Six of the Best

Well, it has been coming for a while. The eventual drubbing of one of these teams was only a matter of time, and yesterday we put Ebbsfleet to the sword.

Sod’s law of course – and perhaps there’s a hint here – I missed the game. Running the annual school quiz evening means that I have to forego one match a year, and alluring though a trip to this particularly grotty part of our Sceptered Isle might be I envisaged that this would be the best spring game to miss. D’oh.

Oh well, I’m delighted for the lads and also the excellent fans who made the way round the M25 to drizzly north Kent.

Wonderful for Claude that he got Luton’s first hat trick since November 2004. Can you believe it? Well done to Claude. Reading the reports, he had a shocking first half and then a brilliant second half. Like only Claude can. He’s a good bloke and a nice man and rather enjoys playing for our club in front of our fans – so I am chuffed for him.

Wonderful for Matthew Barnes-Homer to come on as sub and get a goal, after the horrible week he has had. I wonder who he dedicated his goal to? Poor lad, full credit to him. As I said in my last report, I suspect it might just be the turning point for him. He has, as it were, a fresh start and a clean slate.

Good for Kevin Gallen – up to 12 for the season now, and also another one in the bag for Craddock, taking him to 15 for the year. All other things being equal, if we are to continue on this run and continue with this success at this end of the season, I suspect he will add plenty more.

If you look at some of the bare statistics coming out of this season it suggests that things are moving in the right direction.

Doubling the club’s record for unbeaten games away from home. Setting the record for consecutive clean sheets away from home. Six wins on the trot. First hat trick for 5 1/2 years, first six goal victory since the Crewe game and first time we have scored six away from home since 1964. All of these ghosts have been dispelled. I’m sure there was another one I have missed.

I was trying to remember if I have ever seen a 6-1 – then of course I remembered by first ever game back in 1978, where we were also 1-0 down at half time. That season was the very beginning of what was to become a golden era. Let’s hope that the same is now true.

Now some of us will be thinking, ‘well it was just Ebbsfleet’, and indeed it was just Ebbsfleet and many will be thinking that we should be winning all of these games by that sort of margin. But as I said a couple of weeks ago our club has gone through severe trauma over the past few years and we are just about recovering. We have bottomed out. We are no longer going down, we have passed the nadir and are now on the way back up. How steep that ascent is depends on the quality of the playing staff we can retain and the desire of the board and the ability of the manager and coaching staff.

Another thing to mention of course is that this successful run has largely coincided with the absence of a certain K Nicholls in the midfield. As you know, I have said in the past about Nico’s character, determination and utter loyalty to our club and the cause. However, just like Big Mick, having LTFC written through the core of your soul doesn’t make up for a lack of ability. Which, regrettably poor Nico now demonstrates. I can imagine howls of protest from those fans who thinks the sun shines out of his behind. But it doesn’t, it really doesn’t, and Simon Heslop has demonstrated how effective we can be if we have two proper midfielders in the centre of the park.

Now, what next for Nico? He’s crocked at the moment and out until September. He’s on the transfer list, and I am sure Money will want to get shot of him in the summer, not least because allegedly he takes up a big proportion of the wage budget. Does Nico see out his remaining years in non-league? Does he change to centre-half? (which I think he would be much better at now he is too slow to chase people down) or does he prematurely go into a coaching role somewhere? It’s difficult for some people to swallow I know but we are a better side without him. Loyalty and passion alone doesn’t guarantee you a place in the team, otherwise I might as well go and get my boots on.

So – back to the fantastic victory – where does this leave us? Well, we are actually second now, but that’s because Oxford play today, and St Evenage were playing in the FA Trophy. It means that both sides have lots of games in hand on us, however, all we can do is create pressure and doubt in their camps by still winning. Oxford play Stevenage on the 30th March, the Tuesday before they play us on the Saturday. That week will be the key to their ambition. Should they lose both games, the league could well be wide open and a true three horse race for the title.

Unusually, we don’t have a game on Tuesday, which is a pity when a team is on such a good run: you want to and need to keep playing to keep the momentum. The next game is Hayes on Saturday followed by Salisbury on Tuesday. We really need to keep our form and focus for those two games to keep up the impetus and put us in the strongest possible position to take on Stevenage at their patch.

The league table this morning:

St Evenage…………P34…Pts 72…GD+41

Luton……………..P36…Pts 70…GD+22

Oxford…………….P33…Pts 68…GD+30

Rubbish & Dustbins….P35…Pts 63…GD+32

York City………….P35…Pts 61…GD+16


Kettering………….P35…Pts 59…GD+11

One interesting development which could yet affect things are those 10 teams who are appealing the Chester City points removal. Richard Money described them as “messing their pants”. I expect the worse. We never seem to get much luck with these sorts of rulings, so as far as I am concerned we much assume that the appeal will be successful and that we don’t have those four points we gained on the others. More news on that this week, if there is any progress on the appeal.

So – well done Luton – a well-deserved thumping of Ebbsfleet. Let’s hope it is by no means the last one this season!


Another Trip to the Beach

Having not actually seen any sand whilst we were at Eastbourne, the pitch at York more than made up for it. I’ve known less sandy deserts.

Just a short report this evening, I didn’t get home until nearer three than two, having managed to get lost on the way back (for the third trip running) and then I couldn’t get off to sleep until Mrs Mosque’s alarm went off at 5:15am which, tuned to Radio 4 sent me off to sleep immediately. So in the end I had fewer than three hours kip and have been grumpier than a bear with a sore head who is being poked by kids with sticks whilst being forced to watch daytime television.

I thought, bearing in mind the sandy pitch cut up more as the game went on, we did pretty well. Both sides had plenty of chances, and the good Lord intervened a few times to prolong our incredible and surreal run of games away from the Kenny without conceding a goal.

The team was Tyler, the ‘settled’ back four of Newton, Pilks, Kovacs, and Murray – and a midfield five of Jarvis on the right, Hall, Keano, Nico, with Craddock on the left. Hatch returned up front.

The betting man in me made £20 on the night. A side who hadn’t lost at home all season were playing against a side who have been unbeaten away since God was a boy. For once I put a few bob on the correct score, rather than ‘laying’ Luton and 0-0 seemed the logical choice. If only all bets were that logical!

For a 0-0 it was a good game. Both sides played well. York had more chances than us, but we played the better football. York were a bit more direct, and bearing in mind the size of their strikers and their team in general you can see why. Hatch was marked very well and alas went off making a challenge to win the ball back in the second half.

In the first 45 mins, I felt we played the best football and had the best opportunities but failed to make the most of them (does this ring a bell?). We controlled the game because we were packing and the midfield. However, because the midfield was packed we failed to link up sufficiently with Hatch, who was isolated, and was being well marked.

Nico was doing what he does best and worst, again. His last-ditch challenges and clearances once again made a huge difference but he was running around well off the pace again. It says a lot for him that he manages to keep his temper so (relatively) well these days. It must be so frustrating for him, being made to chase the ball around the pitch by players who wouldn’t have been fit to tie his boots five years ago. Good for him anyway – I think Money is shaving off some of the dafter points to his game: we haven’t seen any match-losing last minute passes to the opposition for a while or indeed two footed lunges in the box in the last minute – but he is on the transfer list and has that hanging over him and yet he hasn’t allowed his game to drop because of it, in fact you could say that it has picked up in the last few weeks. Notwithstanding this, Nico was substituted for Blackett in the second half, shoring up the left hand side of the defence and giving him a run-out too. This meant Craddock moved up front with MBH who had come on for Liam Hatch. MBH seemed a bit more lively in this game than in the last, but still owes us a few goals methinks.

Gnapka had replaced Hall but didn’t make too much of an impact other than a nice move where he fed in Craddock who after a deft bit of skill let it run too far and the keeper picked it up.

The second half was largely York carving out chances, but our defence held firm time and time again. Pilkington and Kovacs were immense at the heart of defence. Keane played pretty well, closing people down where Nico didn’t; Jarvis was quiet on the right, but made a bit more impact when Claude came on. York had a number of opportunities but we held firm and the result was a fair one. I didn’t mind coming away from York with a draw, especially against such a well drilled and strong team who would look perfectly at ease in the division above.

For the record our away results in the league since and including Cambridge have been:

26/9 Cambridge 4-3 win (Harford)
10/10 Kidderminster 2-1 win (Neilson)
17/10 Altrincham 1-0 win (Neilson)
14/11 Grays 2-0 win (Money)
5/12 Chester 0-0 draw (Money)
23/1 Gateshead 1-0 win (Money)
27/1 Histon 2-0 win (Money)
6/2 Barrow 1-0 win (Money)
13/2 Eastbourne 1-0 win (Money)
16/2 York City 0-0 draw (Money)

That’s all I am writing for now as I am fighting to stay awake! How some folk manage to work nights goodness only knows, my respect goes to them.

I’m going to miss the next two games, which is annoying, especially as they are at home, and I can’t recall when I last missed a home game. However, for once, there are more important things at hand, we are moving home next week (further away from Watford) and so there is packing and moving to be done! My internet connection will be down from Monday until next Thursday and so I’ll be ‘off air’ until Saturday 27th. I’ll still post on Saturday, though it won’t be a match report as such (a bit like tonight I hear you say) just my impressions I suppose.

Right – off to bed – I may be gone some time…


It’s true

At his press conference Richard Money admitted that Nico (White we know about) Gallen and Keet’ are on the transfer list.

Gallen – well we know of his shocked reaction now, as he went to the papers.

Nico wants to stay, really wants to stay – but we can’t afford him if we want to bring others in to develop the squad. No one can doubt or could ever have doubted his commitment to our club. In that regard he is a modern legend. However, at times this year it has been apparent that he has been off the pace and also unable to pass a ball properly which is a shame. Also, his errors in the last third have cost us a number of games and points now – as well as a cup replay at home to Southampton, so he is costing the club money in lost revenue as well as wages. Like Mick, his loyalty and pride in LTFC have always shone through, but those alone don’t guarantee a place. Anyway – someone has got to want him for him to leave the club. Perhaps now Mick is in charge of QPR (again) he’ll take him and Gallen?

Keet’ I’m most disappointed about. He hasn’t signed another contract and so, if he is to be off in 6 months any way, the club may as well try and cash in between now and then. He’s our best holding player by far, and don’t forget he did the winning assist for Gnapka at Wembley in April. He’s a better player now than when he was appearing in the championship for us and will be a big miss.

As for Salisbury, I know they are not a bad team in this division, but realistically we should be beating sides like that 2 or 3 nil at home. There is a pitch inspection in the morning so we will know first thing whether or not it is on. Personally, it means a trip to Waitrose with the Mrs if it isn’t so clearly I’m willing the ref to give it the go ahead in the morning. I wonder what the ref will do tomorrow. Presumably he will turn up at about 8:30 to find the club officials and Richard Bird. Presumably he will stomp around and give it the go ahead if it is okay. But then what does he do for the next 4 hours? Will he pop to the Arndale centre to do a bit of shopping? Will he hang around the car park and have a snooze in the car? Perhaps he lives locally so he will pootle back home. Maybe he will nip into the WhiteHouse for an early morning ‘cup of coffee’…


No Holiday for Eastbourne

A first goal from Barnes-Homer, a poachers pair from Gallen and a cracker from Jarvis meant that the mighty Hatters humbled lowly Eastbourne Borough.

It was a funny game for me as I was one of the lucky Diamond season ticket holders to get a couple of seats in the beach huts to watch the game. It at least meant that I have now watched games from all four sides of the pitch which I guess not everyone can say! Whilst Beech Path has never been the most salubrious part of Luton to walk down – unless of course you enjoy doing the ‘dog-shit two-step’ – it is a bit of a transformation once you walk through the door into the Executive Lounge. A friendly greeting and having a programme passed to you made a nice change. And I was pleasantly surprised by the Executive Lounge. I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t sure how they could fit a huge lounge in the inches they have between Beech Path and the pitch.

Anyway there was lager – that fizzy pop Amstel that you get when you go on holiday to Corfu – and plenty of things for the ladies. Then they brought out the food, and the hordes descended. The food definitely fits into the ‘boys party food’ category. There were pies, scotch eggs, pizza slices, more pies, sandwiches and some pies. The only downside was that the lounge appeared to be full of racist thugs from the EDL. Seemed slightly strange that 2020 had been so swift to distance itself from the Luton-badge-wearing anti-muslims in the demonstrations earlier in the year, whilst only too happy to let them into two of its executive boxes. I welcome any comments from Gary and Stephen on this.

Anyway that aside, it was slightly surreal that we had more people in our executive boxes than Eastbourne had travelling fans, even when the coach turned up at half time to double their numbers. Actually there was a danger for a short while of there being more people in my executive box than Eastbourne had travelling fans.

We were handed the team sheet and I couldn’t fathom the selection initially. No White, Blackett on the bench, three strikers and two right wingers. Only when they lined up at the start (and having braved the elements and dragged myself away from the prawn sandwiches) could I see the starting line up: Pilks in goal and his twin back at centre half with Keane. Jakey Howells on the left with Newton at right back. Craddock on the left wing, Gnapka on the right with Jarvis and Nico in the middle. Gallen was up top with Barnes-Homer.

However, it wasn’t long before it was a case of as-you-were. I guess we could have predicted that they might be a little slow out of the blocks having not had a game since the 12th and being as full of Christmas pud as I was of pies and scotch eggs. Eastbourne pressed forward well and Taylor got the ball to Crabb who seemed to slot the ball through Pilkington’s legs.

But that was it, we didn’t really look back from there. Claude bombed down the right, unfettered by their defence and over hit his cross to Craddock who picked it up on the left, powered into the box with the ball and shot at goal. The shot itself would have gone wide but fortunately Barnes-Homer was in the right place and side footed it hard into the net from about 5 yards out.

We pushed forward well from this point. One thing to note was the most spectacular, brilliant but inept dive from Mr Gnapka down the right wing, just inside the Eastbourne half. It would have given young Tom Daley a run for his money. He hung in the air for what seemed like two seconds, hands out in front as if leaping into a pool. I almost expected someone to appear with one of those huge paper rings they have at the circus for the human-cannon ball, (or those funny dogs with ruffs round their necks) and for Claude to perform a magnificent forward roll having dived through it.

Then Nico managed to find one of his own team from a free kick (a rarity in this game) Barnes-Homer layed off the the ball to Craddock who shot, and the ball was excellently parried by the unlucky Knowles only for Gallen to pounce at the post and to expertly slot the ball in from a couple of yards as easy as me popping a scotch egg into my mouth.

The attacking continued, the third goal was almost a carbon copy of the second: Craddock had a cross or was it a shot? Knowles parried and Gallen tucked it in from a couple of yards out, this time as if popping a nice slice of pork pie home. 3-1.

A comment on this stage about Tom Craddock. He must have got pretty hacked off last year with Mick hanging him out on the left to dry, but this game (and in the second half of Cambridge by all accounts) whilst he was out on the left he wasn’t too wide and looked to cut inside and shoot wherever possible. He was involved in each of the first three goals and looked lively. Okay, we can put it into context – Eastbourne are part-timers and not very good, but Craddock looks good under Richard Money. I love strikers dribbling into the box with the ball at their feet, it is what defenders like the least. Perhaps it is because I was brought up with a diet of Paul Walsh?

Barnes-Homer also looked promising. He is a strong player who thrives from driving into the box. If he hangs around he will get a hatful for us over the next couple of years.

Nico was disappointing. Clearly Money has been working on him playing balls through the defence for the oncoming strikers to run onto – a laudable notion indeed, but I counted three attempts before he found his own player. His delivery from corners was piss-poor. I know I sound like my Dad, but how difficult can it be to consistently play a ball at pace into the same area for a player to head? I swear I could have made a better attempt on two or three of them.

The second half was a much duller affair – but Money is a canny operator. He knew that if Eastbourne had gone one back (however unlikely that might have been) then 3-2 could become a disastrous 3-3. Instead, having to bring Gnakpa off for an injury he introduced Blackett, pushed Keane to right back and pushed Newton to right wing. We were less sharp in the second half but didn’t allow them to get back into the game. Once Barnes-Homer limped off with cramp and we brought on Hall into midfield we had the game in control. Ten players in the middle of the pitch largely cancelled themselves out. Nico was furthest forward of the midfield and linked up better with his pal Gallen who was on his own up front. It was quite surreal to see Nico further forward than Craddock for the latter part of the half. Who would have predicted that?

Anyway – the last significant action of the game came when Nico and Gallen linked up to send Jarvis clear outside the box and he finished brilliantly (yet again) to make it four. Jarvis had an excellent game, and it is his improvement which has given Money a headache in midfield. Personally, I would like to have Keane partnering Jarvis in there, but Money has carved out a new role for Nico and so he has to accommodate him somehow.

Apart from some amusing histrionics from the Eastbourne player who seemed to be named after Enver Hoxha (the former Albanian dictator) and a few more chances for both sides the game was sewn up and in the bag.

One thing to note was the funny little linesman on the touchline in front of the boxes. He would peer over the top of the corner flag at corners like a blonde Chad, and seemed to be on first name terms with the balding and hapless Knowles in the Eastbourne goal. In the first half as the Eastbourne defenders pushed up to catch Barnes-Homer offside he flagged, and when the ref blew up the Eastbourne players all seemed to turn and have a pop at the lino. When play restarted he piped up “Sorry keeper, I went too soon”. I couldn’t help advising him (from close quarters) “I used to have that problem son: it’s all down to experience”.

More scotch eggs anyone?


Ins and Outs

Back from bonny Scotland, and ahead of today’s game at Rotherham I thought I would post my opinion for what it is worth on the players coming in and those leaving.

On Thursday we had three players leave, one (in effect) permanently and two on loan, whilst bringing in one player on loan and one (in effect) permanently.

Out first of all.

The biggest shock for me and disappointment too was Andy Burgess. Perhaps it is sentiment, but I did like the idea of a proper Hatter in the team, fulfilling his lifetime ambition for playing for his club. I agree that he is not the quickest left winger (not really a winger is he? More of a left midfielder) however we did see a glimpse of what might be when he played those gorgeous through-balls when playing in central midfield against Rochdale. To think that we had a player who could play like that, yet let him go to Mansfield – our rivals for promotion – cost me two hours sleep last night.

Now Richard Money is truly his own man. He truly knows his own mind, and that is refreshing and a very overdue and welcome change. We will have to go with him on this one because he obviously has a very clear view of how he wants us to play and the players he needs for us to play like that.

He was honest enough to make his thought process very transparent. There are two central midfield places up for grabs, and he had five players for those two slots. He said that Asa Hall had the ability to score 14 goals last year for us in the division above, whilst Rossi Jarvis had captained England C and therefore must have some ability. Fine – but what he didn’t mention was the elephant in the room. Nico. Once again he has assumed that Nico’s position in the team is a given. I’m sorry but on current form alone, Nico was very much fifth in that list behind the others.

In the last two games he has persevered with Nico in the middle with Keet’ Keane. Against Cambridge there was huge gap between the midfield and the front two, and of course Nico set his personal ship on a course to self destruct with 10 mins to go.

For my two penneth what would I have done? If you are going to play two central midfielders I would play Keet’ holding and one of Burgess and Hall attacking. I think he has missed a huge trick by getting shot of Burge. I would have loaned out Rossi Jarvis to get some matches under his belt. Perhaps he did try that and no one would take Jarvis (or indeed Hall?) or they wouldn’t go.

Rant over, on to the next two.

Rio Charles was an obvious candidate for a loan. He had been very marginalised since Money took over and is off to sunny Kidderminster. I wish him well. Of all of the players on our books he has looked the most lively and in form since getting back to full fitness.

Steve Basham – we saw a snippet of his finishing abilities in the first 28 minutes against Rochdale, he looked like he knew where the goal was, though short of fitness. Well he has gone to struggling Hayes to get some ‘games under his belt’.

Both of these players are due back from their loans in January, and RM says that they are very much still part of his plans. We’ll see.

On to the players coming in.

Matthew Barnes-Homer. Already commented on his name in this blog when we played Kiddy, but not his powers. When he played us he was a nasty bit of work, getting in our players faces and keeping them on their toes – not least Ed Asafu-Adjaye. He is quick and strong, and has scored 34 goals in 77 starts at Kiddy since July 2007. Money says he has always had his eye on him and we have in effect bought him. Though we can only sign for a month on loan in this emergency loan deadline, he will be coming on a 2 1/2 year contract from January I think the fee of £75k was mentioned too. If he continues his scoring rate of one goal every three games (to put it in context Steve Howard’s career record is similar at .3) then that will be very good business.

The last individual coming in was a complete stranger to me, Ashley Cain (a headline writer’s dream name) who is a nippy winger who can play on either flank here for a month from Cov, and rescued from a plastic stadium to a real one.

Neither of the new players will play today against the Millers, but obviously will be available on Wednesday night against Kettering.

Overall what do the new signings, plus Mark Nwokeji say about Money’s footballing style and ambition?

Since Enoch and perhaps Carlos Edwards left, I don’t think we have had anyone with pace in the team, and now we do. Two very nippy forwards, and a nippy winger. What does this say about the way we will play? I would suggest that we perhaps will be a counter attacking team, able to get the ball away down the wings for Newton and Cain or through the middle, catching out lumbering non-league centre halves pushing up for off-side.

As long as we play a fast, short passing game, I don’t mind. Having this sort of player would suggest this is more likely.

What does it mean for Craddock and Gallen up front? I suspect Nwokeji is the joker to be played from the bench to keep those tiring defenders on their toes, whilst Barnes-Homer will start – but who for? Craddock has just rediscovered his goalscoring boots and Gallen has had a fine season. Knowing our luck of course, this sort of selectorial luxury is just navel-gazing self-indulgence because based on previous fortunes, one or two of them will get injured shortly and so we will only have two available anyway.

What does it mean for Liam Hatch who will be available eventually? Come January and if Nwokeji stays we will have a total of Hatch, Gallen, Craddock, Nwokeji, Barnes-Homer, Rio and Basham available. A clear surfeit of strikers.

So onto the cup game today. Porno rejoins the squad after a long absence due to his pinky.

We have won the last five home games on the trot, a statistic I never thought I would type. Can we make it a cheeky 6? Stranger things have happened, and we need to be a damn site more disciplined in the last 10 minutes if we are going to win this sort of game. But it will be another good test against a side a whole division above us – galling though it may be to be able to say that about Rotherham.

I suspect RM will want to keep it tight, keep Nico and Keet’ in the middle of the park and hope for the draw. We’ll see.

Predictions? The optimist in me says a cheeky 1-0; the pessimist says a reality check of a 2-0 home win.


Town 2 Gowns 2

I couldn’t believe it. Another farcical end to a game where we were in a comfortable lead. It’s becoming a habit.

Cambridge didn’t deserve a draw in this game, but our own self-inflicted indicipline brought them back into the game, and, just like against Rochdale in the 3-3, I suspect if the game had gone on for 5 more minutes we would have contrived to lose.

I was rather hoping, bearing in mind how we closed the game down at Rochdale, and how Walsall played under Richard Money that we had learnt our lessons. Oh no.

Nico was like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in this game. The net score without his involvement would have been a 1-0 win. It was his cross from a free kick which Gnapka forced home after an hour.

Tom Craddock made it two with a wonderful goal – he received pass in space from Newton and turned and blasted past their keeper, with me thinking he should have laid it off to the oncoming Gnakpa. It was a great goal and would have been a fitting cap to a good 2-0 victory.

Then, two minutes later it was time to send in the clowns. Nico decided that it would be sensible to pass to Murray accross the face of the goal, unfortunately it wasn’t Murray he passed to but Willmott I think whose shot was then saved by Pilks only to parry it to the sub, Danny Crow (who has hardly scored all season) and who couldn’t really miss. Righty ho, 2-1 – but only 9 minutes to go.

But, what now? More panic stations as Murray was then penalised for doing something naughty in the penalty area – but from the Kenny End, I’m blowed if I could tell you what it was. But, Kevin Pilks was too good for the penalty taker, he did the old trick of leaving two thirds of his goal exposed, having danced all the way across the line, tempting Holroyd to put it into the wider space, only for Holroyd to try to out think him (not easy for a footballer) and he drove it to Pilks. Marvellous – the runes were with us after all I thought.

Wrong again. On the stroke of normal time their keeper took yet another free kick which Murray opted to deal with and tried a defensive header away but it hit the top of his head and looped over Pilks and onto the post didn’t head very well and headed it backwards into the post it bobbled out from the post across the face of the goal and out to Cambridge’s right on about the edge of the 6 yard box. But who should come flying in to the rescue – none other than SuperNico who dived in and up-ended Crow who flew through the air with the greatest of ease. He grabbed hold of the ball and made no mistake with the penalty.

When you need cool heads to take control of the game, having hotheads like Nico means that our penalty area become panic central. Such a shame when we did all that work to get 2-0 up after a grafting first half.

So going through the team – there was a mild stir when Alan White wasn’t named in the XI or indeed the new boy Nwokeji. I understand Alan White had a head injury whilst Nwokeji was ill. Not sure about Asa Hall though, seems that perhaps he is a bit marginalised. Ironically of course Hall was in midfield for the Rochdale away game when we didn’t manage to throw a lead away. Actually, coming back to Nwokeji, he would have been perfect for this game – he would have sprung their offside trap with his pace and made their two lumbering centre halves look like zombies trying to catch a whippet.

Kevin Pilkington – apart from having two penalty saves to make and to parry Willmott’s shot, I can’t recall him having too much to do. He chose to throw the ball out on a number of occasions and whilst his kicking wasn’t terribly long it was pretty accurate without a gale.

Ed Asafu-Adjaye came in at right back, replacing George Pilkington who moved to centre half. Ed didn’t have a terribly outstanding game, he overlapped a coupleo of times and was felled for the free kick that led to the first goal. Pilks was very sound in defence – as usual and Shane Blackett who was impressive and dominated and was very tidy. Murray had linked up well with the forwards before his unfortunate loopy back header and the penalty he gave away.

Gnapka started well on the right and of course got the goal. Nico and Keane were in the middle and I think Money believed his own press conference too much. Orient Cambridge sat deep which meant that having two defensive midfielders ensured that too often there was a hole where a Hall could be linking up with the front too. On the left Adam Newton played well and was substitued towards the end for Jake Howells. We ended the match with 9 out of 11 players being defensive minded – two banks of four it should have been without captain chaos factored into the equation.

Up front we have mentioned Tommy Craddock who played well in between getting caught offside and Kevin Gallen who was instrumental to all of our attacks but who tired towards the end and who perhaps should have been subbed for Rio.

It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom, we dominated the first half without being very incisive but played some excellent football at times, and once we had scored the second goal started attacking really well, again playing some lovely footie.

The person who spoilt the game was the ref – who clearly still favoured a draw even though we were two up and did his level best to ensure it. I wonder if he is related to Trevor Kettle? He could be his twin.

The ref stopped what was not a dirty game for plenty of needless fouls – but didn’t award them evenly – Luton getting penalised for challenges that Cambridge were getting away with. He missed a pretty strong Luton shout for a penalty in the first half when Craddock was impeded but was happy to penalise Murray for something much less. He also can’t count to three as he failed to play the correct amount of injury time at the end.

On to Cambridge – they are managed by one of my least favourite managers Martin Ling. His teams are niggly, nasty little outfits, only too happy to play the offside trap and to go down if a Luton player appears anywhere near. It was easy to con such a poor ref. To his credit his team didn’t start timewasting from the off, but waited 15 minutes, which is something I suppose.

But it is one of those games where it is too easy to blame the ref or the opposition. Cambridge didn’t deserve to get anything out of the game, but we contrived to ensure that the last ten minutes were another farce.

7,458 fans watched the game, which would have been the second biggest attendance in the division above and 5th biggest in League One.

Where do the two dropped points leave us? We move down a postion to 6th with York, Stevenage and Oxford winning, Mansfield drawing and Kettering lost at home, commencing the start of their fall back down the table now that Cooper has gone to Peterborough.

For the record: P20 W10 D6 L4 F27 A20 Pts 36. In fact, since Mick left we have had only one defeat in ten games.

By the way I popped into the club shop before the game where the tills were ringing with joy now the new kit was in. I went up to one of the lads at the back who was minding the stock and said to him “Do you think people have noticed that the sleeves are black? Shall I tell ’em or will you?” He chuckled and said we have to get rid of this batch before we get the right ones in and they are hoping that no one will mind or think that it is a very dark blue indeed.

Mansfield away on Tuesday and what we would do for a repeat of the 4-1. I suspect that Richard Money is not too far off having a side that can string toghether a good number of wins. There’s never been a better time to start.

PS I was desperately trying to avoid the headline “Cambridge give Luton the blues”.


Northern Robbery

First comment – hats off to the 100 or so Hatters who made the trip up North. Lionhearts all.

Secondly Kevin Gallen – two goals, smash n grab – made up for the team’s aberration on Saturday.

Blimey – we weathered a storm for three quarters of the game, Rochdale had chance after chance, but we managed to keep them out time after time.

The goals: Burgess a lovely ball inside (again) to Craddock who crossed it near post to Gallen who came charging in like a 20 year old and bundled it in. The second one – a Nicholls corner reached Pilks at the very far post who kept it in play, the keeper parried it and punched it up in the air, and truthfully it would have gone in had Gallen not helped it across the line.

Rochdale had the majority of the game, but we did to them in the latter part of the game what they did to us at the weekend. We forced them to lengthen their game and once they did that they had nothing doing.

I must say it was most bizarre watching it on the telly rather than being there. You hardly get a full impression of the game and the individual performances – you miss so much. ITVs coverage I thought was cheap and cheerful but quite excellent.

On to the team – more changes from Saturday giving RM another opportunity to see who he has on the books. Shane Gore – my favourite player had a really sound game. Though they had nearly 20 chances – he was only properly called on about twice, and one of them was an absolutely cracking one on one. His throwing and kicking was fine – particularly as he had no target man to aim at. Clean sheet away from home against a side a division higher – on the coach on the way back he will be as pleased as punch and deservedly so.

Right back – Ed A-A was back and had a good game. There was still confusion for most of the first half as time and time and time and time again we allowed Kennedy their left back and best player to cross the ball.

Centre halves – Whitey and Pilks – we have mentioned Pilks key contribution to our second goal, but he made tiny mistakes like miskicks again, but nevertheless we were not punished and some of his distribution was excellent. Alan White was at his tenacious best and I think was even better after he had to watch himself after getting booked. They shall not pass – and didn’t.

On the left Jake Howells had another good game – since Mick left his game has progressed markedly. Overlapped with Burgess when he could he got forward nicely and ensured that their rare attacks down the right were snuffed out.

Right wing – Jarvis seemed to start on the right though he cut inside and swapped with Hall occasionally I think. Played a couple of killer balls in the first half which were too good for the rest of them. His main problem was that he failed to close Kennedy down, allowing him to get his dangerous crosses in.

In the middle – Nico – his corner led to the second goal. He worked hard, but spends a lot of his time catching up with play. Nevertheless when he was in a defensive position he tidied up as well as he has for a while. A few balls went astray going forward, but he played a good through ball first up. Perhaps Nico would make a good sweeper when he finally gets too old to run? Defensively in terms of putting his body/balls on the line he is second to none.

Asa Hall started in the middle and played a few good passes but didn’t manage to get enough of the ball to make a difference until the second half – then he was replaced with Adam Newton after 68 mins. He did try a saucy chip a la Beckham/Alonso to chip the 8 year old keeper, but not unsurprisingly didn’t carry it off the way those other two, marginally better players, did.

On the left – Burgess started on the left despite the manager saying his best position was in the centre – but how do you accommodate him, Hall, Jarvis and Nico? He overlapped with Howells and covered well when Howells progressed forward.

Up front – Kevin Gallen – enough said. Replaced after about 75-80 mins for Rio. Worked hard and his intellegence and knowledge of the game shone out like a lighthouse. In the first half he saved a certain goal with a reflex header off the line.

Tommy Craddock – still no goal, but he worked hard where he could and got the assist for the first. Good night’s work. Replaced by Gnapka/Gnakpa after 72 mins.

Subs – Newton pushed forward down the right and then left, a couple of good touches but not long enough and Claude Gnapka who came on to bolster the midfield and turned it to a 4-5-1 to close the game down for the last bit of the game by crowding the midfield. Rio came on for Gallen who deserved his rest and caused a nuisance and looked lively for 10 mins.

Well done to the Hatters – away to Rotherham now in the next round and away to Grays on Saturday.

I feel a little bit sorry for Grays now, I wouldn’t want to play us on Saturday…


"That man should never play for our club again"…

…were the words of the old boy who sits in front of me and who I have never heard utter a comment before. He was, of course, referring to our skipper Kevin Nicholls who was a passenger in the game. The second half I watched Rushden pass the ball around him, whilst he puffed and panted like a sixty year old smoker playing in the back garden against a team full of kids. Fortunately the new manager would have been watching from the stands probably thinking “Why have they stuck this bloke in? Is he blackmailing the MD?”

In his defence he did two nice passes in the first 20 minutes, one a lovely dink through for Craddock to run on to and hit the post. The other good thing he did was to manhandle Alan White away from the ref at half time. Once again, someone had managed to press Whitey’s mad button at some point in that half.

That was it though, as the game went on he looked more and more out of place. The fastest he ran all game was when the ref blew the final whistle and Nico disappeared up the tunnel like a rat up a drain pipe – fortunately not quite quick enough to avoid the constructive comments issued from the front few rows of the main stand.

Oh – I haven’t mentioned their first goal have I? Do I need to? Nico tried his hardest to lose us the game in the very last minute against York. He went one better in this game by getting the ball stuck under his foot, slipping over and gifting the ball to the Rushden player who ran on and slotted the ball home.

As I’m on the Nico bashing theme let’s do a few stats – an empirical test if you will:

Games played with Nico:

P12 W5 D4 L3 win percentage 42% loss percentage 25%

Games played without Nico:

P7 W5 D1 L1 win percentage 71% loss percentage 14%

QED – or as that meerkat on the telly would say “simples”.

Right on to the match report, such as it is:

Game of two halves – officially. First half it was all us – we had the ball in the net twice and Craddock et al had plenty of chances. It looked a breeze and only a matter of time. We were getting the ball behind R&Ds back four time and time again and looking good on the ball. Second half – we were appalling. Our game dropped significantly whilst R&D raised theirs considerably. I think the main difference was that they closed us down rather than letting us play and played further up the park. What they did do was to time waste from the first minute. I’ve not seen too many sides do that, but they did. Shockingly. But who said cheats never prosper? Rushden’s finishing and crossing in the first half, and frankly for much of the second were woeful. Sub-non league. Which probably states how poor we were.

Tyler hardly got a touch all game, apart from a couple of good saves in the first half and a nice save in the second, most of his effort was expended in picking the ball out of the net.

Ed A-A was in the mood to impress his new boss, he tackled and passed well all game and was let down by his team mates. The only criticism I had is that he didn’t push forward enough when we were attacking. He should be an option for the winger to lay the ball back to and cross, or should overlap – but too often Newton (and then Gnapka) had to search for him.

Pilks was sound as ever. I’m hoping that he will be wearing the skippers arm band from next week onwards.

White had a good game. Not only was his heading and tackling good, but his running and long passing were impressing. Got into their box once and laid off a cracking pass hoping to get a 1-2 from Craddock. He also played a super crossfield ball to Burgess at one point (I think it was Burgess – happy to be corrected).

Howells, was slightly more subdued and got caught in possession a couple of times but still managed to put in a good performance.

In midfield, Jarvis started on the left, though he did keep swapping with Hall who started in the middle in the ‘hole’. Jarvis was far too narrow – or rather perhaps felt he had to come inside to get the ball- but he hardly touched it in the first half. I was surprised when it was Hall and not he who was substituted. And this first substitution turned out to be an error, as I will mention later. Once Burgess came on for Hall, Jarvis swapped into the middle, and was still anonymous, and was then replaced by Gnapka/Gnakpa after 70 mins.

Have I mentioned Nico yet? Right, onto Adam Newton through whom most of the play went in the first half. Good game first half and then was swapped into the middle with the introduction of Gnapka/Gnakpa.

Craddock looked lively and hungry in the first half, but hardly got the ball in the second. I was delighted when he put the ball in the net for what I thought was a good goal, following on Ed A-A’s thunderbolt shot well parried by the keeper. But it was ruled offside.

Poor Tom. I so want him to score for when he does the goals will start flooding in. Come on Tommy – perhaps the new manager will get him scoring again. One thing to mention about his game though, once again he got booked for another stupidly obvious handball this time from a corner. Don’t know why he does that.

Gallen played well; again good effort, without perhaps the finesse he has offered previously, which I suppose is understandable bearing in mind this is his first ‘proper’ game back after the training game last weekend. One thing to mention though was his sublime chip over the keeper for the first disallowed goal.

Back to the substitutions. Rio and Burgess were warming up and were stripped off ready to come on- but only Burgess came on. Then Gnapka came on (and looked the liveliest of them all) for Jarvis, and then White took a knock and was replaced by Freddie Murray. No Rio. How did we manage that? We left the liveliest and the player most likely to score on the bench in a game where we needed to get a goal. Dropped the ball there.

What should we have done? Well, if we needed to bring Burgess on – then Jarvis was the obvious choice for the substitution and Gallen for Rio. When White got injured we could still have brought Gnapka/Gnakpa on and swapped Newton to right back with Ed in the middle. Or, God forbid, just played three across the back.

So, all in all, unsatisfactory and 2-0 was a piss-poor result in a game we could and should have had sewn up in the first half.

Richard Money – you have plenty to do, including having the balls to drop the skipper.

P18 W9 D5 L4 – Pos – 5th still. But 11 points behind that 1st place.


Hall of Fame

A cracking strike from Asa Hall gave Luton a well-deserved equaliser in what was an enjoyable game against a well organised York side.

Luton started with the same XI who started against Altrincham – another rarity over the last few years of not changing a winning team – though in a different formation. Howells, Pilks, White and Ed made up the back four. Pilks got man of the match and he played really well, but I was also really impressed with Howells, who got forward nicely and whose game seems to be growing quite nicely. Ed played soundly – got forward on a good few occasions and had an outstanding shot from about 30 yards out which brought off a spectacular save from their keeper.

In the midfield, Hall started on the left, but not particularly wide, and didn’t get too much of the ball. In the second half he drifted more and more into the middle behind the front two and it from there where he got his goal. Nico played a few good balls, however seemed way off the pace and blowing towards the end. In fact it was an error by him in the last minute which nearly cost us the game. He played a stupid pass across the back which got to their left winger who crossed it and it was literally an inch from the toe of the oncoming striker. I think Nico would have been lynched if it had gone in. It was Nico’s own daft over-exuberance which led to their first goal. The ball had been cleared out by their centre half and it was bouncing out towards touch with Nico chasing it rapidly with the intention of grabbing it and taking a very quick throw. However as the ball bounded towards touch with Nico in fast pursuit you could see Nico’s brain calculating “line…ball…line…ball…line…ball…d’oh” unfortunately he got it wrong and grabbed the ball before it had gone out, right in front of the lino. The resulting free kick (taken about 15 feet from touch, when Nico had grabbed it about a foot out) led to the goalie pumping the ball forward, it being knocked on, and for once a huge hole opened up between Pilks and White and York pounced.

Gnapka/Gnakpa started on the right and was mercurial throughout. He played a few incisive crosses and some great touches, but also did his fair share of heavy passes, comedy kicks and running into opponents. He entertained throughout though. You are never quite sure which Claude will turn up to a game or indeed which mood Claude is in on the pitch.

Up front was Ben Wright and Tom Craddock. Craddock worked his socks off through the whole game and did us proud. Once again he had a couple of clear cut chances and didn’t manage to bury them. It’s only a matter of time….. Ben Wright was substitued after about 42 mins. He did look a bit leggy, but he was substitued for tactical reasons – when the ball was played up to him he was being beaten to it by the enormous centre-halves and so they bodly brought Rio on in the first half to turn the centre halves round with his pace which is of course what our supersub did almost immediately. He played really well, and on a couple of occasions managed to get crosses in, which from the positon he was in and the pace of the ball he had no right to do but managed it anyway. If only we had a Steve Howard to get on the end of them! He also endeared himself to the crowd as we chased the win by running along the touchline to retrieve the ball for the opposing full back to take the throw. He chucked the ball at the player and it hit him in the face and he dropped it and then took his time to take the throw.

In the second half we dominated huge chunks of the play as York sat back. We made plenty of chances and really deserved to get the winner once Hall’s cracker nearly broke the net. Once again, I think Rio was the spark which improved the performance. Now Wright’s loan is up – will he be in for a start?

No sign of Burgess yet – but he’s not being rushed back and that can only be a good thing. The longer he spends sitting on the bench is more time for him to recover fully and get back to peak fitness.

Some of the daft things that happened during the game: The first ball went flat and it was rolled to Alan Nielson. The second ball subsequently burst and Nielson then rolled the first ball back in play – forgetting that it had been replaced. Tyler cleared the third ball all the way over main stand, and from the looks of it across Hatters Way. Perhaps we need a Dreyer net on the roof of the main stand?

Bring on Grays in the cup on Saturday. I can’t wait. One of these days, one of these sides is going to get a bloody hiding. If we keep making a dozen decent chances in a game, it can only be a matter of time before four or five go in. Once Craddock hits the back of the net, he’ll be banging them in like a squaddie returning home after six months in Afghanistan.

Well done to Alan and the coaching team, it is welcome relief to come to a game against a good team and play pretty well, and to be entertained and not to have to worry about a crappy ref or piss-poor tactics.

P17 (40% of the season) W9 D5 L3 F23 A16 Pts 32 Pos 5th.

The top five of Oxford, Stevenage, Kettering, Mansfield and Luton seem now to be a separate little group at the top. We need to keep up this good run and the results will see us drift up the table and gradually snip away the points between us and Oxford.


Tamworth Tales

A shot within the first minute and four goal attempts in the first four minutes and I thought ‘brave new world’. When Asa Hall scored the first goal from a Hatch nod-on I realised that it actually wasn’t that hard to score goals against mediocre teams. Wright doubled the tally with a lovely finish into the top corner from the left after we all thought he had lost it and done too much.

So the game started brightly and it was a pleasant and strange feeling to go into half time two up. However the second half was a different matter. In the strong wind we sat back too much allowed Tamworth too much room in our half and as a result were on the back foot and resorting to long clearances to get the ball upfield. Tamworth even got a goal, but I didn’t see too much of it and they were back in the game. However things improved a bit 20 minutes from the end as the game stretched and Tamworth committed more and more players forwards. Craddock had a couple of good chances, which he would have finished last year, but not this.

In the press conference yesterday, a nervous Neilson had promised to attack from the off, to play at a high tempo and to take the game to Tamworth. That was the only real difference to previous games, though the players did seem pleasantly unfettered by spurious tactics, strange positions and kept it pretty simple throughout. It was nice to see more shots on goal and less fannying around on the edge of the box when we got near.

Tyler started in goal and had to make a number of important saves to keep us ahead in the second half. Ed started at right back again and never have I seen a player give so many corners away, either deliberately or accidentally. Pilks and a lucky Alan White started in the heart of defence and Murray played soundly at left back, but perhaps could have pushed forward in support a bit more, especially in the second half. White was prancing around and shouting at people in the first half, like a bear with a stick up his arse. I swear one day he will grab a corner flag and beat some poor unsuspecting teammate to death with it.

Newton started at right wing but dropped to right back again (why?) when Gnapka came on for Ed. Newton was the quietest he has been all season and didn’t get much service at all. Hall was in the middle with Nico – Hall played slightly better, whilst being anonymous after the break when he swapped with Jarvis on the left. Nicholls, whilst not being quite as piss-poor as Tuesday was still miles off the pace all game and his touches were atrocious in the first half but he managed to string some passes together in the second. As soon as Keane comes back he will surely replace Nico in the first XI. Can’t be much fun for Nico because he must be aware that he can’t do it anymore – he might be a bit of a thug, but he’s not a fool.

Jarvis started on the left, and again, apart from a few good through balls was a bit anonymous.

Hatch and Wright played well up front together with Wright taking his goal excellently, both were substituted in the second half Hatch for Craddock and Wright for the effervescent Rio Charles. If things carry on in the same way for Craddock for much longer, Rio will be ahead of him in the queue.

So the first half was promising, and a pleasant relief to score two goals against a weak opposition team, but the second half was dissapointing and not enough thought or shape or balls on the floor.

But it was a start. And it was the first game back on the upward curve having hit the low point. Give them time, and with a decent manager they will come good.