Football: Greater Expectations

This article was originally published on The Match web site in late August 2014.

It’s been a mixed start back in the football league for the Hatters. Taking a leaf out of the John Still Book of Football Management, let’s examine the first group of matches and try and gain some perspective over what’s happened so far.

Looking back at our opening four league games then, five points out of twelve isn’t quite the start we were hoping for (said in a suitable Obi-Wan Kenobi-like voice) but out of those five points, two of them were earned after being a goal and two goals down respectively and the solitary win was a one nil away on the longest trek of the season to Carlisle on the opening day. The only loss was a narrow one nil at home to AFC Wimbledon that should have been a draw but wasn’t.

After the third game, John Still called our progress ‘steady’, which he then explained as being ‘not poor’ but also ‘not great’. From where us supporters sit, some of our squad seem much slower out of the starting blocks than others, leaving us with patchy and inconsistent performances to reflect on. In contrast, most of the teams we’ve played so far seem 10-15% stronger and quicker than us and just that little bit more coherent. They certainly start games brighter and with more energy than we do.

Don’t worry though. The wheels haven’t fallen off the promotion wagon already. It’s a long, hard season and we’ve barely played 1/10th of it. The same work ethic and the same tempo and the same energy and the same fighting spirit will return soon enough. The fight back from going behind to grab a draw twice shows that we still have some of those qualities that got us promoted so spectacularly last season.

In fact, this situation is remarkably similar to last season’s start. We were slow to get going, but once we were fully up and running there was little that could stop us. Whilst we are undoubtedly in a higher and tougher league, that previous experience tells us that this indifferent start shouldn’t be dwelled upon. Greater things should be just around the corner and all we need is a little patience (sung in a suitable Gary Barlow-esque voice).

The Accrington Stanley result did shake the faith a little, despite salvaging a point from what looked like an away defeat. He doesn’t often single out players in a poor performance, but John Still felt strongly enough to do so after our 2-2 draw away in Lancashire. When John Still expresses disappointment and says he’s unhappy with the performance from some of his players you really do get that feeling that he really, really means it.

Now, the previous incumbent of the Luton Hot Seat was known to name and shame, but he always focussed on players he hadn’t signed to use as a scapegoat for a defeat. Joe Kinnear back in the early noughties was also noted for not mincing words when talking about poor performances from players, but this is a side of John Still we don’t see very often, if at all. A very poor attempt at a pass that let Accrington in for the first goal was Paul Connolly’s crime, and only time will tell if he’s singled out again in the future. Let’s hope not. It’s bad enough when the reducing minority lose their rag and pick on individuals without the management doing it as well!

Away from the bread and butter of the league, we also experienced our first League Cup fixture in five years, when we played League One Swindon Town at home in the Capital One Cup. This was a battle of the ‘former winners who won the League Cup by beating Arsenal at Wembley’ brigade. Admittedly, for both teams that was quite a while ago now (Swindon did it in 1969 and Luton did it in 1988).

We lost 1-2 on the night thanks to a strong and more mobile opposition and a referee who was – to put it politely – arrogant and got a crucial decision at a crucial stage of the game 100% wrong. The problem was, he had already booked a Swindon player for diving to try and win a penalty (it wasn’t) in the first half, and had already awarded a penalty to Luton in the second (for handball, which it was) and so when faced with another cast-iron penalty in the dying minutes that could have got Luton back in at 2-2, he lost his head and instead dished out a second yellow card to former Swindon player Luke Rooney for ‘diving’ and sent him off.

We’d rather defend ‘our’ JPT anyway, having been denied the chance after we won it at Wembley in 2009 in front of over 42,000 Luton fans.

It’s never dull supporting Luton that’s for sure. Expect the unexpected and you’ll never be disappointed.

#LutonAreBack!

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