Sunday, 25 March 2012

Good News and Bad News...

As the old jokes go, there's good news and bad news. It seems par for the course as a Luton Town fan!

Since last week's column, we have seen a debacle of a performance at Forest Green and another two points lost at the death of a game on Saturday against Grimsby. However, while it may not be the action many fans wanted, we have seen some reaction from the boardroom after Forest Green and an improved performance by the team generally on Saturday.

The issues of Gary Sweet's programme notes has been eruditely and thoughtfully dealt with by David Mosque in his latest column, and I agree with most of his observations. I should just like to point out that since my column last weekend, I had received a few comments disagreeing that there had been an anti-2020/anti-Gary Sweet shift in recent weeks by what I like to call normal fans. By that I mean without a hidden agenda, and I was disappointed that said normal fans were being swayed by the 'agenda people'. Well, after the equalising goal went in on Saturday I think the volcano erupted and proved my point. The lid came off the box and a large number of posters on various sites have vented their frustrations at 2020/GS.

Yes, 2020 have to take some responsibility, because it has become apparent that some decisions have proven to be less great than they seemed. However, they were made based on the best knowledge available at the time and were not all made by one person, so it is inherently unfair to point the finger at one person in Gary Sweet. Gary has stated publicly the feelings of himself and the board and I know for a fact that similar feelings have been stated before directly to the concerned individuals in private, but despite a short rally in results, things have again reverted to how they were before that run, culminating in Gary's public comments.

I have stated recently that changing the manager at this time last season did not have the desired result and even were that the course of action desired by the board, it is imperative that any new appointment is a good one. Last season we were nailed on for the play-offs at the time of the change of manager and it allowed Gary Brabin to tinker with the playing style and blend of players looking for the best option to use in the play-offs. It oh so nearly worked and but for a very poor decision by Jason Walker to be too clever taking his kick and our leading goalscorer not having the confidence to take one himself we may have found ourselves promoted.

This season however, any new manager coming in at this point would not have the luxury of time to look at the team and not worry about results as we are by no means certain of a play-off spot. If the decision were made now to change the manager and then we failed to make the play-offs I'm sure that would then be seen as the board's fault, so they would be damned if they did and damned if they didn't. I don't know what decisions in that regard will be made but I'm glad I don't have to make them! Everyone has their opinion and we are all entitled to them, but we don't have to be damned by our opinions if they proved to be disastrous.

I have also been accused of being a mouthpiece for 2020 and even in one case as actually being Gary Sweet! I can assure you that neither is the case. I am an acquaintance of Gary and one or two others within the club and I have always found Gary and previously others no longer in active roles in the club as genuine and honest people who are, like us, supporters of Luton Town FC, and always willing to discuss matters that they are able to discuss, and sharing our frustrations when things do not go as desired. I happen to believe not only in their aims for the club but also their efforts in trying to balance pushing for success with working within our means so we don't become extinct as a club, which is a difficult job. None of these people deserve the personal criticism and in many cases downright libellous abuse they receive. In fact, there are some people out there who are very lucky that Gary and some board members are as good natured as they are and have not in some cases sued the people responsible for some of the outrageous allegations made against them despite the erroneous belief that by adding the word allegedly might make them bulletproof!

There are also many different views on the appointment of Lil Fucillo as an Associate Director in the role of Technical Director and I understand that the 3CR commentators used the term 'manager-in-waiting'. I would doubt that is the case for several reasons. Firstly, I can remember writing in a column at the time of his previously joining the club, "Lil Fucillo only came to the club about six weeks ago as a scout, next thing you know he's a coach, then Assistant Manager and now Manager. At this rate of progress he'll be Chairman by Friday week!" However, that didn't happen and his tenure was a short one. I last spoke to Lil when he was Manager at Wootton Blue Cross when I refereed a match in the UCL between Wootton and Daventry. I remember observing that he seemed too nice a guy to be a Manager after hearing his team talk before the game when the most aggressive thing he said to them was about me. He said, " You've had him before and you know that if you open your mouth he'll shut it for you. If you get a booking for a late tackle that's one thing but don't expect the club to pay fines if you get booked for dissent!"  I was happy with that, my job was half done, perhaps he could have a word with Mark Tyler! :-)  Secondly, he has stated he doesn't want to be Manager, and thirdly Gary Sweet has stated what he will be doing and managing did not seem to be part of his remit. I agree with David Mosque that it appears the board lacks someone who has a background in many areas of football and I believe he is seen as a fresh pair of eyes to see the problems and advise solutions. That may indeed include assessing all the personnel from manager downwards including the players.

I am as unhappy at the current state of the club, football wise, as the fans, the board and everyone else associated with the club, but it may not be a time for kneejerk reactions. It can be argued that different decisions could have been made and done earlier, but it is what it is now and whatever decisions are made by the board will have my support, as will the team, but that doesn't mean I won't be critical when the team doesn't put in a shift as they clearly did not on Tuesday night.

On the good news front, the team played much better against Grimsby and Andre Gray looks sharp, quick and has an eye for getting into good positions. I sincerely hope that negative team selection and lack of service that can bring does not knock those attributes out of him. I don't know if it is fear for his job or just his basic nature as a manager, but it seems that all too often Gary Brabin is scared of losing a match and sets his team up to be hard to beat rather than going all out for victory. Indeed, he may not even realise it, but it seems apparent enough to me and many other supporters. Personal abuse is not the way to vent our frustrations, I'm sure he is a personable man, but if he cannot deliver a team selection to win a game with the players up for it, then he is not the man for the job and sooner or later he will pay the price with his job. That decision and the timing of it if/when it comes, is not ours. We must let those in charge do their jobs and hope that we can sneak into and through the play-offs to League 2. If that doesn't happen then I am sure the picture as a whole will have been assessed and a new plan set in place for another concerted effort next season, but let's not give up on this year yet. Let us concentrate on lifting the players to perform. If we believe others are not doing their jobs in our quest for promotion let us not be found wanting in doing ours. 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Play-Offs no formality

I have been having a break from posting while bedding down in a new job, but I have still been watching games and, I admit, getting more worried about the prospect of another year in the BSP.

It is saddening to see some of the personal comments denigrating the custodians of the club and the managerial team, which is unnecessary and lacking in dignity. It is possible to to be frustrated and disappointed about the current status of the club, in disagreement with management strategy and unhappy with the performance of the manager and team without resorting to abuse and in some cases libellous character assassination. None of those things ameliorate the situation and can be downright counter productive. Most of the time such commentary criticises and abuses with no productive answers to the problems we are currently facing.

For what it is worth, my opinion is freely given, is unofficial and has no motive or agenda relating to personnel within the club. As many know I have supported the club through thick and thin since 1957 and have experienced all the ups and downs over the years but still remained a supporter. Nothing will change that so long as we have a club to support and until I have shuffled off this mortal coil.

I have always supported whoever may be in the roles of Chairman, Manager or MD etc. (Give or take a Gurney) and will cheer on whichever players pull on the hallowed shirt and step out on the field in the name of Luton Town. However, as with most supporters I am always arrogant enough to have my preferred players in a squad, to think I know better than the manager and to express disappointment when I feel certain players should be playing when they are not. Often it transpires that this has occurred because slight training injuries or illness has rendered a player unfit at the time and then one can see that there was a good reason. At other times the manager has his own ideas and I may disagree with them, but as many have stated in message boards, in answer to some people's critical comments over the years, I do not hold coaching badges etc so what do I know? Well, for a start, when I was first playing the game, and then managing teams at grass roots level, there were no coaching badges, every team played a keeper,  2 full backs, 1 centre half and two half backs, 1 centre forward, 2 inside forwards and 2 wingers. (That's 2-3-5 if you want modern jargon).The job of the full backs was to mark the wingers and the half backs to stop the centre and inside forwards and the roles of the forwards were to get the better of their markers. It was a simple game, but the emphasis was on attacking and winning games. Today teams are set up with all manner of agenda e.g to not allow a good team to score against them and go for a 0-0, but Luton Town, along with a few other teams notably West Ham United, have always been associated with playing the sort of football that fans like to watch. Like West Ham it has not always brought the success it deserves to the Hatters, but we still like to be entertained.

Currently we are not seeing the type of football we are used to seeing and love to watch, on a regular basis, which is harder to take when neither are we getting consistent results. Personally, I'd take boring football from now to the end of the season if it resulted in every match being a 1-0 win to the Hatters and getting back into the Football League! Then we could start building a side to progress and entertain.

So why are we where we are at the the present time, with the play-offs not even a formality yet? (In fact I am beginning to worry that we might not even make the play-offs and that is a great shift in my usual optimistic way of looking at things.)

It seems to me that all the best and most successful Luton teams over the years have had two basic themes. Firstly, regardless of squad size, they had a team which was built around a spine. By that I mean strong physical players at Keeper, Centre half and Centre Forward - No nonsense players who commanded their territory and almost dared their opponents to come near them. Secondly, 11 starting players who when fit and well virtually selected themselves, and when a player was missing you knew straight away he was either injured or sick or suspended. The introduction of substitutes to the game added an extra dimension that if a player had to go off you could replace him and that was probably the only way a sub would get on. Even with their bankrolling benefactors, the common denominator between last year's champions and this year's champions elect was that regardless of squad size, they have both played a regular starting elevens as dis Wimbledon last year and Wrexham this year.

Having given him the benefit of the doubt for a year, as I have done with previous managers, I believe that Gary Brabin has a large number of players who are similar in quality and can be interchanged without losing quality and he rotates them seemingly at random sometimes, and I don't think he knows even now what his best eleven is. The benefit of a team bonding by playing every week with the same players around each other and knowing where their colleagues are going to be just never happens. Players are played out of position just to get them in the side sometimes and lose confidence when the crowd gets on their back. I have noticed several times recently where a player is through on goal and should be shooting, but has shirked the responsibility by passing which puts another step in the move - the pass has to be a good one the receiving player has to either time his run onto the ball or has to control it and then look to get a shot away, all of which gives defending players a chance to get back - when the player with the ball should have buried it. Is this a lack of confidence brought on by the mood of the expectant Luton crowd?

It is my belief that Gary Brabin is genuinely trying to do his best, but with the resources at the best supported club in the BSP we should be at least in touch with top spot. It is unfortunate that in the last two seasons a club with no support has found a benefactor who threw money at getting promoted which was successful last year for Crawley and looks like being so this season for Fleetwood.  I also believe that Gary Brabin's  position as manager was in great danger just before the team went on the unbeaten run, but he bought himself some time with that run of results, and it may be that by the time they had reverted to being inconsistent it may have been too late to change managers. This is the very point in the season last year when Richard Money parted company with the club, just after losing a two-legged semi-final in the Trophy, and in a similar League position and that proved to be unsuccessful. Have we progressed in the year since then? I don't believe we have. It may be that Gary Brabin does not have long left at the club as manager, but let us preserve some dignity and not resort to abuse.

Similarly, I have known Gary Sweet for a few years now and I will be forever in his debt for the work he did in rescuing the club from some very dodgy hands and to see and hear him being abused and vilified makes me very sad indeed. I am mainly saddened by the fact that shit stirring by ex-employees and people who act for those who really stand to make a lot of money if they can get the club's backing for certain projects is beginning to be believed and supported by normal fans. Ask yourself this, if some of these people have much to gain by a Gary Sweet out campaign, could that possibly be because their propositions are not beneficial for the club and that Gary is protecting the club's interests and won't give his support to their projects? I don't know the answer to that myself but....."just sayin'".

If Gary and the board believe it is in the best interests for Gary Brabin to leave then that will happen. If they believe to the contrary then it won't, but don't attribute personal gain motives to what Gary does at the club. Gary is a supporter like we all are and I doubt even he realised just how much of a poisoned chalice it would be when he took on the role. I did tell him but after the event!

Here's hoping.... but not expecting..... we can get to and win in the play-offs.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

I would like to wish all blog readers and readers via Lutontownfans website a great Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

I'm looking forward to the Kettering match on Boxing Day.

My Christmas wishes:

For Gary Sweet from the fickle Luton Town Fans - some peace and appreciation and acknowledgement of his hard work for the club; and end to snide remarks and accusations and support in his quest to achieve what we all want for the club.
For Gary Brabin - A striker who can get us 15 goals between now and the end of the season and the ability to find a line up that works as a team and the courage to stick to it; the support and patience of the fans in his efforts to achieve promotion; success in the aim to get us into League Two!
For Luton Town squad - The confidence to go at sides and finish them off; the fortune to remain fit, well and without suspension; a carton of consistency and bucketful of points leading to promotion.
For the Luton Town Fans - the ability to accept our status; the patience to allow the team to pick up momentum; the desire to cheer the team on come what may and of course the promotion we all long for.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Luton grab a draw from the jaws of victory

First observation I made was no defender on the bench and I promise you that is not hindsight. 

4-5-1 again - too defensive again away from home. 

Started too slowly against a side showing nothing to hurt us. 

Played some delightful football but lacked punch in the final third. Crow was lone striker. 

Lovely header into the net from a corner ruled out because the assistant referee flagged that the ball had been curled over the line before it got to the middle so goal kick given. 

Plenty of incisive passing and couldn't see Lincoln scoring if they played until Saturday as we bossed midfield and Pilks and Kovacs clearing everything. Pressure put on any Lincoln player in possession and robbed them of the ball almost at will. 

A referee who seemed happy to talk to players rather than throw cards at them. Thought he was excellent first half as we were. However, the lack of a second striker seemed a mistake as we should have been out of sight by half time. Midfielders playing well too. Howells getting forward and cutting in or going outside defenders who hadn't a clue how to deal with him. 

39 mins corner from Luton not cleared properly and O'Connor took a whack at the ball but it came back to him and his second shot miskicked to Crow who turned quickly inside the 6 yard box to slide it into the net near the keeper's left hand post. No more than we deserved. 

Lincoln gifting the ball to us consistently, or made to lose it by pressure. Late on Pilks headed the back of an opponent's head and needed treatment. He carried on to half time. 

Kyle Perry played to type and tried on three occasions to con the referee with elaborate dives and was told to get up by the referee. Should have yellow carded him. Definitely should have yellow carded him when he virtually assaulted Howells but got away with a bollocking. The only real criticism of the first half was that on two occasions all the players had been drawn over to the Luton left side leaving the Lincoln left winger in acres and on one of those occasions he received the ball cut inside and let fly. Fortunately he was cluless and the shot endangered a light plane coming in to land at Lincoln airport more than it disturbed Pilks in the Luton goal. 

Second half, Luton brought on Hand for Pilks (I'm guessing concussion) and Keane dropped to CB. Lincoln had had a rocket and they applied themselves a lot more and started closing us down as we had them in the first half. We stopped closing down players who had the ball and seemed to invite them to come forward. Very perplexing to see this when in the first half closing them down quickly stopped them playing. 

Lincoln gained confidence. The introduction of Taylor helped them too. Luton were creating little or nothing and seemed happy to defend the goal lead, a suspect strategy given our lack of clean sheets. The referee began to lose the plot a bit and started throwing yellow cards about for offences less serious than those that only got a word in the ear in the first half. A rugby tackle by Gowling only got a yellow card then Jamie hand got one for a basic trip, and Lawless got one for an attempted hack which never landed followed by a silly trip before the advantage given had accrued. 

Power finally got one but he had to commit 4 trips compared to everyone else's 1. Then what was threatened happened. Luton had been defending in depth and only clearing the ball to a Lincoln player for about 10 minutes and finally a cross came in which was headed on and Hinds got a touch with Pilks the gloves stopping it but not till it had just crossed the line for the equaliser. 

If the referee had lost the plot so had Luton and despite a few forays into the Lincoln penalty area which just didn't fall right to the belatedly introduced Blunt, Luton lost the ball on the edge of the Lincoln area and a hopeful lob out of defence looked to have been going to Taylor and Lawless took him out and the referee had set his precedents such that there was no option but to give him a second yellow and put the Lincoln dressing room walls in danger. 

A clever run by Dance led to his running into the box and slipping the ball across the edge of the six yard box and whether Adam Watkins din't call or Brunt ignored the call I don't know but a dummy by Brunt would have let the ball go to the unmarked Watkins for a side foot into the net, but Brunt met the ball and played it backwards out of danger and a longish shot sailed over the bar. 

Willmott had earlier got a yellow card for leaving the field too slowly when subbed for Dance and then on 80 minutes Sheridan went off when subbed even more slowly and the referee did nothing and bollocked Gleeson for bringing this inconsistency to his attention. Overall the late passages of play suggested that Lincoln had become the team most likely to win the game and when another gifting of the ball on the edge of the Lincoln area while Luton had committed defenders forward saw the ball cleared down the middle and I think it was the fresh legs of Taylor which were about to leave Hand for dead and take the substitute through the gaping hole down the middle, leaving Hand little option but to 'invite him to sit down' and 'take one for the team' with a blatant push to earn a second yellow card and the Hatters' second red card of the evening. 

Fortunately, the referee blew for time before Lincoln could take any advantage of Luton's 9 men. 

Lincoln were there for the taking and it should have been game over by half time. Even at 1-0, if they had have continued to play in the same way in the second half as they did in the first, Lincoln would not have had a sniff. This was definitely a case of two points lost not one gained.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Loan window closed

So the loan window has closed and saw late loan deals out of the club for Will Antwi (Grimsby) and Charlie Henry (Aldershot). I can see the logic in both of those deals for Luton. Charlie needs to play games and if he can get that in the Football League then it can only be a benefit. As far as Will is concerned, he didn't do a bad job when he was playing during our spell of the long defensive injury list, but the arrival of Kovacs has left him unlikely to get a game here now and if Janos stays beyond January, and Will does OK at Grimsby, the move may well be made permanent.

I  made a statement last week after the Northampton victory about Adam Watkins, that I felt he was ready for regular starts. I made this comment after seeing him make a big difference to the play in a few games, and certainly in an air of euphoria after he had scored the winner over the Cobblers, but after checking some match notes, I noticed that he has always starred coming on as a substitute whereas when he has started he has struggled to get into the game early on, and has not played as well overall. I began to wonder whether perhaps Brabs has got it right with him, and that he gets the best out of the player as a substitute. If so there has to be a reason and I believe I have found it.

A source close to the player revealed that Adam suffers from nerves before a game and it takes him a while to shake them off when he starts but when he is on the bench he doesn't know when or even if he will be used and so has no time to think about it and therefore just gets on with it. That would answer a lot of questions including why Brabs has said in the past that he wants to bring him along slowly. Well there you go - what do I know? I guess that's why Brabs gets the big bucks and I am looking for a job!

Friday, 18 November 2011

What An Enormous Squad?

There seems to be a lot of complaints among fans that we have too big a squad. Is there no pleasing some fans? During the close season there were rumblings that we hadn’t made any signings, the squad was too small and were going to get left behind. Now we have too many? Now we have the biggest squad in the league and the highest wage bill? In my opinion Gary Brabin has done a pretty decent job on the building of a squad and I don’t believe for a minute that his building has finished. Firstly, we have had incredibly bad luck with injuries and we could have stuck with the squad we had and try to weather the injury crisis, but instead Brabin was allowed to bring in replacements. He only brought in players who he felt would improve us overall, or who he wanted to have a look at on short term contracts. This has meant that some of the players brought in after the season began have been superseded in the pecking order. Players like Will Antwi and Dean Beckwith, first choice when injuries were rife in that defence, now cannot get a look in with Pilks back and Kovacs staying on. Perhaps some of these players will go along the same route as Collin Samuel and be released, or perhaps they will get their contracts extended to the end of the season. Who knows at this stage?

Even with all the changes in personnel, the budget this season is lower than at any time in our non-league history. The transfer dealings have been very canny and despite rumours to the contrary, players still want to play for Luton Town and as such we are able to bring them in within a tight budget. This does not allow for paying some of the silly fees clubs ask us for because we are Luton Town, and this is why although some decent bids were made, some clubs wanted more than Luton’s valuation of the player. That is not being tight with money; it is not being short of money; it is common sense.

Our squad, after the deregistration of Freddie Murray but after the signing of Taylor and Brunt, including the development players but not the Youth players, and including loan players in, but not out is:  29 of which 7 are forwards. Using similar criteria there would seem to be at least 5 clubs with a larger squad than ours. Whilst I acknowledge that things such as squad size are constantly fluid, and it is virtually impossible to be 100% correct, the following League table, give or take the odd one here and there is not far out. The brackets are players listed as forwards.

Lincoln 33 (11)
Kettering 33 (8)
Fleetwood 33 (7)
Darlington 30 (8)
Telford 29 (11)
Luton 29 (7)
Mansfield 28 (9)
Hayes 28 (8)
Newport 28 (7)
Grimsby 27 (8)
Stockport 27 (8)
Cambridge 27 (6)
Tamworth 27 (6)
Wrexham 26 (6)
Kidderminster 25 (6)
Forest Green 25 (5)
Alfreton 25 (5)
Gateshead 25 (5)
York 24 (6)
Barrow 24 (5)
Southport 24 (5)
Ebbsfleet 24 (5)
Braintree 23 (5)
Bath 22 (5)

Last year, I’m given to understand that Crawley Town had a squad of over 30 and had 12 registered forwards.

In the overall scheme of things, then, it would appear that we are not particularly over-endowed with players or indeed forwards compared to everyone else.

Some Hatters fans will never be happy whatever happens relating to the club, but let us not criticise management based on conjecture and made up facts put about by some individuals to suit an agenda. There is too much negativity among the fans, much of it deliberately fuelled on websites by people with ulterior motives and I’m convinced it rubs off on everyone associated with the running of the club and worse than that, the players.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A right kick in the Cobblers'...!

Victory over our Football League visitors Northampton Town put us in the hat for the second round on Saturday. We now know that Cheltenham Town will be the visitors, and we should be ready to give them a game at Kenilworth Road.

OK, the match against Northampton  was not exactly inspiring in the first half, but at least we had the laughable Andy D'Urso in the middle doing what he does best - screwing Luton Town, and that gave us something to focus on while the ball was to-ing and fro-ing, as both sides struggled to maintain possession. At least the Cobblers played the game and were not throwing themselves on the floor and time wasting.

The second half was much more entertaining and with a little more composure at the sharp end and a little more support from D'Urso I think we would have put the game to bed much more easily and could have won it 3 or 4 - nil. That of course is notwithstanding Northampton's inability to convert at least 2 golden opportunities to have scored themselves.

I don't want to harp on about referees every week, and as an ex-referee myself, I can often see a referee's thinking when decisions are contentious. In these cases the decision-making is purely a matter of opinion. These are the kind of decisions that balance out over a season, but it is total ineptitude, or lack of bottle, or an apparent shall we say 'lack of sympathy' for a particular club, which makes me seethe.  I think Mr Davies against Fleetwood Town definitely fell in the first and second category whereas the likes of Mr D'Urso and Mr Kettle are concerned, it happens time and again, so let us say, ' the jury is out!'

I am beginning to wonder if referees have got fed up of awarding penalty kicks which we then fail to convert so have decided not to bother 'wasting' those big decisions on us! Hmmmmm?

So finally Luton overcame the lack of 'rub of the green',  and stormed the Cobblers' goal and although the Hatters deserved victory, it was beginning to look like we would not get the important goal. Enter Adam Supersub Watkins. He came on and immediately changed the course of the match. He was very soon involved and looked yet again a real prospect. He latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the area and buried it in the bottom corner and it was a right kick in the Cobblers'.......confidence. The lad is a very useful player with skill strength and pace, but he has the gift that you cannot teach, train or develop... the knack. Even when he finds himself in a position that is not necessarily a logical one for involvement, the ball finds him and he scores out of seemingly nothing. That is a very good attribute to have and many a player has made a top flight career out of 'the knack'. Adam happens to have the knack and the other attributes mentioned earlier, so let us hope he can go through the leagues with us, and not outgrow us and have to move on up the ladder alone. I'm beginning to get a little thin on patience with Gary Brabin regarding Adam. I know there is a danger of burn-out for very young players if they are over played and lack physique, and it takes a while for many teenage players to develop that physical strength, but Adam is now 20 years old and has the physical and mental strength to be involved more often than he is. To quote a man who knew a 'little bit' about the game, Sir Matthew Busby, "If they are good enough - they are old enough", I think it's time to say that Adam is now both!

So we are drawn at home against Cheltenham Town, currently third in League two and fresh from dumping League one Tranmere Rovers out of the Cup. They will come here full of expectation and will be a very difficult team to beat, but we will give them a game and another shock result is not impossible.