Preview: Luton Town

After another blank last weekend against Colchester, we head into possibly our toughest game of the season on the verge of going a whole month without scoring a goal in the league. It’s been a month that started with us being a win away from going top of the division, it could end with us comfortably outside the play-offs.

The performance against Colchester was arguably worse than the one in defeat to Forest Green. At least against Forest Green we’d had chances to miss, the closest thing we had to chances against Colchester were scuffed headers and hopeful long-rangers. While we could reconcile previous failures to score via the number of chances we were having, last Saturday was an indication Mark Robins is struggling to find a solution to our issues in front of goal.

It feels as if Mark Robins is still trying to figure out that missing element between us being an effective, solid team and an obdurate one. We don’t really look to punish teams on the counter-attack, nor do we look to exploit set-pieces in a serious way. At the moment, it’s a case of giving the ball to Jones or the Duck and seeing what they can do with it. There needs to be more of a coherent plan to score goals.

Possible Line-Up

Fortunately for Robins, Jones’ injury against Colchester isn’t as serious as first feared. Even a month without Jones could be terminal for our season – especially given the chance that he could leave in January – so his quick return to fitness buys Robins time to figure things out.

Given the likelihood that we’ll be defending for extended periods in this game, it could be an idea to play Ryan Haynes as a winger rather than a full-back and bring the sturdier Stokes in at left-back. While there is a difference between the qualities required to make a good attacking full-back and a good winger, Haynes ability to beat players for skill and travel in multiple directions make him more of a natural fit for a more attacking berth than the typical full-back.

Last Time We Met

When we last played Luton Town, we were both in the Championship and 18,781 showed up back in January 2007 to see Leon McKenzie fire a Sky Blues side to victory over Luton during the interregnum between Micky Adams and Iain Dowie. Luton’s side was notable on that day for containing two future Sky Blues heroes – Kevin Foley and David Bell.

How Are They Doing?

Since relegation from the Championship in 06/07, Luton have been relegated to the National League and have returned as a resurgent force, looking more than ready to make the step up to League One. In Nathan Jones, they have one of the more impressive young managers in the Football League and they recently spent the summer snapping up most of the star players in League Two to make an already strong squad even stronger.

Their two most notable summer signings were Luke Berry – scorer of 17 goals for Cambridge last season from midfield – and James Collins – scorer of 20 goals for Crawley last season and possessor of a passion for scoring against Coventry City. While it’s been a bit of struggle for Nathan Jones to integrate two further attacking weapons into an already impressive squad, they have really hit their straps over the past month or so. Luke Berry scored a hat-trick in a recent 7-1 thrashing of Stevenage, while James Collins has been directly involved in more goals this season than any other League Two player.

They were two players Luton arguably didn’t even need, having already had one of the best strikers in this division in Danny Hylton, the enigmatic Pelly Ruddock in midfield, signing winger Harry Cornick and midfield engines Andrew Shinnie and Alan McCormack over the summer as well. Hylton in particular is a player we’ll have to play close attention to, not only is he one of the hardest-working strikers at this level, but he has a penchant for winding opposing players and fans up with his antics, and he’s also an excellent goalscorer as well.

Possible Line-Up

Luton manager Nathan Jones likes to get his teams playing open and attacking football, in his preferred midfield diamond formation. Their allows them to incorporate a lot of attacking players into their line-up, although they are yet to shake off a bad habit for occasionally going missing for the odd game. If we can keep a compact shape and force a few errors in their attempts to play out from the back, we could make this a difficult game for them.

However, if we do have the perfect game, we’ll also have to get past Marek Stech in Luton’s goal. Stech was the goalkeeper for Yeovil Town when they made it to the Championship a few years ago and is simply far too good for League Two. The mountainous centre-back Scott Cuthbert will also be a tricky customer for us to get past.

Prediction

This is probably the first (and hopefully only) game of the season where most will view us as the underdogs. Luton are a truly fearsome prospect at the moment and are, by some distance, the best attacking unit that we’ll face at this level. They do have weaknesses to exploit, but this could be the game where our impression of us being a solid defensive side starts to erode.

We’re in desperate need of a positive result, and this game comes at more or less the worst time possible in order to achieve it. The very least I hope for is a goal, but I can see this been a 2-0 defeat.

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