A game of two halves!

Well that one certainly was a game of two halves. JohnStill would have been delighted with the work rate and character seen in the second half. It contrasted sharply with a disjointed and forlorn first half.

The game overall was an improvement on the boredom of Nuneaton. But for some good saves towards the end by Bittner it would have been a home win. Oh, and those penalty shouts. Not sure how the handballs were missed by the ref, but there you go. Oh and that one from Smith that was over the line but missed by the officials. Something JohnStill will have to budget for and practice against is twelve men, not eleven. It was quite amusing hearing the pint-sized Italian whinger Zola complaining about the ref the team down the M1 had this afternoon in a similar way eg ” were playing against twelve men”. I’d swap Watford’s luck for ours any time of the day. The deluded dwarf doesn’t know he’s born. Watford and Luton: the luckiest club in existence and the unluckiest. Pick the bones out of that one Ed Smith.

JohnStill has said he wants players who are hungry, who want to learn and improve. And he has a track record of improving players. Sounds perfect for our organisation. Let’s hope that he finds some gems in our youth set up, and brings them into the first team, and brings them on, rather than recruiting willy nilly from the old pro’s home. His journey at Luton will be a fascinating one. He clearly knows the outcome he is seeking and has set out the steps he wants to take to get there. He has only ever been at little clubs with a tiny budget, it will be interesting to see what he does with a few more funds available.

Now that 2020 have finally bitten the bullet and shunned the ‘instant success’ route after 4 seasons, presumably incentivising JohnStill for long term success rather than instant one season return, perhaps JohnStill will recruit and grow accordingly. It puts Money’s, Brabin’s and Buckle’s quick fix purchases into context now. Clearly their incentive was the one season return, and accordingly their dodgy purchases were along those lines, pro’s who could in theory step into a role and give instant reward, rather than growing a player and building a team. Of course, the quick fixes didn’t work and we are now still where we were four years ago. I suspect the board will always regret the decision to do it that way rather than the 2-3 year approach they have now adopted. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Some of us thought naively, it was going to be oh so easy.

The first half was listless and once again the players played as if they’d only just met. We did carve out half chances, and perhaps on another day one of them would have gone in and the pressure would have been off. Hereford were atypical opponents, ie they didn’t turn up and put 11 men behind the ball. They played some good football, though had a tendency to go down as if shot, to rant at the ref over every decision and one or two of them clearly thought they had more goalie in the team such was their propensity to handle the ball in the box. Hereford played some good football and in the first half we played some terrible football.

As an aside, I wonder, now that we are no longer in danger of getting promoted this year if sides will come and approach us differently. Will more teams fancy it and come and have a go now? Or will our reputation and size, rather than our league position still determine how sides line up against us? If it is the former then it will be a welcome change; if it is the latter then it will be interesting to see JohnStill’s methodology for prising open stubborn defences.

Hereford could have had two or three goals in the first half and it was a delight and a relief to see a side squander as many chances as we do. Their goal was a lesson in how not to defend, Jackson received the ball on half way and then proceeded to accelerate towards the Hatters defence. Not one tackle was put in, he was not closed down – he was escorted to the goal like a steward at the Kenny End showing a Sunderland fan to his seat. It was a great run and a good goal, but awful defending and the new lad Goodman was at fault as much as anyone. But, he’s young and learning his trade and we all make mistakes. Better that we benefit from all his good defending whilst he’s here.

So onto the team.

Mark Tyler – still shop stopper extraordinaire, but his kicking has lost a little direction and borders on the Emberson at times (but not to the degree of the hapless Bittner whose kicking was worse than piss-poor). There was a huge ironic cheer when he chose to roll one out rather than hoof it aimlessly. Shame he doesn’t do it a bit more. The goal seemed to go past him in slow motion too.

Ronnie Henry was sound enough at right back and got forward well in the second half.

McLumpy fortunately wasn’t closed down enough to make the stumble-blunders he managed against Mansfield. Some of his passing went astray – but he put his head where he needed to when it mattered.

Goodman – mentioned his part in the Hereford goal – but otherwise he was okay. His shot at the end where he blasted it over was a tad greedy when a pass would have been better – but little things. Tidy home debut – but needs to adjust his sights so that his clearances don’t make the people in the Main Stand Enclosure dive for cover.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Kovacs returns and Thomas is back from suspension. Who would you choose? We’ve got a choice of four now. I’m not sure how impressed JohnStill would have been with Thomas getting sent off like that. I know who I’d go for.

Taylor – went missing in the first half and was defensively woeful. Had a hand in the Hereford goal – but improved in the second half before being subbed.

Lawless – kept trying and was instrumental in the improvement in the second half. Was certainly trying to impress the new manager. If you had to pick a player of the season at this point, would it be Lawless? Not much choice this year I know.

Mendy – Dr Clutz in the first half, and was focus for much of the angst, picked up slightly better in the second, but was subbed.

Smith – tried to get the ball wide and played it forward and again improved markedly in the second period.

Howells – best game in a long time in the first half, was a perennial pain down the left hand side. Moved to his favourite position of left back when Martin came on in the second half. I’m using irony there by the way…

Gray – seems to be splitting opinion amongst the fans. Some grumble and groan at his poor control and first touch whilst others remember that just over a year ago he was carrying a hod and playing at Hinckley. If he hangs around in the summer, it will be fascinating to see if JohnStill can add him to his long list of improvers. He definitely has something (eg pace, and an eye for goal) let’s hope he can just get better and better.

Rendell – half chances in the first half and another who splits opinion. Some see him as a slightly lazy player who should be better in the air for someone with his height and role, others remark upon his positional sense and point to his movement for the Norwich goal, and all the goals he has got this season. I suspect a decent manager would liberate him from the shackles of the target man and give him a different role.

Anyway – he was replaced by Alex Wall who made his home debut and was a breath of fresh air. His presence on the pitch allowed us to up a gear and for the last 20 mins we more or less camped in their half. How lovely to have a target man who regularly won the ball. I’m glad we’ve got him. The last decent target man we had got 100 goals – how lovely if he can even get a third of that in his time with us. He got his noggin on the balls played up to him and nodded down and held up as necessary. He looked a little raw, but looked very, very up for it and keen. I’d like to see him start alongside an experienced quick striker who can anticipate where the ball is going to drop. Lovely to create a partnership between a front two again. What a concept. Dare we dream? Welcome Alex. Let’s not get too carried away. Promising start, long way to go. Let’s hope he can grow, improve and we get the benefit of that whilst he is with us.

O’Donnell – added to the improved momentum and added some intelligent passing.
In the 17 minutes David Martin on the pitch he was nearly the villain, but as it turned out the hero. A spectacular interception in front of his own goal had Tyler at full stretch to keep out what would have been a classic own goal and on Danny Baker’s next video (do they still do videos? Am I showing my age?) It might have been goal of the season. Perhaps he was just warming up, because trebles all round with three minutes of time to go when the ball fell to Martin on the edge of the box and he drove in the equaliser. Relief. Such was our dominance at that point that we could have gone on to win it. And had we played another ten minutes I suspect we would have done.

We made it harder than it needed to be really – but the game was open enough for Hereford to have been 3-1 up at half time, but for us to have won 4-3. Despite the officials’ best efforts we came away with a draw. The performance in the second half would have brought a little new found optimism that we can at least play just a little bit.

But it takes a long time to turn a tanker around. We were dropping like a stone when JohnStill inherited the team and it takes while for the negative momentum he inherited to drain away, to stop, regroup and to start in the opposite direction. It is fire fighting initially. It is time for the manager to see what the players can do. The steepest of steep learning curves for players and staff alike. But JohnStill is a wise old bird. I wonder what he made of Kenilworth Road on match day? It’d be lovely if he can eventually get it rocking again. One day…one day…

Looking forward to Hyde on Tuesday. What a topsy-turvy season they have had. Bottom when we played them earlier this year, but had a spurt of form in the autumn which saw them climb to mid table including a 7-0 win against Woking, and beating Newport away, But their current run of form, six straight defeats and one win in twelve, has seen them fall back to the relegation zone again. Surely a good team to be playing…or am I tempting fate?