Written by Richard Hewison
It was only a year or so ago that some witty individual suggested they change the official Luton Town web site address to lastminute.com, after we went through a spate of conceding last minute winners. It became a long-running bad joke which was really only broken after a change of management. Why am I mentioning this now? Well, we’ve played six league matches so far this season and four of them have included a 90th minute (or added-time) goal.
Some people love statistics, so here’s a few more. We’ve so far played three away league games and two of them have ended with 0-3 wins and both of those were goal-less at half-time. The opening day win at Plymouth was – I think – our best ever opening day away result in the league. Our only defeat so far in the league was away to Stevenage, conceding a 90+6th minute goal to lose 2-1, the very next match after we won 2-1 at home against Newport, scoring a winning penalty in the 90+6th minute.
The Newport bounty
The end of the Newport match at home was fuelled with controversy which I’m surprised hasn’t led to some rapped knuckles from the footballing authorities. The game was – to coin a phrase – extremely ugly. Newport County showed their intentions extremely early on, blatantly time-wasting their set pieces at every opportunity. In the second half, they added to their repertoire by having a player consistently throwing himself over trying to win a free kick or penalty. In the end, the referee had enough and booked him. In the olden days, that would have been called cheating. Now it’s called ‘simulation’. That’s progress for you.
Both our goals that day came from the penalty spot. Danny Hylton was fouled by the Newport number 5 for the first, without complaint. Cameron McGeehan duly slotted home the penalty. Newport brought on the man mountain formerly known as Jon Parkin. This guy would give Razor Ruddock’s shorts a run for their money. He’s the kind of over-weight lump that will only ever get a game in the Conference or in League 2. Player’s bounce off him elsewhere on the pitch, but the moment he gets near to the opposition penalty area he becomes amazingly susceptible to losing his balance if looked at in ‘a funny way’ (to quote Not The Nine O’Clock News). The fact they signed a player like him tells you all you need to know about their footballing intentions.
Of course, we obliged the invite to foul him near our penalty area, and that lead to Mullins being sent off for a second yellow card. Did it affect the result? Did it affect our play? Let’s put it this way, neither us nor Newport noticed that we were down to 10 men for that last 10-15 minutes of the match. That says it all.
Fair play to the Newport scorer in the second half though. It was a well taken header that beat our on-loan keeper Walton to bring them back to 1-1. We had enough chances to have won three matches in the first half but hadn’t taken them and it looked like we were going to pay the price. Thankfully, we didn’t.
Pelly Ruddock MPanzu isn’t quite back to the gung-ho run at ‘em player we signed a few years ago, but he’s the closest to getting back to that form under Nathan Jones. He finally seems to be conquering his psychological fear of being fragile and prone to silly, innocuous long-term injuries. As a result, Newport struggled to cope with him from the kick off. He was drawing niggly little fouls all night and it was his run into the box that lead to that 90+6th minute penalty winner.
Nobody likes conceding a penalty let alone two in the same match. We absolutely get that, especially when the second is in the dying moments of a match you are drawing. However, the behaviour of Newport County immediately before and after the spot kick was taken was unacceptable from a professional club or even a Sunday afternoon pub team come to that. Ganging up on the player – Pelly Ruddock – who was felled by their number 5 (yes, him again) was bad enough, but continuing to complain and swarm around the ref should bring them up before the league. Then, they wouldn’t leave the penalty taker – Cameron McGeehan (yes, him again!) – alone, giving him plenty of verbal whilst the referee was trying to split up the jostling players with the help of his nearest assistant. Then, once the penalty was scored one of their players had their arms around Pelly Ruddock and then three more players surrounded the referee, who booked two of them for their troubles. Lastly, one of their players then decided to pile into the celebrating mass of Luton players, trying to split them apart. Admittedly, it was because we had the ball but then one of their players had hoofed it away in disgust after the penalty had gone in.
After the game, the Newport manager (and former Luton player as it happens) Warren Feeney tried to deflect attention from his team’s lack of control and discipline by having a go at Cameron McGeehan who had called Newport County cheats. His suggestion that McGeehan be disciplined by the football authorities is interesting, when you consider that all Cam expressed was exactly what the referee had thought during the match. Nobody in a Luton shirt was booked for ‘simulation’ were they?
So, Newport went back to Wales with their sour grapes, vowing revenge in the return fixture no doubt. Historically we don’t do well away in Wales (unless it’s Wrexham in a Play Off semi-final!) but we now have a Welsh manager, so anything is possible.
Two Yellows Make a Red
Let’s rewind just a little and talk of sending off decisions. We’re not typically a dirty team, and on both occasions this season they were for two yellow cards rather than a straight red. Referees are dishing out cards for some fairly petty reasons in the modern game. Go back 20 or 30 years and most matches would have ended up with 5 or 6 dismissals if the modern rules had been applied back then. Anyway, back when we played Yeovil at home one of our new recruits – Danny Hylton – tussled with former Luton defender Alex Lacey as the ball was drifting out for a goal kick to Yeovil. Hylton gave Lacey a shove on the line, but unfortunately it was right by the advertising hoardings at the Oak Road end of the ground. Hylton probably wouldn’t have realised (but Lacey would) that there’s a big drop on the other side of those boards and Lacey went over and onto the concrete steps behind. After a minute he was back up on the pitch, but he was struggling and had to be subbed later on in the half. A day or so later it was revealed that Lacey had broken his arm.
Now, the referee gave nothing on this occasion. He didn’t even talk to Hylton. I’ve lost count of the number of times defenders block (or obstruct if we’re going to use the correct technical term) attacking players to stop them reaching the ball before it goes out of play. Anywhere else on the pitch and it would be obstruction and a free kick. However, it’s usually permitted for some reason and I’m guessing that the referee felt it was six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. A day or so after the match, the Yeovil manager was fuming that Hylton hadn’t been sent off. The actual offence didn’t warrant it, but it was an extremely unfortunate outcome on a former Luton player that many Luton fans had a lot of time for. It’s the one aspect of Hylton’s game that he might need to curtail in the months to come. In other games he’s done his fair share of pushing and shoving and it will get him into trouble if he’s not careful. Having said that, his robust approach also wins a fair number of free kicks (and penalties!) as defenders tend to get their retaliation in first. His reputation precedes him.
Cups and Scorers
Have to mention the cups. After a slow start we outplayed Aston Villa in the EFL Cup to win 3-1, only to lose bravely 0-1 at home to Leeds in the next round. However, we put in two very good performances against Championship clubs and that bodes well for the season ahead. A younger team – with a handful of first team regulars – then won away 1-2 at Gillingham in the competition formerly known as the Johnstone Paint Trophy. A fantastic performance but just don’t get me started on the format of that competition or the rules about who should be starting matches and who shouldn’t. Just don’t.
Top of League, again
We’ve been top, we’ve been third, we’ve been second and now we’re back on the summit. Welcome to the bonkers first month of the new football season! It’s far too early to get carried away. After all, you could – in theory – drop or climb seven or eight places after one match. However, the latest league win, beating Wycombe 4-1 was the best performance I’ve seen for a while. It could have been better as well, as we missed a penalty in the first half then scored another in the second. I’m sure the statisticians will have a field day finding out if we’ve ever had successive home league games with two penalties awarded to us before. We’re scoring for fun, and Hylton claimed a hat-trick, so – at the moment – it’s all good. Oh, and we scored late on twice in the Wycombe game in the 88th and 90th minutes. Don’t ever leave early as you’ll never know what you might miss!
Live Up To Our Name – COYH!
Luton fans, what have you made of your start to the season? Do you agree with these points? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Eamon Curry