Millwall must be Quaking in their Boots!

 

As sure as night follows day Greggy Taylor was dropped, Paul Buckle, a man who makes no mistakes himself, has cast him asunder like an unforgiving wife after his one rather public mistake. Farewell Greg…

…meanwhile back on the pitch – today I was looking forward to seeing the new pairing of ‘Stavros’ Thomas and Steve McLumpy. The new Donaghy and Foster. That’s Donaghy and Foster as they are now of course, not c1988. One was a no show still waiting international clearance/left his passport in Pathos and the other one well, erm, had a good game actually.

In the absence of Thomas, Kovacs has a surprise reprise, and no wonder, because he’ll be needed against Millwall next week. He nodded the ball away quite happily all afternoon, almost as if he was playing against Grant Holt again – probably not well enough for the manager though. Alongside him, the pot-bellied McNulty barely put a foot or head for that matter wrong. His passing was more accurate than Kovacs’ and, what he didn’t have in speed, he made up for in positioning. He was a comedy nuisance to their keeper at corners too – worth the entrance fee alone for that. His first clearance got a ‘hoof’ accompaniment from the crowd (and he had been greeted with a chorus of you fat bastard) – but most clearances and passes after that were greeted by a semi-surprised ironic cheer. I anticipate a status amongst fandom somewhere between Enoch and Roper.

And what of the 1-1? Well I thought the first half was quite bright and a reasonable game, spoilt only by the whistle-happy and card-happy ref, who did make some strange decisions, usually only after the away dugout leapt up and appealed like a Pakistani slip cordon. The ref was only too happy to oblige. He added to his impressive tally of red cards this year in the second period by sending off Lawless and ex Watford chancer Al Bangura. Lawless got done in the now traditional double-tap. His first foul warranted a card, but still fresh and recognisable in the ref’ s mind gave away a silly freekick about a minute later when he seemingly went through the back of his man, leaving the ref little choice but to give him a second one. Bangura went after giving someone a slap near the tunnel, which was convenient as he didn’t have far to go. In piled both sets of players, but alas, rather than a full-scale pagga it was handbags and a bit of pushin’, which ultimately saw JJ get a yellow. I’m sure J block and those in the enclosure by the tunnel gave the former human trafficking ‘victim’ a hearty send off and wished him well for the future. They must have done because he gave them a cheery wave back, sharing the love.

The second half was a more dreary affair, with less quality and fewer chances from either side. On came super-subs O’Donnell and Fleetwood, ably assisted by Mendy. Mendy and O’Donnell replaced the two wingers Martin and Nielson when we needed to play more narrow across the middle to match FGR’s three following Lawless’ sending off.  I thought Martin made three or four good runs, and hugged the touchline well. He didn’t get to the byline and crossed a bit more hopefully from the deep, and in the first half of the first half his crosses didn’t look that dangerous, save for the all important one for the goal where Gray mistimed a header which went up rather than in, but still managed to come down and find the back of the net. The first goal in a long time which was preceded by an ‘Ohhhh’ for missing the chance, before it actually dropped in. Gray could have had a second after another good pass by Martin, but failed to squeeze it in.

Of course it need not have been 1-1 – the ref, having missed a blatant handball by Stokes in the box, also failed to spot Gray being felled by Oshodi, but fortunately the lino spotted it, and the ref spotted him. Alas Gray’s penalty posed more of a threat to those people sitting in the upper tier of the Kenny than Russell in the FGR goal.

It was another set-piece that led to their goal. Matt Taylor (no, not that one) continuing his good form by heading Klukowski’s free kick pass Tyler at the free post. Not sure who was supposed to be marking him, but they didn’t. Hang on, it’s probably Greg Taylor’s fault.

Over all in the game we did have plenty of chances and half chances – Shaw has a good couple, I recall Nielson volleying Martin’s cross and Fleetwood, Gray’s replacement, had a chance near the end.

McLumpy got the traditional award of man of the match award to a new player in his first home game. Ugly old beast he may be, but he just about warranted it today, perhaps Martin pushing him closest.

Millwall presumably sent someone to watch that and how they must be quaking in their boots now. Fortunately, once again we will have to play deeper and on the counter I presume, and not like we did today at all. I don’t think we showed anything today that will have them losing sleep.

The cup run really is papering over the cracks this year. Just like last season we have limped along, not at any point looking settled or looking like hitting our straps. 14 points behind Grimsby now, and yes, I know we have half the season to play and three games in hand, but realistically, unless a miracle happens and the form of the team is transformed, grubbing into the play offs is the best we can do, once again. For goodness sake.

Let me remind you – as if you needed it – this, in a season with no sugar daddy club in it. No Fleetwood, no Crawley. No Oxford, no York, no Stevenage or even bloody Wimbledon.  All the big boys have gone. This is the most open, weakest Conference season for many a year, yet we are floundering in the league. Drifting in an open sea (or sewer?). What does that say about the players, manager and coaching staff? PB has a worse record this season than dear Mick (who was pilloried, for having no tactical clue) by Richard Money (who never had the fans, and who eventually lost the players, than Gary Brabin (don’t get me started) all of them were doing better at this stage than PB (who doesn’t make any mistakes himself). This should have been the season we cruised this division. Instead seemingly we just go further and further back with each new season despite all the new signings. Whatever we do seems to just makes things worse.  The signings get more and more expesive but seemingly continue to dilute the quality. My old mum used to say don’t fiddle with it you’ll only make it worse. So true – but what could we have done?

Anyway – doom and gloom aside, in the cold light of day, we got a point today at home to the side in third. In almost any other league we’d go away slightly disappointed – but we’d be saying a point is a point. But the opposition was Forest Green and we are in non-league. We need to leave please! Give me the chance to write weekly upbeat reports please!

Tuesday, away to Dartford, who have been in freefall more or less since they beat us. I’m going to try to make it – but will be driving back down from the north west and will be relying on the M6, M42, M40 and M25 being kind to me to make it, hmm…

Next Saturday Millwall return in an FA Cup game for the first time since the 13th March 1985. I trust they will be better behaved guests this time round. I’m looking forward to the game, and who knows…could our luck hold for a third time? Wouldn’t that be superb? Dare we dream of greater things once again…?

Come on you Hatters – time to click and to start winning. The skill’s nearly there, now show us you care!

 

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Lambs Chopped

 

After what seemed like an eternity since the last home league game the Hatters comprehensively beat a rather subdued Tamworth team.

Andre Boucaud made a belated debut in a midfield comprising a rare start (in the league) for JP Kissock and Alex Lawless. Up front was the ever-willing and sharp Stuart Fleetwood, with Howells on the left and O’Connor on the right.

Osano reprised his role at right back in an otherwise unchanged back division of Taylor, Pilks, Kovacs and Tyler.

Fifteen degrees warmer than this time last week (though it didn’t always feel it), today’s crowd and indeed the players experienced some of Bedfordshire’s best rain. Fortunately, this had cleared up by half time which was just as well as the electricity, thus the floodlights was cut off for much of the second half. I don’t know if it was because Gary hadn’t paid the bill or if all of Bury Park was cut off, but it was quite pleasant enough to sit in the gloom for forty minutes. In fact the lights came back on just before the end in an embarrassing late entrance, a little like Derek Smalls’ late exit from his pod in This is Spinal Tap. Ah the irony of having NiceIC as match sponsors.

Osano went off shortly after the goal which was a shame (yes, I did type that) because he had been in so much space out wide on the right touchline, you had to wonder if he was playing in the same game. Or if he’d wound the team up the wrong way and they were avoiding him like a smelly kid in the playground. Strangely, one of the few times we did manage to get the ball to him he surged into the box and shot/crossed, the ball found Fleetwood to took a touch and neatly rounded the keeper for an expert finish which warmed us up.

Brabin said afterwards that Osano had felt his hamstring tighten with all the exertion, and so they brought him off as precaution. Lawless slotted in at right back, breaking up a promising midfield three – and Watkins came in, with Boucaud moving back to the deeper of the three midfielders.

We had three hungry midfielders after that, and their desire to dominate showed. Kissock was always lively, he played some good through balls and cross field balls as well as his characteristic dribbles and step overs. Watkins was as dynamic as usual and Boucaud impressed me – with his work rate, his passing accuracy and his vision (but not his shooting!). Seems to be a good addition to me – but how many midfielders do we have now? Especially as he sees Henry in a free role – what chance has young Watkins got with Keano waiting in the wings – and Poku – good enough to start with Southport each week and not a sniff of the bench for us. How far back is Henry behind all those? Bodes well for the cup next week though…

Fleetwood’s goal puts him level with AMS on ten goals for the season. Unlike Danny Crow who doesn’t like playing on his own up front, Fleetwood seems to relish it. When McAllister came on later on Fleetwood moved to the left, but still up top. Now those two looked as if they had played together before as McAllister nodded on to Fleetwood with impunity – despite being marked by the enormous Watford lump Francino Francis.

However in the first half it was Greg Taylor who first earned his crust – a fine header, more or less off the line kept out a shot from Marna (last seen at Kettering). That was more or less their only shot on target apart from Pilks snuffing out a point blank shot from Reece. Poor Reece – he seemed to be less popular with his colleagues than Osano was with his – hardly got a pass all afternoon. I fully expect to hear that he has signed for Coventry tomorrow having been sent there today.

In the first half we dominated without being convincing, we were a bit ring-rusty I thought. However the second half we completely bossed the game, without getting to the point of mercilessly tearing them apart. Apart from the first five minutes that is. I don’t know what it is that Brabs says to them at half time. Knowing that the opposition are going to come out fighting, he seems to underwhelm them into underachievement. Fortunately today, they threw off the shackles of his motivational speech and carried on embracing some decent footie played on the front foot.

Shortly it was 2-0 – JPK won a free kick on the left. He took the freekick and swung across a lovely booming millionaire’s cross to the far post where Kovacs was waiting having jumped up and down like a mad thing trying to get Kissock’s attention and got a free header to double the score. McAllister was already on the touchline ready to come on and the deal was completed with Kissock being replaced. Jake moved into midfield and for the last 25 minutes played alongside Boucaud in front of the back four, with Watkins being the most advanced in the midfield.

Luton kept on pressing coming close on a number of occasions and played bright attacking, entertaining football having gained confidence from the second goal.

The third goal was an interesting one – Howells had started the move playing the ball to Kovacs staying up the pitch, as he had got a taste for this goal scoring lark. He didn’t quite get his head on it, but in effect nodded it on for Fleetwood to pick up on the left. Fleetwood played in a deep cross to the far post where Howells ,tucked around the corner, headed it back in, Kovacs pounced on it but I think it was Francis’ shins that did the deed. Kovacs celebrated as if he’d scored it, but I think it was a little tongue in cheek.

The last ten minutes was all Luton, driving for the fourth – confidence oozing from every pore – it didn’t come. The usual disease of not being able to convert a higher percentage of chances. But there you go. For the record, Willmott came on at the 90 minutes were up for O’Connor who had worked his socks off all afternoon.

Kovacs and Pilks had sound games at the back and completed most of their passes – hey Pilks even played a cross-field ball to O’Connor, who unfortunately didn’t control it and it rolled out. Taylor had an excellent game and nearly got another goal. Most unlike a Luton left-back. Must be something about the surname. Lawless filled in well at right back and had the freedom of the park in the way that Osano had.

Tyler had barely anything to do – I like the way he recycles ball quicker than Kevin Pilkington and looks to throw the ball out when possible.

Even though Tamworth had the first half-chance in the game, I never thought the result was in doubt. I don’t think it was the same Tamworth that battled through to play Everton in the cup or indeed the team that with 10 men got a draw at Fleetwood. Perhaps we didn’t let them play – perhaps we played too well for them – perhaps we are a great side after all!

Good or bad, we had a good solid win today that put me in a good mood. The Hatters are five points clear in third and I think it is something like thirteen games unbeaten in the league. No, it doesn’t look like Fleetwood or Wrexham are going to slip up, but it is a good time to get a bit of form and confidence. Always good to be the form team going into the play offs – hey you never know, we might not need to go to penalties…

 

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Good Intentions, Poor Execution

 

A cold easterly breeze chilled us like lollies in a freezer; the wind from the Steppes more direct than a Watford pass. Unfortunately much of the play wasn’t enough to keep our spirits warm. A George Pilkington penalty was the only goal to separate the two teams.

Felt a bit sorry for Alfreton, we were promised a big bullying gruff Derbyshire team hell-bent on defending. A little time wasting aside, what we got was a team with one or two promising players keen to pass it where possible and with an eye to cut defences open with neat moves, in the first half at least. They tired as the game went on, and in trying to snatch something from the game presented us with an increasing number of opportunities; not that we could do anything with them. We wouldn’t have scored in open play if we’d doubled the size of the goals. Mind you – neither would Alfreton.

My first look at McAllister – playing for us, that is. I was warned that he didn’t win many headers for a big man, but set up plenty of goals. Strange that Newport let him go when they are in a bit of a fight for survival. Does he cost them too much? Are they confident of survival? Or was it that he’d not scored a goal in 25 games for them? Not sure – you decide. He was presented with one clear cut and two pretty good chances this afternoon and missed them all. That said he worked hard, did win one or two headers and looked as if he could pass and cross the ball. That’s a start at least.

Perhaps it is a new direction for the club? We normally take in-form strikers and turn them into toothless tigers. Perhaps with McAllister we are going to be doing the reverse?

We made three changes from what was a dire 0-0 on Wednesday. We started with 4-4-2 seemingly for the first time since Brabin had hair. Willmott and Howell were the lucky wingers with Watkins and Lawless in midfield. Crow started up front with McAllister. Crow was replaced at half time with the lively Fleetwood keen to get his place back. Whilst his passing was sometimes a bit wayward, he did seem to get in some good positions.

Which brings me back to the reason for the headline. For a team lacking confidence, the ideas were often right, other than perhaps not get wide enough or overlap enough down the wings. The attacking design was there, certainly in the second half. The trouble was, on occasion, the players looked as if they had never played with each other before, let alone playing this new-fangled strange formation. I can see why Brabin might be concerned that Watkins and Lawless might get overrun as part of a midfield two. Nicholls and Robinson they are not. Watkins was certainly less bright than usual today. and when he was replaced by Poku there was more bite in the midfield, if less creativity. I was keen to see how ‘on fire’ he was. He looked okay – a few good passes, some good tackles and seemed to be haring around in a good way, rather than the rough ‘n’ ready headless chicken last time I saw him.

O’Connor replaced Willmott with 18 minutes to go in the second half. Before he’d had a chance to hit his straps he got a bad knock and wasn’t quite himself after that. Personally, I think O’Connor fits better on the right of a front three, rather than a winger. Felt a bit sorry for him as he has been popping up with plenty of goals recently.

Dan Gleeson, with Andy Burgess removed from his Christmas card list, was a real mixture. He combined his usual efforts of escorting the oncoming winger to the byline, with a couple of good tackles and at one stage a lovely move forward where he overlapped and crossed.

Greg Taylor resembled the other Taylor who has recently played at left back for the Hatters. Not in his overall quality, heavens no, but the fact that he was much more likely to be seen in the offensive half of the pitch than defending. I find it refreshing and really like him as a player. He didn’t have his finest game, but I love the fact that he is up and down that side of the pitch so often. If all left backs spent as long up the pitch as him, their scoring reputation would be far superior.

Good to see Tyler back between the sticks. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking him a better keeper than Kevin Pilks (ahem). Kevin Pilks is good, but Tyler is better all round. His distribution was quick and was keen to roll out to a defender. There were plenty of clearances to McAlister down the pitch, but not unreasonably so. I can only remember seeing him make one proper save. So he must as been as cold as I was. Poor love. Bizarre though that Tyler was back a couple of days after GB continued to justify Pilks’ selection ahead of Tyler’s. Perhaps his continued omission was being a bit too personal.

The other Pilks, George, got man of the match. More for the fact that he cooly scored the penalty than for any great defending I think – though his defending was sound enough, as was Kovacs. Kovacs’ distribution was poor in the first half, too often he was the only defender in space when the ball came to him. He would launch it forward and wide, but not to a man in orange so often. I know no one was making any space for him, no movement – but surely it is more important to retain possession than to play a hopeful ball forward only to lose possession. I’d rather a square pass than a poor pass.

So the game was far from a classic. For me it had more the feel of a pre-season friendly (played in Iceland I hasten to add) where the players were getting to know each other and the formation. It’s a damn shame that next week it is February and we are aiming for a play-off victory come May-time. Today, there was much effort, and lots of huffing and puffing but there was barely a shot on target, or for that matter many shots at all.

 

York drew at Darlo and we are now five points clear of them, which is nice. So even though we are bumping along, not at our best, with two draws and a win in the past week, we are still making third our own. Seems odd doesn’t it? We’d be bloody dangerous if we actually started playing well. Perhaps that’s our lot from now on? However mediocre we are, or this awful division is, perhaps we’re just going to be perennially third; doomed to play-off stress, heartache and misery for all eternity?

It really doesn’t have to be so. It really doesn’t. This can’t be it. Someone do something to wake us from this nightmare.

And on that positive thought I’ll leave you until next time! Come on you Hatters!

 

 

 

 

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