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Death By Misadventure
By: Rob Sedgwick
HOW would you like to die today? Would you like to die knowing your time was up, or would you like to die suddenly, just when it looked like you might live? All manners of death having been experienced this year but last night at Luton, Town chose the latter option, a microcosm of how the season as a whole might pan out.
When the news filtered through that Mike Newell had released three of his squad just prior to the game kicking off, it went some way to explaining his team changes. A combination of Houllieresque player rotation, injury and who he was speaking to this week meant Mike Newell selected the following side, playing 4-4-2.
Henderson - Widdowson, Bennett, Atkinson, Stockdale - Hegarty, Llewellyn, Hunt, Bore - Akpa Akpro, Forbes
Both Proudlock and Clarke had been "rested" and started life on the bench. With Town's only living 'keeper being on loan there was no goalkeeper named amongst the substitutes.
Former Luton boss Mike Newell entered the arena provocatively, and with some irony, saluting all four sides of the ground in his appreciation of his time at a club which was now faced with a 30 point deduction. Almost to a man the Luton crowd responded back with a variety of hand gestures and four letter words. But at least the Grimsby section of the support saluted him.
The game kicked off and former Hatter Adrian Forbes almost got the game off to a dream start. Forbes was sent racing clear by an Akpro pass, and just had the 'keeper to beat. Sadly he didn't manage to find the target at all and his shot went narrowly wide.
After Town's early chance Luton had the majority of the possession and it became clear that the night was going to be all about defending. Luton had numerous pops from outside the box, and shots charged down in the six yard box.
Town were limited mainly to break away attacks and the occasional shot on goal on the rare occasions when they could manage to pass the ball between the handful of players willing to go that far up the field.
Grimsby won a free kick when Bower cynically brought down Akpro, for which he was booked. Hegarty launched the ball into the box and Bennett stood unmarked at the far post, looping the ball over the 'keeper to give Town the lead against the run of play. With 44 minutes on the clock Town thought they would take a half time lead into the dressing room.
But Luton fought back, and Charles shot over from a good position. The Hatters won a corner in the three minutes of injury time allowed by the referee for spectators to miss the last train home. The corner looped over Henderson, and Craddock at the far post got a head to the ball, which was cleared off the line by Town. The referee looked to his linesman, and the bald assistant signalled a goal. His lack of hair and his questionable legitimacy was immediately pointed out by the Town faithful. More than once.
Half Time: Luton 1 Grimsby 1. Probably a fair scoreline. Town had had two good chances, Luton for all their possession had not troubled Henderson too greatly. A point would do nicely though.
Town started the second half brightly and a terrific run by Hegarty ended up with a great cross to Akpro who headed over. Akpro then beat the offside trap and raced towards the goal but his cross to Forbes was eventually cleared for a corner.
Akpro was then ridiculously booked for kicking the ball away. The Frenchman launched the ball in the general direction of where a free kick was to be taken from, however the ref failed to make allowances for Town's quality of passing, and he was booked for missing his target by over 10 degrees of arc.
With Luton throwing everyone forward there was plenty of chances for Town to counterattack and Akpro was then obstructed in full flight on the edge of the box but the referee game nothing.
Town were wasting time at every opportunity, as was the referee, who was constantly having long conversations with players, presumably gathering material for a forthcoming biography. Just when it looked Grimsby might do it, Mike Newell decided to bring on a substitute. On came Heywood for Bore, an extra defender signalling the start of the end game. We all nodded sagely and Town fans settled down for the last few minutes of defending.
As it happened it only took a few seconds for Luton to score. For the only time in the game, Town, extra defender and all, left a player completely unmarked in the six yard box, substitute Asa Hall, who had the simple task of tapping it past Henderson from close range. Whether Heywood's introduction had helped or hindered we will never know.
The referee allowed five minutes of injury time for all his chit chat and to ensure as many spectators as possible were inconvenienced by missing the last train home, but it wasn't to be.
In injury time the game erupted when Town tried to get the ball back into play quickly and Henderson went crashing into Nicholls. Henderson could have been sent off for violent conduct, which was the last thing you need when you have just dismissed every other first team 'keeper in the building, but the referee just booked both players.
Town in the end probably got what they deserved. They'd set their stall out to defend and had simply not passed the ball well enough when they did have possession. Man of the Match was Ryan Bennett who won everything in the air for Town and scored our only goal.
With five home games and three away games left there is everything still to play for - but we need maybe two or three wins at least from them. This result means we also have to look over our shoulders to Luton as well as relying upon Chester to drop points.
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