Date:Sunday December 17 2006
OK! So we are half-way through the season, so I guess it is time to opine on events so far.
After a reasonable start the wheels fell off and the worst period in the club`s recent history ensued.
League tables at the end of each month were:
31 Aug: Played 5 Pts 7 pos 10th average points per game 1.4
0 Sep: Played 10 Pts 15 pos 10th average points per game 1.5
1 Oct: Played 15 Pts 22 pos 9th average points per game 1.47
0 Nov: Played 20 Pts 22 pos 20th average points per game 1.1
7 Dec: Played 23 Pts 26 pos 19th average points per game 1.13
It seems that they lost their way a little during November?
There were many reasons for this not to suggest they are excuses!
A virus swept through Kenilworth Road causing many players to miss training and/or matches, and a lot of the players were playing while suffering from the effects of illness. At the same time Luton, while already depleted by some long-term injury victims, lost more players to injury and suspension, and Mike Newell was dealing with a very small available squad and having to play players out of position.
To examine the squad more closely:
Russ Perrett, Chris Coyne, Paul Underwood, Sam Parkin, Adam Boyd, were already long term injuries, when Sol Davis suffered his stroke on October 28th.
This left the club with : Kevin Foley, Lewis Emanuel, Leon Barnett, Markus Heikkinen, Shaun Ross and Chris Pendleton as the only available defenders.
With four needed per game and the last two mentioned very young and unblooded, the back four picked itself and there were no defenders available for the bench should anything go wrong; no one to bring in if a player`s form dropped or if they were injured or ill.
As an alternative, Keith Keane and Peter Holmes, and Ahmet Brkovic and Carlos Edwards had to be used at various times as cover. Playing players out of position leads to a loss of balance and a loss of strength in the position they would normally play e.g. Carlos Edwards.
Up front, with injuries to Parkin, Boyd, and Andrew, Luton were left with Vine and Feeney, or using an attacking midfielder such as Morgan, as a striker.
With 10 midfielders in the squad, Newell had plenty of cover, but injuries and illness compromised his first choice players on occasion.
At Goalkeeper, Newell had Marlon Beresford as automatic first choice and Dean Brill as back up, Robert Beckwith struggling to make the grade after a serious injury and Zac Barrett who, while a great prospect, has yet to feature in the first team squad. Beckwith was allowed to leave without bringing anyone in to replace him. Dean Brill has not come on very far since he was compared with Scott Carson and Liverpool were interested in him but chose Carson instead.
So they are the problems Mike Newell has had to deal with, with not too much in the way of resources to deal with them.... Or is that a fair reflection?
I have been an admirer of Mike Newell and the way he instilled dressing room spirit and achieved a good position last year with limited resources, having brought us up a division the year before. However, I feel that he has lost the plot this season.
On paper, it appeared that there was greater depth in the squad, especially at the sharp end with the strikers, and with the balance in the squad of left and right sided players, but if you look at the types of player, the balance of the squad is not as good as it may have appeared.
Warren Feeney was brought into the squad having scored goals for fun at Stockport, but he was more of a winger when at his most dangerous, and does his best work now, when dropping off the front man and working hard just as Vine did last season.
Vine has been moved up to out and out striker, and as a result, has scored more goals. Many fickle Luton fans criticised Vine because he 'didn`t score enough goals for a striker`. When Howard was here, Luton hardly ever played a true 4-4-2; it was more of a 4-4-1-1 with Howard as the front man, Vine drawing defenders out of position in the hole, and this is why Luton scored so many goals from midfield. This season, Vine is in the Howard role with Feeney in the old Vine role, but while Vine is scoring more, the goals from midfield are fewer, because Vine is not the same type of player as Howard and there are no knockdowns from the big man for the midfield to run onto.
Parkin and Boyd could both play a role similar to Howard, but Parkin is long term injured and Boyd is only just getting properly fit after his long term injury at Hartlepool. It begs the question: was Mike wise in buying two players, both of whom were trying to regain full fitness after serious injury?
£850K is serious money to Luton Town and neither player has really managed to make an impact yet. It may be that they will, but let us hope that it will not be in League one next season!
It goes without saying that you cannot sell Nicholls and replace him with Langley! They are totally different types of player. Nicholls, the ball winner and defensive hard man who could get forward and shoot, and deliver a telling ball from a free kick, against Langley, a touch player, and a confidence player who has had no confidence for two seasons. He has bags of skill but I have yet to see him show the confidence to try and use it.
The balance of the side has undoubtedly been compromised with so many left sided players being injured. Losing Underwood was a blow but then losing Sol Davis on top of that was a disaster. Both those players as well as Emanuel can play at left back, so losing Sol, an out and out left back/wing back could have been covered leaving the spare one of the three as left midfield. Losing two of them means that Emanuel has to play left back leaving the two footed Morgan in left midfield, as the only other option. This meant that if either striker was injured or out of form, Dean Morgan had to be moved up and then right footed Brkovic or Holmes had to be used out of position on left midfield and the balance had gone.
Once the problems came to light, I am amazed that Mike did not swallow his dislike for loan signings and bring in defensive cover for right and left backs and central defence. I am aware he said he tried to do so but he left it too late and by the time he was seriously looking, Luton had already lost 6 in a row and the window was about to close.
Similarly, I would have thought he might have brought in a striker on loan while Boyd regained fitness.
With Marlon Beresford losing his dominance of his penalty area somewhat this season, I was pleased to see Mike bring in Dean Kiely, who has shown he is an excellent keeper. I hope that he becomes a permanent fixture, although I doubt he would want to play for Luton while premiership clubs are looking at him.
On to my own particular hobbyhorse! I find Mike Newell to be somewhat tactically naïve, in that there have been many games where Luton have led and then gone all out for more goals and been caught late on the break. I know we all love the clever flowing football of which Luton are capable on their day, however, I`d rather see us win 8 in a row, 1-0 than lose 8, even if some were 3-2. There are times when other teams shut up shop and we find it hard to get back into games. Recently we led 1-0 at Sunderland and were the better side. We carried on the cavalier style football instead of consolidating the lead, and conceded an equaliser. One more mistake and we were 2-1 down, and Sunderland shut up shop and despite bashing away at their defence, they stood firm and that was that. We need to be difficult to score against, and currently we are odds on to concede. We have plenty of skill in the roles of striker coaches, but it seems to me that we need someone like John Moore to school the defence.
Against Southend, a team which has won 2 points out of a possible 30, so far this season, Mike continued with Dean Morgan up front with Rowan Vine. Both caused problems but had no luck and Mike wanted to change things. He had Adam Boyd on the bench. The obvious ploy to unlock the stubborn Southend defence would have been to take off Rowan Vine and Ahmet Brkovic, drop Dean Morgan to left midfield and bring on Boyd to get on the end of Morgan`s and Edwards` crosses, and Warren Feeney to draw players out of position for Boyd to run into the space made. Mike decided to bring on Chris Coyne in defence and push the inexperienced Barnett up front. I was totally gob-smacked. What sort of message does that give for team spirit and confidence, when you finish the game with three strikers on the bench and a central defender playing as makeshift striker? That sort of ploy should only be used when there are no strikers left on the bench and one of those on the field gets injured or when you want to have an extra defender to shut up shop.
All in all, Scotty`s half term report says:
Mike Newell C+ : must do better!
Luton Town FC D+: Standards have slipped all over the team and not enough endeavour has been shown under pressure. Heads were allowed to drop, although in recent weeks a noticeable improvement has been made.
With more help from the teacher Mr Newell, and continued effort, there is no reason why the team should not recover from their November setbacks and return to winning ways, and climb the table to safety.
Some singled out for advice or praise:
Marlon C+ : let standards slip this term and requires to buck his ideas up and do what we all know he is capable of.
Foley B+ : marked improvement again this term, big things possible for this lad.
Barnett A- : Given promotion to the A stream, and has worked hard to improve and now looks a very good prospect.
Edwards B : Capable of more but has been inconsistent. Stop daydreaming about Premiership football and concentrate on the job in hand. The better you do it the more likely your dreams will be fulfilled. Drop standards and you will miss your opportunity.
Davis A for effort: After working hard to get back after injury, then suffering a stroke, he has worked consistently hard to get back to fitness and may well rejoin his class mates in the new year. Well done!
Feeney B : Take no notice of the taunts of uninformed pupils on the perimeter. Scoring goals is not always the be-all and end-all of one`s contribution to the whole. Keep playing the way you have been for the good of the team and I am sure that personal goals will come.
Vine A- : Your change of role to spearhead striker has shown the doubters that you can score goals, although the team are missing your abilities in your old role. You are developing nicely and have certainly taken the eye of some Premiership managers. However, you will do well to stay put and develop your game among friends for the time being.
Date:Sunday December 17 2006
Hatters Sign Tigers Striker (Sunday May 19 2013)
Luton to Entertain Aston Villa (Friday May 17 2013)
Tyler`s Staying (Friday May 17 2013)
I Wish It Was Us! (Wednesday May 15 2013)
Favourites (Again)! (Monday May 13 2013)
Keeper Ranks Bolstered (Monday May 13 2013)
Nielson Finds New Club (Monday May 13 2013)
Welcome to the Mad World! (Monday May 13 2013)
I Felt Physically Sick! (Monday May 13 2013)
What a Difference a Year Makes (Friday May 10 2013)
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