Written by Richard Hewison
Having been top of the league for a few matches, outsiders would look at the two consecutive league defeats that followed and assume that the wheels have fallen off the Luton promotion bus already, especially when Plymouth (whom we beat 0-3 on the opening day of the season) are currently way ahead of everyone else.
Grim performances. Grim results.
Losing at home 1-2 to Grimsby was obviously not what we were hoping for, but the Mariners were quicker, stronger and more determined to grab the three points. Nathan Jones – and the majority of the supporters – looks for us to set a quick, early tempo in games, especially at home. However, we were sluggish and second to almost every ball and some of the more knee-jerk hatters fans were quick to start grumbling at the poor start. We had a 15-20 minute period where we started playing the way we know we can, and a terrific first league goal for Glen Rea followed but that flurry soon petered out and Grimsby scored an inevitable winner.
That disappointment was quickly followed by another. Losing 2-0 away at Crawley was definitely not in the script, but the manager did at least hold his hands up after putting both regular strikers – Hylton and Marriott – on the subs bench. Hylton cracked a cheek bone in the previous match against Grimsby, and so Nathan Jones was being cautious despite Hylton wearing a custom-made mask to protect his face. His striking partner was rested with him, with the partnership of Josh McQuoid and Isaac Vassell tried out instead.
The previous Luton manager – John Still – often talked about player combinations and how certain combinations work and others don’t. It’s probably fair to say that in the year and a bit that Josh McQuoid has been at Luton, he’s not had a consistent run of matches to show what he’s really capable of. Isaac Vassell has only been at Luton since the summer and he’s yet to be given any kind of decent run either. So, swapping two strikers who have scored for Luton this season for two that haven’t was a gamble, and it didn’t pay off.
The Battle of Doncaster
Next up was Doncaster Rovers at home. Doncaster were on a decent run of form, and had leap-frogged us in the table. It was time to get the promotion form back on track, except that for the first 20-25 minutes it didn’t work out that way. In fact, it was a carbon-copy of the Grimsby game with the visitors setting the early pace and they could have been a goal or two up inside the first 5 minutes. First they headed wide, then they hit the crossbar with a header and then they put the ball in the net only for it to be ruled out for offside. The inescapable opening goal duly came for Doncaster, but the restart was significantly delayed due to an injury to our club captain, Scott Cuthbert. It looked serious, involved a number of paramedics and different types of stretcher before he was taken off. Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing more than a dislocated shoulder but at the time it looked quite bad.
Anyway, that pause in the game allowed us to regroup. Doncaster carried on where they had left off, but we slowly began to turn things around. Olly Lee (who has had a very mixed start to the season) hit a low, hard ball across the face of the goal for Cameron McGeehan to thump in from a yard or two out. 1-1 and suddenly it was game on. Jordon Cook tweaked his hamstring and had to be replaced immediately after our equaliser, so two enforced substitutions were already in play before we reached half time.
After scoring our first, we started to gain the proverbial upper hand and Doncaster looked like a team who had run out of ideas. A few minutes later and a delicious little back heel-come-flick from Hylton let Marriott race through, and he slotted through the keeper’s legs to put us 2-1 up at the break.
The second half was a real slogging battle. Like Newport County before them, Doncaster resorted to roughing up tactics, with an elbow to Marriott that went unpunished the most obvious. However, the bloodiest injury in the second half was self-inflicted when Potts and Sheehan’s heads collided in defence. Potts got up okay but Sheehan looked a little groggy and he soon had blood gushing from a wound up top. He ended up going off two (or was it three?) times to change his shirt after the massive lump of Vaseline smeared on his crown failed to stem the flow of blood. In the end, his head was wrapped up in an amusing bandage that gave him with two tufts of hair sticking out the top of his head, not unlike Mickey Mouse ears!
Pelly Ruddock’s solo runs have already triggered a few defensive alarm bells this season for the opposition, and so it proved again against Doncaster. Late on in the game, Pelly was cut down in the danger area and a penalty was awarded for the fifth time at home this season already. Cameron McGeehan fired high into the roof of the net to put the result to bed. 3-1 and in the end it was a deserved win.
After the game, Darren Ferguson ranted and raved about the foul being way outside the penalty area, when the reality was that the foul was committed on and just inside the box. Whilst his assessment of the opening 20-25 minutes was spot on, a team needs to turn dominance into goals and needs to play for a full 90 minutes to win a game of football. Sounds familiar? Talking of 90 minutes, the Doncaster game had the largest amount of added on time I’ve ever witnessed in one match. 11 minutes were added to the first half, and 8 to the second. That’s Fergie Time: The Next Generation and then some!
It would have been better to have converted one of the two away draws that followed – at Hartlepool and Cheltenham – into a win, but at least we’ve now embarked on a small unbeaten run. Long may it continue!
Luton fans, what have you made of the recent set of results? What needs to improve? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Jon Candy