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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 09/04/06, 12.00pm
Luton Town
Gauging Opinion
By Matt Rowson

It's 1936. The United States is in the middle of its Great Depression. Franklin D Roosevelt is contesting a Presidential election with Alf Landon. The "Literary Digest", which has correctly called the previous five elections, conducted a survey of 2.4 million voters. Two. Point. Four. Million. Yikes. They predict a comfortable victory for Landon. The fact that you perhaps haven't heard of Landon should tell you they get it wrong. Roosevelt wins by a landslide.

Conducting a survey is a more complex business than just wandering out onto the street and asking folk a few questions. Or at least, it is if you want the results to mean anything. To give you an accurate indication of the habits and details of those you are interested in, let alone anything as fluid and indistinct as opinion. It's certainly a more complicated than sticking an arseing radio box on a website, calling it "content", and labeling it "Your Chance to have Your Say". Gee, thanks. Football's generosity knows no bounds (further demonstrated by "news items" on the OS this week). Please note that all BSaD Player of the Month polls are exempt from such criticism, naturally...

The Literary Digest's survey certainly wasn't lazy in one respect. Two point four million voters is a hell of a lot of information whichever way you look at it, let alone in 1936. Unfortunately they chose to select their respondents from their own subscriber list, from the telephone directory, from vehicle registration lists. In a time of depression, these luxuries were far from universally enjoyed. The relatively affluent were grossly overrepresented in the survey's assessment of the state of play.

So if the Literary Digest's considerable efforts so straightforwardly turn to crap, what chance witless web-polls on the internet? Further still, what are the chance of gauging an "observational" cross-section of opinion by loitering on messageboards and listening in?

And what do we make of Mike Newell's assertion (made in a recent match programme) that website chatrooms and messageboards are "an avenue for evil" ? Are his views based on a representative cross-section of the population, an accurate gauge of opinion? Difficult to tell... but it would be hard to begrudge him his stance if he's been looking at some of the same messageboards as I have this week. It's difficult to feel passionate about a local derby when so many on both sides have to resort to playground namecalling at best, and threats of activity that will prove no more than the perpetrators' pitiful desperation for a sense of self-worth, however contorted, at worst. Utterly, utterly pathetic.

As far as events on the pitch are concerned, Newell has done a reasonable job of stabilising his side in this division, even if the early suggestion of a play-off place has all but disappeared. A whiny peevishness continues to characterise his public statements on contract issues suggesting that all might not be right behind the scenes - certainly all concerned can be forgiven with exhaustion with the ongoing lack of a new stadium, whatever hilarity this continues to provoke in Hertfordshire - but he's used that tone several times this season (in his pronouncements on bung culture and his rather blinkered take on the Kenilworth Road game not least) so perhaps it's just his way.

In goal, Marlon Beresford should make his first return to Vicarage Road since Stephen Glass' free kick curled into an area of the net that he really ought to have had covered if he's honest with himself in the 2003 Cup Quarter-Final. With ten minutes to go. Twenty year old Dean Brill, who's made a handful of starts as cover this season, should be on the bench.

Irish U21 international Kevin Foley should play on the right; his tackle from behind led to Ashley Young's dismissal at Kenilworth Road. On the left Sol Davis, who missed that game through injury and is lauded as the member of the side most likely to maim someone. Paul Underwood, who played on the left in January but has more recently featured in midfield, is out for the season having broken his arm.

In the centre at the back, Australian Chris Coyne is playing with two dodgy knees according to a recent local paper item and will need an op on both in the summer at the latest. He has recently been partnered by Russell Perrett; again, neither of the two faced us in January. Youngster Leon Barnett, destroyed by Doris in that game, hasn't been involved for the past month or so but has signed a new contract this week. Markus Heikkinen, one of the Hatters' strongest performers this season, is partnering Steve Robinson in central midfield in the absence of knee-injury victim Kevin Nicholls.

Wide midfield positions were taken at the weekend by Trinidad and Tobago international Carlos Edwards, and by former Reading man Dean Morgan. Morgan failed to impress however, and could be replaced by Croat Ahmet Brkovic on Sunday. Other midfield cover comes from bit part player Peter Holmes, who has made just 60 league starts in six season at Luton, and by David Bell, signed from Rushden during the January window.

Up front lumpy charmer Steve Howard continues to find the net on a regular basis but attracts "carthorse" accusations nonetheless. An "old-fashioned English centre-forward" in every respect, if ever there was one. He should be partnered by either Rowan Vine or Warren Feeney... Vine has the edge in terms of ability but has sometimes been known to go missing; Feeney has energy and pace, but little else. A final option here would be the colossal Enoch Showunmi, rumoured to be on his way in the summer but possibly on the bench.

Were this anything but a local derby, it could be argued that Luton are precisely the sort of opponents we'd want to be facing at this stage... mid-table, safe from relegation but without a real prospect of the play-offs, and not great on the road. As it is, all bets are off... which given that we're coming off the back of two defeats for the first time this season might be no bad thing either - a match with a focus all of its own might be just what we need.

A Watford victory would confirm us a play off place and probably mathematically end Luton's chances of achieving the same, depending on what has happened on Saturday.

Bring it on.