Bruising Encounter (for Pelly’s shins)

lawless

A hard-fought and determined performance from the Hatters saw a well-deserved victory over the whelk-munching spoilers from Southend.

I’ve given myself an hour and two beers to write this so that I can avoid watching Downton Abbey, so let’s see how far I get.

I loved this game. It wasn’t a footballing classic by any means, in fact, brief glimpses of brilliance aside; there wasn’t enough play between the ref blowing his whistle for the game to really get going. It was a stop-start affair. Mainly stop.

How Southend got to fourth before the game God only knows, their shooting was woeful, and their defence alternated between comedy and criminal.  

But we won, and won well. For the first goal, Griffiths played a ball down the channel outside the narrow midfield and full back into space for Lawless to run onto, he took a touch, turned, put it on his right foot and a put in a sublime curling shot into the top corner.  Does Alex Lawless do simple tap ins? He has had more than his fair share of brilliant goals. You can see why John Still was so keen to get him back into the team. He is a constant, intelligent, creative thorn in any opponents side. And long may he remain in our side. 

The second goal was straight out of the Keystone Kops handbook. A big hoof by Macca I think went all the way down to the keeper and there was a sigh of disappointment at giving possession away so easily. But hold your exasperation Hatters, because comedy keeper Bentley passed the ball to the shell-shocked and bandaged Bolger who in his infinite wisdom slipped it neatly to Drury, who despite slipping himself slid it neatly to Cullen who slotted it past the hapless Bentley. Like any goals against a ‘fancied’ team these felt extra special as we have to work much harder for the opportunities.  

Unlike the bad old days, we are efficiently taking the few chances we get, rather than in the dark years when we seemed to need ten clear cut chances to be able to eek out a goal.

In the second half Southend made two substitutions, played 3 up front and came out all guns blazing, until we snuffed their fire out, and then they had nothing left at all. After that point we merely soaked up their pressure, forced them to shoot (badly) from outside the box and play on the counter attack with the ball going forward to the pace of Pelly and the persistence of Mark Cullen. Each time the ball went to Pelly he was hacked down. Only a ref of such spectacular incompetence could allow such a team of one-dimensional thugs to get away with it for so long.

That Dave Penney (Southend’s assistant coach and JS’s pal) was the only one to go was remarkable. Presumably and official with a pair of kahunas would have stamped out the rather clogging Southend tactics early on, but by turning a blind-eye he only sought to indulge them further. He was good at blowing his whistle. Very good at that. Very good at stopping play. But enforcing discipline isn’t his strong point, against us anyway. He did get four cards out for Southend, but he spared them so many more. But a bit of googling reminded me that Mr Kavanagh was the appalling ref for the Woking game back in March (link here) and also the kindly soul who did manage to find a red card for Macca up at Southport at the start of last season. How he managed to get promoted to the football league I’ll never know. Chances are that we’ll only see him once more this season though. 

It really isn’t how football should be played. For the second week running we were playing against a team of spoilers, who prefer to clog and hoof than pass and move. Southend were like Braintree under Devonshire, or Leyton Orient under Ling. A nasty little outfit. There must be something in the water east of Greenwich. Let’s hope that the next visitors at home are the exception to the rule.

But as the match disintegrated into a bad tempered affair it only served to tweak the volume on the Hatters fans dial and maintain the players’ resolve to keep their defensive and personal discipline.  The only slip really, hardly surprising bearing in mind the provocation, was the altercation with Pelly and the aforementioned Penney on the touchline, after the ball went out. After all that, the ref **was** happy to send someone off, but just not anyone on the field of play.

Alas I didn’t see the much discussed ‘ball-boy’ incident. Cheeky lad.

Michael Harriman from QPR (but don’t hold that against him) slotted in at right back as if he has been playing with the team all season. He had a sound game. Our back four does look good at the moment, and with the effervescent Smith and the strong “you should see him when he’s fit” Doyle playing in front of them it is beginning to look like a very effective unit.

Pelly Ruddock got the official man of the match award, presumably as consolation for having chunks hacked out of his shins all afternoon. Though in fairness, it could have gone to Lawless for his performance, Cullen for his effort (not least at being offside all the time), Wilko and Macca, Doyle and Smith and ahem, a certain Mr Andy Drury might have won it on other days. Drury played just off Cullen, his old role, and was back to his best, having previously been on both wings and in central midfield.  Has to be a good player to keep Guttridge out of the starting XI – if you recall Guttridge was our beating heart last year. And just like last year JS is slowly identifying the best formation and the best players in that formation, whilst all the while experimenting and pushing and testing and bringing back players who were injured. Difficult to have a truly settled team I guess, when we have so many good players whose performances demand selection.

Well time’s nearly up – where did an hour go? Off to Hartlepool next week. Or not as the case may be as I will be consuming beer, sausage und sauerkraut in Germany. Some guys hef all ze luck.

Really enjoyed the game and the spirited performance, the sort of resilient display that gets John Still purring like a Queen. 

Standard

Still Adjusting

To lose to a side wearing Ebola-yellow was bad enough, but for the winner to be scored by an ex-Hornet was galling, especially when that ex-Hornet had earlier performed the very same tackle that Robinson was sent off for last week. He received a mild rebuke and a yellow card. Robbo got the book thrown at him. Refs. Don’t ya just love ‘em?

As it happens, I was thoroughly enjoying the game. I thought we outplayed Plymouth certainly in the first half, but the goal just wouldn’t come.

Once again it was a loss of concentration that cost us a goal – we switched off for the briefest of seconds, but it was enough to let them take their chance. Things weren’t helped terribly by Mr Magoo the ref who – when not slipping on his arse or getting in the way of the ball – was terribly good at not being terribly good. Countless pushes on Cullen were missed and Bray, their first substitute inflicted a leg-breaker on Lacey and got a yellow, where we have so often seen red. In a premiership game, Plymouth would have been playing with nine at the end.

After the surprising draw at Accrington and the disappointing performance against a resurgent Shrewsbury (who were a much better team) the game against Plymouth was a chance to right those wrongs and to pop the train back on the rails and inject some confidence and momentum into the team. No such joy. There is a difference between the conference and league two. The opposition are stronger, close you down quicker and break faster than in the conference; the managers are cannier and quicker to adjust their tactics. It is a big wake up call. But once we’ve made and completed the readjustment then we will be fine and able to push on. I think that is why sometimes we are too elaborate in front of goal: we’re not able to stretch their defences and penetrate in the way we did last year. The pace and pressure of dear Andre is being missed.

We started with a 4-5-1 formation. Guttridge sitting just behind Cullen who was on his own up top, with Howells on the left and Rooney on the right. Alex Lacey was at centre half partnering McNulty. Early on, Plymouth, having watched how a couple of our goals this year had been conceded, targeted our skipper. Their early intent being to play the ball over the top behind him to the pacier Reid. Fortunately, we adjusted to compensate for this and this tactic was largely snuffed out: we pushed up less – one man went on Reid whilst the other covered.  He was then toothless until the second half where he moved to the right to torment poor Scotty Griffiths instead.

Rooney is a funny player. At times he looks like a live-wire and our only direct threat, he can play quick balls which get us on the front foot, but occasionally he over-elaborates, takes too many touches and deflates, defuses and denudes our counter attacks. In one fell swoop this man can turn a snappy counter into a slow build up, whether he receives the ball in midfield or up front. He collapses our soufflé. He releases the pressure valve on the opposition. He lets our balloon down.

Pelly and Drury were in the middle. Pelly had an excellent game – driving from box to box – being first to the ball in defence and supporting up front. In little bursts Pelly oozes class.

Drury was certainly better than he had been but not playmaking as he was before he left. He’s still adjusting to how we play, and this division too. He has to do his fair share of breaking up play and chasing down, rather than having the luxury of standing in the centre circle and spraying it around.  He did, however, play some creative and intelligent balls. Guttridge was really effective on the edge of the box and played a number of juicy one-twos with Cullen and others, but it never quite clicked. Griffiths had a hard time of it at left back – he got better as the first half went on, but was caught out of position a number of times in the first half and given a good working over by Alessandro. In the second half, with the introduction of Bray he had Bray and Reid to contend with as Plymouth manager John Sheridan obviously targeted our left side as the chink in our defensive armour.

Mark Tyler didn’t have too much to do. But when called on was back to his best – getting down to shut down a couple of opportunities where Reid had stolen in. His kicking was very accurate to his great credit.

In patches we played really well. On a different day, we would have had the run of the ball and with a bit more confidence we would have slotted a few home, but it was not to be. What is good is that all of this will balance out at some point and we will get the rub of the green and start banging them in.

Plenty of chances came our way:

Guttridge’s direct free kick in the first minute or so which was parried over by McCormick. There was a corner from the right shortly after that, which the keeper had to beat clear.

After a nice build up Guttridge had another chance drawing a low save from McCormick. Good work from Jake on the left cut Rooney in to make a blistering half volley which was just over – on other days that would have been a net-buster.

In the 20th minute Cullen dragged a good chance wide from the edge of the box, having been played in with an incisive ball by Guttridge.

Five minutes later Guttridge again played in Jake, who will be kicking himself for missing a guilt edged chance which was pure Luton.

After half an hour again, good play from Gutts gave Cullen a good chance, but this time dragged with wide with his left foot.

With two minutes to go in the first half a lovely combination of passes between Howells, Cullen and Pelly saw Jake get another fine chance to open the scoring. It would have been a lovely goal – but it wasn’t to be.

The first chance of the second half was a good through ball from Drury to Cullen – but Cullen was just offside.

A couple of minutes later a deft interception from Jake on halfway let Gutts play a weighted ball in front of the on rushing Cullen. Alas the ball was a centimetre or two too long, otherwise he would have been played in perfectly. As it was McCormack snuffled it up for his umpteenth save.

After 10 minutes in the second half Paul Connolly mistimed his strike at the far post, after a good cross by Griffiths. From the following corner, Pelly picked up a loose ball at the far post and turned and struck it – but it didn’t find a way through and was blocked.

Lafayette, who was brought on to replace Cullen (I think many folk wanted Alex Wall) played a quick one two with Alex Lawless (who had replaced Howells) but Lafayette fluffed his golden opportunity and sliced it wide.

Lawless posed a further attacking threat when getting into the box he crossed it for the on-rushing Lafayette, but Nelson scrambled the ball away before the tall target man could make contact.

With a couple of minutes to go an unlikely chance came from an enormous kick by Tyler – deep into the box Nelson mistimed his header and nearly looped it over McCormack.

The final chance came when Rooney played a deep cross from the half way line towards Lafayette whose cushioned header played in Guttridge who, given a second longer would have got a shot away, as it happens the ball was cleverly taken off his toe and he was flattened in the process.

So, we had plenty of opportunities. Though things smacked a little of desperation towards the end, this wasn’t a hark back to the dark days under Mr Brabin where we’d only make a couple of chances in a match, this was good stuff – good attacking creative play, where we had done more than enough to win. But you have to stick it in the old onion bag, and, like the game against Wimbledon we could have played another 90 mins and I don’t think it would have happened. It was in effect another game from the season before last: dominating, missing chances, not scoring, and being caught on the hop.

Lawless added a spark of momentum and decent crosses. Good to see him back. Last year his return galvanised us. It wasn’t quite enough today. He pushed up as part of a front three when he was on and was an immediate thorn.

One thing to note is that I don’t recall seeing so many players slip over in the game. Is the pitch greasy? Did they all need longer studs? It was peculiar. More people slipped over in this match than the televised bog-farce at the start of the year.

There were two early pointers to the Plymouth goal. Firstly, after about an hour Plymouth were focusing all of their moves down our left with Richard Reid and the sub Bray taking it in turns to power their way through. On this occasion Reid forced his way through the right and put in a good cross for Blizzard to take a snapshot in the middle, just turning the ball wide of the post: alarm bells should have been ringing. Secondly, a minute later, yet another attack down the right saw Bray on the ball spearing down the wing only to go over on his ankle, unchallenged, and he went down as if a sniper hid in box 10 had taken him out (seeking revenge for the dirty studding of Lacey’s shins?) We had the stretcher on and it took a couple of minutes out of the game, but Bray eventually got up and was fine. A couple of minutes later and yet another attack down the right saw Bray run towards our box again. He got as far as the edge of the box and then collapsed again in agony unchallenged. We froze for a second, Reid picked up the ball on the edge of the box, played Cox in, who slipped the ball to Blizzard who skipped around Connolly, a lunging McNulty and a stationary Lacey and slotted in a well-taken goal all with Bray dead on the edge of the box. Had we not gone sleepy-bo-bos when Bray went down Reid would not have collected the ball.

So, Plymouth weren’t anything special at all. Hard working, brutal in the tackle and opportunistic but not a great side. We had plenty of chances to put the game beyond doubt in the first half alone, but didn’t and got caught napping.

Our fortunes will change at some point, we will get that rub of the green and that spark we need to get the season properly started. It might seem as if we’ve not yet settled on the right team, combination and formation but at least we know that John Still has the know-how, experience and common-sense to get us to where we need to be. He’s no liar or bullshitter, if there were problems then he would say. He is finding out about his players and his squad and what they can do in a match situation. I’m not disheartened, just downcast about the latest defeat. A good chance to put things right next week against Cheltenham and I can start looking at the league table again.

By the way – I think I was a bit harsh about Rooney – do you agree?

Standard

More of the same…

1144_canned_dragon_meat
 
A brilliant attacking burst at the start of the game ensured the result with still 75 minutes to play. The mighty Hatters carried on where they left off in the second half against Nuneaton with a magnificent team performance where there were no weak links.
 
Rudderless Wrexham weren’t too bad a side, defending apart. They made plenty of chances and half chances in the first half, could have had a penalty and if the sitters they missed had gone in, the scoreline and the outlook would have been very different, if not perhaps the result. We started with the same XI for the third game running – well, if you can’t stick with the same team when your previous results have been 5-0 and 7-0 when can you? Feel sorry for Mssrs Cullen, Ferdinand, Parry, Lacey and Meade who can’t even get a sniff.
 
What can I say? When the side switches it on and play high-tempo one touch football on the edge of the opponents box we are irrepressible and there is such control, confidence, skill and ability that even when the one twos don’t quite come off, there are still going to be chances, the ball still has to be dealt with and pressure still applied.
 
Ogleby missed a sitter in the opening seconds, his first of many. Our first goal was almost immediately after. It was our first attack of the game and scored after 131 seconds. Gutteridge stroking home from the edge of the box having been played in by that man Benson after excellent persistence by Howells. The second was down to Andre Gray’s persistence as he was presented with the ball a couple of times having seemingly lost it, but he motored on through and struck it home having originally been put through by Franks. The Wrexham defending was a bit like “after you…no, after you…have another go Andre, because we know you are the leading goalscorer in the division after all, we wouldn’t want you to go without”.
 
 
The third goal was a lovely move with a series of one touch passes starting with PRMs pass an culminating in Guttridge bagging his second and his 12th for the season. How Boothroyd must have kicked himself for letting him go. Probably refused to roll around the floor with half an hour to go with his team one up…
 
We had to wait a bit for the fourth, but ultimately Henry got a nose bleed and assist by crossing for Benson after a strangely slow motion move where Wrexham seemingly escorted us on.
 
Despite what JohnStill said afterwards, I thought whilst the second half was disciplined and we played some lovely football it was little more subdued, with the foot off the gas a fraction. We switched to 4-4-2 with Howells and Guttridge on the flanks, though to be fair the attacking movement is so fluid that many of the roles are interchangeable at times. I did think there were times when there was a hole in front of the Wrexham centre halves which would have been filled by a lively Guttridge buzzing around. Howells was felled for the penalty and got up and offered the ball to Guttridge, who, like the consummate professional declined it to allow Howells to pop it home. To be fair, if the ball had rolled slightly differently we could have had three more in the second half. Wrexham did play their part, not hacking us to death but still trying to pass it around, to their credit. Being the superstitious type – I don’t mind us missing a few half chances when we’re five up – I’d rather that then when we are scrabbling around for winner, get your misses out of the way when you are already five up!
 
Meanwhile Richard Money was doing his pieces for Cambridge as their season further implodes. He’s now worried about making the play offs – he’s not bothering about us. He’s thrown in the towel for the title race – as his players Matthew Barnes-Homer et al seem already to have done.
 
Again, our performance and finishing was confident, superb to watch and so gratifying after the seasons of dross we’ve had to endure.  This is, without doubt the best team we have had since we were in the championship. Full credit to JohnStill. He said it might take 20 months  when he started a year ago.  Well – on the anniversary of his appointment we are 14 points clear at the top, with 14 games to go. That means even if we only drew our away games and won all of our home games, Cambridge would have to win each of their remaining games to finish ahead of us. I’ll let you ponder as to the likelihood of that.  Anyway I suspect on current form Barnet will overtake Cambridge shortly. Without Davids they look much better. In any case, maths aside we need to keep the pressure on, play well again on Saturday and let the table take care of itself. Can’t wait until Saturday. My congratulations to the team and the club for extending this breathtaking run of form and results. I keep pinching myself but it really is happening…
 
No report after Saturday by the way as I’m going up to Scotland immediately after the game. They don’t have the internet up there. Last time I was in Glasgow I watched as they burnt a wicker effigy of Tim Berners-Lee. 
 
Come on you Hatters!
 
 
Standard

Un-BULL-lievable

What an excellently enjoyable game of football. That is two outstanding wins in a week. The first in Macc. was a hard earned scrappy win, the sort of game we would have lost in the past, whereas this afternoon was a glorious second-half feast of a victory.

In a game where the referee chose to be lenient on Hereford, but harsh on the Hatters we still managed to romp home. Once we got out of first gear with Andre Gray’s first goal I didn’t think we ever looked like not winning, let alone conceding. And, much like the Nuneaton game two weeks ago, any rustiness or lack of cohesion in the first half was swept away with a tide of goals in the second.

And what goals they were.

The first goal came after nice move and a good interchange on the edge of the box. McGeehan curled in a low shot which the keeper failed to grasp, and in effect parried it to Gray who pounced like a cat on a bird and instinctively poked it in. Good – that was 1-0, pressure off, and playing into the wind. We had plenty more chances, but weren’t quite dominating in the way we can. It all changed when we played with the wind in the second half, but we didn’t succumb to any temptation to use the breeze by playing it long.

The second goal came from an inswinging Howells corner. McGeehan rose well and jumped competitively to win the ball, he hung like a spring salmon in the air, and took one for the team in the process, hurting his arm, and playing like a bird with a broken wing thereafter. Benson got on the end of McGeehan’s header and forced it home. It was probably going to go in anyway to be fair.

The third goal was smartly taken penalty by Jake Howells, however it was not the penalty but the build up to the award of the penalty which was impressive. It all started with a long cross field ball by Scott Griffiths to Howells, on the right. He played it back to Ronnie Henry who fired a fast ball forward to PRM who had lots of room to turn and drive into the box (just for a change!) and play a one-two with Luke Guttridge before being scythed down by the Gypsy-beast James.

The fourth goal was my favourite, and another move that would be more at home four divisions above, or at the Nou Camp. Think quick, sharp, high tempo passing – Luton football at its best. Guttridge played the ball back to McGeehan who played the ball inside to PRM who burst forward and injected more pace into the move on the edge of the box. He laid it inside for Guttridge who drifted to the left then slotted it inside to Benson standing on the penalty spot who touched it back for that man Ruddock who clip/chip/curled the ball perfectly into the top corner. He couldn’t have caught it more perfectly. A beautiful move matched by an exquisite finish. Little fast triangles, impossible to defend.

Three goals still to go, including a hat trick. McGeehan went off shortly afterwards, clutching his arm – he got a great reception as he gingerly made his way to the tunnel. A very lively Matt Robinson replaced him.

Benson started the fifth by muscling the ball back in the centre circle. It went back to Guttridge (there’s a theme here) who played a direct ball forward in front of Gray, which was, frankly a bit cruel. Fast striker vs knackered defender. Only one winner. Gray took the ball into the box and, carefully slotted the ball into the far corner giving the keeper no chance.

On came Jon Shaw, back from injury and on the bench, he replaced Benson, who had had a lovely game. Shaw’s first involvement was under-jumping for a ball, or rather being outjumped for the ball – and I thought ‘here we go again’ but fortunately this is the new version of Jon Shaw and that is the last time that happened.

Another lovely passing move resulted in Guttridge sending Lawless down the left wing stretching the play and getting to the byline. Another player you don’t really want to be facing when you are tired and five down. Lawless got to the byline, crossed it left footed and Gray darted it in for his hat trick of hat tricks this year. Who was the last Hatter to do that?

Last goal came from a free kick would you believe? Matt Robinson struck a right foot shot from 20 yards out, and the keeper made a fantastic save to touch it onto the bar, but the ball looped up and there was not one but two Luton players following it in from about a foot out – Shaw and Lawless, I think they both touched it, or rather the ball hit both of them, with possibly Lawless having the last touch. I don’t know, from where I was stood at the Kenny End I had a pretty good view. My instinct was that Shaw got the touch, but his body language suggested he might be a bit lucky to claim it. Anyway – doesn’t matter it was a goal – a seventh goal – and the drubbing was complete.

Who looked good, who looked bad? Difficult to find someone who struggled in any way. I suppose you could say that McNulty made a couple of uncharacteristic errors in the first half, that Guttridge took a while to get into the game and that Andre Gray shot rather than passing on two occasions once he had had this hat trick, but that was about that, the splitingest of split hairs. The second half saw a succession of confident flowing moves from a side top of the table who are playing like they are top of the table. This is the Luton side we always envisaged and hoped for (and arrogantly assumed) when we dropped down – a class above the rest and looking like a Ferrari in a garage full of Fiestas. 

Hereford, able to live with us for the first half but were simply blown away in the second half as our fitness levels made a difference and our class shone through.

Poor old Hereford. Another proper club fallen on proper hard times. Decent fans. I hope things turn around for them. Of course, it was only five seasons ago they were in league one rubbing shoulders with Leicester, Leeds and Brighton. Mind you, we know a thing or two about falling down the divisions.

We were quality. There wasn’t a weak link. I’m not sure there is a weak link. Players who were out of form when they came to the club (eg Ronnie Henry) and players who were out of form at the start of the year (Griffiths, Gray) have come good and are in top form. Players such as Cullen, Ferdinand and Meade can’t even get in the match day squad, everything is going well. Once again I must take my hat off to the players and the manager JohnStill for their performance and attitude this year, which has been spot on. They are taking it a game at a time, playing with confidence and at high tempo and not getting complacent. Still has filled the squad with willing talent, bursting to impose itself on games. And long may it continue.

Brilliant today, brilliant. It feels good to be a Hatter right now – everything comes to he who waits…

Standard

Gateshead in the rain #2

alex_pud

If it’s Gateshead then it must be raining. A wet afternoon and a cracking game. The Hatters played at such a pace in the first half that perhaps it was inevitable that they would run out of puff at some point. When we did we let in a couple of sloppy goals – but not before we had scored four crackers. On the final Saturday before Christmas,  an excuse for lower crowds in the days before Amazon, just under 7000 Hatters made the place rock and the Oak Road sang like the old days. For a while in the first half we were irrepressible, and at times there was clear blue water man for man between each Luton player and his Gateshead counterpart – for  a little while it was men against boys.

The side picked itself, with Joe Davis slotting in alongside McNulty. Lawless however played on the left, rather than the right, which was interesting. He set up one goal and scored two others and was in fine form.

The scoring was opened by the in form Paul Benson – who led the line superbly all night. It came from a lovely cross from Lawless from the byline across the face of the goal to the far post.

The second was down to Alex Lawless’s persistence in front of goal. Having lost the ball a couple of yards out he tackled the defender span around and lashed the ball in the net with his left foot.

Persistence was the name of the game for the third goal. On the far right wing, but the dugouts Lawless closed down the dilatory Sirrell and the ball ran to his colleague who barely had time to control it before Ronnie Henry intercepted and his interception became a perfect through ball for Andre Gray. Gray took a couple of touches, ran with the ball a little way, didn’t bother to try to create an angle and just blasted it past the goalie into the net. Nothing prevented the goalie from saving it, he wasn’t obstructed or impeded – he was on his line, but Gray just blasted it as hard as he could into the back of the net.

The fourth goal was a beauty too. It began at the back whereby McNulty and Henry tidied up a Gateshead loose ball, with them pressed up the pitch, Henry slotted the ball to Gray on the right who took the ball from his own half and played the ball into the path of Benson who rounded a player and then reversed a shot into the opposite corner. The keeper got his fingers to it, but could only parry the ball to Lawless who calmly slotted it in.

Steve McNulty was simply awesome all afternoon. His tackling, heading and positional play was outstanding. He even had a tete-a-tete with Hatch right at the end with the ex-Hatter (and fellow Mastermind contestant) goading our lovable scouse and picking up a booking in the process. He kept on and on and wouldn’t let it lie (clearly debating that the atomic weight of xenon is indeed 131.293, not 131.294) but fantastically  (in the hypocritical way that cricketers go and have a beer with the bloke whose mother they were slagging off a few minutes earlier at the end of the game) turned around and shook McNulty’s hand the second the whistle was blown. No hard feelings Macca. McNulty also lambasted Lawless for the first Gateshead goal. Nice to see the passion and annoyance about conceding one when four up. Glad it didn’t develop into a Batty/Le Saux tiff.

Scott Griffiths has gone from strength to strength over the past few weeks, he pressed further forwards than usual and on two or three occasions took an active part in play in the box – and even had a shot, a left-back special. His commitment on the touchline and interplay with Lawless was the key to the first goal: he played Alex in to cross for Benson’s header. I think he did go a bit sleepy bo bos for the Heed’s first goal – but I’ll forgive him that.

On the right Ronnie Henry roamed forward on occasion with great effect and brought a challenging extra element for Gateshead to contend with.

Davis was also tidy and competent.  I recall one bone-cruncher of a tackle he did – on the no 7 (Larkin?) the tackle had to be perfect, because something bad would have happened if he had been out by an inch either way.

The middle three comprised of PRM, Guttridge and Smudger Smith. Smith was quietly competent with some composed tackles – he pressed their midfield effectively and never let them settle on the ball. He had an outstanding game. Guttridge was utterly dominant and pulling all the strings in the way he does, more so in the first half than second. PRM at times looked way too good for the conference, between you and me he looked a bit too good for Luton a couple of times. What a difference his presence is making. The original box to box man, driving forward, skipping around people, scattering Gateshead players as he went.  As it happens today, he wasn’t a key contributor, but didn’t need to be. I recall possibly the miss of the season in the second half when he volleyed a Guttridge corner, it’s not many shots that run the risk of going over the roof at the Kenny End.

Gray was superb on the right and tormented Sirell like a cat playing with a dying mouse. Sirrell must have hacked at him, dragged him down, rugby tackled him and all sorts in his attempts to stop him, but without much success – even at that. Gray is in top form at the moment, with 7 goals in his last 5 days. He is tormenting defenders with his pace. Long may he remain at LTFC.

I won’t say anything about the defending for their second goal – basically Turnbill put in a deep curling cross to the far post that evaded everyone but that cheeky-chappy Liam Hatch at the far post. I’m sure JS would have gone potty at conceding that type of goal. Thank goodness it is a rarity these days.

I hope we can build on the performance today and eagerly look forward to the Barnet games and the Kiddy game next week. The Christmas period is key – I must admit we could have had easier ties – but we’ve got to play these sides sometime – they will be fearing us more than us fearing them.

Today’s game, the Gateshead goals aside was a superb performance for the Town. These are the performances and play which you want to bottle and keep forever. The pace, the touches, the vision, the confidence and self belief and the ethos were as good as they have been for a long, long time. It is a pleasure to watch them. How many times in recent years have we been able to say that? There are so many good things going on at the club from the youth team, through the ressies and the first team that I must take my hat off to the club and more importantly to JohnStill and his back room staff. I’m a happy Hatter as at Christmas 2013. By the way, it seems that everyone in the football world is following our recent (but not future) habit of sacking the manager, they’ve been falling like flies this week. I’m pleased to see that we’ve extended JohnStill’s contract.

Some scores:

Tyler 7

Henry 8

McNulty 8.5

Davis 8

Griffiths 8.5

Smith 8.5

Guttridge 8

PRM 7.5

Lawless 9.5

Benson 8.5

Gray 9

 

Happy Christmas to all of you out there who take the time out to read this blog. I wish you all the best and here’s to a successful 2014 for everyone.

Standard