9 v 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on you Hatters.

DM

Advertisements
Standard

Cod Almighty

A triple slap in the face this afternoon: the first home defeat since Crawley in October, Crawley winning after being behind against Wrexham and Jake Howell’s knee looking particularly unpleasant after a brutal challenge by Pond.

It had all started so well – an Owusu goal after seven minutes put us in a deserved lead, but in the same way that Liverpool did against us in the famous 3-5 defeat all those years ago, I think we immediately thought that it was going to be all-too-easy and Fleetwood were only too happy to put us back in our place, within a minute.

It wasn’t the worst performance by a long chalk – had Lawless’ shot gone in, had two of the three penalties been awarded and MBH’s shot been slotted in it could have been different, however, I always got the feeling that Fleetwood always had another gear whilst we were flat out – or rather just flat.

Fleetwood played well and so we didn’t. They were more often first to the second ball and their front players were quick and incisive. They weren’t angels though – plenty of late challenges, niggles, handbags and, oh, knee stamping.

The first half I thought we edged and it was a very good half of football. For the fifteen minutes before the half time whistle we were dominating and half time came at exactly the wrong time. Unfortunately by ten minutes of the second half the match was all over.

After seven minutes Barnes-Homer, England superstar, was played in down the right and eased his way around Gregan, and put in a lovely cross for Lloyd to ease in. Before you could retake your seat Seddon was played in by Viera through a defence squarer than a dungeons and dragon nerd slotted the ball home as easy as you like.

It was only Tyler’s outstretched arm which kept it to one moments later from Viera’s shot. Another easy move strolling past our static defenders.

Lawless whose touches, vision and passing were standing out by this point crossed for Claude who mistimed his header which went over. Claude had a disappointing game today. Actually he had a very disappointing game. I got the impression today that he felt that it didn’t matter how much effort he put in – he could just drift in and out of the game as much as he liked because he backed himself to provide a sparkle, a bit of magic to turn the game. He didn’t. His positional play was poorer than usual. Neither getting into a wide enough position to receive, nor pushing far enough forward when attacking nor tracking back at all when defending. He was all over the shop, he gave us a couple of good runs and crosses all afternoon. His opposing left back today was the veteran dwarf Alan Wright. I just don’t think the penny dropped that he was the weak link in their defence. Our first goal came down their left when Wright was pushed forward and was diddled out of the ball by Claude and Owusu and passed with ease leaving a big hole behind him. Another trick that was missed was that at restarts and goal kicks we had two choices to aim the ball at. Owusu – who was marked by Gregan, equal in height and jumping ability, or Claude, supposedly out on the right, with only Tom Thumb marking him. What would you do? We chose to pump the ball down the middle to Gregan who joyfully nodded the ball away all afternoon. He’s paid to do that you know.

Dan Gleeson had a great chance (he’s going to get a goal one day soon) where he cut inside and ran with the ball before driving a shot at goal which was deflected wide for a corner.

Tyler had to be at his best shortly after when touching over a free header by McGuire (I think it was). McGuire was later carried off – couldn’t see what for – but I think it may have been the legacy of a hard clonk from Owusu, which was payback from an earlier niggle.

Just before half time, caught up in a period of dominance the ball rolled out to Lawless about 22 yards out, he caught the shot perfectly and beat the keeper but unluckily cannoned back off the bar. Goal of the season if it went in – unfortunately it didn’t.

Shortly after Lawless put in a nice ball to Owusu whose nod on found MBH who shot just wide.
And so at half time I felt good. It was a good game of football with two attacking sides who had had plenty of chances. I was thinking it might be a 3-3.

How wrong I was. Tyler, defending the Kenny End in the second half was soon called into action with a full length, but slow motion save from Clancy. A fantastic goal from Barry a couple of minutes later put us on the back foot. After AMS was felled on the left the ref played the advantage, but although no advantage accrued too much time had passed for the ref to pull it back. Fleetwood worked the ball around unchallenged by the Hatters and Barry’s clipped shot flew into the inside of the goal giving Tyler no chance at all. There was no closing down – they passed the ball as if it was a one touch training game, making our defenders and midfielders look like clumsy mugs, including I’m sad to say our normally wholly reliable captain who was off the pace today.

1-2 down at home – goodness, it’s not allowed is it? Cue the Oxygen Thieves in the Kenny starting to boo and the calls of “Money out” started. Amazing. Fortunately for once the boo boys were drowned out by a couple of choruses of “Come on Luton”. There was more grist to the moaners mill 120 seconds later when Barry played in a lovely ball for Seddon to run onto, he danced past Kroca and easily rounded Tyler. They were taking the piss at this stage and our defenders had just switched off.

Money tried to change things around – on came Luke Graham for the disappointing and leggy AMS, who added a degree of sharpness to the back. Gleeson and Howells pushed up as wing backs to partner Lawless and Keano in the middle with MBH, Lloyd and Gnapka up front. Since his injury AMS has been half the player he was when he first started for us, I don’t know if his confidence has been affected, whether he is still playing with an injury or if his initial buzz has worn off because he is being played out of position the whole time, but he’s not the player he was.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see how much impact the new formation would have because Howells was stretched off with his leg in a brace after a karate kick challenge by Pond. How he stayed on I will never know – but I do know that whenever the ref was called on to make a proper decision he didn’t have the balls. He flunked at least two penalties and should have sent off Pond.

More head tennis and little shape followed. Poku replaced Howells, and as we didn’t have any left sided players on the bench (or fit?) we reverted to 4-4-2 with Gleeson at left back Pilks at right back, Claude on the left Lawless on the right. By this stage it was an unwitting buggers-muddle and I don’t think we troubled their keeper, Davies, in the second half. That’s not to say we didn’t have any chances – Luke Graham’s header was cleared off the line and Pilks headed over. But we lacked purpose, spirit and the personnel to take the game by the scruff of the neck and to make something happen. We sold the player who could do that to Ipswich.

The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough. Well done Fleetwood, they knew how to play against us and did us like kippers. Hardly a crisis, our record in the league since the Crawley loss is P15 W10 D3 L2 F30 A8 Pts 33. Unless the wheels come off completely in the next three months we will be in the mix for the play offs at the end of the season. However, whilst I’d be happy getting Wimbledon, I don’t want to be playing Fleetwood again if we can help it.

Scores on the doors:
Tyler: 6
Gleeson: 6.5
Howells: 4.5
Pilks: 4
Krocha: 4
Gnapka: 3
Lawless: 7
Keane: 6
AMS: 4
MBH: 5.5
Owusu: 5.5

Subs: Graham: 7
Poku: 5.5
Walker – not on long enough.

Money correctly pointed out in his post match conference that a number of the players seemed to have an off day at once. Fair enough – get that defeat out of the way – unbeaten from now on until the end of May. Fair exchange is no robbery.

Do we change things? We’d kept 7 clean sheets in 8 games this year. I suspect Howells will be out now for a while, Freddie Murray will be back. Is it time to rest Kroca for Graham too? Though MBH has been setting up goals a plenty he hasn’t scored in seven games. Time for a start for Jason Walker before he loses the goal-touch he had at Barrow? Though Owusu has got four goals in five starts we need a player alongside him to find his touch in the way that Tommy Craddock (remember him?) did this time last year. We desperately need some pace when attacking. Hopefully Willmott will be back soon – and Dan Walker has a good turn of pace. Claude wants his arse kicking for his lack of effort today, but from having a plethora of wing options a few weeks ago, suddenly the cupboard looks a little bare if the first choices are out of form.

Anyway – one defeat doesn’t a season ruin. Let’s get back on track on Friday in Wales.

Thanks for reading – all comments welcome, as ever.

Standard

Duds in the Mud?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some scores on the doors:

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

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

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

Standard