Town face a pitch-ed battle for promotion
Playing on poor surfaces away from home isn’t helping the Hatters’ cause as they were held to a goalless draw by AFC Telford United on Tuesday night, writes Mark Wood.
The surface looked in perfect condition on arrival at the New Bucks Head, but started to cut up just moments after the players started to warm-up.
And while trying not to blame the pitch, boss Paul Buckle is certain it didn’t help.
He said: “I thought it was going to be a better surface to be honest. I think Wolves play their games here, there’s a bit of investment in the pitch and it was covered.
“But it ripped up badly. It was difficult for both sets of players but I thought we dug in.
“It’s not an excuse, but obviously the boys at times we’re dependant on a decent surface.
“I think that’s evident when you see the way we played at home on a good pitch.
“But we got to grips with the pitch in the end tonight, all it was tonight was we didn’t find the back of the net.
“Andre’s (Gray) header, the keeper’s made a good save, and Jon’s (Shaw) hit it over from six or eight yards where if he hits the target it’s a goal.
“And it was all us, right to the very end we pushed them back and there was holes appearing in the Telford back four and unfortunately we just couldn’t find the back of the net. That was probably the only thing missing.”
Gray agreed with his boss and believed it was every bit as bad as the surface at Woking where Luton lost 3-1.
He said: “I think the pitch didn’t help. From the side where I was it (Shaw’s chance) looked like it got stuck in the mud a bit.
“I think it’s hard to see what the pitch was like from the stands, but every step you made your foot was sinking in it.
“It is a hard chance, it looks easier than it is. So I think he couldn’t do much more really.
“It wasn’t much different from Woking to be honest. The way your feet sink into the ground and our game we like to pass the ball a lot.
“It did slow us down so it was more of an aerial game today which didn’t help us.”
Buckle was also pleased with the way they dug in on the night, saying: “I didn’t think we shirked tonight on the nasty side of it. At 0-0 at half time I wasn’t that displeased and second half I really felt we were going to win the game.
“If you come away from home anywhere and you get the chances that we had second half I would like to think we could put them ones away.
“But it weren’t to be and I’m pleased we’re on an unbeaten run now and pleased we kept a clean sheet.”
Telford equalled their worst ever run of 14 games without a victory, set in 1913-14, by drawing with Luton on the night.
But Buckle was unconcerned by their form and is hoping under-fire boss, Andy Sinton’s team perform like that against the other top sides for the rest of the season.
He said: “I didn’t look at that to be honest. It was a strange game down at Kenilworth Road and again one that we should have won.
“Tonight, I think if Andy’s team fights like that for the rest of the season he will be delighted, and I think it’s the measure of when Luton Town come to town teams raise their game. Credit to Telford tonight, I hope they can do that for the rest of the season because Andy’s a good guy.”
He was also pleased that they’d managed to shut the Bucks out and not conceded on the counter, like they did on New Year’s Day at Woking.
Buckle continued: “If you look at the games we’ve lost in, the majority of the games where we’ve been beaten, if we’d have just picked up the draw we would be a lot further up the league.
“So it’s a fine line but there’s so many games to go still. I can’t grumble at a point tonight, because when you’ve had that much of the game second half sometimes the opposition can nip up the other end and catch you out.
“But the players stayed focused for the whole game and hopefully this will be a decent point for us in weeks and months to come.”
The Town boss was also pleased with his players’ fitness levels as they threatened right until the death on the night.
“It’s exactly what you’re after, but the other thing as well is the games are going to come thick and fast for us now,” he continued.
“So as long as the players are showing the freshness like they did tonight, because I thought actually our fitness levels looked brilliant second half.
“We came forward, Ronnie (Henry) came forward, (Greg) Taylor came forward and we looked solid, we looked solid second half. They slung a few balls in but you didn’t see us wilt with that long ball up.
“On another day we would have won the game, and I think their keeper’s pulled off a couple of great saves to deny us. If we stay in this mood and we keep our concentration levels we’ll go close.”
Gray was buffeted from pillar to post on the night and though disappointed not to score, was pleased with a clean sheet.
He said: “I think it was a good team game. I think they didn’t have any chances, so I think from a defensive point of view it was a good game for us, but the ball just wouldn’t go in for us.
“I think the keeper made two great saves from me and we had a few more chances and the ref wasn’t on his day today so that didn’t really help either.
“First half was just about settling into the game and probably figuring out how they are going to come at us. So it was a slow start from us but we came out of the traps in the second half and the keeper’s made two great saves from me.”
Gray, playing against his former club, saw keeper Ryan Young make one great save to deny him when unmarked from a header, beat one venomous shot away and saw another whiz wide.
He said: “I try to have spice in all of my games. I think I’m enjoying my football so every game I come into I’m looking forward to so I don’t think it makes much difference for me coming back here and playing against them.
“I think it (one of the chances) just opened up for me, I turned the defender on the edge of the area and it just opened up. I think a fraction to the left and I think it goes in. But unfortunately it wasn’t our night and it wasn’t my night.”
And Buckle was full of praise for Town’s travelling supporters, adding: “The Luton fans are loyal and they march up and down the country supporting the club that’s been at this level and they are desperate to get out. And tonight they showed it again on a freezing cold night.
“They cheered us on, I think they thought we were going to break their backline and score, but it didn’t happen. But it’s so pleasing to see them there clapping at the end and our players really appreciate that.”