Whenever I drive into Luton, I always find myself whistling In The Ghetto by Elvis Presley, such is the inhospitality of the place. I can well believe that this town is absolutely chocka with runny nosed lads learning how to steal and learning how to fight.
The football ground is the worst in our division by some distance, as we walk through an extended garage door either side of people’s bathroom windows in order to take our seats. How ludicrous that is. I bet none of those poor sods could sell up if they wanted to. “And if you look out of this window, you get a clear view of drunken football fans legally pissing against your wall.”
But I love it there now. Boy, do I. What a stunning, dominant, devastating, crucial victory this was for the Tigers. Our second win in a row at Kenilworth Road, and like last season’s Kevin Ellison-inspired 3-2 capture of the points, this will be best remembered for an awesome defensive display.
However, don’t let the fact that Messrs Ricketts, Turner, Delaney and Dawson played so well fool you. They could only repel what the opposition had to throw at them and in the case of this dishevelled Luton Town under a beleaguered manager, it wasn’t a lot. Devoid of confidence, ideas, leadership and – having infamously sold anyone capable of looking at the right net – actual footballing talent, they withered and died before us. They’re going down.
But we might not be now. Six points from six has taken us level with Burnley (Burnley! Remember how good we made them look at Turf Moor, with Thelwell in our defence? That seems like light years ago now) and four points clear of the drop zone. The bottom three looks ideal too after Southend’s win – Leeds, Luton and QPR. Leeds have to go for reasons which need no expansion; QPR because their football is rotten and spiritless and their manager deeply hateable; and Luton because their ground and town is a cesspit. I like Mike Newell – he’s entertainingly fearless, undoubtedly cares about his sport and has been dealt a bum deal by his board after £9m worth of sales and barely a penny going into his budget – but his club needs to go.
Phil Brown not unexpectedly selected Livermore to start after such a symbolic sub appearance for Welsh on Saturday, but everywhere else remained untouched. The A4 sheet slipped under the ref’s door contained the surnames Myhill, Ricketts, Turner, Delaney, Dawson, Parlour, Ashbee, Livermore, Forster, Windass and Elliott.
Backed by a vociferous City support who occasionally sang some utter rubbish, we got going and immediately were in the ascendancy. Possession was ours, space was resolutely created, and Luton got frustrated quickly, notably when ex-Blackpool alky and alleged brainy footballer Carlisle gave Elliott an almighty boot in the air which left St Stuart writhing around in immense discomfort and the ref reaching for his yellow card. Elliott then got another set of studs in his calves and needed more tenderness from the physio; although the assaults going his way were over-respectful to Stuey’s status with us these days, they showed that Luton were scared of us. Quite right.
Forster did a hamstring after fewer than 20 minutes and ambled off the pitch to massive applause, to be replaced by the Asprilla-esque (at least in his lolloping way of getting about – although if he also wants to elbow Keith Curle and get off scot free then he’s got our blessing) Vaz Te. Forster has been magnificent lately, and one hopes that there is more for him to do this season, although if Vaz Te’s display is anything to go by, something ridiculously special could be seen in a City shirt over the remaining few weeks, providing he polishes up his finishing.
Chances wise, it wasn’t exactly boot filling at this juncture. However, the sub’s arrival had an instantaneous effect as he clipped a bouncy pass to the sprinting Ricketts. The overlap and cross was just resplendent from the Welsh full back – whose decent season for us has been largely undervalued, one thinks – and as Windass let his eyes follow the ball’s path on the edge of the six yard box, Livermore moved his feet quickest and won the aerial duel, guiding it beyond Beresford’s palm and into the net. Again, like at Birmingham, Derby and the KC against Preston, Livermore’s celebration was cool and subdued, though the City fans could hardly say they also held back. Pandemonium broke out.
Vaz Te charged on to an Ashbee ball to whack a shot just too high, then his impudence baffled two Luton types and forced a corner, which via a deflected Turner header turned into a second corner, then a third. Turner was after this one too, and his clattering of Beresford as he sought to connect forehead with ball saw the end of the Luton keeper’s night. On came first a stretcher, then the inappropriately named Brill as replacement custodian.
Luton, less than dramatically, decide to attack. Turner concedes a corner after a dangerous ball from the right flank threatens Myhill’s exclusion zone with Talbot and centre back turned not very good centre forward Barnett closing in. From the kick, Myhill manages a stout block of a flicked header and Livermore slaps it clear. Defending’s good, although Dawson sullies the cause with a stupid and mildly violent foul on Foley which earns him yellow. Still, it’s City who are showing the strength and, more vitally, the character and desire as half time approaches. As the whistle sounds, a thoroughly satisfied City contingent applaud their heroes down the plastic tunnel and prepare for the inevitable Luton onslaught.
It never happened. Feeney, an astute forward and international team-mate of Elliott, entered the fray prior to the restart but little difference was proffered. City were still much, much better.
Elliott went on a flyer down the flank, but the cross was slightly too far for Windass. Nonetheless, the tireless and thoroughly engaging Deano gave chase, kept it in and chipped towards Vaz Te, who did the bicycle kick thing which only players who think Championship football is a temporary measure do. Only just wide too.
A rally from the plastic Hatters. Turner concedes a soft free kick; the ball is clipped to the far post via a malfunctioning Myhill punch where Feeney manages a header right across the six yard area and beyond every body on the hunt. As it’s regathered and played back in, Ashbee gets across and clears. A very close shave, happening as it did in front of the Tiger Nation, who just carried on singing a mixture of trad.arr City ditties and guff – including a song slaying Luton’s credentials for beating us to the League One title two whole years ago. Dear God.
Livermore then got booked for a shirt pull, prior to winning and delivering a free kick which was volleyed home magnificently from 25 yards by Turner. Yes, Turner. This was some goal – arguably surpassing Bridges at Leicester for the best of the campaign; not just for technical reasons, but also for importance. Turner’s Tiger life is morphing into that of his predecessor at the back – dodgy start, a few nightmares (Huddersfield for Cort; Colchester for Turner) but eventually settling into the mode of top defender who is a proper threat at set pieces. One shouldn’t also forget that Turner has made his transition at a higher level than that which Cort managed, and just now, he seems unbeatable. Can we even say we miss Cort any more? It makes the decision by Brown to ditch Turner for Coles seven days earlier look all the more dimwitted, irrespective of Coles’ display that night, while the role played by Delaney in bringing on Turner (as with Cort) should never be underestimated.
And it was a great goal. It reminded me of Maldini’s against Liverpool in those opening seconds of the 2005 Champions League final (a volley at a right angle from a free kick), only Turner’s was better as Maldini’s was hit into the ground. Our central defender hit it with the sort of sweetness Tate & Lyle could bag and sell.
Cropper hurt his diseased elbow in the celebrations, but declined the help of St John’s Ambulance, even though they had some leeches and a St Bernard with a barrel ready and waiting. Andy, whose body odour and ruddy complexion paid homage to a particularly prolific day on the pop, would later be seen mugging the poor dog.
An hour had gone and we were two up. It immediately should have been three, as Vaz Te spurned the first of numerous decent chances by fizzing his drive wide from Elliott’s divine through ball. Within ten minutes though, Luton had pegged it back a bit. A free kick was clipped dangerously in; Myhill went to punch but was beaten to it by the head of Talbot. 1-2, 20 minutes left.
Livermore frees Vaz Te, but his irritating desire to have the left-rolling ball on his right makes the shot harder and he prods it wide. A bad miss, and an annoying one. Then off he goes again, chasing Elliott’s cross and belting it at the keeper after Windass fails to connect. And, lo and behold, it’s Vaz Te who has the next chance as well, crashing a cross shot straight at Brill, who is evidently a more reliable keeper than the named Beresford whom he replaced.
Some housekeeping – Vaz Te kicks the ball away and receives a caution, then Barmby comes on for a surprised (ie, delaying) Windass, whose reception is explosive, although it was a quieter time for Deano than the previous two games. Then we saw the game and the points saved.
Luton bound forwards with a rare sense of belief (or desperation, more likely), delivering the ball to Feeney who tees up a volley which he strikes truly. Myhill follows the path of the ball, but it touches Turner’s shoulder and deflects a yard the other way, prompting the reflexes of the keeper to palm it over while the rest of his frame was still off in the opposite direction. A save of the type he made all through last season, and a save which could yet define this season.
Luton are deflated. Elliott – whose latest 90 minute showing proves that asthma is controllable with exercise – gets a booking for another petulant bit of ball disposal after the whistle goes, then Parlour – also a quieter presence but nevertheless a reassuring one for the younger members of the team – claps the fans as he withdraws for Coles. And there’s a good reception for the sub too, after his calamitous night against Ipswich, although the swap is straight, with no sign of Turner and Delaney being joined by an extra head at the back. Lesson learned.
Four minutes are added and Luton keep possession and look forwards but there’s little real danger – Turner and Delaney see to that. The whistle sounds and the rapture is immeasurable from the Tiger Nation. Every player spends time acknowledging a quite brilliant support, and the news of winless nights for Leeds, QPR and Burnley add to the joy.
Well, the situation looks so much rosier now. Sunderland away is a hiding to nothing, but to go into it with maximum points from two games means a) our confidence will be as high as possible at the Stadium of Light; and b) we’ll have something to fall back on if Keane’s men turn us over. The more obvious three pointers are our remaining home games, with Southend, Norwich, Colchester and Plymouth all distinctly beatable. If all goes according to plan as a tumultuous and sometimes painful campaign reaches its conclusion, then we should look at our night in the ghetto as the night where it all went right. City, you were brilliant.