Last week’s late win was a hoot and a holler and a result today would really get the season off to a very solid start. As usual we’re experiencing something of an injury crisis and Sinclair will be particularly missed as when he came on last Saturday we had much more bite. I hope that the first-half incoherence from last week will have been reduced as the Lads have had an extra seven days to get to know each other better. I haven’t been to Luton since 2007 when we trounced them on the final day of the season and then were soundly beaten ourselves in the League Cup a few months later. I’ll be there again today but there’s the small matter of not having a ticket, though I feel confident that I’ll get in. A draw would do me today and I reckon it’ll end 2-2.
I got to Kenilworth Road around 2.15 but there were no tickets on sale at the office so I walked down that long alleyway at the side of the ground to get to the end where our fans were entering. If you haven’t been there before, it’s a funny arrangement with a big hole in a terraced street serving as the main access to the away end. I loitered around there watching lovely-looking tickets passing by in the hands of smiling fans as they greeted friends before going through the body-search at the turnstiles. I sniffed out nothing but I did get chatting to Rob, one of the London Branch faithful, who was waiting for a few family members to arrive and I mentioned I needed a ticket before he drifted off for a while. Time ticked round to 2.45 and I was ready to start asking people if they had any tickets going when Rob reappeared accompanied by a friendly guy who had a couple of spares, one of which I happily accepted. Next thing I was standing in the middle of our end as the chanting was taking the low roof off. The Luton mascot, Happy Harry or whoever, approached our end and was greeted with, “What the Fuck? What The fuck? What the fuckin’ hell is that?!” An entirely appropriate rendering of ‘My Garden Shed’ was rapidly curtailed by the arrival of the sides onto the pitch. We were playing in all black with a few red trimmings and again it took me about twenty minutes to fully identify all our players. I soon saw that Baldwin was on instead of Ozturk and that Max Power (surely one of the best ever Sunderland player names) was starting too. Ozturk was on the bench and after his wobbly display against Charlton I was very happy about that.
The first-half followed a rather similar pattern to the Charlton game with Luton doing most of the pressing for the first half hour or so while we came back for the last quarter hour but we lacked any real punch upfront. We were defending much better than last week, though, and Baldwin soon impressed me by leaping up to confidently head away incoming crosses. His passing out of defence clearly needs some work however. Power also looked impressive, shouting for the ball and putting in strong challenges before spraying the ball around creatively. McLaughlin showed that last week’s performance was no flash in the pan. We were tackling hard at times and Oviedo was fortunate not to get a yellow for a spirited challenge while we gave away five free-kicks in potential dangerous areas. We looked generally cool in defence and managed to deal with whatever Luton threw at us. Our passing has definitely improved a lot, which admittedly might not be saying much, but we were maintaining possession well with a lot of close, accurate passes. Gooch was our most impressive player going forward and he bustled around to great effect without getting knocked off the ball, even coming back to defend at times. He had a good effort around the half-hour mark that went just wide and it was he who created our goal just as stoppage-time was about to begin. He again went on a strong run down our right and moving toward the middle he fed a great pass through to the on-running Maja who hit a low shot wide of Stech in goal. It was the perfect time to take the lead and with the Lads kicking towards us in the second-half, spirits were high as the half-time whistle went.
Luton came out very late for the restart and when they did a funny little war-dance before dispersing in a circle it caused another chorus of “What the fuck etc!” from our end. Anyway, the second-half was a fairly even battle with both sides tackling hard and having their chances. Luton won a couple of corners early on but we defended them well. Next thing, I was surprised to see Catts come on when he replaced Mumba as I didn’t expect to see him in our colours again. Around the hour-mark Gooch had a great shot from the edge of their box that was tipped just over and ten minutes later we had a shout for handball that went unheeded but straight off Maguire hit the bar. Between these two good efforts of ours Luton took the lead from a corner. For some reason they took an eternity to take it and when they finally did, from what looked like a training-ground move Pearson blasted it home. Luton were pressing and we were living dangerously at times, allowing Hylton a free header that went just wide of our left-hand post. In the later stages I was feeling decidedly edgy and was looking forward to the whistle and a decent away point. O’Nien replaced Maja late on while Molyneux had another run-out in stoppage-time when he came on for Gooch.
A draw was a fair result and considering the injuries we’ve had and the throwing together of a whole group of new players, I think we’ve done well so far without playing particularly well.