Date:Sunday February 4 2007
So after 15 games, a third of the way through the season, Cardiff were romping away with it four points clear on 33 points. Burnley were 3rd on 27 and Coventry and Luton were 8th and 9th on 22 points. Luton`s points-per-game average was 1.47, which is definite play-off form.
After as near to two thirds of the season as makes no difference, and 31 games, Cardiff have dropped to 6th on 52 points, ten points behind Derby at the top. Burnley have dropped to 15th on 38 points (with 1 game in hand), Coventry have slid to 17th on 37, and Luton have plummeted to 20th on 32 points. At one stage on Saturday they could have been in the bottom three. Luton`s current points-per-game average has dropped to1.03, which if maintained will give them 49 points which may be enough. However, their points-per-game average over the last 16 games has only been 0.625, and at that rate the team will only get another 9 points and a total of 41, and Viagra wouldn't keep it up!
I am convinced, as is Mike Newell, that with a full squad available, Luton would pull clear of the relegation mire and be comfortably safe. However, Luton do not have, and will not have a FULL squad available, without adding some cover with loan signings. Long term injuries have been a nightmare this season, and it is unlikely that all the players LEFT in the squad will be fit at the same time, and some may not return until next season. Also, having sold Edwards and Vine, the full squad is not the same as it was when amassing those 22 points from the first 15 games.
The fans shout that we have never replaced Curtis Davies, but Leon Barnett`s progress was adequate replacement without making a purchase and that is simply good economics for a club with Luton`s limited resources.
Steve Howard and Kevin Nicholls wanted to leave and there was little choice in letting them do so.
Rowan Vine stepped up to the plate and showed that when used in an out and out striking role, he can score goals. Not so Warren Feeney, as I have said many times the best form shown by Feeney was when he played wide right, and as we had Carlos Edwards, he was never going to be given that role.
Luton`s injury list reads like an inventory of battle victims in a war. Luton have been exceptionally unfortunate in this regard, which is why I am baffled as to why Rowan Vine and Carlos Edwards, both the subject of long contracts, were allowed to leave, given the injury wracked squad situation. The first priority should be to retain the current status of Championship Football. The players should have been told that they would be allowed to leave in the summer once our safety in the division had been secured.
Mike Newell has recently been quoted as saying that the transfers had to happen or the club may have faced administration again, but this contradicts the board`s statement that Mike Newell had funds to strengthen and that the transfers out were NOT enforced by any financial necessity.
To sell them for big money in order to bring in extra players of quality to strengthen the squad overall I can understand, but there should have been a list of players in the frame and back up plans if they did not come off.
Mike stated that there was, but he failed to secure the players he wanted, and he would not pay over the odds. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and say that you get over the odds when selling sometimes and you have to pay over the odds when buying. An extra £150K for a player you want is soon made up in TV revenue, compared to the money you will lose in that regard if relegated!
It is very disappointing that over two weeks of the transfer window was allowed to pass so that negotiations were left until the last couple of days only to find that for one reason or another they could not happen.
I hope that the manager`s dislike of the loan system will not prevent his bringing in at least some defensive cover of quality, even if the club has to pay wages over and above the usual wage limitations of the club. There are only 11 weeks to go and if three players came in on £12K per week that would be £396K, whereas he has saved over £1.25 million according to his bids on deadline day, and the rewards of preservation of CCC status will more than cover that! In fact, he could secure some quality loans on far less than that.
I am unconvinced about players not wishing to come because of the facilities. Players want to play football and earn wages first and foremost, and as with Runstrom, if they can do it at Luton then they will come.
I am convinced however, that Newell`s rant over agent payments has not endeared him to that sector of the game, and may have compromised his ability to overcome their advice to players in some instances.
Mike Newell`s strength in management was that he had instilled and nurtured great dressing room morale, and this fell apart somewhat at the end of last season and seems to have stayed at a low ebb this season. He admits to being tactically naïve, something of which I have often accused him. However, he is learning all the time and he will get better. I would, though, like to see someone with some experience coming in as assistant manager to help him with tactics and team shape.
He has filled the squad with players that can do a job in more than one position, but these players all have a 'best` position, and all too often they are not utilised in these positions, and not always because of necessity to play them out of position.
When Leon Barnett came into the team and was being criticised by the fans, I said that he would be worth as much as Curtis in a couple of years, and so it has proved. I said the same of Vine and Feeney and they are coming good also.
For what it is worth, my opinion is that these are the 'best` positions of our squad players, although it is obviously impossible to play all of them at the same time!
Goalkeeper - Dean Brill, Marlon is still struggling with his back problem and has lost his edge.
Right back - We do not have one!
Right wing back - We do not have one!
Left back - Sol Davis,
Left wing back - Lewis Emanuel, Paul Underwood
Central defence - Leon Barnett, Russell Perrett, Chris Coyne (not enough of them given age and injury proneness)
Right midfield (winger) - Ahmet Brkovic, Warren Feeney, Kevin Foley
Left midfield (winger) - Dean Morgan
Central midfield (playmaker) - Matthew Spring, David Bell, Steve Robinson, Richard Langley.
Central midfield (supporting) Stephen O`Leary, Michael Leary and Peter Holmes (when not on loan!)
Central midfield - (holding) - Marcus Heikkinen, Keith Keane (getting better by the game)
Striker (in the hole behind front two or one, in a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1) Adam Boyd, Drew Talbot (young and not yet the finished article).
Striker (target man) - Sam Parkin
Striker - Calvin Andrew, Bjorn Runstrom. (One needed)
The other squad members have not had enough games for me to judge, but there are obvious deficiencies in the squad.
Players required are:
Right back, and right wingback.
1 or preferably 2 central defenders.
1 out and out goal scorer.
That`s six players, and obviously that is impossible this season, but it is possible to bring in some loan players for some of those positions.
For me, in an ideal world with all squad available, the best team would be for home and away matches allowing for current form:
Home, where we should always be looking to win:
Attacking 4-5-1 This is not negative due to the strength in attack of Morgan and Feeney making 4-2-4 when in the ascendancy:
Foley, Barnett, Heikkinen, Underwood
Feeney Spring, Bell, Morgan
Runstrom/ Parkin ( we don`t know how long Runstrom will be here.)
Bench: Marlon, Coyne, Robinson or Langley, Davis or Emanuel, Parkin or Runstrom covers all the positions they are best in as well as allowing a change of formation if chasing the game pushing Feeney and/or Morgan forward, or extra defence if winning and holding. Brkovic can deputise on the bench for midfielders.
Away we need more resilience and to be harder to beat, therefore:
Defensive 4-5-1 Slightly more defensive but becomes 5-2-3 when attacking:
Foley, Barnett, Coyne, Underwood
Feeney Spring, Bell, Morgan
Bench: Marlon, Boyd, Robinson or Langley, Davis or Emanuel, Parkin/Runstrom covers all the positions they are best in again and allowing a change of formation if chasing the game pushing Feeney and/or Morgan forward, and bring on an attacker and remove one of the central defenders and drop Heikkinen back. Also gives plenty of striking power from midfield. Again, Brkovic can deputise on the bench for midfielders.
Try it Mike! I DO do tactics.
So we find ourselves on 32 points with 15 matches left, and a minimum of 18 points required. Where are these points going to come from? Preferably we need to be there before the last three games as Southend will be fighting for their lives, Sunderland may be pushing for the Play-offs and Derby for the Championship. Therefore we need to target the following although I am not advocating that we turn up expecting to get only 1 or 0 points in any match, but simply highlighting the more difficult prospects:
H Norwich 3
A Stoke 1
H Sheff Weds 3
A Crystal Palace 1
H Wolves 1
A Leeds 1
H Hull 3
H Ipswich 3
A Burnley 0
H Southampton 0
A QPR 1
H Plymouth 3
A Derby 0
A Southend 1
H Sunderland 1
That`s a 9 match undefeated run required, with the Leicester result, plus 5 homes and 3 aways, and the job would be almost done. It is a tough ask with players still absent but perhaps a couple of loans before Saturday may just give a little more steel.
In conclusion, I fear Mike has made too many mistakes recently, and he now needs to forget all about refereeing decisions, women in football, agents, and in-club disputes and concentrate on fostering morale, boosting the squad before the loan window closes, and playing the in-form players in their best positions where possible, and in a formation which makes us difficult to beat away and impossible to take points off at home.
I`ll turn to off the field matters in a later editorial.
I`m there to be shot at! What are your opinions?
Date:Sunday February 4 2007
Hatters Sign Duo (Tuesday May 21 2013)
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)
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