Good Game: Luton Town 0-1 Stevenage Borough

By Pete H

Good Game: The series looking at the amazing, utterly memorable, unbelievably dramatic and downright ludicrous games that involved Stevenage Borough over the years. But we’ll insist that we accept no blame for memories warped by time, age or alcohol consumption at the time. We’ll never refer to any games involving Macclesfield Town either – particularly any at Broadhall Way. Those sort of things never happened, dontcha know…

Luton Town 0-1 Stevenage Borough

Kenilworth Road, Luton — 29 September 2009 — Blue Square Premier

The disappointment of losing in the 2008-9 Blue Square Premier playoffs had pretty much disappeared by the time we approached the end of September 2009. But we did also recognise that our humble non-league pond was becoming filled with even bigger fish. So, it’d only be a touch natural to wonder if – yet again – we were destined to remain in the Conference. For this Tuesday evening, the fixture computer made us head along the A505 to take on Luton Town; a side who had tumbled out of the Football League for the first time in 89 years after a bit of an off-field horror show. And it would clearly be the first time we’d met each other on level terms.

Before that, our previous encounters against the Hatters in the LDV Trophy. For younger viewers, think the Papa John’s with no group stages and Conference clubs instead of Premier League youth teams. The first (in 2002) was a humdinger; seven goals in all as Boro’ ran our famed neighbours close. A year later (2003), we pulled them out the hat – albeit one stage earlier. Again, the margins were fine and the calls close. The bottom line, however, is that Boro’ had tried twice and failed to get the better of the Bedfordshire side. What would this third match-up bring. And how firmly could we establish our credentials against what you had to perceive as a bigger club – if we could at all.

Luton Town 0-1 Stevenage Borough: The background

Like a lot of folk who drop out of the League, the Hatters didn’t take to life in the Conference amazingly well at the start. Sure, they had still to be defeated on home turf by the time we came to town; winning four and drawing one of their opening five indoors. Away from home? It was a different tale. A 4-3 win at Cambridge on Saturday 26 September meant they’d now won two of their away days – as many as they had lost, and one fewer than they’d drawn. With all this in mind, they were already playing a spot of catch-up. Indeed, their victory at the Abbey brought them to within one point of us.

Kenilworth Road – the home of Luton Town
Luton Town v Carlisle United” by Shelley & Dave is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Before that weekend’s action, we held a three-point advantage over them. One of our speciality, early-season, mediocre draws at the time – this one at home to Altrincham – saw us drop silly points. And the truth is we had been leading the chasing pack behind pacesetters Oxford United at the time. The Us were seven points clear of us (and 10 of Luton) going into that game weekend. So, not only were the Hatters on a mission to make up ground, any serious hopes of promotion meant that we had to cling onto the Us’ coat-tails as best we could too. So, the meeting at Kenilworth Road had some importance attached to it. Not least ‘cos it was the difference between staying above them or not.

Luton Town 0-1 Stevenage Borough: The rundown

For the most part, there was very little to choose between us. One of the larger crowds had funnelled through the lanes and alleyways near Kenilworth Road to see what would come of this intriguing encounter. It was more than 8,000 – if you really wanted to know. Robbo saw his header drop just wide of Mark Tyler’s post, while Mitchell Cole was adamant he should’ve had a penalty just before the break. All he did get for his troubles, however, was a booking. Mind you, it’s worth remembering that we certainly didn’t have it all our own way. Jake Howells put an effort over the bar and Chris Day had his fair share of work to do.

As the game wore on, the question that was increasingly being asked was whether either side would crack. Beardo had an effort tipped past the post by Tyler, with George Pilkington striking the upright for the hosts. With the final minutes ticking down, however, came the moment that gave us the answer. Scott Laird was given the chance to charge down the left after an Eddie Odhiambo lay-off. With his typical aplomb, Lairdy struck from around 18 yards on a slight angle; firing past Tyler and leaving us with just five minutes to see out. Claude Gnapka had an effort shortly afterwards that almost ruined our party. But the full time whistle came – and, with it, three big statementy points.

What happened next?

First and foremost, the result handed the Hatters a first home league defeat since their relegation. It also spelled the end of Mick Harford’s reign as Luton boss. For Boro’, however, the three points set them back on course to hunt down Oxford United. It was followed up with a 1-1 draw up at York; not the best result we had all season, but important nonetheless for keeping things ticking over. And, to be fair, that’s what we were doing already. Our win at Kenilworth Road made it eight unbeaten. We wouldn’t actually go on to lose until we came up short in a home FA Cup replay against Port Vale in mid-November.

By the time we’d meet the Hatters again, two things had happened. The first is that we’d reached the summit and were the ones who were being hunted down. The second is that Luton – under Dickie Dosh – had got their act together and realised they did want to return back to the Football League. Our 1-0 defeat at the Lamex ensured that we’d traded sizeable blows that season. The main difference here is that we saw it through to win the ‘war’; securing the Blue Square Premier title with time to spare. The Hatters inexplicably messed up their playoff bid and remained in the Conference for a few more years to come.

In conclusion….

You’ll know full well that Luton Town have since escaped the clutches of the Conference. Indeed, the Hatters have kicked on – and done so again – in more recent years. The coming together of us and them in 2009 marked the start of a period where it felt as if efforts were being made to turn the rivalry into derby. But the rivalry was borne purely out of the prize we were chasing. The same can be said when we were knocking around in League Two together. Now, the Hatters are back in the wake of their long-standing rivals: Watford. Heck, they may even be a Premier League team by the time you come to this.

That said, we’ll forever have that time when little ol’Boro’ from down past Hitchin won in their back yard – and reigned supreme over them.

• Full details from the 2009-10 Blue Square Premier season

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