Date:Tuesday June 19 2007
After what turned out to be a debacle of a season for Luton Town, where does the blame lie?
Luton ended their first season in the Championship in tenth place, after threatening to make the play-offs for most of that season. They lacked the depth of cover that other teams in the division could boast, and the management team of Mike Newell and Brian Stein identified that six players were needed to boost the squad and give it more strength in depth.
Firstly, Enoch Showunmi, who had played for the Town for expenses only, to prove he was worth a contract when he first arrived, had not been tied to a new deal, allegedly because his agent was asking for too much of a wage rise, and his contract expired at the end of the 2005/6 season and he was first to exit, to Bristol City, in June 2006.
He was a large part of the Robins` successful promotion campaign and would have been very useful to Luton when the season unfolded and should not have been allowed to leave for the sake of wages, when to replace him would cost valuable transfer funds as well as wages probably in excess of what he was asking to stay, and when the player really wanted to stay.
Many players were allegedly being chased, but nothing came from them during June.
One of these was Chris Shuker who was in dispute with Barnsley at the time and he ended up going to Tranmere! However, Peter Holmes was given a further year`s contract.
Danny Senda was another player on whom Newell was said to be keen but again, Newell would not pay the wages he was looking for, and neither would a lot of other teams who were interested, including Wolves, and Senda finally ran out of time and had to settle for Millwall, where he played 38 games in the season. At least he was fit and available for the Lions and by all accounts had a very good season. Again, given the lack of defensive cover in the Town squad, was it another mistake to allow him to pass through our fingers?
In early July, Newell signed Lewis Emanuel from Bradford City and Richard Langley from Cardiff City where he had had a terrible season. It was not to be much better at Luton where he struggled to get into the side making 18 appearances, and 11as sub, scoring 1 goal and picking up 2 yellow cards and 1 red. He has not been a popular player with the fans, who feel he does not show enough effort for a player who, a few years ago, was very skilful and a good provider of goals, and frightened the lives out of defenders. Lewis Emanuel had a good first season with the Town, but as a youngster drifted in and out of games and was often substituted. However, he will have gained a lot of experience from his year at Luton and will be a valuable member of the squad in league 1, where his pace will cause a few teams problems.
A week later, Steve Howard went to Derby for £1m, and Kevin Nicholls went to Leeds for £700K, after Newell would only offer him a one-year deal due to his knee injury potential and age. Nicholls was out with a knee injury in his first appearance for Leeds, but managed to make 12 appearances for them with no goals and 4 yellow cards and 1 red! Not a good return on their investment in a club captain, so perhaps it was a good deal for Luton. However, if you allow your top goal scorer to leave, in Steve Howard, you have to replace him, so what was the point of selling unless a replacement of the same quality was already organised? He had an excellent season scoring 16 goals for the Rams after a slow start and making 43 league appearances. How would that input have affected Luton`s season? At the time I felt it was good business for Luton Town as they could have brought in a Premiership loan signing with some of that £1m, but having failed to do so, it was a poor decision to let Howie go. Newell said that he wanted to go, but that was a wage issue that could and should have been sorted out.
Luton celebrated Howard`s departure with an ironic 9-0 win over Nasets BK on their Swedish tour of part time football clubs, with a very average Luton line up. The goal
corers that day were : Robinson (16), Emanuel (49), Feeney (51, 54), Morgan (72, 77 pen, 84), Holmes (82), Andrew (88).
Two days later Luton finally signed Adam Boyd from Hartlepool, whom they had been chasing for six months. Provided Newell was sure he had recovered from a long-term injury he would have been a good acquisition but not a replacement for Howard as he is a totally different style of player.
Mike Newell told www.lutontown.co.uk at the time:
'We have been chasing Adam for some considerable time, but losing Howie this season meant it became important that we got another striker in. We tried to sign him last season so we are delighted to have completed this deal.
'He is a centre forward who has a good strike rate. It doesn't matter what level they are playing at, you just want someone who can find the net. And he is still young enough to develop as a player.
'He is decent in the air and scores all types of goals. We are not trying to clone another Steve Howard. When you play up front there is always pressure to score goals, but Adam Boyd is Adam Boyd and he will cope.' - He didn`t! Half the Howard money was invested in Boyd who had not proved his fitness since a lengthy absence with injury at Hartlepool, and he was never fully fit for the whole season. There is no doubting his potential ability, but he was never given a run in the team to see what he could do, and he has turned out to be a waste of resources, and that is no slur on him personally, because the club should have got him fit and used him.
Rumours persist at the moment that he wants out, but a fit Adam Boyd would again be a great asset in this division. If he wants to leave, then Luton need to recoup the fee they paid for him, as he still had two years to run on his contract.
The season began with no further signings. Luton tried to sign defender Dean Leacock but he opted for Derby and will now grace the Premiership with them. Good call Dean!
Sam Parkin was just about fit after a lengthy absence from Ipswich`s team with a broken ankle, making only 17 appearances for them in the season yet still finishing top scorer. Surely he was the man to fill Howie`s boots?
He debuted at Wolves and looked the part, being unlucky not to score. He made 7 appearances before an innocuous looking ankle injury unrelated to his previous one seemed to sideline him for two weeks. Two weeks turned into the whole season and a serious operation was required to put it right. He is now almost fully recovered, and, if he is able to remain fit, Sam Parkin will score a hatful of goals in this division, trust me!
On deadline day, Luton tried to sign Rotherham midfielder. Defender Lee Williamson but the Millers` manager Alan Knill hummed and hawed right to the midnight deadline and the deal could not be completed in time. Newell could still have signed him on loan with a view to a full signing in the next transfer window but chose not to do so and paid the price when Watford snapped him up in January.
When Sol Davis had what was thought to have been a stroke, in October, Luton`s lack of provision of cover was exposed, bearing in mind that Underwood was not recovering from his broken arm sustained at the end of the previous season and was never to return all season due to what was finally believed to be MRSA infection, which nearly cost him his life.
Newell stated loans were not an option! Yes they were Mike! Big mistake!
Luton`s dip in form was temporary and the squad will bounce back. No it wasn`t Mike! No they didn`t!
Marlon Beresford had a 'mare in a couple of games and was not looking himself, so Dean Kiely was brought in on loan and did a sterling job. There was the clue Mike! Just perhaps, a couple of loan signings in other departments might just have done the same?
By November the wheels were definitely wobbling if they had not already come off!
A virus had 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, while some players had to play while still unwell.
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 were the problems Mike Newell had to deal with, with not too much in the way of resources to deal with them.... Or is that a fair reflection?
I had 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 definitely 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 wide front player when at his most dangerous, and was never played there by Newell.
Vine had been moved up to out and out striker, and as a result, 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 wais in the Howard role with Feeney in the old Vine role, but while Vine is scoring more, the goals from midfield dried up, because Vine is not the same type of player as Howard and there were no knockdowns from a big centre forward for the midfield to run onto.
Parkin and Boyd could both play a role similar to Howard, but Parkin was long term injured and Boyd was never properly fit. 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 managed to make an impact.
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 we never saw him show the confidence to try and use it.
The balance of the side was 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 had 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 showed he is an excellent keeper.
Mike Newell self confessed his tactical naiveté. Unfortunately, it was all too often in evidence, in that there were many games where Luton led and then went all out for more goals and were 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. 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, but alls season we were odds on to concede. We had plenty of skill in the roles of striker coaches, but it seems to me that we needed someone like John Moore to school the defence.
Against Southend, a team that had 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.
Next came Raynorgate! In his post match press conference, while still fuming that our good friend, referee Andy D'Urso, had failed to award Luton either of two penalty kick appeals, Newell said that the use of female referees and assistants was 'tokenism for the politically-correct idiots' and queried the use of women in football generally.
After a standoff with the Luton Town board following these comments and other comments about the chairman of the club, Newell was severely reprimanded by the Board. He had already made a public apology to Amy Raynor, although to be fair, her performance on the day was very poor for an official of either gender!
However, this was to be the first of several vocal faux pas by Newell, which diverted attention from the job in hand - focussing on Luton`s slide down the table!
As soon as the Transfer window was open, Edwards was on his way, followed swiftly by Vine.
Great idea that! Sell your top goal scorer and then your second top goal scorer who also happens to be your top player for assists, and at a time when the side is going into freefall.
We will never know the absolute truth about the sale of players this season. The board made statements to the effect that the manager was never once told he must sell players, and therefore we must surmise that they were suggesting that Mike Newell made the decision to sell. Since it was later revealed that Mike Newell was contracted to receive 10% of transfer profits, there would seem to be a gigantic conflict of interests potential there!
Later, once he had been sacked, Newell inferred that he did have to sell the players. Whom do we believe?
Either way, I believe Newell`s public rants about agents was the main reason he was unable to bring in any players, as the agents did not want to deal with him, and this compromised his ability to manage the football team.
Mike unfortunately made numerous footballing decisions, which collectively resulted in the failure of the football team, even if not helped by injury and illness, and spent far too much time concentrating on job offers and raising his own public profile and he must shoulder the largest portion of the blame for the team`s demise, and the board should shoulder some blame for their inept handling of the financial affairs and public relations, and for not sacking Newell earlier. He gave them enough reasons!
Finally, I believe that several of the players deserve criticism for their lack of effort in some games, and for focussing on their future moves rather than on earning the wages that they were being paid by Luton.
One thing I do know - it was never the fault of the supporters who gave excellent support throughout, and protested only when their frustrations, brought about by the ineptitude of the people in charge of their football club, left them with little option but to let their feelings be known.
As with previous mismanagement eras, the fans` demonstrations led to one of the main failures, Bill Tomlins resignation and the shake-up resulting in a new regime being installed.
However, until the new regime has proved itself worthy of my trust, they will only be receiving it in instalments, as they earn it!
What is your opinion? Where does the blame lie, and is the current management team at board and team level good enough to take us forward?
Date:Tuesday June 19 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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