James Richardson (@JamesMRich10) enjoys the local cuisine topped off by the late winner from Matt Tubbs.

Saturday 29th August 2015: Luton Town 1-2 Pompey

My first away match of the 2015-16 season had the makings of a fairly uneventful affair. Usually my dad and I pick up a rabble of Ex-Pompey migrants, vagabonds and hooligans en-route to a match. But no one joined us on our journey this week. So naturally, a quiet game with the old man was to be expected.

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Along with a feeling of casualness to the day, a happy optimism had filled me so far this season. Every time I have watched, listened or read about Pompey, we seem very strong and difficult to beat. Something which had certainly been proven the week before as I commentated on Pompey’s comeback from 3-0 down against Morecambe.

So we arrived in Luton just after midday with an optimistic but relaxed outlook on the days affairs. Luton is a strange place though. A mix of every nationality in the land and the ‘rough-side-of-town’ British architecture meant that it was a fairly daunting place to look at as we drove in. A huge range of food outlets from Afghan to Zimbabwean lined the main streets and rows of fairly run-down terrace housing filtered into them. I certainly didn’t trust where we parked the car.

However, after a short walk we came across a little Polish cake shop and headed in for a drink, a sausage roll and a cream cake. Dad opting for the éclair, inventively named “Eklar” in Polish, and I chose a strange pancake filled with fruit and cream, which turned out to be a Taco made from sponge cake, not a pancake. It was very delicious.

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Not satisfied with a cake and an odd-tasting sausage roll, we headed into town for lunch. After a suggestion from a local police officer, we decided on a kebab. After ordering “whatever my dad was having” I had just made a huge mistake. I am famously, not great with spicy food. In my younger years, I turned my nose up at anything hotter than a Lamb Passanda. As I had grown up, I explored my curry abilities more and managed to train myself to hit Jalfrezi levels. Perhaps a little hotter. But the kebab I had chosen was blinding fire. Deceptive too, it started off not too badly. Then as you swallowed the first three or four bites, it ignited your insides like magma to paper. I am rather ashamed to say, I couldn’t finish it.

With my lips burning the town centre had one more surprise before we headed into the ground as 3 Lamborghini’s and a Ferrari rolled through, revving their engines and flapping their gull-wing doors. Possibly the most out-of-place site I have ever seen through such a different looking area. So that was odd.

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We then headed into the ground, grabbing a disappointing IPA in the away bar, then took our seats in what can only be described as ‘The danger zone.’ Pompey’s goalkeeping coach, Scott Bevan is not really renowned for his finishing, and with Jones and Murphy warming up in front of us, balls were flying everywhere. A poor lady in the row in front got smashed in the face, Murphy apologised to her for not saving the wild drive from Bevan. She was fine, if not a little red-faced in more than one way.

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Excitement grew and built, before finally the teams trotted out and got the game underway. It only took eight minutes for the game to really get going. A cross in from the left was smashed against his own man by a Luton defender, it then was saved by the keeper, only for Gareth Evans to smash in from close range. The Pompey end went mental and we were bouncing up and down already.

Unfortunately we were quickly silenced by the home support as Josh McCoid went on a decent run and was brought down by Nigel Atangana. Craig Mackail-Smith dispatched it, and the rest of the half became much more nervy. Although we kept possession well, as usual, we seemed to give a few chances to Luton, they certainly came close a few times.

It was a shame for Atangana too, because it was the first thing I had seen him do wrong all season. He has looked magnificent through the middle for us, solid, committed, strong and creative too. A big player for Pompey this season for sure.

As the half-time whistle blew, we felt a little bit lucky to be level, but at the same time, not happy we weren’t winning. That is the feeling this new side gives you – blind confidence against anyone.

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Second half was much better. Paul Cook clearly had some words with the team, and a number of good chances for Pompey fell agonisingly wide of the post, and one cleared off the line. Stockley, who had started the game ahead of Tubbs, was brought down for what I thought was a penalty. He had the ball at his feet, the other player didn’t touch it, but he went down a little easy for the referees liking.

Then there was some rather odd drama. Ben Davies was called off to change his shirt because of blood. He changed quickly and was raring to come back on, signalling to the referee that he was ready. The ref then ignored him. The Pompey fans screamed as Luton won a corner and he still wasn’t allowed on. They attacked again, still not permission from the ref…. It went on for four minutes before finally the ref signalled him on. Much to the ironic cheers of us in the stand.

That wasn’t the only drama of course, and Conor Chaplin was put through on goal, 1v1 in the 90th minute. Deciding to place it, the goalkeeper dived to his left to pull off a really good stop. Big Matty Tubbs was there to put in the rebound from a yard or two and the stadium’s roof was blown off by the noise. Incredible end to a game which could have gone either way. Full time and we had won at the death. Something we don’t seem to do very often.

Infact, that was is so important about the Luton game. A match in which we might well have lost last season. A game on the edge, 50/50 in the last five minutes, both sides pushing… This year we will probably draw or even win most of those games.

Credit where credit is due, the turning point was a Paul Cook substitution. Webster was stripped and ready to come on, the ref blew for a sub from both sides. But when Cook saw that Mackail-Smith was coming off, their main threat, he told Webster to sit down. The two successive minutes after that saw Tubbs and then Chaplin come on. The pair that finished it off for Paul Cooks blue and white army. Well played sir!

Perhaps that is the difference between a manager and a good coach. There is no doubt in my mind that Andy Awford and Guy Whittingham were good coaches, very good infact. But, Paul Cook has that extra bit of tactical knowledge. He has the know how to set up the team, he has the right mentality within the players, he knows how to change a game. Basically, he knows how to get out of League 2. So far, he is doing just that.

We left the ground feeling very good about the win. Turned left to go to the car, only to see a scene from ‘The Walking Dead’ as a metal police barrier was blocking our way. A little window with the eyes of a copper peering out. Perhaps checking if one of us was infected. Feeling a bit like it was the 70’s again, at the times of the 6.57 crew, we decided to wait.

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30 minutes passed and they released the barrier. 30 or so Pompey fans walked through, with 40-50 Luton fans coming the other way. Was there any fights, was there any foul language exchanged… Nope. We high-fived, shook hands and wished each other a safe journey home. One even shouted sarcastically… “Oh NO! POMPEY FANS RUN AWAY!” and we shared a laugh together. Just goes to show that the majority of football fans are actually safe, and quite nice people!
We headed home in high spirits, looking forward to the season ahead with our unbeaten league record intact. Bring on Accrington. PLAY UP POMPEY!

Get in touch on Twitter @PompeyNewsNow or via email pompeynewsnow@gmail.com if you would like to share your blog or fancy covering a game this season.

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