you for being so clever’ and he fell over. Rio gave him a wink and Rnkovic grinned and shook his head.

In the second half the game became much more of a training match as the result was already known. After an hour Gnapka came on for Newton and Ed A-A replaced Alan White. Interesting to see Reynolds switch to centre half and Ed to stay at right back. Reynolds looked much more comfortable from then on. So we ended with the unusual back four of Howells, Blackett, Reynolds and Ed. Numerous chances came and went for us in the second half, and Grays looked a bit better but only because we dropped the tempo a bit.

As I mentioned above, Burgess came off after about 80 mins and Nielson brought on one of the trio of youth team players on the bench, Taylor Nathaniel. Taylor looked lively down the left with an excelent turn of pace and was immediately involved. The ball was played to him from the back and he ran down the left, turned the ball back to Asa Hall, carried on, as looking to get the 1-2 but instead Hall steadied himself and finished beatifully to make the game 3-0.

Apart from another chance for poor Slabber that was about it. I enjoyed the game, even though it had a pre-season friendly feel to it. It’s hard not to enjoy 3-0 wins, we have had so few in the last few years.

Fair play to Grays they did look down on quality, but did play some decent football, when we failed to close them down sufficiently.

The only other thing of note was Gary Sweet’s very informative notes about the process of recruiting the new manager. Without saying so in as many words he made it clear that AN isn’t being considered which is a real shame. He even described Nico et al’s comments calling for Neils to be given the job as “rather outspoken” – which to me seemed a bit snooty or clumsy, which I am absolutely sure it wasn’t meant to be.

To quote the latest position he said:

Having conducted numerous interviews to date, we are confident that we will soon be able to appoint a manager who matches our immediate need and our longer term ambition and a man who should be popular with you all.

That last line was tantalising. Does he mean that the manager should be popular with us because he will match the clubs ambitions and get us promoted, ie he will become popular because of success? Or, intriguingly, does he mean that once the manager is announced he will be a popular because of who he is?

That’s Graham Taylor out then!

So the draw is later on today – I bet we get Leeds away…

UPDATE: It’s Rochdale at home on the 7th.


Newton’s law

Adam Newton - plays for Luton

Good old Adam Newton – scored a fluke goal, and with complete honesty held his hands up immediately and owned up. I like that. He tried to cross from the right and instead the ball flew over the keeper from a bizarre angle and Luton were one up. Mind you, that was it.

I liked Barrow, they did try and play, though they were a bit poor. We should have scored more. In fact, if Tom Craddock hadn’t fluffed two or three clear chances we would have had more. To give Harford credit, he did have the players playing decent football on the floor – for the first half at least – and we played them off the park.

The ball didn’t go in the air for the first four minutes. I joked to my mate Rob that Harford would fine the first player to put it in the air and we showed that at no point does it have to be hoofed and retaining possession and playing it on the floor is the only way. It was good old Mark Tyler who was the first one to lift it off the floor by the way. I think that the 59-41 possession ratio in Luton’s favour tells a bit of a story, as does the 14 shots to 4 in our favour.

In the second half we sat back a bit more, and the football was not so good. We did make some chances though and went close a couple of times.

With Nico out with a three match ban for his late tackle in the Oxford match we looked more settled than of late. Is it a heresy to say that we are better off without him? Actually I describe it as late, it was so late it was almost in time for this afternoon’s match.

The team was Mark Tyler (who had so little to do that Mick sent him out for training and practise at half time), Gnapka/Gnakpa right back, Pilks and Whitey at centre half, and Murray (hats off to Mick for preferring him to Blackett) at left back.

Both Murray and Gnapka/Gnakpa overlapped well and got good crosses in. Pilks was more solid than a rock and passed the ball nicely, rather than lumping it; and White played well, on one occasion he got forward, and bless him, stayed forward and then stayed forward even more. Looked quite good up front!

In midfield, Keet’ partnered Jarvis in the holding role and Hall played behind the front three.

Up front, Newton, Gallen and Craddock. Craddock out on the left again. Fair play to Craddock, today he did work hard, and should really have had a couple of goals. They were gelling as well, and (much like most of this season) they were creating the chances, but, as before, it is the finishing which has been the problem. I suspect once Craddock gets a bit of confidence and form he will be scoring goals for fun. Two points about Craddock though, he did the most obvious and piss-poor, laughable handball I have seen for many a year. A good cross from Murray (I think) was sailing over his head and he jumped, stuck out an obvious hand and punched it towards the goal. A most foolish thing. And the ref rightly booked him.

Also Craddock supplied me with a perfect example of the phrase “Methinks he doth protest too much”. When presented with another chance after an excellent through ball he missed the target completely and curled it past the post. Making out as if the keeper had got a hand on it (he would have done if he had been 10′ and not a pot-bellied dwaf) he then had a go at the ref, the lino at the far end, the ref again, some of his players and then the lino at our end. Twice. Tom, mate you missed it. Get over it. He was mad and very near to getting another card.

But, in the second half, about 10 mins from the end, hello hello, what’s all this then? A not really fit and leggy Liam Hatch made an appearance with a tattoo of “Plan A” on the back of his head. The most awaited player since Lars Elstrup – possibly.

He looked keen, got himself booked, ran around alot, got on a couple of headers and generally looked a pain and a handful. Good news. Our next game is not until Wrexham away on Tuesday-week and there is a reserve game midweek, so he might even start against Wrexham.

One thing to say is that the ref was a bit rank. He missed three handballs, one of them in the penalty box only slightly less obvious than Craddock’s effort. God knows how he and the lino missed it. Certainly all of the Kenny end went up in unison, amazed that the officials missed it.

Their keeper was a bit of a character. He changed boots in the first half (only to change them back later) and every time a Luton player had a shot on his goal he bellowed at his defenders as if he had caught them in bed with his wife. He was also very unfit. On one occasion he had to sprint out of his goal to intercept a ball and then clear it and he puffed and blowed his way back to his goal line looking like Big Daddy after a jog.

That’s enough for now I think. I quite enjoyed it this afternoon. Some of the football they played was excellent and made for a good game. They needed a second to be secure, and at the back of my mind I could see us cocking it up (like against Salisbury) and draw a game we should have won. But, truthfully, the class was evident for a good portion of the game, if not in front of goal.

Thank goodness for Adam Newton. He was man of the match (even though he ended up as right back, after Gnapka/Gnakpa went off with a sore leg) worked really hard and was the difference between the two sides with his unlikely goal.

So, after 10 games: W5 D4 L1 Pos 2nd.

Thanks for reading, and for the nice comments and messages. Makes it all worthwhile to know that someone is out there. I haven’t got the balls to post a link on the Luton Outlaws website, for all of the grief I would get for my supposedly ‘anti Mick’ stance from those not willing to try to understand what I am saying…ahem

Picture from Luton website, with thanks.