Another one bites the dust

Farewell then Richard Money – my pick for the job when Mick went, but who didn’t lead us to the glory we needed. The performance on Saturday was dire and things had to happen. Fair play to RM that
he didn’t stick it out to the bitter end.

I’ll miss his press conferences – I’ll miss his complete re-interpretation of events I had witnessed with my own eyes. I’ll miss his incessant tinkering and his predilection for buying countless strikers and wingers. I’ll miss everyone having to come back for corners without leaving anyone up.

I won’t miss the dross we’ve been playing recently. He had – to use the common parlance – ‘lost the changing room’. The players weren’t playing for him or for anyone really.

They need a kick up the backside from an angry Scouser – fortunately, we have one waiting in the wings.

What I’d like to see:

Hatters play football: fast, high tempo passing football, closing the opposition down in their own half.

Some goals
A settled team
A settled formation
Some creativity in midfield
Some decent wing play and crosses
A genuine poacher in front of goal
Youngsters blooded instead of going into the market place.

But most of all promotion.

Money’s record was: P83 W45 D21 L17 – too many losses and not enough wins – even though that ratio is very high in the scheme of things. But let’s remember he inherited a team that was evicted from the league – not because we weren’t good enough but because of the arbitary and unfair points deduction by the FL and FA. We should have murdered this league, and perhaps now we will.

One final point, will they have changed the programme notes in time for tomorrow’s game?

I wish Richard Money well. As I said before he is complex, sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, slightly antagonistic man, but a man who I think is honest and likeable and passionate. Whatever he did on the field, at least he was man-enough to fall on his sword off it.

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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

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Richard Money

Just a few thoughts and comments on our Mr Money, indulge me awhile. Before the Tamworth game a week ago Richard Money recorded an interview with Ian Pearce of 3CR which I hadn’t listened to, but I heard others refer to it at the game and Pearcey also referred to it in his post match interview. Things haven’t got much better since I drafted this article after the Tamworth game.

Having now listened to it I thought I’d post a reaction to his understandable comments about the unacceptable comments and behaviour towards him – but try to attempt put into context why it is so bad.

Before I continue I want to make the following statements lest my ramblings below get mis interpreted:

I still support Richard Money and his tenure as manager at LTFC, I don’t wish to see him replaced at this time. He is a complex, sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, slightly antagonistic man, but a man who I think is honest and likeable and passionate.

I do not support or associate myself with violent or foul mouthed behaviour towards an individual, apart from a few shouted comments at the ref occasionally borne out of frustration. Being a father myself, I never shout an offensive word when I know children are directly within earshot.

I think whilst RM appreciates that Hatters fans dislike being in the fifth tier and want to get out as soon as possible, can he truly understand or comprehend the deep-seated frustration and angst caused by our predicament? The actions, conduct and anger of Luton fans is magnified, enhanced and intensified by the fact that we, the supporters, are not supporting a team in non-league because of our actions, not because of the actions of the eleven players who have turned out and (mostly) given their all on a Saturday afternoon. But because of the actions of others. The others in this case being the crooks who ran the club before 2020 and equally the FA and FL whose unfair and unjust points deductions ensured that the 30 point deduction was just too much for a club down on its uppers.

A lot of people in life get dealt a bad card and suffer terrible misfortune none of which is down to them. There are others in life, the feckless, whose actions result in their own downfall. However neither of these scenarios applies to Luton fans. We have had to live with the consequence of the actions of others. We are the shop floor workers who are out of a job because the directors gambled away the profits and the taxman closed the factory down. It wasn’t because we weren’t working hard enough or putting in enough effort. We are enduring the punishment for someone else’s sins and a harsh punishment at that.

I think that it is because of this utter, utter frustration as to our position that the whinges the moans, the booing comes out like it does. We are desperate to get out of this and be able to start
to hold our heads up high again.

We want to know that it will be okay. We want to know that we can out of this. We want to know that it will be alright in the end.

If we knew that the FA and FLs punishment was that we had to spend one or two years in non league, but after that we would be back in the league, like a sin bin, then we would just ‘do our time’ and get on with it. But they have given us an open-ended sentence. That is the frustration. That is what it boils down to. An open ended sentence which we, the supporters, are powerless to do anything about – other than turn up in our numbers home and away (which is what we have done) and support the team, which is what the vast majority have done. It is this powerlessness and frustration and restlessness and heartache that we all feel, that sometimes boils over into the unacceptable actions of those less well able to control themselves.

Human beings have various outlets for frustration, anger being one of them. Humans also have in-built coping mechanisms for frustration too – one of which is to remove yourself from the situation that is making you frustrated. But unless you stop being a Hatter completely, or stick your head in the ground and just stop following whilst we are in non league, it is impossible not to endure our plight. We can neither control it nor remove ourselves from it. It is impossible to do anything about where we are, other than having to live through it.

We are enduring a nightmare. In future years we will refer to the dark days of non-league as if it was a nightmare which we by then will have woken up from. But right now we are going through it. Right now we are trapped in a situation which we all would do something about if we could, but are reliant on others, ie Mr Money and his team, to do something to extricate us from this sentence/nightmare/frustration.

Just think of the relief when we do go up, whenever it is. The curse would have been broken. The time would have been served, the abscess lanced. Once we are back in the league we can do something about getting us back to where we truly belong. We can start the process of moving up the league but on our terms and on a level playing field, not on the back foot.

So, in conclusion, whilst the anger and vitriol poured out at Money and the team on occasions is utterly wrong, the booing and general ignorance and dissatisfaction is borne out of frustration, not so much of the immediate performance of the team itself, but I think because of the circumstances we continue to find ourselves in. I suspect the anger will intensify before it improves – the boil will get bigger before it bursts – the coldest part of the night is indeed just before the dawn. Rightly or wrongly, if we get so near, but fail to go up again this year, the anger and continued objectionable behaviour will intensify and spill out like it did against York last year. It is not right, it is not excusable, but it will get worse and worse and worse until and after the point of not going up. Unfortunately it is raw human nature. Inexusable, but irrefutable.

To Richard Money, if he was sitting here with me over a pint I would say: “Bear with the fans, the majority of which want you to do well. They want Luton to go up, plain and simple. As the end of the season nears, if we are not strutting to victory, expect the nastiness to continue and to worsen. This is not right, it is not excusable, but I suspect it will happen. It will be fantastic if it doesn’t but I suspect it will. The agony of the play offs will be a nerve-wracking time for all concerned and that will mean that people will get louder and nastier with their actions and comments to you personally if you don’t delight them with results. Promotion will be an enormous weight lifted from everyone’s shoulders. We can breathe again at that point. We can start to put the embarrassment of the non-league years behind us and start to exist on level terms with others again. If you can do that then the easing of the pain and frustration will reduce the vitriol. You would be the manager who lifted Luton out of non-league. You won’t quite be a hero, but you will have a notch on your CV – you will have shown us that you can provide something to believe in. You would have given us that hope for the future. At present people are not quite sure. They want to believe, but until you actively demonstrate that you can deliver us from the fifth tier there will always be doubts. Get us out of non-league and the doubters will be on your side. They might still not trust you, or like you, but you will have shown that you can do it. You will have shown that you can achieve. If you can bear with us warts and all, we will bear with you. If you can deliver, the relief at the Kenny will be tangible, audible and worth (most of) the pain. Luton fans are fantastic friends but bloody awful enemies. ”

So I wrote this a week ago. Since then we’ve had two below par performances and only excuses not reasons for the poor performances. I don’t know what’s wrong with the team. I know there’s no proper wing play and that the ball is being humped up the middle. We can’t buy a goal. Something’s wrong.

We’ve brought in-form striker after in-form striker, good midfielders and wingers and turned them into toothless tigers. It’s like there’s a blunting process that goes on where all of the form and sparkle a player was showing is gradually squeezed out of him – leaving him a shadow of his former self. Somehow we’ve been turning Alfa Romeos into Citroens. With the squad we’ve got we should be tearing sides at this level apart. But we’re bobbing along, not playing well, scraping through, but managing to do just enough.

This form isn’t play-off winning form. I’m not sure that everything is all right in the changing room, it can’t be. It’s not clicking. It’s not just bad form, it’s something else.

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The Silence of the Lambs

I think you could describe this evenings performance as ‘workmanlike’ but comfortable. We did what we needed to do against a well-drilled side hell-bent on closing us down and ensuring we didn’t have to room to play as we liked. Fortunately we made plenty of chances to ensure an untroubled home win.

So many times in the past this has resulted in a draw or a catastrophic defeat but we were competent enough tonight to ensure that Tamworth weren’t given a sniff. I did wonder, once they went a goal down, if Tamworth had a plan ‘B’. They didn’t. If anything they squeezed us more in the second half giving us even less space. Despite the lack of room and some players having two or three men on them as soon as they got the ball, we still managed to knock the ball around nicely at times and get plenty of shots in and so credit is due for that. Tamworth knew what they had to do – they came with a game plan not to let us have any room and almost succeeded. Their cunning plan was not helped by their keeper Mitchell having to go off injured after only a quarter of an hour and following a scramble for the ball with MBH. He was replaced by a big lump. I have no idea if the big lump is a defender, midfielder or striker. I do know that he seemed to have difficulty in kicking a stationary ball as far as the half way line – which is something you would have thought most men could do – kick a ball 50 yards. I do also know that he was a reasonably good keeper, not afraid to punch or get stuck in, made a good point-blank save and didn’t let his side down.

To be critical he was slow to move for Owusu’s goal and out of position slightly for Barnes-Homer’s but what can you expect? To be critical of us we should have tested him more, put more crosses in and had more shots.

We started with Tyler in goal, Gleeson at right back, Kroca and Pilks at the back and Freddie Murray at left back.

Both full backs got forward when they could – perhaps not overlapping as well as they might, but both got into dangerous positions with even Freddie getting into the box for the first time since he has been with us. Murray really has improved this year – his crosses are excellent, his defensive positioning good (if his pace sometimes lets him down) and his confidence has been sky-high since he returned.

Kroca had another sound game at the back – he is looking more and more in command, and for my money is a better player than Pilks now. Kroca has improved whilst G Pilks has become slightly more inconsistent and error-prone. We are only talking a few degrees here, not a catastrophic loss of form, just a slight, but noticeable decline. Sometimes players are carrying knocks for a whole season or have family problems or worries that affect their game week in week out – they are only human after all. I’m sure Pilks will pick up and to be fair to him apart from a dodgy header today and a couple of stray passes, he didn’t have too much to do and was tidy enough.

On the right was Claude Gnapka – nominally at least at right wing. He drifted around the pitch and in and out of the game all evening. Brighter in the first half than second – I thought after about 55 minutes he was a walking substitution. He needs a good dose of his Mum’s soup. I will pay for her to fly over. At one point he was put clear through into the box. Instead of running with the ball, he found it necessary to dally and to turn around with the ball at his feet not once but twice which gave the defenders the chance to both regroup and also to challenge him.

In the middle was the excellent Keane who was enjoying a full on midfield tussle with his opposite number. He worked really hard all night winning ball after ball in a tightly packed midfield. Well done Keano.

Alongside him returned Alex Lawless for Paul Carden. Lawless is a more offensive player and so gives us slightly more in terms of playmaking and attacking options – whereas Carden strikes me as another Adam Murray/Besta (Money must have a thing for short, balding midfielders). Lawless showed glimpses of his class tonight and should be pleased with his return to the team.

On the left was the bright and lively Jake Howells. Now he also showed some real glimpses of his abilities tonight, but was a bit bogged down and didn’t get into as many wide positions as I would have liked – one counteraction to Tamworth’s crammed midfield would have been to try to get the ball wider down the flanks and behind the defenders which didn’t happen other than Claude once and Jake once. Jake did cross the ball for Lloyd’s header, from an innocuous free kick in the position where we so often concede silly free kicks (such as Saturday or say Southampton away last year for example) and so often leads to a goal.

Up front was Lloyd Owusu who put in his usual 60 minutes of bustling hold ups and nod-ons – but was kept on for almost all 90. He got his 6th goal in 9 starts, an excellent record and his header was well-taken. However having him up front does make us prone to just lumping it down the middle, rather than the slow build up from the back. You can be too reliant on having a big bloke up front to aim for all of the time. It is the easy way out.

MBH was here there and everywhere, putting in exactly the amount of effort we accused him of lacking for so much of the season. He has a funny role. When the ball restarts he is alongside Lloyd up front, but so often he moves to the left or right, linking up with or interchanging with Claude (supposedly) or Jake and the ball is played to his feet and for him to make the play. Again I suspect, in theory at least, if MBH is on the left, Claude is supposed to move in the middle to have a second body in the box. He sometimes does, sometimes doesn’t. The number of times we get crosses into the box and there is only one player in there is criminal. This is because the crosser of the ball is so often the striker who you would expect to be in the box and to pick up the pieces. I am sure if MBH was played in a more conventional role he would have 26 goals by now and not 16. He took his goal well though his crisp shot did take a deflection to beat the big lump for the second occasion.

If there is any criticism of the team recently – it has been a lack of goals, I think this is first time since the Darlo-drubbing we have got two goals in a game. I’m convinced a more traditional 4-4-2 with the wingers wider and getting more crosses in would result in a glut of goals with Lloyd to aim your crosses at and MBH to snap up to loose balls in the box. But what can I say? Some of the link up play and build up which involves MBH deliberately drifting wide is very attractive and also absolutely key to Money’s strategy. I would be happier if we could just get more bodies in the box. Too many times half decent crosses from MBH or even from Murray, Jake or Claude ends up being too long for the lone striker with no one to pick up the bits and bobs.

So there you go – a match report with not much description of the match. If I get a chance tomorrow night I might add a bit more. It was good to get another win – we’ve not made any real ground up on Crawley who drew tonight, as the points difference is only back to where it was before Saturday’s draw. Perhaps Crawley’s result and draw puts the Kidderminster performance and result in a better light now though, one in the eye for the boo-boys and oxygen thieves.

On Sunday now we have to traipse up to Mansfield for the first leg of the FA Trophy. As far as I’m concerned the only time we should be playing at midday on a Sunday should be in a closed-down Watford for the local derby. The twitchy Nottinghamshire police have done us no favours – perhaps they thought the massed hordes of Hatters fans would have too much for them to handle. Let’s hope that the Hatters players are too much for Mansfield to handle instead.

The two legs are excellent practice for the play-offs in May if nothing else…

Nearly forgot, scores on the doors:

Tyler: 6 – can’t recall a shot on target!
Gleeson: 6.5
Pilks: 6
Kroca: 7.5
Murray: 7.5
Claude le snooze: 4
Keano: 8
Lawless: 7.5
Howells: 7
Owusu: 7.5
MBH: 8.5

J Walker and AMS – not on long enough. Why give them such a short period of time to make an impression?

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Luton sparkled, Diamonds didn’t

Happy New Year to you all – today’s game provided a pleasant start to 2011 in a game made more difficult by some strange refereeing.

Other than the ‘show in the snow’/Dancing on Ice this was the first proper call to arms in the league since the victory against Histon at a time when Wagner and Ann Widdecombe were still very much contenders. We had our own version of them running the line and blowing the whistle this afternoon.

We made one change to the York game with Dan Gleeson returning for Ed A-A – and so the line up was: Tyler in goal, Gleeson – Pilks – Kroca – Jakey Howells at the back. On the right wing Claude, with Keano and Drury in the middle and Amari Morgan-Smith with the bionic faceplate on the left.

Up front was ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow, who looks as if he had a very good Christmas (once again Santa refused to bring him an exercise bike) and MBH who had found his shooting boots over Christmas.

Before the game there was a minute’s silence for the Rushden keeper Dale Roberts and inspirational former Luton skipper Terry Branston. The Kenny End was impeccably silent. No change there then I hear you cry.

The first half I thought we were a bit ring rusty, which I suppose is not really very surprising. But though we were a bit lacklustre at times we didn’t concede a silly goal or anything like that and so made it easier for ourselves when we did inevitably pick up. Scoring the goal just before half time made a huge difference to our approach, confidence and performance in the second half. I think at half time Richard Money must have done a bit of reminding of what we are about, because after the break we played much faster football, much more on the ground and further up the pitch, and playing against a side who were now chasing the game made this much easier.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Rushden. Clearly they came out all guns-blazing driven on by the loss of their teammate, but there is only so long that such resolve can act as your raison d’etre on the pitch without bringing results, and over time, without any long periods of
meaningful domination their resolve was diluted and finally diminished by the goals we knocked in.
The bloke behind me wasn’t sure Rio Charles was playing, such was his non-involvement. He was largely anonymous which must have been hugely frustrating with him wanting no doubt to get one back at the club who let him go, but he was stuck out in left midfield rather than up front. It was somewhat surprising especially as their attackers seemed about as threatening as one of Santa’s little helpers and you would have thought that they could do with a Rio up front.

We made a bright start looking to knock the ball around nicely but mainly basing everything around balls up to Claude – who had a strange day. Often on here I go on about the Claude you get on a particular afternoon depends on the roll of a dice – roll a 6 and you get a world beater – roll a 1 and you get Monsieur Disinterested not willing to go for anything or track back. Well today Claude confounded this theory a little by actually being both brilliant and frustrating at the same time. Hardly jumping for the ball on occasion but giving us a sublime finish on a disallowed goal. Not getting stuck in but supplying the cross for the opener. Limping around and looking to come off before getting a taste for it again and knocking the third in – but more of that later.

We looked the best for the first 15 minutes without really carving too many chances out. The game was too crowded in the middle of the park and we were unable to get the ball down as much as we would have liked. I daresay Justin Edinburgh has made this point to them, let Luton get the ball down and knock it around and they’ll murder you – keep them frustrated by making them play head tennis and you still have a chance.

I have to give Rushden the epithet of ‘well-organised’ which is a bit like saying a movie was ‘well-filmed’. They were hard working but not inspiring. Giving little for their surprisingly low turnout of away fans to cheer or enthuse about and thank goodness that we managed to quell the drum banger as early as we did.

The first major chance fell to Rushden, surprisingly, the clothes-peg seller Power demonstrating that he had the shot of a mule and bringing a good save out of Tyler.

I seem to recall we had a couple of sort of half chances shortly after Danny Crow with one of them and AMS the other.

Shortly after, what surely would have been the goal of the season (all five divisions) was sawn off by a flag-eager lino. Drury picked the ball up on the half way line and weaved his way in and out until he reached the edge of the R&D box whereby he plopped the ball in the path of Claude who accelerated onto the ball on the left and chopped a glorious right footed shot across the keeper Day into the right hand side of the far post. Oh what a goal that would have been.

From then on we seemed to overplay the ball on the edge of the box rather than putting a foot through it and whacking it towards the goal. Not quite overplaying to the extent we did under poor old Mick, but we took too many touches, tried to dribble it in on too many occasions.

Gnapka troubled only the man who fits the bulbs into the scoreboard after a good lay off by AMS.
Barnes-Homer having done all of the hard work in the inside right position cut inside and weakly shot straight at Day.

The last few minutes of the half really got the crowd going. Claude found some space on the right and played a great ball across the goal to find MBH to the left of the penalty spot. His header appeared to be mistimed because the ball looped off his head slowly, slowly, slowly over Day and into the net for the first goal. Perhaps this old cynic does him a disservice. In fact I think I do – it was a beautifully cushioned and weighted header.

Into extra time in the first half Drury went on another mazy run, this time from his own half down the wing only to be met by Osano (I think it was). There was the briefest of contacts. Drury was the man with the ball and running forward, but in doing this somehow he managed to foul Osano accordingl to the ref. I must have blinked and missed it completely. What antagonised the home fans further was that Rushden forged a goal scoring opportunity down the other end from the non-free kick. Fortunately O’Connor passed to Johnson in an offside position.

The half time whistle brought a volley of boos – but not for the mighty Hatters but for the ref who made some ‘random’ decisions (to use the modern parlance). He seemed to be over reliant on his linesman who was having a poor game himself. Never good to put too much weight on a broken crutch.

The second half brought out a different Luton team. Afforded more room initially by Rushden pressing forwards and not pressing us, but latterly in the half by us exploiting the gaps on the break. We found more gaps, played more one-twos and initially at least looked like the potential world-beaters we always do when the ball is on the floor and we are allowed to play. For about ten minutes at least Danny Crow, who had a fairly quiet first half bossed the attacking play and drove the ball around to either side of the pitch and through the defence bringing MBH, Claude and AMS on and into threatening positions. Claude fizzed at first then took a knock and switched off, then having run off the knock suddenly looked bothered again.

Of course the biggest sitter of the day fell to none other than MBH who was played through beautifully by Gnapka with only the keeper to beat and he managed to scatter the people in the upper tier of the Kenny.

Shortly after Rushden had their finest opportunity to make it 1-1, Smith I think it was picked up on a good pass by Gash (formerly of York and Ebbsfleet?) and sizzled the ball wide and slightly high of Tyler’s left hand post.

So typically of MBH – having missed the sitter he then sticks away a much harder chance. I’m delighted for him. I would imagine it would be so easy to knock your confidence missing an easy one – but thankfully MBH seemed undaunted by it. Perhaps that is the difference between a striker and someone like Adam Newton whose season dissolved after missing the sitter against Southampton last January. Strikers get on with it. At least MBH knows he is always going to get plenty of chances playing in this team. Anyway Drury (or Keano, can’t remember which) dinked through a lovely ball for MBH who held off a defender, stayed on his feet and finished left-footed past the diving keeper.

One comment on Rushden and Diamonds I haven’t mentioned is that there was some pretty brutal tackling going on in the middle of the park. I can’t think who they might have coaching their first team there…a couple of cards were needed when I think only one was dished out. Another yellow appeared in the second half when Drury slipped and went under and was caught by one of the Rushden player’s flailing arms. In surely only the very loosest of imaginations was it violent conduct by the Rushden player. Having seen it from pretty close up if Drury hadn’t slipped he wouldn’t have had his head whacked. As it happens I think the ref chickened out by giving a yellow. It either wasn’t violent conduct or it was. If it was then surely it was a straight red. Strange guy.

A good ball from Drury on the left went over the head of MBH – but he wasn’t going to allow that to defeat him today – he tried a spectacular Brko-esque overhead kick which he connected with but which fluttered wide. Now that would have been a great goal if he had caught it right – and fair play to him for trying. Though it wasn’t the case here, and perhaps this is the wrong place to put this comment – I’m all up for strikers being greedy. If a player can think he can get a goal for Luton Town by having a shot well that’s fine with me. Too many seasons went by with us having strikers who would rather fanny about rather than try to stick one in, I’d rather have a glory-hunter any day. And anyway – if the striker can get the shot on target and trouble the keeper, then he will often make chances for his colleagues from blocks, deflections or cock-ups by the keeper – especially at our humble level.

The third goal came in a slightly comedic way – MBH put a ball into the box on the 6 yard line to the left hand side of the goal. It was such a good ball that he actually put two players in – Danny Crow and Claude Gnapka they both muscled each other for the ball for a moment before Claude took the ball and carried on and fired the ball across the goal left footed into the side of the net. Much to poor Danny’s visible irritation.

Off Claude went to do some sort of bizarre gay samba in front of the enclosure.

Rushden did come back at us a bit – there was a brief period where they threatened to threaten, but it did strike me that for them it was ‘one of those days’ where they could try to score all day but nothing would drop. One thing that did impress me was their crossing and corner taking. On more than one occasion a sharply swerving and in-dipping corner troubled Tyler (a bit like one of Jimmy Anderson’s deliveries troubles most of the Austrialian top order) on one occasion drawing out an excellent punch from MT which only went as far as a Rushden player whose shot was cleared off the line by Keano (I think).

Time yet for more fun, Day, the Rushden keeper picked up the ball outside his area but cleared only as far as MBH – who, had he been sharper would have lobbed him straight back over his head. However, he took perhaps a touch too many and did the non-selfish thing of trying to play Danny Crow in, but the ball was poor and by the time Crow had won the ball back, was only in a position to blast the ball over.

There were other chances by both teams, but I think I have got most of them. I’ve managed to exclude a rasping shot by Dan Gleeson which went just wide where he had been found in space and drove forwards – but it was a good effort and Gleeson had a sound enough game – not sure what that says about either Dan or dear Rio.

And so – onto the scores on the doors:

Tyler – 7.5 – handling was good, kicking was fair, rolled the ball out where he could, positional sense and communication is starting to worry me a little. I know it can’t be easy having a Czech lump playing in front of you who probably doesn’t understand everything you say but sometimes MT performances this year suggest that we saw the best of him last year. I’m only talking fractions here of course, he’s still a brilliant shot stopper and of course by far the best keeper at this level, but over time you come to notice these things. Nothing to worry about at present, but most players careers are somewhere on a bell-curve and perhaps MT has just started the beginning of the downward journey. Am I being unfair? Perhaps I am. I don’t mean to do the guy a disservice.

Dan Gleeson – 7.5 – like I said above was tidy and had a good game and had a good shot.

Pilks – 8 – I thought he had a brilliant game – broke up what few attacks they had and was always in the right place at the right time.

Kroca – 6.5 – I watched him closely in this match. He was a bizarre mix of some brilliant tackles, some brave headers but some poor touches and passes. Par for the course at this level. Sometimes at corners he didn’t pick up his man at all and presented more than one free header from crosses.

Howells – 7.5 – in the first half where the play was a bit stodgy Jake’s abilities shone out like a beacon. Less so in the second half as we mainly attacked down the right and not the left. He was the sponsor’s man of the match – which was quite amusing because whilst he did play well, and as you know I am a huge JH fan, I’m not sure he did enough to warrant that today – especially when MBH got two good goals.

Gnapka – hard to score really – sometimes 3 sometimes 9.5. Overall perhaps 8.5 he did after all score a good goal and created the first one.

Keane – 8 – all over the pitch closed down really well in the second half in particular and ran and ran and ran.

Drury – 8.5 – I’d be happier if he was on the wing – but there were some flashes of sheer brilliance from AD today.

AMS – 7 – looked very lively on occasion and overlapped repeatedly with MBH on the left so that MBH was often the widest player picking up the ball.

MBH – 9 – should have had a hattrick – worked hard – not a phrase you traditionally associate with MBH but was all over the pitch, particularly in the second half when the game opened up more. Unselfish in his passing and got a good couple of crosses in. The crowd has a dig at him when he doesn’t really jump for balls played up to or over him, but who can blame him. Good header for the first goal and lovely finish for the second.

Danny Crow – 7 – seemed a bit anonymous in the first half, but came good in the first part of the second. Bit unlucky not to get any clear cut chances, mainly got bits and pieces and half chances from Claude’s knock downs. Chased the ball when he lost it though and demonstrated a good work ethic. I think he was a bit cheesed off towards the end though but should put this game behind him. Big pressure on him now though with Jason Walker on the bench and MBH seemingly with a season-long berth up front. Let’s see how he responds to the pressure.

Walker, Lawless and ‘On fire’ Poku all came on briefly for their appearance money after about 90 minutes replacing DC, CG and AMS respectively.

Overall a good win. I’d like to say we didn’t really get out of second gear – but that wouldn’t be true – we had to work hard in the first half and dominated large sections of the second half where I think we were pretty much in fourth gear. A sound enough start to the year, with no injuries or bookings and with the mighty Hayes and Yeading on Tuesday night which I will miss because I’m going to be in Scotland. Certainly an annoying decision to move that from the bank hols to the Tuesday night.

And so, after the first game of 2011, our record is:

P21 W13 D3 L5 F44 A20 Pts 42 Pos 3rd. Two points per game is normally good enough to ensure 2nd place, but not usually first. However, this year with three teams pushing for the top place it is less likely that someone is now going to run away with the title and get 100 points. But let’s see.

Happy New Year everyone.

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Luton sparkled, Diamonds didn’t

Happy New Year to you all – today’s game provided a pleasant start to 2011 in a game made more difficult by some strange refereeing.

Other than the ‘show in the snow’/Dancing on Ice this was the first proper call to arms in the league since the victory against Histon at a time when Wagner and Ann Widdecombe were still very much contenders. We had our own version of them running the line and blowing the whistle this afternoon.

We made one change to the York game with Dan Gleeson returning for Ed A-A – and so the line up was: Tyler in goal, Gleeson – Pilks – Kroca – Jakey Howells at the back. On the right wing Claude, with Keano and Drury in the middle and Amari Morgan-Smith with the bionic faceplate on the left.

Up front was ‘Big Hips’ Danny Crow, who looks as if he had a very good Christmas (once again Santa refused to bring him an exercise bike) and MBH who had found his shooting boots over Christmas.

Before the game there was a minute’s silence for the Rushden keeper Dale Roberts and inspirational former Luton skipper Terry Branston. The Kenny End was impeccably silent. No change there then I hear you cry.

The first half I thought we were a bit ring rusty, which I suppose is not really very surprising. But though we were a bit lacklustre at times we didn’t concede a silly goal or anything like that and so made it easier for ourselves when we did inevitably pick up. Scoring the goal just before half time made a huge difference to our approach, confidence and performance in the second half. I think at half time Richard Money must have done a bit of reminding of what we are about, because after the break we played much faster football, much more on the ground and further up the pitch, and playing against a side who were now chasing the game made this much easier.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Rushden. Clearly they came out all guns-blazing driven on by the loss of their teammate, but there is only so long that such resolve can act as your raison d’etre on the pitch without bringing results, and over time, without any long periods of
meaningful domination their resolve was diluted and finally diminished by the goals we knocked in.
The bloke behind me wasn’t sure Rio Charles was playing, such was his non-involvement. He was largely anonymous which must have been hugely frustrating with him wanting no doubt to get one back at the club who let him go, but he was stuck out in left midfield rather than up front. It was somewhat surprising especially as their attackers seemed about as threatening as one of Santa’s little helpers and you would have thought that they could do with a Rio up front.

We made a bright start looking to knock the ball around nicely but mainly basing everything around balls up to Claude – who had a strange day. Often on here I go on about the Claude you get on a particular afternoon depends on the roll of a dice – roll a 6 and you get a world beater – roll a 1 and you get Monsieur Disinterested not willing to go for anything or track back. Well today Claude confounded this theory a little by actually being both brilliant and frustrating at the same time. Hardly jumping for the ball on occasion but giving us a sublime finish on a disallowed goal. Not getting stuck in but supplying the cross for the opener. Limping around and looking to come off before getting a taste for it again and knocking the third in – but more of that later.

We looked the best for the first 15 minutes without really carving too many chances out. The game was too crowded in the middle of the park and we were unable to get the ball down as much as we would have liked. I daresay Justin Edinburgh has made this point to them, let Luton get the ball down and knock it around and they’ll murder you – keep them frustrated by making them play head tennis and you still have a chance.

I have to give Rushden the epithet of ‘well-organised’ which is a bit like saying a movie was ‘well-filmed’. They were hard working but not inspiring. Giving little for their surprisingly low turnout of away fans to cheer or enthuse about and thank goodness that we managed to quell the drum banger as early as we did.

The first major chance fell to Rushden, surprisingly, the clothes-peg seller Power demonstrating that he had the shot of a mule and bringing a good save out of Tyler.

I seem to recall we had a couple of sort of half chances shortly after Danny Crow with one of them and AMS the other.

Shortly after, what surely would have been the goal of the season (all five divisions) was sawn off by a flag-eager lino. Drury picked the ball up on the half way line and weaved his way in and out until he reached the edge of the R&D box whereby he plopped the ball in the path of Claude who accelerated onto the ball on the left and chopped a glorious right footed shot across the keeper Day into the right hand side of the far post. Oh what a goal that would have been.

From then on we seemed to overplay the ball on the edge of the box rather than putting a foot through it and whacking it towards the goal. Not quite overplaying to the extent we did under poor old Mick, but we took too many touches, tried to dribble it in on too many occasions.

Gnapka troubled only the man who fits the bulbs into the scoreboard after a good lay off by AMS.
Barnes-Homer having done all of the hard work in the inside right position cut inside and weakly shot straight at Day.

The last few minutes of the half really got the crowd going. Claude found some space on the right and played a great ball across the goal to find MBH to the left of the penalty spot. His header appeared to be mistimed because the ball looped off his head slowly, slowly, slowly over Day and into the net for the first goal. Perhaps this old cynic does him a disservice. In fact I think I do – it was a beautifully cushioned and weighted header.

Into extra time in the first half Drury went on another mazy run, this time from his own half down the wing only to be met by Osano (I think it was). There was the briefest of contacts. Drury was the man with the ball and running forward, but in doing this somehow he managed to foul Osano accordingl to the ref. I must have blinked and missed it completely. What antagonised the home fans further was that Rushden forged a goal scoring opportunity down the other end from the non-free kick. Fortunately O’Connor passed to Johnson in an offside position.

The half time whistle brought a volley of boos – but not for the mighty Hatters but for the ref who made some ‘random’ decisions (to use the modern parlance). He seemed to be over reliant on his linesman who was having a poor game himself. Never good to put too much weight on a broken crutch.

The second half brought out a different Luton team. Afforded more room initially by Rushden pressing forwards and not pressing us, but latterly in the half by us exploiting the gaps on the break. We found more gaps, played more one-twos and initially at least looked like the potential world-beaters we always do when the ball is on the floor and we are allowed to play. For about ten minutes at least Danny Crow, who had a fairly quiet first half bossed the attacking play and drove the ball around to either side of the pitch and through the defence bringing MBH, Claude and AMS on and into threatening positions. Claude fizzed at first then took a knock and switched off, then having run off the knock suddenly looked bothered again.

Of course the biggest sitter of the day fell to none other than MBH who was played through beautifully by Gnapka with only the keeper to beat and he managed to scatter the people in the upper tier of the Kenny.

Shortly after Rushden had their finest opportunity to make it 1-1, Smith I think it was picked up on a good pass by Gash (formerly of York and Ebbsfleet?) and sizzled the ball wide and slightly high of Tyler’s left hand post.

So typically of MBH – having missed the sitter he then sticks away a much harder chance. I’m delighted for him. I would imagine it would be so easy to knock your confidence missing an easy one – but thankfully MBH seemed undaunted by it. Perhaps that is the difference between a striker and someone like Adam Newton whose season dissolved after missing the sitter against Southampton last January. Strikers get on with it. At least MBH knows he is always going to get plenty of chances playing in this team. Anyway Drury (or Keano, can’t remember which) dinked through a lovely ball for MBH who held off a defender, stayed on his feet and finished left-footed past the diving keeper.

One comment on Rushden and Diamonds I haven’t mentioned is that there was some pretty brutal tackling going on in the middle of the park. I can’t think who they might have coaching their first team there…a couple of cards were needed when I think only one was dished out. Another yellow appeared in the second half when Drury slipped and went under and was caught by one of the Rushden player’s flailing arms. In surely only the very loosest of imaginations was it violent conduct by the Rushden player. Having seen it from pretty close up if Drury hadn’t slipped he wouldn’t have had his head whacked. As it happens I think the ref chickened out by giving a yellow. It either wasn’t violent conduct or it was. If it was then surely it was a straight red. Strange guy.

A good ball from Drury on the left went over the head of MBH – but he wasn’t going to allow that to defeat him today – he tried a spectacular Brko-esque overhead kick which he connected with but which fluttered wide. Now that would have been a great goal if he had caught it right – and fair play to him for trying. Though it wasn’t the case here, and perhaps this is the wrong place to put this comment – I’m all up for strikers being greedy. If a player can think he can get a goal for Luton Town by having a shot well that’s fine with me. Too many seasons went by with us having strikers who would rather fanny about rather than try to stick one in, I’d rather have a glory-hunter any day. And anyway – if the striker can get the shot on target and trouble the keeper, then he will often make chances for his colleagues from blocks, deflections or cock-ups by the keeper – especially at our humble level.

The third goal came in a slightly comedic way – MBH put a ball into the box on the 6 yard line to the left hand side of the goal. It was such a good ball that he actually put two players in – Danny Crow and Claude Gnapka they both muscled each other for the ball for a moment before Claude took the ball and carried on and fired the ball across the goal left footed into the side of the net. Much to poor Danny’s visible irritation.

Off Claude went to do some sort of bizarre gay samba in front of the enclosure.

Rushden did come back at us a bit – there was a brief period where they threatened to threaten, but it did strike me that for them it was ‘one of those days’ where they could try to score all day but nothing would drop. One thing that did impress me was their crossing and corner taking. On more than one occasion a sharply swerving and in-dipping corner troubled Tyler (a bit like one of Jimmy Anderson’s deliveries troubles most of the Austrialian top order) on one occasion drawing out an excellent punch from MT which only went as far as a Rushden player whose shot was cleared off the line by Keano (I think).

Time yet for more fun, Day, the Rushden keeper picked up the ball outside his area but cleared only as far as MBH – who, had he been sharper would have lobbed him straight back over his head. However, he took perhaps a touch too many and did the non-selfish thing of trying to play Danny Crow in, but the ball was poor and by the time Crow had won the ball back, was only in a position to blast the ball over.

There were other chances by both teams, but I think I have got most of them. I’ve managed to exclude a rasping shot by Dan Gleeson which went just wide where he had been found in space and drove forwards – but it was a good effort and Gleeson had a sound enough game – not sure what that says about either Dan or dear Rio.

And so – onto the scores on the doors:

Tyler – 7.5 – handling was good, kicking was fair, rolled the ball out where he could, positional sense and communication is starting to worry me a little. I know it can’t be easy having a Czech lump playing in front of you who probably doesn’t understand everything you say but sometimes MT performances this year suggest that we saw the best of him last year. I’m only talking fractions here of course, he’s still a brilliant shot stopper and of course by far the best keeper at this level, but over time you come to notice these things. Nothing to worry about at present, but most players careers are somewhere on a bell-curve and perhaps MT has just started the beginning of the downward journey. Am I being unfair? Perhaps I am. I don’t mean to do the guy a disservice.

Dan Gleeson – 7.5 – like I said above was tidy and had a good game and had a good shot.

Pilks – 8 – I thought he had a brilliant game – broke up what few attacks they had and was always in the right place at the right time.

Kroca – 6.5 – I watched him closely in this match. He was a bizarre mix of some brilliant tackles, some brave headers but some poor touches and passes. Par for the course at this level. Sometimes at corners he didn’t pick up his man at all and presented more than one free header from crosses.

Howells – 7.5 – in the first half where the play was a bit stodgy Jake’s abilities shone out like a beacon. Less so in the second half as we mainly attacked down the right and not the left. He was the sponsor’s man of the match – which was quite amusing because whilst he did play well, and as you know I am a huge JH fan, I’m not sure he did enough to warrant that today – especially when MBH got two good goals.

Gnapka – hard to score really – sometimes 3 sometimes 9.5. Overall perhaps 8.5 he did after all score a good goal and created the first one.

Keane – 8 – all over the pitch closed down really well in the second half in particular and ran and ran and ran.

Drury – 8.5 – I’d be happier if he was on the wing – but there were some flashes of sheer brilliance from AD today.

AMS – 7 – looked very lively on occasion and overlapped repeatedly with MBH on the left so that MBH was often the widest player picking up the ball.

MBH – 9 – should have had a hattrick – worked hard – not a phrase you traditionally associate with MBH but was all over the pitch, particularly in the second half when the game opened up more. Unselfish in his passing and got a good couple of crosses in. The crowd has a dig at him when he doesn’t really jump for balls played up to or over him, but who can blame him. Good header for the first goal and lovely finish for the second.

Danny Crow – 7 – seemed a bit anonymous in the first half, but came good in the first part of the second. Bit unlucky not to get any clear cut chances, mainly got bits and pieces and half chances from Claude’s knock downs. Chased the ball when he lost it though and demonstrated a good work ethic. I think he was a bit cheesed off towards the end though but should put this game behind him. Big pressure on him now though with Jason Walker on the bench and MBH seemingly with a season-long berth up front. Let’s see how he responds to the pressure.

Walker, Lawless and ‘On fire’ Poku all came on briefly for their appearance money after about 90 minutes replacing DC, CG and AMS respectively.

Overall a good win. I’d like to say we didn’t really get out of second gear – but that wouldn’t be true – we had to work hard in the first half and dominated large sections of the second half where I think we were pretty much in fourth gear. A sound enough start to the year, with no injuries or bookings and with the mighty Hayes and Yeading on Tuesday night which I will miss because I’m going to be in Scotland. Certainly an annoying decision to move that from the bank hols to the Tuesday night.

And so, after the first game of 2011, our record is:

P21 W13 D3 L5 F44 A20 Pts 42 Pos 3rd. Two points per game is normally good enough to ensure 2nd place, but not usually first. However, this year with three teams pushing for the top place it is less likely that someone is now going to run away with the title and get 100 points. But let’s see.

Happy New Year everyone.

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A damp and cold December 0-0 to forget

I guess we could have predicted the outcome of the last two games: dominating – but ultimately losing to – a better team, and then struggling against a weaker team. It is the way of the Luton world. What didn’t help was that the strikers left their shooting boots on the coach.

I was one of not-very-many who turned up in the shivery December cold this afternoon, and my attendance afforded a queue-free opportunity to get a beer before the game and at half-time. Every cloud has a silver lining they say.

Richard Money had promised us changes aplenty, and changes aplenty is what we got. What we actually got was 11 footballers who looked as if they hadn’t played together before, which is in fact what they are.

What does it say about our performance that young Alex Lacey a centre-half making his first team debut was the sponsors man of the match? I had hoped that we would go about breaking some records this afternoon but we really failed to dazzle. Well, no, that’s unfair. At times in the second half at least we were back to the old ‘hot knife through butter’ scenario where we were attacking for fun against a weaker team. But could we finish? It was one of those days when we could have played for another 90 minutes and still not scored. I understand we fashioned 16 chances with only one or two of those being on target. Same old same old – lots of opportunities, no one to stick ‘em in.

Big changes from the Charlton XI:

Tyler in goal – who was made skipper for the day, being the obvious and most experienced option in Pilk’s absence. He had a handful of saves to make after a couple of harum-scarum defensive lapses granting opportunities for Welling in the game.

Ed A-A – at right back, good opportunity to shine today, but didn’t really. Perhaps it was the cold, perhaps it was the lack of games. Ed did get forward and support where possible, though some of his passes went astray down the line. He was sound enough at the back, and that is after all what he gets a paid to do.

Craig Hinton made his debut at centre half and had a tidy but unspectacular game at centre half.

Alex Lacey – had an excellent game and on this account at least looks a good prospect. Made some important and cruicial challenges and looked unflustered on occasions when you would have expected a young chap to be flustered. A cool head and good in the tackle are key attributes if he is going to make a living in the game which of course we all hope he does.

Jake Howells – who was my man of the match today. He did look like an England C player and stood out. His drive, determination, ambition and frankly, pace, looked at times like a man playing with boys (if you excuse the expression) which is ironic bearing in mind Jake’s age.

Dan Walker started on the right, swapped to the left and then went out to the right again. He came into his own more in the second half and made his excellent pace tell on a couple of occasions.

In the middle were the unconvincing partnership of Poku and Besta who sound to me a bit like a Norwegian children’s cartoon. ‘On fire’ Godfrey still has a bit of convincing to do as far as I’m concerned. Against Charlton I think his Blue Square South pedigree stood out like a sore thumb, the only player really to be outclassed by Charlton and again today, apart from a lot of huffing and puffing and chasing around his passing was generally poor. He improved in the second half when he seemed to push forward slightly more rather than wholly sitting in front of the defence. I wish him well and given time and opportunity, clearly he has something about him – but sometimes energy and the ability the run and run aren’t enough on their own.

Besta again failed to impress. He seems to chase the play around in the way that Keano doesn’t. He’s the sort of player I who I think could come in for the occasional game to cover for absences, but I don’t think, on the appearances I have seen so far this year that he can seriously challenge for a place.

On the left was Alex Lawless which was a bit surprising as a) he is pretty one footed and that foot being his right and b) Dan Walker has played more on the left and Lawless had played on the right previously. Perhaps RM wanted to see him in action on the left. In any case after about half an hour he swapped with Dan Walker and in the second half played in the middle when Besta went off. When he was on the left he had to cut back onto his right foot, and when he was in the middle we did improve, but he didn’t show me any of the class I know he was capable of at York. Early days.

Up front we started, and finished with, Atieno and Jason Walker. Atieno must have missed five or six chances, by far the most of anyone in the team. He was getting gradually closer nearer the end but by-Christ he had folk in the Kenny End diving for cover in the second half. The ball was banging around back there like a game of pinball – the empty blue seats being the flippers.

Jason Walker seemed to be involved in lots of interchanges and held the ball well on occasion – but how many chances actually fell his way? He had a header from a Dan Walker cross but he had nothing to pounce on which must have been very frustrating. If he’d just had half the attempts that Atieno had, Walker would have snatched a hat-trick.

Welling for their part came, saw and closed us down. Fair play to them a good effort from them, but they did strike me as an unspectatular team, other than their slightly ramshackle but effective keeper Gareth Stewart.

I can’t say too much about the first half because there wasn’t much to report on. Our first proper shot on target came on about 45 minutes.

I’ll list the chances – Atieno missed one which was easier to score when a Howells cross found him in space.

Lawless then shot after some hard work and a cross by Jason Walker after a good pass by Howells, but his shot was blocked.

Some hot chocolate and a tasteless hot dog later and Poku had a good chance running on to a short corner by Lawless but endangered nothing but the kids playing in Oak Road.

Ed got forward for the first time just towards injury time but his weak shot was easily held by Stewart. 0-0 then, and disappointing. Nothing too adventurous and clearly the players had been instructed to have a good run out, but nothing more than that.

But shortly after half time a brilliant diving header from a lovely cross from Lawless brought off a fine reaction save by Stewart. Alas, it was a full length defensive dive by Sambrook who presumably was just trying to head it behind rather than give his keeper a coronary. Smiles all round though as they saw the funny side. Would have gone into the top 5 all time own-goals though if it had gone in. It might have broken the net too. I think Lacey headed the ensuring corner over the bar.

A while later Dan Walker was played into space and showed his pace when he drove down the wing, cut inside and shot just wide of the far post.

Cue the sequence of Atieno howlers, probably the best chance came up first, presumably draining his confidence and our hope of seeing a goal from him today (or ever again?) Stewart’s kick went straight to him but alas the Kenyan saw fit only to whack the ball wide. Next chance a few minutes later – Atieno himself created the chance with some good skill on the edge of the box but put the ball the other side. Another confidence sapping effort was missed shortly after when a good cross from Jake Howells saw him glance it wide, when it might have been easier to score.

JJ O’Donnell had entered the fray by this point, replacing Besta. The last time I saw him my memories were of a player who liked to get a cross in and put the effort in but was knocked off the ball slightly too easily. Nothing really happened to change that impression this afternoon however he did have a couple of good efforts too – he popped up at the far post from a deep cross by Ed but had the crowd ducking rather than the keeper. The better effort was when he found himself in the middle just outside the ‘D’ and drove a shot which would have gone in had Stewart not made a full length stretch to palm it onto the post and out for a corner.

Other than another couple of Atieno half chances the only other incident was when Dan Walker had the ball in the net only for it somehow to have been offside. Howells had found him in room and he shaped up and thumped a shot to Stewart’s right. It would have been a good goal to win any game, but somehow by then it would almost have been wrong to break the deadlock, such was the very nature of this game.

Scores on the doors:
Tyler: 6
Ed AA: 5.5
Hinton: 6
Lacey: 8
Howells: 8.5

Dan Walker: 7
Poku: 5
Besta: 4
Lawless: 5.5

Jason Walker: 6
Atieno: 2

O’Donnell: 6

Uninspiring and a bit lacklustre, but with the occasional glimpse of brilliance, this was your archetypal 0-0. “Remember these games” I keep telling my son –“ when you are thirty my boy and the likes of Man Utd and Liverpool are coming to visit us in our new stadium, remember this awful 0-0 on a freezing cold December day against a bunch of part-timers from somewhere you can’t find on the map.”

When I am having discussions over a pint, one day in the future, about the worst striker to have played for us, and friends suggest to me the regulars of Peter Thomson and Tresor Kandol – I will say “yes, they were shite – but did they ever struggle to score on against the part-timers of Welling when we were in the FA Trophy?” It is only when you contextualise where we actually are now do you realise the true horror of a gallery of missed chances against a sixth tier team.
Oh well, such is life. York at home on Saturday lunchtime next.

All comments welcome – not just about my post but all things Luton Town.

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