“We’ll never play you again!” belted out the Luton fans at the end of our last meeting just under 18 months ago. Oops! Let’s get to know the Hatters again…
Ground: Kenilworth Road (since 1905, capacity 10,356)
Second tier seasons: 33 (+16 top flight)
Major honours: League Cup (1987/88)
Last season: 19th in Championship
Graeme Jones’ Luton tenure was a disaster. Under their then new boss, the Hatters lost 22 out of 37 league games – including a rude awakening in the form a 7-0 demolition by Brentford – and went winless from early December to late January. When COVID-19 brought football to an abrupt halt, a swift return to League One was on the cards.
Then the messiah rose from the naughty step and saved Luton’s skin. Four wins and four draws in their final nine outings were enough in the end as the they finished three points clear of the drop. Eleven years on from tumbling out of the Football League altogether, the good times are well and truly back at Kenilworth Road.
The gaffer: Nathan Jones
Appointed: May 2020
Previously managed: Stoke, Luton, Brighton (caretaker)
Played for: Yeovil, Brighton, Scarborough, Southend, Numancia, Badajoz (both Spain), Luton, Merthyr Tydfil, Ton Pentre, Maesteg Park (all Wales)
Luton league record (current spell): P9, W4, D4, L1
Nathan Jones hadn’t been gone too long when he rocked back up at Kenilworth Road three months ago. Having made a pariah of himself when he left for Stoke in January of 2019 – which, at the time, threatened to derail Luton’s League One promotion bid – all seems to have been forgiven in Bedfordshire. Football fans, fickle? Never. He’ll certainly back himself to get the best out of a squad that’s largely his already – but I wonder if he still knows what he’s going to get with Wycombe 🤔
Town fan Barney Hunter fills us in on goings on at Kenilworth Road.
It was a great escape for Luton last season – but survival was always the aim and it doesn’t matter how you do it! With Nathan Jones back in charge, are fans hopeful you can be a bit more comfortable in 2020/21? The jump from League One to the Championship is massive, so just surviving the first season is so important. Pre-lockdown, we were six points from safety with by far the worst goal difference in the league, so to go on the run we did and finish in 19th was an absolutely remarkable achievement!
‘Comfortable’ isn’t usually a word in Luton Town’s vocabulary, but there is a cautious optimism in the air going into the next season. We still have the majority of the squad from Nathan Jones’ last reign, so while we never seem to do things the easy way, I feel a lower mid-table finish is certainly achievable.
Jones’ departure – midway through the League One title-winning season – didn’t go down too well… Do you think people have forgiven him now or has he still got work to do to win them over? When the rumours of him returning first started popping up, I thought, “Never in a million years!” – but I’m certainly glad he did. It was robably for the best he came back to no crowd as there are definitely some fans who are still bitter about his departure.
I’m a lot more forgiving personally. He issued an apology on his return and that was enough for me. I also trust our board to the fullest (which not many football fans are fortunate enough to say nowadays), so if they were happy for him to return then so was I.
If some fans still can’t forgive him after keeping us up on such great form post-lockdown, I don’t think they ever will.
Obviously he knows a lot of the players and will know how to get the best out of them. Wycombe fans will remember that 2018/19 side that destroyed us at Kenilworth Road, but which players who you’ve signed since then should people look out for? One game I unfortunately had to miss, but I have had the pleasure of both a late win at yours and a late defeat at ours so am very much looking forward to more of (hopefully) the former this season!]
Only three of the starting line-up from our last meeting are no longer with us! Unfortunately, though, two of those are full-backs James Justin & Jack Stacey, who were such a big part of our title success and rightly sealed Premier League moves at the end of that season (although Stacey will be returning with Bournemouth after their relegation).
Our two biggest additions since then have without a doubt been Croatian number two goalkeeper Simon Sluga & forward Kazenga LuaLua. Sluga had a shaky start for us last season but gradually built in confidence to become an absolute beast between the sticks, making some world-class saves. LuaLua arrived in the January 2019 window and quickly became a fan favourite with his defence-terrorising runs and acrobatic goal celebrations [yes, he is Lomana’s brother].
What have you made of your summer business so far and what do you still need to do? We’ve only made the one signing: Jordan Clark from Accrington Stanley, who I’m sure League One fans over the past few seasons will be familiar with. He’s scored against us a few times, so we already know what he’s capable of!
We’ve also managed to keep hold of all our out-of-contract players. Keeping one of them, Glen Rea, is as good as any new signing in itself as he’s the defensive midfield glue that keeps our squad together.
We still need a couple more signings in defence along with a back-up for Rea and another attacking player. Last year’s loan defenders James Bree (Aston Villa) Cameron Carter-Vickers (Spurs) would be perfect if we can find the funds. The latter in particular was arguably one of our best ever loan signings and was a big contributor to our Championship survival.
What does the longer term future hold for Luton Town, do you think? A new stadium is in the pipeline and you’re a well run club on the up – quite a contrast to last time you were in the Championship! I really can’t put into words how much I adore and appreciate our current owners compared to the previous lot we had in the Championship – who nearly ended us as a club altogether! They actually care about our club and want us to achieve great things – which is evident from them taking us from non-League to the Championship in only five years!
Our longer term future all comes down to the new stadium at Power Court, which we would really already be playing in if it wasn’t for the endless delays. We’re also looking to build a new indoor training facility to improve our youth developmen,t so if we can maintain our Championship status in time for all this then we can seriously look at building even further … and daring to dream of a return to the top flight somewhere down the line!
When we last met
Wanderers’ last trip to Kenilworth Road was, er, not the most memorable. A rampant Luton – who were 19 games into a 28-match unbeaten run and undefeated at home in almost a year – won 3-0, only a few months on from our 2-0 loss there in the FA Cup first round. We should have won our last Adams Park encounter, but referee Darren England had other ideas – making Joe Jacobson wait half an hour to take his second penalty of the match, resulting in a rare miss. A Ryan Allsop gaffe hardly helped, mind you.
Did you know…?
Luton were the last team nicknamed after a land-based profession (hat-making, duh) to win at Adams Park in the league. Since ‘that game’ in September 2017, the following have arrived in HP12 in search of three points and left with no more than one: Railwaymen (Crewe); Glovers (Yeovil); Hatters again; Brewers (Burton); Iron (Scunthorpe); Saddlers (Walsall); Brewers once more; Tractor Boys (Ipswich). First up in the Championship? Millers.
By contrast, we’ve lost to the Pirates, Shrimpers and Cod Army in that time.
Header photo: Barney Hunter
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