23 October 2016

No Parking

Saturday 22nd October 2016
Sky Bet League 2
Luton Town 1-1 Mansfield Town
Kenilworth Road
Attendance: 7787 (away support 295)
IT was while on a 15-minute walk through the residential streets of north Luton (the traffic and parking get worse here every year), that I got into conversation with a Luton fan who had spotted my amber and blue scarf.

A season ticket holder, despite living in Cambridge, he commented at his team's frustrating habit of stringing passes around the middle of the park before sending the ball back to the goalkeeper.

That was well illustrated during the first half at Kenilworth Road, where the home side had seldom threatened Scott Shearer's goal.  Better still for Mansfield, they had taken an early lead, when Kevan Hurst's 9th minute corner had been met by the head of Reece Bennett, before Matt Green nodded the ball beyond Luton keeper Christian Walton.

That makes it five goals in four games for Green, having returned to the starting line-up today.   After scoring four times in three games when coming on as a substitute, Green looks to have benefited from short spell on the bench, just as he did four seasons ago in what turned out to be a promotion season for the Stags. 

Luton fans appeared surprisingly quiet in the opening 45 minutes, at least from the slightly cocooned perspective offered by the Oak Road Stand.

It was no great surprise that Hatters raised the tempo right from the start of the second half.  Stags' striker Pat Hoban twice did a good job in heading clear two early corners as the home side began to pose a greater threat. 

In response, Adam Murray bolstered the Stags' midfield and defence with two swift substitutions, as Jack Thomas and Alex Iacovitti replaced Hoban and Hurst.

Mansfield had held that early lead for almost 70 minutes, when their resistance was broken.  Cameron McGeehan's fine strike from 25 yards, which flew low past Shearer's right hand, finally brought the score level. 

It could have turned sour for the Stags in the closing stages.  But Shearer was on hand to parry Cuthbert's goal-bound drive with seven minutes remaining, as Luton kept the pressure on. 

In the last action of the game, Jack Marriott, teed up from a free-kick, saw his 25-yard effort fly just past Shearer's upright. 

Some players from both sides collapsed on the turf at the final whistle after a pulsating second half. Most of the 295 away fans in the Oak Road Stand gave the Stags players a stirring reception, acknowledging a hard-earned point against one of the League Two front-runners.

Post-match opinions among Stags fans would be divided though.  While some welcomed the result and the Stags extending their unbeaten run to six games, others criticised Adam Murray for supposed defensively-minded substitutions which had invited more pressure from the home side.

In BBC Three Counties Radio's post-match analysis, one home fan also complained that "Mansfield only came to park the bus and waste time". 

My view is that Luton had already upped their game immediately after the break, and that Murray had swiftly sought to counter that.  In the end, a 1-1 draw is a result that most - if not all - Stags fans would have taken at kick-off.

Mansfield seventh draw of the season keeps them one point outside the play-off places. 

Now it's the home form - just two wins and six goals in seven games at One Call Stadium so far - which has to improve if Stags are to make the step up into the top seven.

15 October 2016

Up For The Cup

Saturday 15th October 2016
Emirates FA Cup, 4th Qualifying Round
Boreham Wood 3-0 Hendon
Meadow Park

Attendance: 457

THE 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup might not mean much - if anything - to fans of Football League and Premier League teams.

But fans of the 64 teams which contested this weekend's ties knew that their side was just one win away from reaching the stage of the competition where Sky Bet League One and Two clubs join the fray.

Today's visitors Hendon had already successfully navigated their way through three rounds to reach this tie, beating Cheshunt, Dulwich Hamlet and AFC Rushden & Diamonds.

By contrast, this was Boreham Wood's first FA Cup tie of the season, National League (Premier) clubs getting a bye through to this, the fourth and final so-called 'qualifying round'.

As Chairman Danny Hunter pointed out in his programme notes, Wood are quite used to being the underdogs at this stage of the competition, having been promoted to non-league's top tier for the first time in the club's history just two seasons ago.

But with near-neighbours Hendon now sitting 22nd in the Ryman Premier League, two and a half leagues below today's hosts, this was a tie which Wood started as favourites.

Eleven months ago, Wood were disappointingly beaten at home by Step 4 Northwich Victoria in a 1st Round replay.

But Luke Garrard's team are made of sterner stuff these days.  And on a pleasantly warm autumn afternoon at Meadow Park, there was to be no cup upset this time.

My report for Real Footy Talk is here.

12 October 2016

Match Preview: Boreham Wood v Hendon

AFTER preserving their unbeaten away league record, Boreham Wood turn their attentions to the FA Cup this Saturday.

The visitors to Meadow Park are Hendon, a team Wood met many times in Isthmian League fixtures over the years.

The reward for the winners of this tie is a place in the 1st Round Proper of the competition, with the chance of being drawn against Football League opposition.

Gary McCann is one of Hendon's longest serving managers, having been in charge since February 2005.  Originally signed as a goalkeeper in March 1997, McCann went on to make nearly 200 appearances between the posts, becoming one of the Greens' most popular players.

This year Hendon celebrated moving into a home of their own again, with the opening of Silver Jubilee Park in Kingsbury.  After being forced out of their Claremont Road ground in 2008, eight years of ground-sharing followed at Wembley, Northwood, Staines and Harrow Borough.

The Greens have already come through three rounds to reach this stage of the FA Cup, beating Cheshunt, Dulwich Hamlet and AFC Rushden & Diamonds.

Hendon are currently languishing in 22nd place in the Ryman Premier League, two levels below Saturday's hosts.  But Boreham Wood, who are aiming to reach the 1st Round Proper of the FA Cup for the fourth time in five seasons, will not be taking the threat from their near neighbours lightly.

Boreham Wood v Hendon
FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round
Meadow Park, Borehamwood, Herts WD6 5AL
Saturday 15th October 2016
Kick-off: 15:00 BST