That was awful, and I don’t mean the mishmash of green away shirt, white shorts and red socks. Although that was bad too.
As humiliations go, this was pretty comprehensive. Surrendering the FA Trophy to Luton’s reserve/youth team so easily wasn’t what I expected when I saw the team sheets, and certainly won’t have been what the coaching team anticipated when they put that eleven in.
I’m struggling to explain exactly what happened. I know the prospect of a return to Wembley has motivated the squad and energised those who have arrived since and wanted a taste of it for themselves; I understand they’ve been eager to see strong sides selected for the competition. But this performance was so lacking that it’s difficult to analyse, let alone quantify. Suffice to say it feels worse than our early season performances, when Andy Morrell was forced to eke a winning combination out of a thin squad.
From the outset the basics just weren’t happening. Long straight balls weren’t being dealt with, our passing and control of the ball was oddly off kilter and we were horribly exposed down the flanks. Credit where it’s due: Luton’s young team played with verve and pace. But this was hardly the first time we’ve come up against a side that presses energetically or has quick wingers. It just looked like it was.
The overload Luton worked on the flanks was a major issue. We appeared to go Into the game looking to get Neil Ashton forwards, planting diagonals over the inexperienced right back Longden. However, the ploy backfired: our service to Ashton was inaccurate and the full back was left constantly stranded up the pitch with Shaun Whalley tearing into the gap behind him. As a result, Dean Keates found himself constantly dragged into an emergency left back position, Johnny Hunt ended up running back from the left wing to support him, and Ashton was sometimes popping up into the central spot Hunt was supposed to slide into to accommodate Ashton’s overlap. We’d got our formation in a twist and struggled to untangle it in the first half.
There were other problems, though. Our midfield trio, so impressive usually, just didn’t click. There was a lack of energy and precision which again was difficult to understand. As a result our strikers didn’t have a lot to work with. I felt a little sorry for Andy Bishop, scrapping for long, hopeful balls against one of Luton’s experienced players, the muscular Charles, with little effective support from the wide strikers.
In so far as there were any decent performances, they came from the defenders, who often made desperate interceptions to rescue horribly exposed situations. Leon Clowes in particular was able to intervene on a couple of crucial occasions, while both Ashton and Steven Wright made early last ditch tackles as strikers were int he act of shooting: Wright’s tackle on Robinson deflected the ball on to the post.
Andy Coughlin could do nothing about either goal, both of which came from corners, and the statisticians amongst you would point out that such an outcome was inevitable. I’ve no idea how many corners Luton had; I just know that, as a consequence of how exposed we were on the flanks, it was a hell of a lot. We had two.
That sums it up. But perhaps the summary which is most damning of all is that if Luton’s kids, and especially Whalley, had been better with their final passes, we could have been thrashed. That’s not an easy fact to swallow.