@ 26/02/14 – 22.55:32A brilliant attacking burst at the start of the game ensured the result with still 75 minutes to play. The mighty Hatters carried on where they left off in the second half against Nuneaton with a magnificent team performance where there were no weak links.Rudderless Wrexham weren't too bad a side, defending apart. They made plenty of chances and half chances in the first half, could have had a penalty and if the sitters they missed had gone in, the scoreline and the outlook would have been very different, if not perhaps the result. We started with the same XI for the third game running - well, if you can't stick with the same team when your previous results have been 5-0 and 7-0 when can you? Feel sorry for Mssrs Cullen, Ferdinand, Parry, Lacey and Meade who can't even get a sniff.What can I say? When the side switches it on and play high-tempo one touch football on the edge of the opponents box we are irrepressible and there is such control, confidence, skill and ability that even when the one twos don't quite come off, there are still going to be chances, the ball still has to be dealt with and pressure still applied.Ogleby missed a sitter in the opening seconds, his first of many. Our first goal was almost immediately after. It was our first attack of the game and scored after 131 seconds. Gutteridge stroking home from the edge of the box having been played in by that man Benson after excellent persistence by Howells. The second was down to Andre Gray's persistence as he was presented with the ball a couple of times having seemingly lost it, but he motored on through and struck it home having originally been put through by Franks. The Wrexham defending was a bit like "after you...no, after you...have another go Andre, because we know you are the leading goalscorer in the division after all, we wouldn't want you to go without".The third goal was a lovely move with a series of one touch passes starting with PRMs pass an culminating in Guttridge bagging his second and his 12th for the season. How Boothroyd must have kicked himself for letting him go. Probably refused to roll around the floor with half an hour to go with his team one up...We had to wait a bit for the fourth, but ultimately Henry got a nose bleed and assist by crossing for Benson after a strangely slow motion move where Wrexham seemingly escorted us on.Despite what JohnStill said afterwards, I thought whilst the second half was disciplined and we played some lovely football it was little more subdued, with the foot off the gas a fraction. We switched to 4-4-2 with Howells and Guttridge on the flanks, though to be fair the attacking movement is so fluid that many of the roles are interchangeable at times. I did think there were times when there was a hole in front of the Wrexham centre halves which would have been filled by a lively Guttridge buzzing around. Howells was felled for the penalty and got up and offered the ball to Guttridge, who, like the consummate professional declined it to allow Howells to pop it home. To be fair, if the ball had rolled slightly differently we could have had three more in the second half. Wrexham did play their part, not hacking us to death but still trying to pass it around, to their credit. Being the superstitious type - I don't mind us missing a few half chances when we're five up - I'd rather that then when we are scrabbling around for winner, get your misses out of the way when you are already five up!Meanwhile Richard Money was doing his pieces for Cambridge as their season further implodes. He's now worried about making the play offs - he's not bothering about us. He's thrown in the towel for the title race - as his players Matthew Barnes-Homer et al seem already to have done.Again, our performance and finishing was confident, superb to watch and so gratifying after the seasons of dross we've had to endure. This is, without doubt the best team we have had since we were in the championship. Full credit to JohnStill. He said it might take 20 months when he started a year ago. Well - on the anniversary of his appointment we are 14 points clear at the top, with 14 games to go. That means even if we only drew our away games and won all of our home games, Cambridge would have to win each of their remaining games to finish ahead of us. I'll let you ponder as to the likelihood of that. Anyway I suspect on current form Barnet will overtake Cambridge shortly. Without Davids they look much better. In any case, maths aside we need to keep the pressure on, play well again on Saturday and let the table take care of itself. Can't wait until Saturday. My congratulations to the team and the club for extending this breathtaking run of form and results. I keep pinching myself but it really is happening...No report after Saturday by the way as I'm going up to Scotland immediately after the game. They don't have the internet up there. Last time I was in Glasgow I watched as they burnt a wicker effigy of Tim Berners-Lee.Come on you Hatters!
@ 23/02/14 – 20.48:57
ITV put on my favourite Bond film this afternoon to help me rid myself of my post-Nuneaton hangover. I hit the pause button when making a cup of tea and then noticed the headline on the paper....poor Allan Brown - welcome Alec Stock!
Can anyone else think of any other inadvertant Hatters mentions in films?
By the way - top, top stuff yesterday, as PDW said in his match report I'm running out of superlatives to describe the team's performances at the moment. Long may that continue - roll on Tuesday night.
@ 19/02/14 – 12.40:23
What with Cambridge faltering a little - in an idle moment, and purely for fun, I've just been sitting here with my calculator.
The average points for 2nd place in the conference for the last 7 years has been 89*. The average number of defeats for teams in 2nd place is 9, incidentally, whilst the average number of defeats for teams in top spot has been just over 7.
89 points in 46 games equates to 1.93 pts/game. Cambridge have won 58 points in 30 games - an average of 1.93 points per game. Make of that what you will.
Even if Cambridge swap their current stuttering form for that of ours this year, 2.2 points per game, from here on in they will add 35 points giving them a total of 93. As it is, with the play off teams taking points of themselves I suspect Cambridge, or perhaps Grimsby with a late run, or perhaps even Alfreton will end up nearer the 89 than the 93 - if they are lucky. Slightly less if we are lucky. The lowest for 2nd was 81 points.
What does that mean - mathematically for us? We have 66 points at present and 93 points is 27 points away - 9 more wins. 89 points - with our goal difference is only 23 points away, fewer than 8 wins. So, mathematically even if from games 31 to 46 we only managed P16 W7 D1 L8 we could still win the league. Drunkenly stumbling across the line that would be.
I imagine that this sort of self-indulgent calculation would do JohnStill's head in. He's not looking to stumble across the line, he's looking to extend the run, keep us playing well and focus on each game as it comes whilst building for the future. If we happen to win promotion by doing that then so be it. I think he is the last person on the planet to sit down with a calculator and plot the season here on in that way.
Football is a funny old game and has a way of biting you in the arse - but an 8 point lead with 16 games to go is a good lead to have and there is nothing about our form that gives us cause for concern. It is Cambridge fans who are looking downwards and not upwards and their management is talking about ensuring they make the play offs rather than challenging the Hatters. I can't imagine it will but can only hope that their current run 13 points in the last 10 games continues. It is does then it is the likes of Alfreton and Grimsby who we should watch out for instead.
Let's keep going - keep doing all we can to keep winning and the points and the positions will take care of themselves. We have been playing such good football recently and grinding out results even when the conditions or the opposition have made it difficult for us. The key is to focus on the next game and keeping the form and confidence as it has been.
The next five games are absolutely key. Nuneaton away, Wrexham home, Alfreton home, Salisbury away and then Cambridge away. The stiffest test is yet to come. Take nothing for granted and let's see where we are on the night of March 11th.
Come on you Hatters!
*the season Chester's record was expunged we finished 2nd with 88 points from 44 games - we were scoring points at 2 per game that year - so for the 7 season average I used a nominal 92 points for the 46 game calculation and average.
@ 16/02/14 – 20.22:18
There were some good players on show here - Liverpool had one or two as well. Some of the football in this match was almost as good as yesterday....
@ 16/02/14 – 00.24:19
What an excellently enjoyable game of football. That is two outstanding wins in a week. The first in Macc. was a hard earned scrappy win, the sort of game we would have lost in the past, whereas this afternoon was a glorious second-half feast of a victory.
In a game where the referee chose to be lenient on Hereford, but harsh on the Hatters we still managed to romp home. Once we got out of first gear with Andre Gray's first goal I didn't think we ever looked like not winning, let alone conceding. And, much like the Nuneaton game two weeks ago, any rustiness or lack of cohesion in the first half was swept away with a tide of goals in the second.
And what goals they were.
The first goal came after nice move and a good interchange on the edge of the box. McGeehan curled in a low shot which the keeper failed to grasp, and in effect parried it to Gray who pounced like a cat on a bird and instinctively poked it in. Good - that was 1-0, pressure off, and playing into the wind. We had plenty more chances, but weren't quite dominating in the way we can. It all changed when we played with the wind in the second half, but we didn't succumb to any temptation to use the breeze by playing it long.
The second goal came from an inswinging Howells corner. McGeehan rose well and jumped competitively to win the ball, he hung like a spring salmon in the air, and took one for the team in the process, hurting his arm, and playing like a bird with a broken wing thereafter. Benson got on the end of McGeehan's header and forced it home. It was probably going to go in anyway to be fair.
The third goal was smartly taken penalty by Jake Howells, however it was not the penalty but the build up to the award of the penalty which was impressive. It all started with a long cross field ball by Scott Griffiths to Howells, on the right. He played it back to Ronnie Henry who fired a fast ball forward to PRM who had lots of room to turn and drive into the box (just for a change!) and play a one-two with Luke Guttridge before being scythed down by the Gypsy-beast James.
The fourth goal was my favourite, and another move that would be more at home four divisions above, or at the Nou Camp. Think quick, sharp, high tempo passing - Luton football at its best. Guttridge played the ball back to McGeehan who played the ball inside to PRM who burst forward and injected more pace into the move on the edge of the box. He laid it inside for Guttridge who drifted to the left then slotted it inside to Benson standing on the penalty spot who touched it back for that man Ruddock who clip/chip/curled the ball perfectly into the top corner. He couldn't have caught it more perfectly. A beautiful move matched by an exquisite finish. Little fast triangles, impossible to defend.
Three goals still to go, including a hat trick. McGeehan went off shortly afterwards, clutching his arm - he got a great reception as he gingerly made his way to the tunnel. A very lively Matt Robinson replaced him.
Benson started the fifth by muscling the ball back in the centre circle. It went back to Guttridge (there's a theme here) who played a direct ball forward in front of Gray, which was, frankly a bit cruel. Fast striker vs knackered defender. Only one winner. Gray took the ball into the box and, carefully slotted the ball into the far corner giving the keeper no chance.
On came Jon Shaw, back from injury and on the bench, he replaced Benson, who had had a lovely game. Shaw's first involvement was under-jumping for a ball, or rather being outjumped for the ball - and I thought 'here we go again' but fortunately this is the new version of Jon Shaw and that is the last time that happened.
Another lovely passing move resulted in Guttridge sending Lawless down the left wing stretching the play and getting to the byline. Another player you don't really want to be facing when you are tired and five down. Lawless got to the byline, crossed it left footed and Gray darted it in for his hat trick of hat tricks this year. Who was the last Hatter to do that?
Last goal came from a free kick would you believe? Matt Robinson struck a right foot shot from 20 yards out, and the keeper made a fantastic save to touch it onto the bar, but the ball looped up and there was not one but two Luton players following it in from about a foot out - Shaw and Lawless, I think they both touched it, or rather the ball hit both of them, with possibly Lawless having the last touch. I don't know, from where I was stood at the Kenny End I had a pretty good view. My instinct was that Shaw got the touch, but his body language suggested he might be a bit lucky to claim it. Anyway - doesn't matter it was a goal - a seventh goal - and the drubbing was complete.
Who looked good, who looked bad? Difficult to find someone who struggled in any way. I suppose you could say that McNulty made a couple of uncharacteristic errors in the first half, that Guttridge took a while to get into the game and that Andre Gray shot rather than passing on two occasions once he had had this hat trick, but that was about that, the splitingest of split hairs. The second half saw a succession of confident flowing moves from a side top of the table who are playing like they are top of the table. This is the Luton side we always envisaged and hoped for (and arrogantly assumed) when we dropped down - a class above the rest and looking like a Ferrari in a garage full of Fiestas.
Hereford, able to live with us for the first half but were simply blown away in the second half as our fitness levels made a difference and our class shone through.
Poor old Hereford. Another proper club fallen on proper hard times. Decent fans. I hope things turn around for them. Of course, it was only five seasons ago they were in league one rubbing shoulders with Leicester, Leeds and Brighton. Mind you, we know a thing or two about falling down the divisions.
We were quality. There wasn't a weak link. I'm not sure there is a weak link. Players who were out of form when they came to the club (eg Ronnie Henry) and players who were out of form at the start of the year (Griffiths, Gray) have come good and are in top form. Players such as Cullen, Ferdinand and Meade can't even get in the match day squad, everything is going well. Once again I must take my hat off to the players and the manager JohnStill for their performance and attitude this year, which has been spot on. They are taking it a game at a time, playing with confidence and at high tempo and not getting complacent. Still has filled the squad with willing talent, bursting to impose itself on games. And long may it continue.
Brilliant today, brilliant. It feels good to be a Hatter right now - everything comes to he who waits...
@ 04/02/14 – 13.59:51
Right, as we've got no matches and it is a 'quiet' Luton news period, and we've got nothing to do other than to watch that hailstorm again for the 100,000th time, I thought I might see if we can't get the fullest list yet of well known fans of the mighty Hatters.
You might not recall, but back in the not-so-heady days of 2009 I published this article. It drew lots of comments and lots of people adding to the list.
So, in addition to the original ones below I'd like to add:
Faye Carruthers - mad Hatter and Five Live, ex-talksport and Sky presenter.
Niky Wardley - Actress - been in lots of things, but you may recognise her most from Catherine Tate's show
Jon Desborough - Sky Sports and ESPN man - I seem to recall he wrote a number of articles on the last page in the programme in the past
So - apart from these, Jon Hegley, Marty Feldman, Charles Bronson, Petey Staniforth, John Earls and the Barron Knights - have I missed anyone?
I suppose you could add Miranda Hart, in the loosest possible terms. Mind you she did say that doing that filming at the club coincided with the lowest point of her life. Luton has that effect on some. Eg Richard Money, Pavel Besta, Gary Brabin etc.
Right then - come on - let's have some suggestions - the more tenuous the better....
Eric Morecambe - yes I started with the obvious and best known one - the famous former director and fan. I believe Eric started coming to football at Luton when he moved to Harpenden and brought his family to matches. Let's remember when I was a lad Morecambe and Wise were the most successful comedy partnership in the country. Often copied but never bettered. And the funny one of the two used to slip mentions of the Hatters in whenever he could. Great publicity for our club. It is so sad that he never got to see us to lift the Littlewoods Cup. By the way - can someone remind me why we can't run out to Bring Me Sunshine at home games? I'm sure there must be a reason. We used to I'm sure.
Jamie Redknapp - mmm...strange I hear you say - but Jamie's Luton pedigree began when a member of his family used to bring him as a nipper. He admitted on telly he was brought up on a diet of Ricky Hill and Brian Stein.
Rob Stringer - who? I hear you say, some of you will know who Rob is because of his former connections to the club, and others because of his connection to the music business (Head of Sony BMG in the US still I think), but I know him because I went to school with him, albeit not quite in the same year. You could have guessed his final career if you gauged the hours he spent in the record shops in town (Earth Records was it?), and at the Friar's club. We had a mutual musical friend in Mr Pike, a chemistry teacher at the school, who used to let us in the stage door at the back of the club to see the artistes and get a few autographs. Rob was a director of the club for a while in the past (I can't remember which incarnation of ownership he was connected with) but apparently preferred being a fan to a director and stuck to hiring one of the beach huts instead. Not sure if he still comes, America is a long way to travel from for a home game...
Monty Panesar - easy one this - everyone knows Monty was born and bred (and still lives) in the town and is a Hatter. I'm not sure if he was a season ticket holder or not, but he definitely used to come to games, was at Wembley in April, and famously quipped that he would "buy Luton" if he won the $1m in the Stanford Twenty20 farce. Actually his comment made me wince and rather made light of the ongoing efforts our 2020 were putting in at the time to put the club back on its feet.
Colin Salmon - Came on Soccer AM on 22nd Feb and gave it the big one for Luton, even used JohnStill's phrase "controlling the controllables" and denied in the face of being provoked by the Cambridge fan hosting the show that we were Mr Moneybags.
Cerys Matthews - the latest addition to the list. Again, a bit tenuous because her boyfriend Steve is a Hatter, and she has been spotted at games. Good luck to her - once you get bitten by the bug...you can't stop. Looks like a job for Gnakpa and Murray.
Nick Owen - another easy one. If you live in the midlands dear Nick has rarely been off your screens as he co-hosts the Midland Today, but his rise to fame was when he was on the TV-am sofa with Anne Diamond in the eighties and then again on BBC in the nineties. This was when the club, in the doldrums at the time made, a nice gesture of naming a lounge in the main stand after their highest profile fan at the time. Nick has been coming to Kenilworth Road for 50 years and is the definition of lifelong fan. Please note Mr Pinkney. I think Nick was a wonderful choice as Chairman of the club under 2020. High profile, magnificent with the media, passionate about the club and honest - what better choice could there be? I have met him a couple of times and he is a thoroughly pleasant man.
David Pleat Controversially I have added Pleaty. A whole generation of Luton fans will have grown up knowing him only as that bloke who is the summariser on ITV or on the radio, without necessarily making the connection between the voice and the guy who managed our club on two occasions. My first game at Luton coincided with David's so I have a fondness for his time at the club, but more of that another day. David still lives in Luton and still comes and watches games. You can pick his car out in the club car park, I don't think I am breaching any confidelity when I tell you the number plate is a subtle P1 EAT.
David James - England's no1/2/3 keeper is a Hatter - despite blotting his copybook by playing for the allotments club. Apparently he used to wear Luton socks under his Watford ones. Best of luck to the guy. You can't always choose your employers. Better to be that way around than the other (Rio - it's not too late to see the light.)
Kevin Nicholls finally I have chosen Nico - another who having played for the club, realised that he had fallen in love with it. I apologise for paraphrasing an excellent comment he made shortly after rejoining us - he said something like: it made perfect sense to come back and play for a club which I will be supporting on the terraces once I hang my boots up.
@ 25/01/14 – 23.30:57
Truly hilarious. Whoever did this is a genius as far as I'm concerned...
My favourite line, amongst many is "he is playing mind games against himself!"
@ 25/01/14 – 23.23:45
For the first half of the game Luton were a little ring-rusty and took a little while to get going, but by the end the players had moved back to the slick, dominant form they had prior to New Year's Day. As the skies grew greyer, our play got sunnier.
This cunningly coincided with Luke Guttridge popping up in his familiar role behind the front three. There he fits in, as wise as an owl and as bald as a Buddha, pulling the strings and calling the shots.
It was a sound performance, and bearing in mind the horrible conditions and the damp pitch a good one. A couple of good finishes from Gray combined with an opportunist poach was the difference between the two teams.
Surprisingly, or rather, unusually defenders gave assists for two of the goals.
The first goal after 50 minutes was from a long throw by Ronnie Henry to Paul Benson, who knew exactly where his striking partner Gray was, which was in the inside right position on the edge of the box. Beset by multiple defenders all afternoon, he drove into the box and wriggled past his escorts and in the blink of an eye lashed the ball underneath the keeper, Belshaw on the near side. The instinctive finish of a natural goalscorer in confident form.
The second goal came after a short but strange passage of play following a corner. I did feel that a second goal was almost inevitable at that point. Sometimes you get that feeling - and I'll explain why. Sometimes when a strange incident happens, the players are temporarily stunned, and are thinking about the incident, rather than switching back to the game. It happens sometimes after a goal is scored, the side are still celebrating the goal in their minds and sleepwalk for a few seconds, enough time for the other side, still switched on, to grab the initiative. And that's exactly what happened today. Fortunately Luton were the side switched on. A Howells inswinging corner hung in the air sufficiently for it to be met by Innis (I think) at the far post. He headed it towards the goal and the ball was as close as you like to going across the line - it may have done, it may have not, it was certainly followed up by a melee of Luton players before a Nuneaton player squirted it clear, but clear only just to the edge of the box, where it was retrieved by McGeehan who jinked inside, turned and headed back for goal. His cross-cum-pass with his instep (he likes that) rather hit Benson and ricocheted out to the left edge of the box where Griffiths picked it up. He drilled it into the six yard area where Gray cleverly slotted it into the vacant near post goal as easy as you like. It all took a matter of seconds and Nuneaton were shell-shocked.
There was a short period of nearly-but-not-quite nervousness on my part whereby if Nuneaton had sneaked one then would have meant the last 25 mins could have been nervy. But that wasn't on the cards. The Hatters were now brimming with confidence and had it not been for Belshaw we would have had more.
The last goal came with about 10 mins of proper time to go - but in reality about 20. It was inadvertent route one. Belshaw's goal kick into the wind reached as far as McNulty in the centre circle. His powerful header back should have been met by his equivalent. But - he missed it and Gray pounced on and chipped the - in effect - perfect through ball over Belshaw for the third and a well-deserved second half hat-trick. A lightning strike of a different kind for a change. Just to emphasise though - McNulty's header was as hard and as far as a kick. He bestrode the pitch like a colossus today, figuratively of course.
Nuneaton for their part came to slow things down and frustrate and didn't have a plan B once plan A failed. I counted them as having only about 3 decent chances all game, none of them really clear cut. I don't think Tyler had a save to make really. Belshaw, dodgy kicking into the wind aside, had a good game and made two or three fine saves to deny us.
Alex Lawless missed out and Howells continued as part of the attacking force on the left hand side. McGeehan started his first game with Ferdinand missing out, with Robinson retaining his place. I liked the look of McGeehan. I think he took a little while to get up to pace and up to speed, and his tempo matched that of the whole team in the first half. Once he and the side picked up pace in the second half things started to happen. Innis the man-mountain partnered McNulty at the back and one or two weak touches and awkwardness aside (to be exceedingly picky) had a solid game. As if he'd been in the team for years not days. Blimey - and he's only 18.
What to say about the conditions? Dry at the start, and bearing in mind the rain it has had on and off since the Barnet game, the outing against Cambridge and then the waterlogging last week, it wasn't bad at all. Then the rain started and it slowed up a bit and got tacky. And then the hail started and there were puddled on the pitch again. What weather we've had eh? When was the last time the players went hurtling for cover because the air was full of little missiles? Oh yes, York of course.
So - I really enjoyed the game and it went as you might have predicted. Slow start - getting back up to speed gradually, and then hitting the straps, more or less, in the second half. Lovely.
My congratulations to Andre Gray for his well-taken hat-trick. Boy he looks in good form. Long may that continue and long may he stay....
My congratulations also to JohnStill and the squad for breaking the club record by going 20 league games unbeaten. Truly a magnificent performance and I'm proud to have witnessed the majority of those games.
On a sad note, along with others on the Luton Outlaws board - I learnt about the death of Ian Saunders. Nice to see the online community raising money in his name, I thought that was a nice touch. Though I didn't know Ian - I did wonder if he was the lone visitor from Romania who visited this site. RIP.
Come on you Hatters!
@ 17/01/14 – 10.00:45
Lots of comings and going recently. The man-mountain Inniss in. I like the look of him, but also was impressed by Joe Davis. Alfie Mawson's gone back to Brentford of course - didn't see much of him at all. In comes another Ferdinand, who I saw the other day at Cambridge looks promising, as does the news of young Mr McGeehan from Norwich. From the sounds of it, he is in the box to box PRM mode. Pelly obviously has returned to the Hammers from whence he came. That's a big shame, because I thought he was a class above this level and really did put us on another plane. Hopefully the Norwich lad can do the same.
I understand that Luke Guttridge is back for the game tomorrow which is good news for him, but perhaps bad news for Jake Howells, as presumably, Lawless will return to the right of the front three, Gray to the left and Jake to the bench. I'm guessing at a midfield of Guttridge, Ferdidnand and Robinson, with the back four picking itself, assuming Inniss is in.
I agree with PDW's commments after the Cambridge replay on Tuesday regarding the older returning from injury players vs the youngsters. Clearly Taiwo and Shaw need more games and I thought Shaw felt a bit frustrated at times on Tuesday. Bless him, he still can't jump! Taiwo is a funny player, on his day he can turn a game, but as often as not descends into a pit of poor-passing. Though clearly Still rates him, he's surely a long way behind Guttridge and Lawless for the position behind the front two, and certainly you wouldn't think he could compete on the same terms as Smudger Smith, Parry, Robinson etc. It's a loan for you my son. Charles was certainly competant, but Inniss was better. Charles looked a bit ring-rusty still.
Shaun Whalley. What do we make of dear Shaun? Clearly his game is at a low ebb. He reminds me a bit of Adam Newton after that shocking miss at Southampton. The confidence drained out of Newton and his game went to pot. Whatever confidence Shaun had at the start of the season has long since gone. Let's have a look at this a bit closer: what is going wrong? Well, at the moment he can't pass, cross and everything he does seems to fail to come off. The one thing he can still do is go on a run with the ball, but then the end product is rubbish. Now obviously he's not a completely terrible player. For two reasons 1) unless he was the gooseberry in the Parry deal, JohnStill wanted him and rated him and JS is a good judge of player 2) he must have some talent, but because his confidence has gone his game is on the floor. Though his output at present is Sunday league, he's talent and ability are sufficient enough for a manager of JS's ability to want him and rate him, and indeed start with him at the top of the season. So, something's gone wrong and the confidence has gone. He reminds me a bit of Steven Finn, the England fast bowler. Another who has ability, but whose confidence is at zero. What does Finn need to do? Play lots of county cricket and rediscover the form which made him such a good prospect in the first place.
With Whalley, how do we do the same? Not up to me to decide, but I'm thinking that perhaps he needs to go out on loan at a lower level and find it easy again and get a good feeling about his game back. He needs to connect with a few crosses, get some 1-2s coming off, get in the box and knock some goals in. Surely it is nothing more fundamental than that. If it is then he has a problem, or rather, if he can't get his confidence back and then advance as a player and grow his game, then he is going to be stuck at this level or below for the rest of his career. He's at the crossroads. Hopefully it will be nothing more than getting his confidence back to where it was last year and growing from there. Who knows? Perhaps he's homesick? Perhaps he is not getting on with one of the team? Perhaps he's going through a messy divorce or trouble at home? There is always an element to a players loss of form that we can never be sure about.
Of the youngsters that played the other night it was Brett Longden who impressed me the most. Sitting in the enclosure for a change, I got the chance to view his game up close. Whilst, like the other youngsters, he made less of an impression in the second half I really liked his workrate, positional sense, ability to track back and tackle and pass. He is a player older than his years and his number of first team performances would suggest. Again, JS will have his own ideas, but I would have no worries about considering him the first choice deputy for Ronnie Henry on the right. I know he played left back the other day, which he did really well and showed his versatility. A real prospect is Brett.
Young Trotman was also very good, and was the only youngster whose game remained at a consistent level for 90 mins. Again, really promising player - where do we find them? Ian Rees I have spoken about before - I think he has a bright future ahead of him if brought on properly. Zane Banton is just electric and added some much needed pazzazz when he came on on Tuesday night - again, he must have been frustrated at not starting, and was clearly itching to give it a go. Ahead of him in the queue is Mark Cullen who worked really hard the other night even though he was on the wrong side for most of the game. Lastly for now Alex Wall looked a bit less rusty and had much better touch on Tuesday and happier with his game. He is a big battering ram of a player all elbows and bustle - not the sort of guy you look forward to playing against.
The result was disappointing, but there were some good signs there and the players worked hard. The ball was in the air for longer than I would have liked - but with Shaw and Wall up front, what would you do?
At least Cambridge are left in the cup, which will add to their fixture congestion hopefully, and take their mind off the main prize. In a way it might just have worked in our favour, though the players and development squad players who were enjoying their run wouldn't agree.
Wrexham tomorrow. Be good to get back to winning ways, though nothing can be taken for granted. Just because they were lacklustre and had their heads down against our reserves, doesn't mean to say it will be a cake walk with our first team. I hope, obviously, it is. But football has a nasty way of surprising you when you least expect it. JohnStill will instill this in them I am sure, and weather forecast notwithstanding, I look forward to a good game tomorrow.
Come on you Hatters...see you there.
@ 02/01/14 – 18.35:32
Truly from the sublime to the ridiculous. Imagine football as the Keystone cops, add a bit of Charlie Chaplin and roll in some Laurel and Hardy. It was still good fun though and comedy gold. I'm just genuinely relieved that no players were injured because of the conditions. Not injured perhaps, but just imagine how heavy their legs were at the end of the game.
Should the game have started? Possibly. Was it quickly apparent that it should be called off? Yes. Did I still feel that when we were two up? Osf course not. Was it the same for both sides? Yes. Was I praying that the game would finish and not be called off? – you bet.
What can I say? On Saturday, against Kidderminster, some of the football we played was up there with as well as we have played, for a long, long time. Just look at that sixth goal. Barcelona? Nope, do not adjust your sets, it's lowly Luton. Superb. But today, well it couldn't have been more different. Poor Richard Bird, how long's it going to take to get that (previously excellent) pitch back to scratch? He must have thought Richard Money was back, playing through the snow that time. In certain areas of the pitch it was just a watery bog. The ball didn't run nor bounce and so it was pot luck. Back passes were a no-no. In fact any passes seemed bloody difficult to be frank. I've never witnessed a Luton crowd "shouting get it in the air” and "hoof it” before, but scooping it down the wings was the best option. In fact it was quite hard to judge. In the non-boggy areas the ball would roll pretty normally, so it was a lottery, the long ball would run out. I guess the best option would be to pump it down the middle and let the pitch do the rest – which is what Barnet did in the second half. Trouble is, you could feed your best player a clear chance at goal, but the ball would get stuck under his feet, or on a couple of occasions a complete comedy fall-on-your-arse mis-kick, one notably from Hash-Brown. Thank the Lord it was being shown on the telly – because that miss would otherwise be lost forever.
I think all the lads deserved a big pat on the back for their performance. Alex Lawless was given man of the match for his tireless efforts in midfield – but to be fair they all did really well. One player who stood out for me was Andre Gray. It was him running the right channel all PM. Towards the end, with 10 minutes to go he was out on his feet. He could run no more. He had to have a little rest. We were all calling for JS to get Cullen on. But to be fair to Gray, he did get his second wind, and ran some more.
Jake had an outstanding game on the other wing. He must have done 2 or 3 very dangerous crosses, of the same quality that Paul Benson got onto the end of on Saturday. No luck today though.
McNulty stood out too, his calm head ensuring no panics, though even he on occasion was caught out by trying to roll the ball across the surface.
If the game had started at 3pm, I'm sure it would have never have started, so we have the TV to thank for that. I wonder how much pressure there was on the ref to keep it going by the telly people? Conspiracy theorists will have it that there was plenty. Premiership game? Perhaps? But New Years Day Luton vs Barnet? The audience on BTSport must have been thousands (DM: 300k according to BTSport - mmmm) . The ref stopped the game on 60 mins and spoke with the managers, his assistants and the two captains. The game went on though – much to Edgar's angst. By then scoring their goal, Barnet were kept interested and less whingy.
The result? Well I guess it was a fair reflection of the way the sides mastered the conditions. I suspect, on a level playing field (and not a waterlogged one) we would have had made a few more of the chances count. But we will never know.
All I can say, is that I've never seen a game like it. I'm glad I did see the game and I'm so pleased it finished. That's four points clear now. The run continues. I do hope the extra efforts today don't affect the performance at Lincoln on Saturday.
Anyway – short but sweet – I'm suffering from some sort of bug so not in top form at the moment.
Happy New Year everyone – here's to a wonderfully successful 2014. Who would want to support anyone else? It all happens at the Kenny. My thanks to the players, the board and JohnStill for turning the experience of Luton Town from a drudge to a joy again.
@ 27/12/13 – 11.01:53As it's a bit late now to do a full match report, I'd like to pass on my best wishes and support for Jonathan 'Smudger' Smith after his horrible injury yesterday after that brutal tackle by Jon Nurse.As if the team didn't need any more incentive to catch up and overtake Cambridge, and, possibly more importantly, fend off Grimsby, then they have one now. I suspect #doitforsmudger will be a common theme in the next few weeks.Whilst it will be painful, frustrating and worrying for Jonathan Smith, it is to his credit that he has been a dependable rock in the middle of our midfield and now leaves us with a bit of a hole. Only in the last game against Gateshead I wrote that "Smith..had an outstanding game" and that has very much been the case in the past few weeks, as part of this run, Smith has been the hard-working background cog whirring away, unsung, but integral.We have a ready-made replacement in Matt Robinson, who has looked very strong in recent weeks, in the second game against Staines for example he was outstanding. Parry too will return at some point. I'm not sure when PRM's loan deal completes, but hopefully JohnStill will be able to renew it, as it were. We have adequate replacements for now. But we shouldn't worry about it - because for the first time in years we have a steady hand on the tiller. JohnStill won't panic - he will have an idea of how he wants to handle it, and we should trust in his experience and ability to ensure that there is more than adequate coverage in the middle of the park. Smudger's absence will be noticed, the team will be weaker without him for now. I hope that Matt Robinson excels and plays so well that we don't notice the hole. I think he can.Jon Nurse has been very apologetic to the players and the management after the game and JohnStill has defused the situation by saying he is not a malicious player. This is good and it takes a big man to apologise. All I can say is, that if the tackle was not malicious then he has shockingly poor judgement. And if his judgement is that poor, it brings into question how can he be playing the game for a living and why it doesn't happen every time he tackles someone.It's a bit like when I was driving on the M25 a number of years ago. I was on a hilly incline, stuck in traffic behind a great articulated thing. As the traffic started to move the lorry rolled back into me, just a few feet - but sufficient for there to be a loud bang and dinted the front of the car and removed the number plate. The crappiest hill start you've ever seen. I was outraged. Whilst driving along I got the details of the haulage company and phoned them from the car, there and then. I was put through to the depot manager who contacted the driver, still driving along, who denied having rolled back into another vehicle. Imagine my annoyance. I said to the depot manager that his driver was either incompetent or a liar. Without going too far further into that story (I did have the last laugh) Jon Nurse's tackle was just the same. Most of us have played footie at one time or another. Either he knew he was going in a little bit too hard or that he might be arriving a little bit too late, or, if not, then he has shocking judgement. If his judgement of a tackle is that poor I'm not sure he should be playing Sunday league let alone 'professional' football for Barnet. Very few bad tackles are entirely accidental.The law distinguishes between honest blundering or a deliberate act. I'll let those of you who saw the tackle yesterday comment on what you thought...there is no in between, it is either one or the other. JohnStill is very much of the opinion that it was honest blundering, and the reaction of the Luton players after Nurse was sent off was that it was not malicious, just poor.So, that's it for now, another game tomorrow against Kiddy - let's hope we can keep this fantastic run going, albeit without Smudger Smith. I sincerely hope that his recovery is a positive one, and for his sake as pain-free as science can make it.#COYH#doitforsmudger
@ 22/12/13 – 00.08:47
If it’s Gateshead then it must be raining. A wet afternoon and a cracking game. The Hatters played at such a pace in the first half that perhaps it was inevitable that they would run out of puff at some point. When we did we let in a couple of sloppy goals – but not before we had scored four crackers. On the final Saturday before Christmas, an excuse for lower crowds in the days before Amazon, just under 7000 Hatters made the place rock and the Oak Road sang like the old days. For a while in the first half we were irrepressible, and at times there was clear blue water man for man between each Luton player and his Gateshead counterpart – for a little while it was men against boys.
The side picked itself, with Joe Davis slotting in alongside McNulty. Lawless however played on the left, rather than the right, which was interesting. He set up one goal and scored two others and was in fine form.
The scoring was opened by the in form Paul Benson – who led the line superbly all night. It came from a lovely cross from Lawless from the byline across the face of the goal to the far post.
The second was down to Alex Lawless’s persistence in front of goal. Having lost the ball a couple of yards out he tackled the defender span around and lashed the ball in the net with his left foot.
Persistence was the name of the game for the third goal. On the far right wing, but the dugouts Lawless closed down the dilatory Sirrell and the ball ran to his colleague who barely had time to control it before Ronnie Henry intercepted and his interception became a perfect through ball for Andre Gray. Gray took a couple of touches, ran with the ball a little way, didn’t bother to try to create an angle and just blasted it past the goalie into the net. Nothing prevented the goalie from saving it, he wasn’t obstructed or impeded – he was on his line, but Gray just blasted it as hard as he could into the back of the net.
The fourth goal was a beauty too. It began at the back whereby McNulty and Henry tidied up a Gateshead loose ball, with them pressed up the pitch, Henry slotted the ball to Gray on the right who took the ball from his own half and played the ball into the path of Benson who rounded a player and then reversed a shot into the opposite corner. The keeper got his fingers to it, but could only parry the ball to Lawless who calmly slotted it in.
Steve McNulty was simply awesome all afternoon. His tackling, heading and positional play was outstanding. He even had a tete-a-tete with Hatch right at the end with the ex-Hatter (and fellow Mastermind contestant) goading our lovable scouse and picking up a booking in the process. He kept on and on and wouldn’t let it lie (clearly debating that the atomic weight of xenon is indeed 131.293, not 131.294) but fantastically (in the hypocritical way that cricketers go and have a beer with the bloke whose mother they were slagging off a few minutes earlier at the end of the game) turned around and shook McNulty’s hand the second the whistle was blown. No hard feelings Macca. McNulty also lambasted Lawless for the first Gateshead goal. Nice to see the passion and annoyance about conceding one when four up. Glad it didn’t develop into a Batty/Le Saux tiff.
Scott Griffiths has gone from strength to strength over the past few weeks, he pressed further forwards than usual and on two or three occasions took an active part in play in the box – and even had a shot, a left-back special. His commitment on the touchline and interplay with Lawless was the key to the first goal: he played Alex in to cross for Benson’s header. I think he did go a bit sleepy bo bos for the Heed’s first goal – but I’ll forgive him that.
On the right Ronnie Henry roamed forward on occasion with great effect and brought a challenging extra element for Gateshead to contend with.
Davis was also tidy and competent. I recall one bone-cruncher of a tackle he did – on the no 7 (Larkin?) the tackle had to be perfect, because something bad would have happened if he had been out by an inch either way.
The middle three comprised of PRM, Guttridge and Smudger Smith. Smith was quietly competent with some composed tackles – he pressed their midfield effectively and never let them settle on the ball. He had an outstanding game. Guttridge was utterly dominant and pulling all the strings in the way he does, more so in the first half than second. PRM at times looked way too good for the conference, between you and me he looked a bit too good for Luton a couple of times. What a difference his presence is making. The original box to box man, driving forward, skipping around people, scattering Gateshead players as he went. As it happens today, he wasn’t a key contributor, but didn’t need to be. I recall possibly the miss of the season in the second half when he volleyed a Guttridge corner, it’s not many shots that run the risk of going over the roof at the Kenny End.
Gray was superb on the right and tormented Sirell like a cat playing with a dying mouse. Sirrell must have hacked at him, dragged him down, rugby tackled him and all sorts in his attempts to stop him, but without much success – even at that. Gray is in top form at the moment, with 7 goals in his last 5 days. He is tormenting defenders with his pace. Long may he remain at LTFC.
I won’t say anything about the defending for their second goal – basically Turnbill put in a deep curling cross to the far post that evaded everyone but that cheeky-chappy Liam Hatch at the far post. I’m sure JS would have gone potty at conceding that type of goal. Thank goodness it is a rarity these days.
I hope we can build on the performance today and eagerly look forward to the Barnet games and the Kiddy game next week. The Christmas period is key – I must admit we could have had easier ties – but we’ve got to play these sides sometime – they will be fearing us more than us fearing them.
Today’s game, the Gateshead goals aside was a superb performance for the Town. These are the performances and play which you want to bottle and keep forever. The pace, the touches, the vision, the confidence and self belief and the ethos were as good as they have been for a long, long time. It is a pleasure to watch them. How many times in recent years have we been able to say that? There are so many good things going on at the club from the youth team, through the ressies and the first team that I must take my hat off to the club and more importantly to JohnStill and his back room staff. I’m a happy Hatter as at Christmas 2013. By the way, it seems that everyone in the football world is following our recent (but not future) habit of sacking the manager, they’ve been falling like flies this week. I’m pleased to see that we’ve extended JohnStill’s contract.
Happy Christmas to all of you out there who take the time out to read this blog. I wish you all the best and here’s to a successful 2014 for everyone.
@ 15/12/13 – 00.41:21
QPR released plans for new stadium just north of Wormwood Scrubs today, fairly ironic bearing in mind some of the dubious characters they've had at the club in their history. But jibes aside, who's that team they are playing against in the artist's impression of the new stadium? And doesn't that look uncannily like Alex Lawless? All I can say is that I hope fate has it in its hands that we are the team who QPR play against in their first game there.
I notice that we haven't left anyone up for the corner - so JohnStill is still in charge then...
A link for those of you vaguely interested:
@ 14/12/13 – 23.42:24
Another splendid run out by the ‘development' squad. Just as well Wrexham didn't put up their reserves too or we would have had a hatful.
At present much or most of the Hatters world is rosy. To be able to have a group of youngsters and those used to warming the subs bench (at present anyway) who seamlessly slip in and out the first team is where we always wanted to be. Remember just a couple of years ago where there seemed to be no route from the ressies to the first team. All we had was an enormous squad of first teamers and there was a youth team and ne'er the twain seemed to meet. I must take my hat off to Mr Still. He has created this culture of winning and emphasis on youth in under a year. Be interesting to see what he can do after a couple in charge. Must be nice for him too. Thus far in his career I believe that he has always operated with his financial back to the wall. Whilst we are no Man City (and this is a good thing) it must be lovely for him to have such a financially supportive board and a bit of breathing room to shape and form his squad as he wishes. It seems to be working wonders.
I'm not naive enough to think that everything has been sorted and this is it, but neither am I going to chuck my toys out the pram if we suddenly go on a winless streak. But I'm not sure, unless a freak thing occurs why that would happen right now. The first team are flying at the moment, Gray and Benson in partnership with Guttridge and Lawless are terrorising the opposition and confidence is high. Long may it continue.
Back to today's game. Of the recent years we've had to endure playing Wrexham twice a year I must admit that Morrell's current team are a pretty insipid, toothless bunch. Other than a few shimmies into the box when we were still only 1-0 up they offered very little. Perhaps this is because Davis Jnr and Anthony Charles bottled them up so well. Both centre halves had excellent games and JohnStill has a real headache on his hands next Saturday as to who to partner McNulty in the heart of defence in the absence of Lacey and Parry. What has happened to Wrexham? They were real competitors in the past and now they are a shadow of their former selves. Not that I give a toss of course – hopefully, this year or next will be the last time we play them for a long time. In the past when Andy Morrell brought himself on it was a statement of attacking intent. Nowadays it is the equivalent of waving the white flag.
Davis was the more mobile of the two centre halves– not sure if that is because he is younger and isn't coming back from an injury or is Charles just like that anyway? Charles also kept my 2-0 at Ladbrokes intact with a clearance off the line towards the end. At right back Brett Longden made his first start of the year. I think he got better and better as the game went on. A tidy player he gave me no cause for concern whatsoever. The greater exposure he has to this level the better he will get. Who needs cover for Ronnie? Can't be too long before Brett is the natural choice as stand in.
Capt Boyo Howells was at left back and worked exceedingly hard. He had more impact in the first half than the second, but nevertheless, one slip aside, was sold and sound and positive going forward – putting in a fair share of crosses.
In the middle was a sort of three of Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (‘no15' from now on), Robinson and Ian Rees who I'd seen come on as sub in the Staines game. All three had tremendous games. I thought Rees looked good against Staines and his touch, movement, passing, intelligence and positional play were outstanding for someone making his first 1st XI start. He looks like a most excellent prospect. In a way it was a shame we didn't get to see Charlie Smith as he too looked an outstanding prospect when he moved inside in the second half against Staines. Blimey, how are we going to fit them all in? It's just like the olden days – every good youngster knocking on the door means one fewer foray into the transfer market and a slightly less furrowed brow for Messrs Wilkinson and co. Robinson showed class throughout, like he had in the Staines replay. He showed some fine touches and popped up all over the park. He's coming on well and is a more than capable deputy for Jonathan Smith at present. No15 was a revelation against Staines, in his element against Alfreton and again dominant today. He has more energy than a truck full of Duracells and loves to burst through on runs from the edge of his own box to the edge of the opposition one – strong as an Ox or "Rhino” as everyone else says. A great acquisition and perfect timing with Parry laid up. Don't know how long he is on loan for – but AP might struggle to get back in at present.
On the right of a front three was Shaun Whalley. He actually gave us a pretty typical performance. He met with almost no opposition from the left-back Ashton who he skirted around with ease all afternoon, but the end product was sometimes disappointing. Now I know if he was Carlos Edwards standard he'd not be playing for Luton – but am I being unreasonable to expect him to put in a succession of decent crosses? If he did we'd had had lots and lots of goals. Is that unfair? His attempt on goal from a free kick ended up in the upper tier of the Kenny and had to be retrieved by a steward who put in his exercise for the day by climbing the stairs to get it. Alas the one perfect pass he did do found Alex Wall who scored, but was offside. But, that said, he did provide the crosses for both the goals, both from corners and so hey – what do I know? The goals by the way were a cracking header for Cullen where he peeled off and was unmarked at a corner and the second was I think either an own goal or came off Anthony Charles. Either way, the cross came in and hit the unlucky/lucky (delete as appropriate) recipient without them knowing much about it.
In the middle was Alex Wall who is like a human battering ram. Pleased to see him back and I'm glad he is getting back to fitness. Showed some good touches and a couple of heavy ones and got clouted and jumped on all afternoon without making too much of a fuss. When he's back to being fully fit he will give us a more physical edge when one is needed and we saw that he sublime side of him with his wonderful goal against Halifax and his two goals last year. JohnStill has an eye for a player and Alex Wall one way or another is going to have a good career. He's already better than Calvin Andrew.
On the left was Mark Cullen – this year's unluckiest (fit) player. Unlucky, because clearly he has an eye for goal as 6 goals in 13 starts demonstrates – and it is only the excellent form of Andre Gray keeping him out. Good player to have on the bench. He's not as sharp as Gray of course, and a couple of touches showed that he has to work on his crossing with his left foot at least (no surprise there I guess) but he got the first goal and worked hard from beginning to end.
Oh – and Elliot Justham played too – but Geoff Boycott's mum could have played in the first half for all he had to do. He has a good kick on him and good positional sense. Again, definitely one to watch. Wouldn't it be wonderful if, when Tyler's time comes to hang up his gloves, we have the ready-made heir apparent in Justham, just ready to slot in – having put so much pressure on Tyler that he is almost forcing his way in. I daresay that is JohnStill's aim, so the more exposure to the first team he gets the better.
When I was a younger man, unfettered by the responsibilities of fatherhood and my current job, I used to pop up to reserve games as often as I could (the last one I went to I saw Enoch get hat-trick against a piss poor MK Dons side). Today's game, and perhaps the Staines one a little more, gave me the wholesome warmth that watching a good reserves game used to do. A good old fashioned work out for the up and coming and a few seasoned pros. JohnStill said that he put out a side capable of winning, and it did just that. We could/should have had more and killed the game off earlier, but there you go. We did go sleepybobos for a short period at the start of the second half, but no harm done. What's more it gives the manager another look at the players in a first team context and the likes of Gray and co a well-earned rest on a Saturday after a hard weeks training. What!? It sounds as if I'm making a case for the FA Trophy! Surely not?
Meanwhile, in a town 20 odd miles down the M1, the fans of the club with as many trophies as Rochdale went into meltdown after their team continued its long, disappointing run. Apparently dirty Italian money isn't a guarantee of success. Oh dear, how sad, never mind. How my heart bleeds.
To both of you who were listening carefully to 1CR after the game, you will note that in-between the whingy phone calls from the hornets fans, whoever was in the studio read out a text saying "McNulty had a quiet game today”. Sorry, couldn't resist it. They will read out anything those lads.
@ 24/11/13 – 10.31:51
A home game so long after the last one that it was like having another close season. I swear we’ve had shorter summers. When I was last at the Kenny it was the last knockings of a long summer, today was an early blast of winter.
Fortunately a couple of pints in the Nick Owen lounge insulated me from the biting coldness that the Kenny end normally has to offer pre-match.
Only a limited time to write the report this evening due to strictly fun, Dr Who and I’m a Celeb. You’ve got to get your priorities right after all.
An enjoyable game and a good win against a team from the Planet of Giants, apart that is, from the pint sized right back/mascot.
Andre Gray scored both goals, one a lovely finish after a knock on from Benson the other a fine poacher’s effort after good cross from the left channel by Lawless which either Benson or Gray could have stuck in.
Gray was keen, direct, determined and a pain in the neck throughout – but I thought for the most part he clumped around as if he had a big shoe. Every direct ball played to him he failed to control. It was quite funny by the end, and of course, because it wasn’t crucial we could have a laugh. But I swear JohnStill has given him an orthopaedic brogue as a boot. To be fair to him, there were three occasions in the game when his close control were spot on, one of them was for the first goal and at the end of the day that is when it matters. He did show a lovely touch on the right at one point when Tyler set him free on a break. Close control on occasion aside – we are lucky to have him, he has 9 goals now.
Up front Benson was a constant threat in both halves. He got very little support from the ref, who seemed to think the laws allowed their centre halves to use him as a climbing frame all afternoon. Must check that... He held the ball up well and linked incredibly well with Gray. His football intelligence shone out. Little touches here and there – he often sees things that are on which most of the cloggers in this division couldn’t even begin to envisage. His partnership with Gray is the best one we’ve had up front since Howard and Vine, in my very humble opinion. Having watched a couple of howlers in the Scouse Derby, PB served up one of his own this afternoon. One of the ones which are harder to miss than to score. He was set on a wonderful through ball by Parry I think and needed only to slot it in to score. Instead he slotted it wide. If he gets ten more of those this season he will score nine of them.
At the back Mark Tyler often chose to kick when some of us would have preferred to retain possession and build from the back. But to be fair to Tyler his kicking was accurate and regularly picked out Benson, rather than just conceding possession by placing it onto the forehead of the opposing centre half. Tyler made a couple of cracking saves too – which ultimately were crucial.
On the right Ronnie Henry struggled a little on occasion, but was sound and tight for most of the time and for some reason took it upon himself to fell Lafayette as he ran past him, in the season’s most obvious penalty. This was a wake-up call at the start of the second half to ensure you took your seats quickly. Lafayette took the penalty – which Tyler saved but unfortunately we were all sleepy-bo bo on the edge of the box and he followed up and scored. Henry was pushed over just before half time and was lying prone in the box and play carried on. And in a comedy way after Welling pulled level got warned for time wasting by the ref. Where do we get them from?
More troubled on the left, but not really in trouble was Scott Griffiths who is in zingingly good form at the moment. He was marking the lofty no 9 of Guthrie who had the dangerous combination of height and pace. Apart from one move where he got the ball to feet and cleverly deceived the Luton defence, his bark was worse than his bite. It was Griffiths’ pass to Benson which set up the first goal and he made further progress down the left when possible and put in a good cross to Gray who headed just wide.
In the middle was Steve McNulty ultimately doing his best Fozzie impression with a bandage after an elbow in the head from Lafayette- he’s got your card marked now son. Bless him, he looked like a broken Weeble found on a stall in a car boot sale. In the first half he made crucial interception after crucial interception. When we were under the most pressure it was McNulty who got the important clearance just when it was needed. He treated us to a bit of Brazilian flair by attempting to pass the ball with the outside of his foot in the second half. Needless to say the pass flew straight to the opposition and I can only imagine the amount of ribbing he will get all week from his colleagues.
Alex Lacey alongside – he grows in strength and ability with each game. Who would have thought that he would have maintained his form and position this far into the year. Often young players have a bounce when they first get into the side playing with the form and confidence of youth – but often after 5 or 6 games their lack of experience starts to show and they run out of puff as the initial bubble bursts. Then they are dropped and they must build the form again to challenge. Remember the likes of Stephen O’Leary and Michael Leary when they broke into Newell’s side? They were stop gaps because we were down on our uppers at the time. But they punched above their weight initially before ultimately skill and experience caught up with them. There are some young players, like Keet’ Keane or Kevin Foley who take to first team football like a duck to water and grow and grow in the role never looking back. I’m delighted to say that Alex Lacey appears to have slipped effortlessly into the latter group rather than the former examples. Long may it continue.
In Jonathan Smith’s absence in stepped Jim Stevenson. He buzzed around in midfield without imposing himself. Much of the play eluded him. Another young player who might benefit from a run in the side. I was surprised he started ahead of Matt Robinson – but I’m not the manager. However Robinson made a real difference when he was brought on and looked hungry for the place. I was sitting there thinking what is the difference with Robinson – he appeared to have a shock of fluffy hair all of a sudden – then it dawned on me he’d left his Alice band at home.
Shaun Whalley mark two started on the left, ahead of Jakey Howells. Whilst he had a few good runs and interchanged well and created a threat he didn’t really make that much of an impact – or at least as much as he would have liked. He was replaced by Luke Guttridge, who slotted in playing just behind a front three of Lawless, Gray and Benson. Guttridge made a huge difference to the second half. Pulling the strings. He pressed so far forward he was almost part of a front four. A constant threat which frankly Welling were struggling to deal with. This was the fundamental difference, suddenly we were controlling the midfield and thus the match. It was Guttridge’s through ball to Lawless which set up the winner.
Alex Lawless started on the right of a four and ended up the right of a three. He wasn’t in the game too much in the first half but increasingly had influence as the game went on. It was his cross from a Guttridge pass which ran across the face of the goal for Gray to stick in.
Andrew Parry has become a fixture in the side – I like him. He showed a couple of very good touches today, but was outnumbered and couldn’t impose himself on the game in the way he would have wanted. He put in one excellent cross to his partner Stevenson. But also one nightmare pass to Griffiths, which fortunately he tidied up himself with an excellent tackle. I think he was a bit swamped with an inexperienced partner alongside – but hey – we won didn’t we? One thing that we learned from the game was that a central midfield partnership of Parry and Stevenson has less influence on a game than an three of Parry, Guttridge and Robinson.
So no home games for six weeks and then two come at once. We can look forward to seeing the Oak Road end full of Hatters again on Tuesday against Southport. Crikey – if we were confident they wouldn’t send many on a Saturday – how few are they going to send on a cold Tuesday night? Are we going to set aside 8 seats in a box for them? Mind you I say that, but Bedfordshire in November probably feels like the Med compared to the windy charms of the Irish sea coastline in Lancashire.
Then next Saturday an opportunity for the reserves to enjoy themselves against the Staines massive in the comedy cup. What could be more fun?
Oh, I'd better do some scores, for what it's worth:
@ 03/11/13 – 18.13:54
Ah – Gateshead in the rain, one to tell the grandchildren about. Soaking wet at the end, and sick at half-time (yes that was me, sorry. Bad pint).
I must admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this too much, having seen the forecast and having already driven 900 miles the week before. Just before I set off, it occurred to me that I could invoke and cash-in some of the Brownie points I earned last weekend, when at exceedingly short notice I babysat my niece for the whole weekend. A quick call to my mate Tom – erstwhile Vauxhall employee - now at Nissan UK in Sunderland transformed what was going to be a 8 hour round trip for a 90 minute game, just back in time for Match of the Day, into a night on the Toon in Newcastle, followed by a stonking curry.
Despite having been to the Newcastle-Gateshead conurbation many times before (see below) I still contrived to get lost and go round and round, eventually ending up in the underground car park of the Hilton by Tyne Bridge. I have now retired yet another sat nav. Through the driver’s side window.
Gateshead, a charming place, was runner up to Liverpool (!) when vying for European city of culture in 2008. I’m presuming that Gateshead was going for that on the back of the new millennium bridge, the new art centre and the new concert hall. In which case Luton should be in contention next time with the guided-busway.
My first visit to the North East came in the late eighties when a mate of mine was at Newcastle Uni and lived in a hovel somewhere in the city. It didn’t leave me with a positive impression. His house was profoundly cold. It had never been centrally heated and my mate didn’t bother with the luxury of heat in the month of January - spending money on heating the property meant less money for beer. It was so cold the condensation was on the outside of the windows. We phoned up for a takeaway curry one evening and I remember ordering two naan breads just to warm my hands up. I wore them like bready-gloves. At bedtime I scrabbled around for items I could use to somehow attempt to retain some body heat, and the naan-gloves were reused as makeshift insulation under my shirt along with almost anything else I could find. Not good. I’ve never shivered myself to sleep before or since.
The following night, my first venture into the centre of Newcastle, I wet myself the first pub we went to. I’d never seen men in pubs that size before. There were blokes in that pub who looked every bit like the product of a romantic encounter between Giant Haystacks and a mountain gorilla. We made our excuses and left.
After Saturday’s game, having changed from my wet togs (yes the orange in the new shirts does run) into some dry ones at Tom’s house, we ventured out from Washington (the original one) into Newcastle and we weren’t the only Hatters to do so either. Being a lover of all things real ale, I was keen to sample what the locals had to offer (in terms of beer that is). My favourite of the ale houses was the Bacchus, which has about a dozen beers on and was full of Newcastle’s dolled-up finest men and women of all ages and sizes. My jaw was already dropping. On the way in we had passed two girls having a full on fight in the street - no one batted an eyelid.
We did a brief tour of some of the sights in the film Get Carter including that funny bridge - a good excuse for a beer as there is a pub right next door. And then down the steps to the Quayside, and saw the other world-famous funny bridge, the Tyne Bridge itself.
After a couple of pints at the Red House (I think it was), back up the steps and on the way to the Bigg Market – pointing out the remnants of the Newcastle castle. The castle had survived from Norman times until the Victorian era, when they knocked most of it down to put the railway through. Progress eh? HS2 anyone?
What things do you associate with Newcastle? Auf Wiedersehen Pet, Get Carter, Viz, Newcastle Brown ale, Raoul Moat and his chicken-toting pal Gazza, Alan Shearer, Jimmy Nail and the Bigg Market? Ah, the Bigg Market. The only place in the UK where three generations of women from the same family, all under 55 can go out together dressed identically, all on the pull. It wasn’t warm last night, I had jumper and coat – the Geordies barely had skirts and shirts. It was a wonderful, wonderful crazy sight. A sort of all-in free market for non-stop party goers on the pull and on the piss. My eyes were opened. I’ve never, ever, seen anything like it in my life. And needed a sit down afterwards.
Ignore the next para if you aren’t over forty: Without wanting to sound like a middle-aged fogey (note to self: you ARE a middle-aged fogey) I’m sure we weren’t like that when we were kids. The youngsters today certainly know how to party, but the partying I’m told seems to include something called pre-loading, ie getting drunk at home even before you go out! For someone who enjoys a 3.5% pint of hoppy ale, this is a different world. Mind you, saying that a fortnight ago I got told off for describing a group of tattered youths as ‘the homeless’, when actually I found out that they weren’t dressed like tramps because they had fallen on hard times, but were students and were being trendy! In my days at college we wore Noel Edmunds jumpers and a pair of jeans and that was it.
Darcus Howe said that Newcastle was a city without a soul whose only identity was the football team. Last night and indeed the previous times I have been up there, it has certainly been a city happy with its own company, if not quite at peace with itself, certainly not after chucking-out time anyway. A full-on party town after dark. I love it. I love it, I love it.
Oh and the game? Luton battled-hard in torrential rain to keep the unbeaten run going to 10 games with a well-deserved point against a decent footballing team on a good run.
Next week a trip to Welling in the cup (somewhere up the A2 I think?). Come on you Hatters!
@ 12/10/13 – 23.59:45
An unconvincing first half but a sizzling second half saw the mighty hatters extend their unbeaten run to seven games and move up to third.
I’d been looking forward to this game so much, from the second the final whistle blew on Tuesday night. Strange isn’t it? Infectious – being near the top of the table, scoring goals and entertaining. I just couldn’t wait, wishing the week away.
Wonderful to see and hear the Oak Road full of Hatters again. Lovely to hear songs sung at home which haven’t been sung in a while and some great banter. Strange to think of Hatters on three sides of the ground – just like a proper club.
JohnStill warned us against complacency. He didn’t need to – let’s remember this is Luton Town: the same team that can beat a premiership away but lose at home to today’s visitors within six weeks. For every fan who was going to the ground predicting an 8-0 there were those of us who thought traditionally it was the perfect opportunity for a banana skin. As it happens it was sort of halfway between the two. To be absolutely fair to Hyde – after ten straight defeats and no goals in six - to beat us at the Kenny this year would almost have been a bigger shock than us winning at Norwich.
One thing to be wary of – when a side is expecting to win, and when you have so much possession early on teams often lose their intensity and focus. However easy it is, however much possession you have you still have to stick it in the net. When a strong team plays a weak team often an early goal can be the downfall too – you think it is going to be so easy that you take your eye off the ball. Remember the Liverpool 5-3? Gerrard’s early goal actually played into our hands. They thought it was going to be a waltz and adjusted accordingly. You have to be careful – the mind plays funny tricks when you think that it is going to be like a pre-season knock about. It can deflate the intensity and purpose you left the changing room with.
The team started with Tyler, Henry, McNulty, Lacey, Griffiths, Lawless (in for Howells), Parry, Smith, Guttridge, Benson and Gray.
We had by far the best of the opening exchanges, but Tyler kept out a sharp shot from Reece Gray, just to wake us up. It was in effect the cold shower that we needed.
Shortly after, Scott Griffiths put in a lovely pinpoint cross playing in Andre Gray on the edge of the box who controlled, wriggled, jiggled and slotted home a lovely goal. To quote Yoda “on fire he is”.
Hyde – despite being low on confidence (and goals and points) played nice football and were no mugs – testing Mark Tyler and forcing McNulty and Lacey into errors. Dear Scott Griffiths escorted cross after cross into the box – but we held firm. Hyde came back into the game more and more and we got dragged into playing the first half on their terms. By the time Hyde equalised our tempo had dwindled into nothing. We were going backwards. That’s not to say we didn’t have chances, Gutteridge came close and I recall that Benson came close with a header.
It was a comedy goal for the equaliser, which we sleepwalked into: a high ball from Brizzel was neatly headed past Tyler by McNulty of all people. Hyde’s first goal for half a day and they didn’t even score that.
Oh to have been a fly on the wall at half time. Out we came in the second half a team transformed. That’s what’s supposed to happen isn’t it after all? Please take note G Brabin Esq for whenever you manage another team!
The difference was the tempo. In the second half we came out fast paced, and apart from a brief spell it continued unabated. The main beneficiary of this Andre Gray – who else?
It only took six minutes of the second half before we retook the lead, Gray fed inside got into the box and a pinpoint cross from the byline picked out Guttridge for his sixth goal of the season. That’s one improvement from last year already – Andre couldn’t cross for toffee this time last year.
The third goal came shortly afterwards – Tyler’s free kick was nodded on by Benson into the path of Gray who lashed home a glorious left footed strike from the edge of the box. Had it not hit the net it would still be going high and wide and curling. It was almost overkill –he was through on goal – a side foot would have done, instead it was emphatically whoomfed. It was like buying a pint using a commemorative gold sovereign. Andre has his shooting boots and his confidence back in his kitbag.
We were stretching the play- utilising Gray’s pace by playing the ball in front of him, getting behind tired defenders. Benson and Gray interchanging and linking up well. Ashworth was given a straight red for dragging Gray down when again he had been played in by Benson and was clear through on goal. It was a straight red and the ref, who had an outstanding game had no choice.
Whalley mark two came on for Guttridge and stayed on the left, where LG had been playing.
Despite being down to ten men and visibly tiring Hyde didn’t give up. It could have been more, but they limited us to four. Gray picked up his third from a corner Lacey’s header falling to Andre who banged it home for his third, our fourth, and his sixth in five.
Cullen and Robinson came on for Lawless and Parry. The result was in no doubt and the Hatters largely knocked it around with impunity at this point.
A good game, and an entertaining second half. Memorable for Gray’s hat trick, the Oak Road being full of noisy Hatters again, a comedy own goal and the poor Hyde keeper who pulled his hamstring with about a quarter of an hour to go but had to soldier on with no keeper on the bench.
A rewarding win. With more or less a full squad to choose from JohnStill does have a bit of a nightmare picking a 16 now – today Charles and Justham were on the bench but didn’t play – but we have Martin, Howells, Taiwo, Shaw, O’Donnell, Stevenson, young Mr Banton and last week’s hero Wall kicking their heels too. Thank goodness for all the reserves (‘development’) games we have now, keeping these players hungry and keen to catch the Gaffer’s eye. After Tamworth we have a couple of cup games to look forward to and so perhaps there’s an opportunity for the others to get a game – who knows what JS does with the cup games.
Gray and Benson look good together as part of a 4-4-2. A big man and a fast-man up front, whoever would have thought it? Revolutionary thinking. How many years have we been suggesting that formation and combination? But we know JohnStill picks a horses-for-courses team and formation, so don’t get wedded to it.
Things all seem happy in the Luton world at the moment. How often have we been able to say that recently? Reserves beat West Ham in the week brilliantly drilled by Hakan Hayrettin, the u19s can’t stop winning under Paul Driver (I hear that the conveyor belt is well and truly working churning out more good youngsters) and the fans are happier with the team and the performances. Things are definitely looking up at the moment. Long may it continue. About time too.
Tamworth next Saturday, another struggling team, they’ve scored three goals in seven games. I can’t wait for another episode in this intriguing season. Roll on Saturday.
Thank you for all of your comments after last week’s post. The number of daily viewers after that post hit a new record I think even outdoing bus-sheltergate four years ago.
PS - I can't post a link to this blog on twitter. They've disabled my Twitter account for some reason(hopefully temporarily) I've no idea why.
@ 06/10/13 – 00.38:39
Have JohnStill's and Ronnie Henry's impassioned and proactive appeals for the boo boys to shut up hit home? Hakan Hayretin thanked the crowd 5 (five) times in his post match interview on 1CR after a great result.
But was what JohnStill wanted, and has experienced elsewhere, an unobtainable Luton crowd utopia? E.g. the more we go behind the louder we get? Is that possible? Do other clubs experience this? Yes to an extent I think they do – remember Leeds in 2006? Certainly the more we scored the louder they got. But perhaps that is a poor example. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the away support of one club with the home support of another. The more committed and noisy fans generally go to the away games and there must be a correlation between that and the noise and support they generate. I love going to away games because of precisely that – the camaraderie and focussed noise at away games is generally better than the Kenny. Or at least parts of the Kenny. Mind you – as Still and others have always alluded – when the Kenny is rocking, it is something very special indeed. And today, again it rocked: crowd and team in mutual admiration.
As an aside, talking of our away support, it's not always been fulsome support away from home of course, as Messrs Brabin and Money will tell you – I've been to games where the players, and moreover the manager were getting full on stick from the start. On those occasions I guess it was a means to an end…those managers weren't wanted and so it was ultimately a way of getting him shown the door – purely borne out of frustration with our long term plight and the plight at that time with those managers. It doesn't help the players though – and what did one opposing chairman or manager say to Richard Money? "You'll get nowhere whilst you've got that lot as supporters” – seemingly appalled by the total lack of support and criticism.
But that was then, and this is now. Ronnie Henry said that with 100% support we would just be unbeatable at home. JohnStill has said that at home we need to be the extra man – be 100% behind the lads, because eventually the moans, the groans, the sighs en masse get to the players.
And yes, it does get to the players.
Why else do home teams tend to do better than away teams? There is nothing inherently different about 11 playing 11 on a pitch wherever it is. Ceteris paribus, the differences can only be the travelling and the level of support from the home fans. Support motivates, makes the body squeeze more out of itself. Discouragement or disapproval from the sidelines switches players off, deflates them. It shouldn't do. But it does. It's human nature.
So the more support we give: blind, naïve, childlike, unquestioning support, even when things are going badly, the greater positive effect it will have on the players. It is bound to. Even if it makes only 1% difference then that can be the difference between a player putting in that extra spurt of effort, or thinking ‘why fucking bother?' Once again – it shouldn't do, but it does.
I've always thought that in recent years we've always needed a spark to get us going at home. It has always been a slightly uneasy, uneven relationship between the stands and the players. And it is this difference that JohnStill is alluding to. For the last few years at home we've needed a jump-start of a goal to get behind the team. Give us a goal and we've started to get noisy, two goals even more so – but when there have been no goals, or even one against us there hasn't been that noise, that injection of enthusiasm. A few limp "Come on you Hatters” but on the whole that has been it. The silence has been deafening on occasions. Even when there hasn't been overt negativity from the crowd, the players in the past have been nervous and twitchy knowing that a stray pass or a poor cross will bring groans aplenty. They then play within themselves, and fail to excel. And because they fail to excel individually the team plays badly and the groans get louder and the players play worse. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. What JohnStill wants is the fans making the extra effort to sing and support even when things are a bit flat, not going for us - or even going against us – in order to spur the team on. Just like other fans do. And today, we had that. Just as well.
We fans truly are the 12th man- I now see this. We shouldn't sit back and expect to be entertained, or assume because LTFC are a big fish in a small, crappy pond, we will walk over these teams. We can actively influence the outcome with our support. It's the observer effect. It's Shroedinger's cat*. If we go - we're involved – it's down to us.
Now, thinking more widely of Luton Town and our support, there's two things to consider: Are we inherently moany as fans? And to what degree are we the best fans in the land?
To qualify what I mean by moany – I'm talking about dis-support. There are three things you can do when watching a game. Sing/shout your support – stay largely silent – or to register your disapproval, which is what I mean by dis-support.
Now all fans groan (or go "ooooooh”) if the ball goes over the goal or if the ball is sliced by the keeper into the stand. But it is the immediate reaction afterwards which determines which side of the fence you are on. Do you then shout "come on Town” or "Fucking rubbish Tyler”? I'd suggest that traditionally it has been more of the former than the latter, but in the last few years the percentage of fans who do the latter has grown (no pun intended). Can we justify that increasingly moany percentage? We've certainly been through the mill at Luton, arguably more than anyone else. Ever. I think the boos and negative shouting are borne from long-term frustration at our position in the scheme of things. I think that we fans grew fat on the success in the 1980s, and got too used to being in at least in the second tier. As we dropped further down, then went up again under Kinnear and Newell we were re-shown the light and our ‘natural' home in the championship. The terrible plummet thereafter would be a shattering body blow to any set of fans and the enduring time in the fifth tier since with only a few glimpses of escape have been continued embarrassment and hardship. Is it any wonder therefore that the frustration has continually seeped from the stands outwards onto the pitch? Not really at all. We are like a sixth former demoted to sit with the 2nd form, and then to rub it in perpetually forced to sit wearing a dunce's cap in the corner. Do you think that demoted sixth former would resent that? No shit Sherlock. And so now do you think our position in the football pyramid would build angry frustration and resentment amongst those fans not able to cope with the demise? Same answer.
Booing is easy and it is very infectious. Shouting encouragement or singing is requires more effort. But the big clue here is the word supporters – fans – fanatics. That's why we go – that's why we're here. To support the club. Anyone who turns up and continually abuses and boos – are they a supporter? They pay their money – but do we need them? Are they holding us back? Well the players say they are and so does the manager. Go figure. Go speak to Mark.
So – whilst Luton fans have collective wounds and current humiliation, what is so totally marvellous is that so many still choose to come. At other clubs the boo-boys would eventually just not come and others would drift away, and I guess that is the case to a degree at our club. But an average gate of 6000+ in non-league? Still? After five years? In the season we won the Littlewoods cup only 6,600 watched us play Southampton in the top flight. A thousand more watched us play Cambridge this season on a bank holiday weekend in August for goodness sake. It never ceases to strike me as superb support.
Remember playing Chelsea (I think it was) and Newcastle when they were in the second tier? How many fans did they send to the Kenny on cold Tuesday nights in those days? A couple of coachfuls? Loyal fans there. No glory hunters at those clubs, oh no. When we were in the championship our local rivals didn't even sell out the away end. In contrast how many Hatters traipsed up to Wrexham on a wet Friday night when anyone in their right minds would be in the pub? Was it nearly 1000 to Southport? 4,000 at Norwich? Our fans are out of this world. Fan commitment alone and perseverance means this club deserves to be at least two divisions higher. What's more – the FA and FL notwithstanding - most football fans at other clubs out there would tend to agree. ‘Footballing club, fallen on hard times, mad fans, deserve to be higher' is how we're seen.
Our club's policy towards young fans both off and on the pitch is something to be rightly proud of and applauded. Remember - any young fan under about 12 will have no recollection of anything other than despair (with only the occasional trip to Wembley and Norwich to keep their spirits up). My kids still find it hard to believe we once regularly played against Man U and Liverpool at the Kenny. Yet despite everything still the youngsters come. Gary Sweet and the board's policy of encouraging the kids will ultimately bear fruit. The phrase "Ye reap what ye sow” can work in a positive way too. When we do start to climb the divisions again, there will be a generation of kids who have known only dire games against Shitstreet FC - and think of the magic that those promotions will bring to them. In the fifth tier, we oldies feel as if we are being held underwater. Promotion will mean that the kids will feel as if they are floating on air. To those raised on steak, Tesco value burgers are a come down. After gruel, Cornflakes are a luxury. In the event we progress up the divisions, we're going to need a bigger stadium to fit them all in, on top of the returning ones and the existing season ticket holders – but that's a discussion for another day.
So onto my second point – do I perceive Luton fans to be better than any other club's fans? All fans think that their club is special and they as supporters are unique. But I've said many times on here supporting Luton Town is a religion not a pastime.
Borrowing a little from Soccernomics (one to read if you haven't already) the supporters at a club can be broken down roughly into five groups:
- those who are fans but don't/can't come (an uncommonly large group amongst the bigger clubs and fans in general. In fact, most football fans don't go to games)
- those fans who come once in a blue moon (like my dad)
- those fans who come occasionally (a handful of times a year, like my eldest)
- those who come to most games (like me)
- those who go to all games (like PDW).
Compared to other clubs I think a higher percentage of our fans fall into the last two categories.
Within each of the above five groups there will be what we can call the intense fans. Whether this means they can tell you who came on as sub in that game against Southampton I mentioned above (Big Mick as it happens) or get into stand up rows in the pub with Watford fans, or cover their walls in memorabilia, go into depression for a week after a loss, stick hundreds of badges on their hats, bore everyone silly by talking about Luton all or the time, or whatever. There is a larger proportion of these in those who attend more games, but certainly there are uber-intense fans in each of the five groups.
Imagine a club like Arsenal for a second; they will have, overall, across those five groups, more total fans. This is no surprise. They will also have intense fans in each group in the same way. And therefore more of them overall too. However, and here is my point – I think Luton have a higher percentage of fans of the intense variety than other clubs. There are more Luton nuts in percentage terms than there are Arsenal nuts. You don't get so many casual Luton fans (though you do get some Monty), if you are a Hatter you're in. You're along for the ride, rain or shine. It tends to be all or nothing. Once bitten fully by the Luton bug you remain bitten, whether you can still get to games or not. This is what marks us out as different. This is why we are special, from the oldest fans to the youngsters.
This, I think, might have contributed to the Wembley 40,000+. The hinterland of Luton fans is surprisingly enormous. The JPT game at Wembley gave more fans outside of the "attend every game, attend most games, come a few times a year” categories the opportunity to come. This bodes well for when (if) the new ground is built – there's certainly a diaspora there to attract to a shiny new ground.
But talking about the overall mad passion for the club– I think down the years it has diminished a little (overall, as an average, not necessarily across all individuals). I think both the extreme elements of the fans and the intensity of the fans has been watered down by what has happened. It's not quite there as much, but that is hardly surprising after what we've been through and what the fans have had to put up with. We are, in supporting terms punch drunk. Shell-shocked. Bloodied and bowed.
Remember when Gurney took over? Remember when a couple of his goons turned up in the car park to be met by a rather angry mob who gave them such an unpleasant and rough welcome (ahem), that they turned around and never came back, thus changing the history of LTFC forever. Would that happen now? Whilst you can't condone threats, violence and intimidation, on that day it was, as it turned out, exactly the right thing at the right time. If those circumstances repeated themselves would as many fans spontaneously go to the ground upon hearing that Joe and Mick had got the push? It would be fascinating to see – but I hope we never have to test it out. More evidence of the watering down of the passion is the reduction in the amount of singing/amount of songs at home. The loyalty is there – there is no doubt about that – but have the rougher edges of the supporters' passion been sanded off? Perhaps. But it's hardly surprising. Perhaps that ultra-intensity will manifest itself as we climb up the leagues again.
In summary of what I've been attempting to say – have some of the fans been a bit moany? Yes. Is there a cause for that? Hell yes. Do I think that Luton fans are special compared to other clubs? Yes – because the very nature of our shared history and the numbers still coming. Do I personally think it's right to go to a match constantly whine and to shout at the players rather than give support– no. Do I think we've turned the corner recently – I really hope so.
Political spin doctors can only dream of the recent events concerning Ronnie Henry and the confrontation with that fan (Mark). You couldn't pay for better PR initially, this week, or today.
To confront him at the end of the game and then to invite him to discuss his differences was inadvertent genius. For the club and the fan to then link up at the training ground on Monday and for Mark to then be given the chance to apologise and to share his views and passion and the reason for his problems with the performances was a master-stroke. To go one better and for JohnStill to bring him on the pitch to give a post-match talk to the players after a wonderful win is pure Roy of the Rovers. You couldn't make it up.
So – if you've read to the end, you deserve a medal. I hope I've managed to get across my thoughts about it all. We are a unique club and the most special set of fans, we have every reason to stay away in droves, but we don't. You can understand why some have been a bit moany recently– but let's put that behind us now.
Oh, and speaking of the game – we won a thriller 4-3 after being 3-1 down after only 23 minutes. Alex Wall scored a fantastic goal for the winner with 7 minutes to go. I think we might just be onto something here. I really do.
3-2 last time, 4-3 this, 5-4 vs Hyde anyone?
* before someone points it out, it's not actually Shroedinger's cat - it's the Quantum Zeno Effect, I think. But quantum mechanics isn't really my strong point.
@ 23/09/13 – 11.30:34
Instead of a match report after Saturday's thriller, I think I'm going to just post Ronnie Henry's comments for those of you who haven't seen them. Good on you Ronnie.
I must admit there's a couple of foghorn-mouthed morons who carp on at every game at the Kenny End, win lose or draw. I'd happily pay for them to sit in the Oak Road - they might as well.
@ 18/09/13 – 23.10:48
Typical, no goals for ages, then three come at once. Cue Relief all around. Ah – so that’s what a goal is. From a low point against Wrexham I hope that today’s improved performance engenders some further confidence and self belief.
The catalyst? Tricky one...but I’d like to suggest that it was a certain A Lawless Esq, from the Valleys. Poor that we should be seemingly so reliant on one player, but today the difference was obvious almost from the kick off. He didn’t play behind the striker but on the right hand side of the front three, Guttridge holding on to his place behind Benson as the ‘lone’ striker. Not being in the centre didn’t diminish Lawless’ influence, and made a significant impact on the game and the team. Within minutes of the start he had already got to the byline and put in a dangerous cross, a basic but important part of football that has been missing from the start of the season. His assist for the first was almost identical, a run and a cross from the right onto Benson’s head for the goal. He capped off his performance with the third goal after he rounded Julian in the Dartford goal and slotted it in. Whether or not the ball was carried across the line by the Dartford defender I neither know nor care.
Guttridge got the second with a canny deflection from about 20 yards to give us a 2-0 lead at half time. Howells broke forward from a corner and played Guttridge in. Guttridge had a super game. Whilst our midfield was so wholly superior from the outset Guttridge had an outstanding game in the ‘hole’ behind Benson. Pulling the strings is an understatement.
The difference between this year’s Dartford and last year’s is that they afforded us so much time on the ball. The fundamental error to make against the Hatters. Mind you – that’s probably the last time it’ll happen this year, so just as well we made hay. A small side, a team of full of friendly but hyperactive dwarves, they did try to play properly which is credit to them. You might think representing Dartford they’d be a brutal, ugly team, but they went about things the right way. Alas, the good die young.
Benson had a terrific game too. Not only does he win the season award as the first striker to get a goal for us this year (17th September must be a record for that) but he covered yards and yards and yards, won knock downs aplenty and linked up play – controlling that part of the field.
It was the sort of performance we always anticipated and expected on dropping down to the 5th tier. Part time Dartford away to mighty Luton should always be a tidy 3-0 – but our seasons at this level have suggested that this should never be expected, because it has almost never been delivered. But tonight it was, at a canter really. We showed the confidence of pre-season. It struck me that the win was never in the doubt.
That’s not to say it was a complete walk over. Griffiths had another mixed game. At present rightly or wrongly I feel that he is at present the weakest link in the team. If his tackling is good then his distribution is poor. When his positional play is poor his marking is excellent, and when his marking is poor his passing can be good. He can’t get everything going at once quite yet.
Tyler was stretched enough to make a good couple of saves, but otherwise was fairly redundant. His kicking was mixed and I really wish he’d throw more, especially in games like this where we are afforded so much time on the ball. Punting it up to Benson (or realistically onto the head of the opposing centre half) is a good way to lose possession and for spells of the second half the only way we would concede possession.
At the back, Steve McNulty was an absolute colossus. Metaphorically of course. If Lawless hadn’t got MoM then McNulty surely would. Not only did he win the ball, but he did his utmost to ensure that he distributed it to feet and/or set up a play, rather than just hoofing it into the crowd. Quite, quite brilliant today. Like Lawless truly a division or class or two above. The first time the ball came to his feet at the start of the game he did the ol’ Brazilian two-step around the oncoming striker, very cheeky, very well played.
Parry. I like Mr Parry. Unfussy, good position-wise and hardworking, we have genuine stiff competition for the defender to partner McNulty in defence. My friend Pete said he was better in the middle of the park, but one dodgy corner aside looked completely at home.
Henry the skip was sound enough as ever. Didn’t cross the half way line as much as I would like but continues to excel at what he does best which is tidy defending.
Jim Stevenson – second time I’ve seen him and this was his first home start. I thought he put himself around well and helped to be part of that midfield three which ran Dartford ragged. I was pleased. If that is Stevenson at the stat of his Luton career I’m encouraged and excited about what we might see in a couple of years time. Sound start indeed.
Smudger Smith – hard working again though with fewer tackles but more time on the ball than against Grimsby. An important part of a midfield which dominated Dartford.
Jake Howells. Whilst he didn’t get many crosses in, he linked up play very well, as well as positionally being in the right place at the right time. His attitude was spot on. He was replaced by Dave Martin, who I hadn’t seen for a while. Dave offers something different, his pace being the biggest difference I think. Whilst his first couple of touches didn’t quite go to plan, Martin adds a different dimension. I think his confidence needs building up after being dropped after a poor start. I don’t know why, but he reminds me (and apologies to anyone under 40) of a footballing Derek Randall in appearance, perhaps slightly less in demeanour. Rags was all twitchy and laugh a minute, and whilst Martin seems to be enjoying it, (but doesn’t twitch), it is his body language, languid style and shifty shuffle that reminds me of the Retford-born batsman.
Five minutes after Howells was replaced by Martin, Whalley replaced Lawless. Now Shaun has never had bigger boots to fill. I want Shaun to be a success, as does everyone at the club, and more importantly the manager believes he can be successful. John Moore said that SW needs to move his game to another plane to continue to outwit defenders. The jury’s still out. I don’t think we serve wingers like Whalley and Gray particularly well, because we aim to get the ball to them by accurate, to feet, pin point pass – rather than by playing into space behind the defence for the defenders to run on to. Fine if you have players like Jake, but you have to exploit the fast players’ strengths if you have them, and perhaps for him that is the difference between here and Southport, this year and last. Perhaps last year he had more time to get his crosses in, whereas this season he’s normally been closed down faster than a junkie is in a supermarket by a security guard, when loitering near the jaffa cakes.
So that was definitely more like it at last – you could see the relief on all concerned, not least the crowd, not a boo to be heard. Need to start stringing a few performances like that together. They’ve been few and far between this season, or to be fair non-league as a whole. And now I’m looking forward to Lincoln on Saturday...
Scores on the doors: Tyler: 6.5, Henry 7, McNulty 9, Parry 8.5, Griffiths 5.5, Smith 7.5, Stevenson 7, Guttridge 9 (loses half for a silly yellow card) Benson 8.5, Howells 7, Lawless 9.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading, as ever all comments good or bad welcomed. Apologies for the lack of reports recently, trips abroad with work, whilst pleasant, really do rip into your blogging time. I must have a word with my boss.