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  • Bruising Encounter (for Pelly's shins)

    lawless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The writing's on The Wall

    Another triumphant chapter in the long history of games against teams from Hertfordshire. Good to see that once again truth and justice defeated whinge and hack.

    I do enjoy a local derby. Who doesn’t? Whilst this isn’t THE local derby, it is indeed a local derby as St Evenage with all its grace and charm lies nearer to us than the other comedy Hertfordshire outfit. It is games like these where the atmosphere and added spice can transcend league positions and form. The greater the intensity of the crowd the more it can become 11 men battling against another 11 men with quality and form meaning nothing. As it happens of course, the form team and better side won out over the cloggers from down the road, which was only fair.

    Hopping into the car on the way back and shushing the kids it was fascinating to listen to 1CRs Simon Oxley describing Stevenage as a side that would be ‘up there’ at the end of the season, his strange assertions seemingly backed up by a random (and somewhat confused) caller from Hertfordshire claiming that Stevenage would not only finish above Luton but be in the automatic promotion positions. Other than the usual huff, puff and bluster I saw nothing about Stevenage to suggest they would be challenging for anything this year, other than perhaps the trophy for the most yellow cards. I suppose I can credit Westley and his team for something – they are the equivalent of the Wimbledon (the originals) of the 1980s, small budget, not much talent but they compete on their own terms by playing a brand of football with an aggressive ‘in your face’ style which enables them to compete on the same terms as everyone else. At the end of the day, it is still long-ball, dirty little kicks and shoves and constant bleating to the officials. There’s clearly something in the water in Hertfordshire because it’s a footballing theme.

    One of the enjoyable asides during such an away trip is to spot the inevitable Luton fans in the away bit of the main stand, and there were quite a few, including somewhat incongruous Bruno Stein. Not sure what he was doing and for whom, but good to spot him. There were the usual exchanges, expulsions and dust ups which only serve to enhance the atmosphere adding an edge, a frisson to the argy bargy also going on, on the field. Not sure what to make of the stewarding – it was the usual mix of friendly banter and over-exuberant heavy handedness. But as we are not waking up to headlines of 40 fans arrested and tear-gas I suppose they must have done something right. Mind you, it never ceases to amaze me the broad spectrum of support our wonderful club attracts. I’m a broad-minded guy, I’ve been around the block a few times but even I overheard a few new terms of abuse yesterday that I had not heard before.

    I’m glad we beat them to continue our excellent run. We played well enough in the opening spell to have finished the game off before the first Westley Time Out©. As it happens, by the time the normal Westley Time Out© occurs they were gradually clawing their way back into the game and presumably it was surplus to requirements. We did get one in the second half though right on cue, just enough to take the wind out of our sails and to break up the momentum. The cheats.
    Pelly Ruddock was a revelation on the right. He gave them a real headache and they never came to terms with him at any point, for it was his turn and pass to Alex Wall which provided the winner. He was still terrorising and tormenting poor Charles and the Stevenage team at the end. He’s a brave lad, and just as well that he is quick and agile because their sights were trained on his shins.

    But for Chris Day (good shot stopper, poor kicker) we would have been three up in 15 mins. One of his saves was as good at Tyler’s last week. He could do nothing about our first goal, another towering header from Luke Wilkinson, from another free kick served up perfectly by Drury, as simple as you like (the pass, not Drury - though as an aside AD is looking increasingly like mad-Alan White – see below) Drury played out on the left in a 442, and was effective in attack, mainly in the first half, but is less effective at tracking back, leaving Griff a little exposed on occasions. Griff got forward nicely yesterday, though won’t be happy with a couple of his crosses – another good couple of opportunities which on another day should have found a Luton player. Perhaps he reserves his best for the home games where he inevitably wins the man of the match award. 

    Andry Drury or is it Alan White?

    Cullen was replaced by Charlie Walker, and strange pink boots aside he looked slightly quicker and certainly keen to make an impression. Was his header over the line? Well, I thought it was. Charlie thought it was, John Still thought it was, and more importantly some of the Stevenage players thought it was. Shame that the combination of a dopey linesman and ref missed it. Look forward to seeing a bit more of Mr Walker quite possibly on Tuesday night. Perhaps not the boots though!
    Speaking of dopey linesmen, was their goal offside? Well, at the time I thought it was. Certainly when the player picked the ball up on the right he was goal-side of the defence, but looking at it on MoTD last night and using the technology afforded me by Sky+ (believe in better) as the ball was kicked I think dear Macca just played him on. Perhaps knowing this, it was Macca who stuck his hand in the air to appeal for offside and was keenest to berate the lino after the goal.

    Still on the theme of dopey linesmen, just how many foul throws did they do? How do they get away with that? Perhaps the officials are so numbed by the constant bleating and whinging by Westley that they ignore the little things. Anything for a quiet life….

    So, 1-1 ten minutes to go in a local derby, a game we should be winning and what do we need? We need the Blunt Instrument that is Alex Wall. When you see him up close (as I did when the goal went in, a bit too close) flippin’ ‘eck he’s a big strong lad. A man whose pint you wouldn’t spill. In fact a man for whom I would buy a spare pint, just in case I did spill it. Pelly Ruddock picked the ball up from a poor throw by Stevenage and slotted the ball inside to Mr Wall who took a touch then struck a curling ball into the back of the net. Cue celebrations. I’m chuffed for him. Still not entirely convinced that he understands why he got a dressing down from JS a few weeks ago after the sending off in the 5-0 reserves win – but there you go. He redoubled his efforts on the training pitch, when it wasn’t his training and commitment which were in doubt. What he does give you is the occasional spark of match-winning magic and a battering ram up front. We’ve had a few of those down the years and long may it be the case. Good competition up front for the target man position. The experience and wiry strength of Benson, the energy and willingness of Lafayette and the sheer presence, strength and determination of The Wall.

    Final words for our hardworking two starters in midfield Nathan Doyle and Smudger Smith. The two of them had to cope with three from Stevenage and outplayed them and out passed them. Bearing in mind Doyle isn’t supposed to be fit yet, he’s doing a very good job of sitting in front of the back four and stating that “they shall not pass”. Smudger was replaced with 25 mins to go by Jim Stevenson who upped the tempo and allowed us a degree of extra control.

    So an excellent win and an enjoyable match and experience. A sound win against a difficult opposition which I’m sure absolutely delights John Still. A few years ago we might have buckled under the pressure and oppression, but not now.
    On Tuesday we continue our defence of the JPT against another side whom we haven’t played since we met in non-league. I will be there, though I’m not sure who else will be. Currently playing for Crawley is a certain Mr Keet’ Keane. Whether or not he will play on Tuesday is anyone’s guess. I guess progress depends upon how seriously we or they are going to take it, though it is always nice to play in cup finals at Wembley.

    Next Saturday we play Phil Brown’s Sarfend who despite losing yesterday are challenging at the top end of this division again. This is will our first game at home in the league against them since 2007 and the dark days of Jackson, Goodall, McVeigh and Currie who never seemed like Luton players at the time and I suppose never will. In 2007 we were on our way down, seven years later and our club, manager and players are on our way back.
     

     

  • Professional

    The mighty Hatters swung back into action yesterday and comprehensively outplayed Oxford, despite half the squad being afflicted by the trots presumably in a show of support of the broken-legged right back.

    Despite being down in numbers, the performance was professional from beginning to end, as ever our cause and our confidence being greatly aided by a good early goal from Luke Wilkinson.

    And what a good game Wilkinson had. Even without his headed goal he was my man of the match. He was the archetypal rock at the back. Sure-footed and commanding he swept up Oxford’s attacks - when they did occasionally venture into our half - and won header after header. We can now see why John Still was so keen to sign him in close season. Four games without conceding a goal suggests that we are doing something right at the back. Today we defended in such a way that only on two occasions in the whole 90 minutes did Oxford get around the back of us. The first one caused the heart to flutter as McNulty, suffering from nappy syndrome (his mind addled no doubt by sleepless nights and the thought of nipple pads) let the ball go over his head rather than to head it clear. It was like he was pushed forward by an imaginary Micky Quinn. As it happens that moment served to galvanise the defence and they hardly put a foot wrong after that, forcing Oxford to shoot from miles out – they couldn’t get close.

    I think Oxford had only two decent shots on target and Tyler had to make a couple of reflex saves, the first was very nearly world class and to be added to his long list of brilliant point blank saves too numerous to tally, where he touched a shot from Barnett round the post – I don’t know how he got down in time. The second was a near point-blank header from Barnett where he got down to save in exactly the right place. A bit like a baseball catcher who knows where the pitch is going. Without those saves the result would have been very different. Earlier in the season I indicated that MT was beginning to show signs that he was starting to show his age. His recent form has dispelled this, in fact you could assert that he has improved. Mark Tyler is a fine wine, improving with age.

    Alex Lacey started at right back today and had a pretty tidy game, he was up against their only attacking threat down the left in O’Dowd.

    Scott Griffiths battled excellently on the left and had Ruffel in his pocket. He played well all game and largely neutralised Oxford down the right.

    Nathan Doyle made his debut, sitting in front of the back four. He had a physical presence about him and was tidy enough I think. Survived the attempt to rearrange his kneecaps by Tyrone Barnett. Bearing in mind many of John Still’s acquisitions often take time to bed in and get up to speed, I look forward to seeing what he is like after ten games...Drury replaced him later on when we changed to a 4-4-2.

    In the middle too – but in a more advanced role than I seem to recall was Smudger Smith, who as ever ran and worked hard in the middle, charging people down with impunity.

    More or less the most advanced midfielder of a three – but still back and forth in his ‘box to box’ role was PRM who had a slightly strange game compared to his Trojan performances recently. He certainly posed an attacking threat but seemed to have a gear in reserve. Perhaps he didn’t need his top gear such was the underwhelming threat of Oxford. We could have doubled the lead within a minute when Pelly was given a good chance after good play in the box from Cullen and Whalley but he popped it over the bar.

    On the right of front three (or the right of a midfield 5 if you prefer) was Shaun Whalley, a slightly revitalised version of the walking shambles we saw at the start of last season. He was a direct threat, and tracked back well when needed. He does get bumped off the ball a bit easily. Didn’t perhaps cut through their lines in the way he would have like but at least was felled for the free kick which led to the goal. His replacement by Layafette re-injected vigour into our performance, so he played a part in that way I guess – he was the facilitator for the final push by being substituted. I wish Shaun well, hopefully by starting yesterday that will give him some of the confidence he was lacking.

    On the left up was Jake Howells who had an outstanding game and his alertness was rewarded when he sprung to score from the rebound from his own penalty a la Cullen. He didn’t just whack it back though, but got it under control, dribbled a bit, did a shimmy, checked his emails, before slotting it home. The penalty itself was for handball by Mullins on the edge of the box. The sort of penalty decision you get when things are going your way as the Mr Magoos of the lower leagues invariably fail to spot that sort of thing. For example later on in the second half one of our team (I can’t recall who) played catch with himself and the ref missed that one. It was Howells’ inswinging freekick that gave Wilkinson such a perfect opportunity for the goal.

    In the middle was the long suffering Mark Cullen, ploughing a lone furrow, until Lafayette came on. Too often though he was left isolated when, having received the ball, had no one to lay it off to. Such is the nature of the system I guess. Late on he went on a splendid run with a golden opportunity to make it three – but stumbled and shot rather than passing it. Great when they go in and you can’t blame a centre forward for having a go, especially when we were two up already. If it had been 0-0 then he might have been lynched for not passing it.

    As I said earlier – the introduction of Lafayette gave us the momentum to finish the job, it levered away the slow momentum Oxford had gained as our high tempo approach was difficult to maintain. When he came on he posed an immediate threat and gave us the edge and gave Oxford something to think about. He might not be the most refined front man yet, but yesterday he brimmed with confidence. Oxford’s centre halves who had been barely coping with just Cullen, suddenly had  a big strong bloke to try to manage and they struggled and thereafter were on the back foot. It was a masterstroke, as was shoring up the right hand side by changing to 442 and bringing on Drury.

    It was a good game and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. A good competent, professional win. We played at high tempo and pressed Oxford hard, they were toothless up front and mainly had to rely on long shots. We did a job on Oxford, and their only decent chances fell to Tyrone Barnett, who surely nine times out of ten would have been dismissed for the brutal lunge on Doyle. Hats off to John Still’s men for playing well and keeping them at bay. The only worrying note is that our goals are coming from set plays, but good to be still winning whilst that is the case.

    Next week we renew our acquaintance with the strange Hertfordshire brand of anti-football when we play the cheats from Stevenage, I can’t wait. I’m interested to see if the Westley leopard has changed its spots, or mellowed over the years. Yesterday when Barnett went over the top on Doyle the whole team led by Macca were enraged and were ready to pile in. We all reacted and stood together a la Paul Colingwood for England against the Aussies in 2005. I suspect there might be more of that needed next week if Stevenage revert to type. Had we not got the early goal today, I suspect Mr Appleton’s team would have given us a dress-rehearsal for the tactics we can expect. Certainly the tackling and the constant whining to the ref were straight out of the Westley text-book.

    Come on you Hatters.

  • Mark Tyler saves the day & welcome back Smudger

    A welcome return to winning ways after a hard-fought 1-0 win. Whilst the performance was better and the battling was excellent, we have Mark Tyler to thank for some excellent saves that kept us in the game.

    At the final whistle there was tangible pulse of relief from the crowd – a P-wave of appreciation and acknowledgement of the efforts undertaken.

    The team lined up with four tactical changes. Interesting to say the least, especially as John Still had said how well the team performed in the last game. However, we matched Cheltenham’s formation like-for-like with a 3-5-2. Curtley Williams made his debut, whilst Ross Lafayette made his full debut. Smudger Smith returned for his first game since his leg-break horror on Boxing Day and Luke Wilkinson returned in the heart of the defence. Missing out were Drury, Rooney, Howells and Connolly.

    Williams and Griffiths pushed up against their opposing wing-backs. Lacey, McNulty and Wilkinson formed a back three. Smudger Smith was the holding man in front of the back three and Pelly and Gutts were further forward. Lafayette and Cullen were up front.

    So what of the game? Well we clung on by the skin of our teeth as Cheltenham pressed and pressed in the second half. We had plenty of chances to go two up though, to be fair. The goal came from a throw on the left. Griffiths took the throw to Layette who held the ball up under pressure and forced the ball back to Griffiths, who crossed a lovely ball for an excellent glancing header by Mark Cullen. One up after 7 mins and that was it for the goals, but not the action. If Cheltenham had been able to finish better the outcome would have been different, but I suppose you could say that of us too. Other than the sustained pressure, there was nothing about them that suggested they were worthy of their starting position. Shrewsbury they’re not.

    I thought Curtley Williams slotted in well at right wing back. He is a tidy player, good on the ball and seemed to have a good understanding of what was required. He tired in the second half, and went off after about 75 mins looking a bit sore, I hope he is okay. We transferred to a 442 shortly after the start of the second half as Cheltenham had swapped around too. It also helped us to defend and keep men behind the ball. I think dear Curtley forgot he was no longer a wing back though as he was stuck forward out of position with the Robins looking to get the ball behind him. Perhaps it was just as well that he went off!

    Lacey was the first substitution when we changed formation, the tactical sacrificial lamb again. I recall he had a free header at the far post from a corner which truthfully he should have hit the target with. This left Wilkinson and McNulty in the heart of defence. Both had good games, apart from one tiny cock up by Nults. He put himself in the line of the ball time and time again, and hurled himself to block shots. What does Sir Ian say in that film? “They shall not pass”? McNulty should have that tattooed somewhere special. In fact I think Wilkinson had his best game for us and made a vital clearance off the line. Boy, they needed to be at their most dogged, we were stretched and pushed and pulled for all our worth and needed to be at our best to hang on.

    Scott Griffiths had a good game, though more than once or twice he was caught betwixt and between as he had two players coming at him down the right. This stopped once Howells came on – but in both of the last two games Scott has been badly exposed on occasion with too much to deal with on his own. Anyway – we kept them out and Scott played pretty well, including the 'assist'. But the clean sheet was really down to Mark Tyler who had a fantastic game. I think I counted four decisive, crucial saves without which we would have conceded a goal. I can see how Cheltenham came from two down last week – they came at us hard – but the last time of defence, M Tyler esq., stood firm. His kicking was really accurate too, in the first half he sent ball after ball out to Williams on the wing and otherwise accurately sought out the heads of Lafayette and Cullen like a heat seeking missile. Early season wobbles behind him, this was Tyler’s latest tour de force.

    Pelly Ruddock is in fine form, he had another good game today, and in the first half was a constant threat. With half an hour to go he slotted into right back and took to it like an eager puppy. It didn’t stop him marauding down the flank like a border reiver. He was kicked to death by Cheltenham and each time he was felled the miscreant was decorated with a yellow card – but no more. Somehow it seems a bit wrong to see a team from Cheltenham filled with bruising thugs. The gnarled bully-boys they had at centre half would be better suited to somewhere like Grays, Millwall or Barnsley not the pleasant spa town with the ladies college.

    ~~intermission~~

    Switching away from football for a second – dear reader – I’ve got a little topical question for you. It’s a bit of a moral-maze type question. I’m not sure which I would do. I wonder if you can help me out...

    If you are disturbed in the night and hear a noise in the bathroom do you:

    a) turn over to see if the wife* has got up for a midnight pee

    b) fart & go back to sleep

    c) if you are really concerned, get up, put your legs on (if necessary) and walk over to the bathroom door and whisper “Is that you in there my love? Has that curry brought on a touch of the collywobbles? I told you not to have them prawns.”

    Or d) immediately reach for the semi-automatic 9mm firearm in your bedside cabinet and loose off a few rounds through the bog door just in case?

     ~~~

    Back to the football, Jonathan Smith played the full 90 minutes, which I was surprised at. And he played well, he was everywhere and faultless in his effort and spirit. He was tiring at the end, which meant that some of his passes went astray but he had a really good game – like he’d never been away. I wondered, what with the massed ranks of midfielders JS has recruited, if he’d get many games this year. If he carries on like he does today, Robinson will have a job in getting his place back.

    Luke Guttridge was a constant thorn in their side, but not quite as much of a threat as last week – when we moved to 442 he moved out onto the left before Howells came on. He got a standing ovation, from my bit of the Kenny End at least. He came close to scoring on a couple of occasions, including a lovely 1-2, but also did a dodgy back pass too.

    Lafayette, also tired towards the end but had a pretty good game I reckon, bearing in mind he’s new to us. It was his strength which enabled Griffiths to cross the ball for the goal. He made some good touches some poor ones. He’s learning and he’s keen- and furthermore, with Benson injured and Alex Wall in the maison du chien, he’s our main man.

    Speaking of goals, what a lovely header it was by Mark Cullen. He knows how to sniff a goal, and it was great that he got the winner and only goal. I think that’s just desserts. There’s tons of pressure on him this year in the absence of Gray – and to give him credit I don’t think he’s had two games the same with either striking partners or formations. I hope he goes from strength to strength.

    Jim Stevenson nearly got a goal with his first touch when he came on to replace Lacey. From a corner and a melee he twisted and turned and slotted home his fourth goal in a week. However, after thinking about it, lighting up a fag, settling down with a good book and sending a couple of texts, the lino decided to raise his flag, allowing poor Jim in a few seconds of ecstasy only for it to be dashed. I like the look of Stevenson – he seems to be growing with each game, with each touch almost. Not sure why the goal wasn’t given though.

    Andy Drury let us have a couple of glimpses of him at his best when he came on to replace Williams. A close shot followed by a lovely dink through for Pelly.

    In other news, it’s nice to see Mr D’Urso hasn’t much improved with age. I’m not going to say anything more.

    Good to see their keeper Carson foolishly engaged in what I think the young-folk call ‘banter’ with the Kenny End, which basically means he was daft enough to react to the abuse/friendly career advice/fatherhood-news he was receiving from the front row. Which meant that he got it in spades back. Silly boy.

    Another comedy moment was when their excellent wing back Braham-Barrett got a kick ‘amidships’ as Blowers would say on TMS. Jesus did he look in pain. He could barely walk let alone run, such was the state of his nether regions. He limped around on tiptoes. I liked the way that he was so concerned about his balls he wasn’t bothered about dropping his shorts in front of us all for the physio to check that everything was still there, and that nothing was hanging off. His pained face gave us an idea of what a Scottish taxpayer would look like post-Independence.

    I’m pleased with the win – it was no footballing spectacle, especially in the second half when we were largely under the cosh, but a gritty win which - from the looks of what we’ve seen from this division so far – is what is needed for success whilst we acclimatise.

    The next two games are against Cambridge and Blackbird Leys FC and I’m looking forward to locking horns with Richard Money again next week. They’ve had a slightly better start and are 6th – but only 3 points ahead. We let them have a bigger lead last season before we overhauled them...then, after Oxford come the footballing purists and fairplay specialists of Stevenage. Not.

    Well done lads, a good win.

    PS Just noticed that there are two Luton references in the MoTD title sequence. Sorry if everyone else spotted them first.

    PPS I still think that Diego Costa looks like an evil Danny Crow, but without the love-handles.

    *or hubby, partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, lover, neighbour, one night stand, window-cleaner, significant other etc etc delete as appropriate.

  • Still Adjusting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Plenty of chances came our way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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