I can’t get enthusiastic about our fortunes in the FA Cup this year at least, and the paltry Valley crowd suggests that many others feel the same. The surprising thing was that the players must like it, as they managed to engineer another game in it to play. If I was Parkinson I’d make sure (injuries permitting) that the same X1 start on a cold evening in Luton. It would serve them right. I’ve nothing against playing within yourself, conserving energy etc; and the run of recent games has left us with some tired legs, along with some injuries. But that’s no excuse for just playing poorly and making a team like Luton look half-decent. On the balance of play, quality of passing, chances created, a replay was the least Luton deserved. But quite frankly if they were any good they would have won, so patchy and uninspired their opposition proved to be. Were it not for their boorish fans and their players’ dire attempts at diving (well, one worked as they got a penalty) we might even have felt like cheering them at the end.
Our only excuse, if there is one, is that for most of the game we were actually winning. At half-time I think we would all (players included) have taken the final whistle there and then. Instead it proved to be a game that we simply didn’t take the opportunity to do enough to kill it off. We were lulled into a false sense of security by the early first goal and the fact that after their penalty equaliser we regained the lead quite quickly, giving the impression that we could score as and when we wanted to. For too long after that it looked like a case of get the ball to Reid, or someone else, something will happen, we’ll score again and it will be all over. Well, we didn’t and proved unable to raise it after they levelled it again. Also, by putting all the kids on the bench and not playing a couple from the start, Parkinson wasn’t really able to change things around with substitutions, at least not without taking risks. Not smart, making it an afternoon that nobody comes out of with any credit, including the fans (those there and those not).
With Semedo presumably at least doubtful and not risked, Dailly still suspended, and Martin not available, Parkinson put out what was just about the strongest possible side. Anyinsah returned to partner Benson up front, McCormack predictably came in to play alongside Racon, both Reid and Wagstaff started, giving us two genuine wingers, while Llera came in alongside Fortune, with Jackson and Francis at full-back. It looked like a line-up that would have too much attacking threat for Luton to cope with. However, when commitment levels aren’t what they should be and players don’t work hard enough to create space a lot can go wrong, especially when the two central midfielders play like complete strangers. For a lot of the game it would have been good to see us string one pass together.
It all looked too easy early on. Luton started brightly, but in our first serious attack Reid crossed well and Anyinsah was standing all alone in the box. He had enough time to read War and Peace before unchallenged planting the header in the net. I don’t think he even had to get off the ground. Luton continued to play what football there was, but their inability to time runs and stay onside suggested that the threat was limited. There was a scare when a shot came back off the post, plus an unfortunate moment when Benson gave the defender the usual shove when the ball was running out of play, only for him to go headlong into the advertising board. It could have been nasty and Benson was yellow carded.
The relative calm was shattered as Luton were awarded a penalty. I’d have to see it again to be sure; it looked like a soft one, but there was a clumsy challenge and their guy took full advantage. Elliot saved the kick well, but the rebound fell kindly for them and the taker headed it home. It only took a few minutes to regain the lead. Decent work down the right produced a cross which seemed to get deflected and looped up. Jackson did what he has been doing often of late in midfield, timing a run into the box to perfection. There wasn’t a big gap between the post, the goalkeeper and a defender, but he found it. Scare over, that should have been the cue to impose ourselves. Instead it provided the excuse to lapse back into indifference.
The second half progressed much as the first, with Luton having no problem in finding a pass and us struggling to retain possession, but with the threat to our goal looking slight. Fortune and Llera were dealing well enough with anything in the air; on the ground both looked less assured. The main attacking outlet was Reid, who on several occasions looked as though he could break through to kill off the game. But nothing quite worked well enough. Benson seemed to get through only to fall over. It looked as though it wouldn’t matter at the end of the day, especially when Luton lost their second appeal for a penalty (just why the ref didn’t book the guy if he saw it as a dive I can’t say). But another Luton move forward saw us covering the box well enough, with plenty of bodies between the ball and the goal, only for their guy to latch onto a loose ball and curl an absolute beauty across the goal and into the net.
It was no more than Luton deserved. By then Sodje had come on for Anyinsah, who faded in the second half, but the change didn’t make much difference. The game ran its rather dismal course and the final whistle couldn’t come soon enough. The flying jacket may keep the body warm but the feet were suffering. There will be a midweek replay, but I suspect we won’t take as many there as they brought to us. The team will be pretty much on its own for that one, but for that they only have themselves to blame.
Elliot: 7/10. Unlucky to save the penalty kick only for the rebound to sit up for their guy. Can’t remember any other difficult saves, once more can’t be blamed for those that went in.
Francis: 6/10. Passing was often wayward, but got in a number of decent crosses and did the defensive stuff well enough.
Jackson: 7/10. Linked up well with Reid and got in the box for a very well taken goal. Should take less of the blame than most others.
Fortune: 6/10. They actually created few decent chances and he and Llera weren’t really responsible for what went on in front of them.
Llera: 6/10. Generally good game, but still looks fragile and makes the occasional serious mistake. Was turned in the first half but got away with it by getting a free kick, made a similar mistake in the second half by going for a ball and not getting it.
Reid: 7/10. Failed to make the decisive contribution (although the cross for the first goal was good enough), but seemed to carry the attack almost single-handed at times.
Racon: 5/10. At no stage of the game did we control midfield. No shortage of effort, but may have made the challenge for their penalty and more important showed no sign of being able to play with McCormack. I hope the two of them sort it out as Semedo is bound to miss other games.
McCormack: 5/10. Some good work, but same issue as with Racon. Sort it out.
Wagstaff: 4/10. Just a poor game all round. Struggled to find space or get past his man. Has much more to offer than he showed today.
Anyinsah: 5/10. Looked rusty and faded in the second half. Took his goal well enough. We have missed him and I hope today was a useful work-out to get back to full swing.
Benson: 4/10. Fell over when in his best position of the game, picked up a silly yellow card, and was otherwise ineffective in holding up the ball or winning balls in the air. He is the goalscorer we’ve been craving, but today was a bad game for him.
Sub: Sodje – 5/10. Didn’t have the same impact as with other recent sub appearances, but the team wasn’t working well enough for him to make a difference.