Newcastle United. . . . .0
FOR David Pleat, who has seen so many of his teams develop only to be denuded by the need to sell the most promising youngsters to richer clubs, Wednesday was a sweet occasion with a potentially sour undertone. 'I know from past experience that these things are fleeting and that the publicity the young players receive creates the danger that they'll leave just when we have something going for us,' he said.
The smooth-passing victory over a Newcastle team considered to be technically outstanding was all the more rewarding for Pleat because he had seen his side building towards it over several weeks and was convinced that his blend of the very young and much more experienced players would prosper. For him the key to victory was not something found on the night itself but was derived from the fact that eight of the squad were 'home grown'. 'That is something we can really brag about,' he said.
'We were always aware of the twin imposters and that we could fall flat on our face, but there had been a maturing of minds in the club and the younger element have begun to grow into young men rather than boys. Sometimes I had looked around the dressing-room and thought I only saw boys. Bobby Robson once told me that whatever you did for them, whatever you told them, they would only mature under their own experience.
'I began to feel this earlier in the season when Paul Dickov went back to Arsenal after his loan period and we changed a bit. Paul was a front player and what we decided to do was not that clever. We hadn't got what I call natural forwards. Scott Oakes was a wide player and any wide player can be intimidated by his team's bench or by the fact that he doesn't get a regular supply of passes. If a player is not fancied by the other players, you'd be surprised how few passes he gets. But if they've got faith, they'll give him plenty of the ball. Now Oaksey had to give us width and we had to keep at him to stay wide and take on the full- back and so on. Like anyone would, he got fed up with being near the bench.'
It was Oakes's speed and control from a central position on Wednesday that provided John Hartson with the header Barry Venison spectacularly cleared off the line. And in the second half he scored Luton's second goal after composed midfield and defensive play had confounded Newcastle's pressure.
Pleat felt there were three key factors in Luton's improved form leading up to Wednesday. 'In the wide positions Ceri Hughes was beginning to show all the talent that people saw three or four years ago which was nullified because of a bad injury and Mark Pembridge overtook him and psychologically Hughes couldn't cope with that. Hughes then came into his own; on the right side Paul Telfer, who's a wonderful worker, began to believe that maybe that was his position after all. Then we switched this boy Oakes from the line to a sort of off-striker's role, a linking position, and he's done very well. Oakes scored a wonderful goal against Derby and you don't know how much that sort of thing lifts the mind.
'Then Alan Harper has been nice and steady. To look at him he's almost insipid. I've not got to know him very well yet but he's been very influential. So I suppose it was the rearrangement of the midfield area that brought about the better results. On Wednesday we didn't have any special plans to combat Peter Beardsley, or any of them really. Apart from Des Linton, who had to go forward at every opportunity on the right, the others had very limited instructions from me. They were very much sitting defenders. They didn't have to squeeze the space as we have to in some games. I wanted them to sit and play sensibly and early and to communicate with each, and I think they did that. They gave very few clear opportunities to Newcastle.'
Pleat said that Hartson, the imposing six-foot, 18-year-old forward who scored after 17 minutes following a pass from the 36-year-old Trevor Peake, was a Welshman who was playing on the night like a traditional English centre-forward. Peake described Hartson's power on the training ground as 'frightening' and certainly the Newcastle defence found him unstoppable. So much so that Kerry Dixon's absence was hardly mentioned.
'With all of these youngsters,' Pleat said, 'it's my responsibility to be their godfather and protect them, advise them and tell them you haven't done anything yet son, you've got to deserve it. It's like life, if you get rich too early, the chances are you've done it the wrong way and you'll fall just as quick. Now I've got to persuade them to go on and stick together. One man going at the wrong time, one lost link, can destroy you.' He should know.
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