So often in football, the perception of a game is defined by the result – win playing badly, and ‘it’s a sign of a good team…’, lose playing well and you’re ‘not streetwise enough’ – the performance against Barnet on Saturday was such that even in victory, few were claiming that it was a classic, gritty performance, or even some display of great character.
The concern is that heading into a game against a side in Luton that appear to be a League One team in waiting, that the sloppiness and lack of creativity that we produced against Barnet will simply be punished by a superior side. However, sometimes a scrappy victory can be just the thing to engender a sense of confidence and cohesiveness as a team unit that helps a team reach better heights.
*Mark Robins needs to sort out our attacking play claxon*
Mark Robins needs to sort out our attacking play, seriously. To cause the bottom side in the division, at home, so few problems, as we did on Saturday, has to be viewed as a source of concern. Despite scoring, Jonson Clarke-Harris just doesn’t act as the target man this team needs and, unless he can develop an understanding with McNulty very quickly, it looks like it has to be Maxime Biamou alongside either Clarke-Harris or McNulty.
The other attacking issue is Mark Robins’ continued preference to start Liam Kelly alongside Michael Doyle, thereby moving Tom Bayliss into a wide position where he is less effective. Heading into a game against one of the division’s better sides, Robins is unlikely to change that up, but with games to win in the run-in against teams looking to frustrate us, it could be the thing that curtails our promotion push.
If Kyel Reid can occasionally deliver with his final ball, that could help ease the creative burden in the centre of midfield, although we know very well that it’s not something that can be relied upon, for all his endeavour. Carl Baker should presumably be available for this game if his international clearance comes through, but he faces a race against time to first get fit and then to find a role in the side – whether as a starter or from the bench – with 11 games remaining this season.
Finally, in defence, Dominic Hyam dealt relatively well with one of the division’s best strikers in John Akinde, barring one moment in the first-half where he completely lost him, which should earn him a continued run in central defence alongside Rod McDonald. It still feels like the two are not the most commanding of defenders and who have occasional errors in their games, but they were among our better performers against Barnet and deserve a continued run in the side.
Last Time We Met
In a season relatively short of memorable moments, our away trip to Luton earlier in the campaign ranks among the top. Having failed to win a match, or even score a goal, during the month of October, the Sky Blues somehow stuck three goals away from home against arguably the division’s best team.
Marc McNulty notched his first non-Nathan-Clarke-literally-passing-him-the-ball goal in the league for us via an early cross from Jodi Jones. Then in the dying minutes of the game we punished Luton for sending men forward, first with Jordan Shipley notching his first goal for the club via an effortlessly well-placed free-kick, and then Duckens Nazon doing Duckens Nazon things to make it 3-0.
My abiding memory of the game though is seeing Liam Kelly literally laughing his head off while feigning injury late on in the game while it was still 1-0. You forget sometimes that we have bastards of our own in this team.
How Are They Doing?
As I mentioned earlier on in this preview, Luton Town are a League One side playing in League Two. That being said, they are on a bit of a wobble at the moment, with just one win in their past five games and having lost the league leadership to Accrington at the weekend. The worry from a Luton perspective is that despite their general dominance of games this season, they will repeat the mental fragility that cost them automatic promotion last season.
Nathan Jones has rarely deviated from his preferred 4-4-2 diamond system during his two-and-a-half seasons in charge at Kenilworth Road. At their best, Luton can overwhelm teams with overloads down the flanks and forwards lining up in the penalty area, however, at their worst, they can be left overwhelmed in midfield and caught on the counter-attack. It’s the price they pay for a bold and progressive strategy in League Two.
In a team full of fairly technical operators, the sheer hard-work and determination of Danny Hylton in attack is absolutely crucial for Luton. He’s not the tallest of strikers, but like the player we once thought Stuart Beavon could be, his intelligent use of his body and desire to challenge for any and every ball makes him impossible to deal with at times. Coupled alongside multiple-time Sky Blues transfer target James Collins – more of a penalty-area striker, although with seven assists to his name this season – Luton have the best strike pairing in the division.
In midfield, Luton have in the forms of Luke Berry and Andrew Shinnie two players arguably capable of operating in the Championship. Berry is not only a prolific goal-scorer in midfield – typically via perfectly-hit outside the box efforts – but has shown an ability to influence the game from deeper since joining from Cambridge over the summer. Shinnie offers drive and energy from the left side of Luton’s diamond system. In addition, Ipswich youngster Flynn Downes has made a positive contribution from the base of midfield since joining in January.
In Marek Stech, Luton boast a goalkeeper who is probably capable of a move into the second-tier – although there have some errors creeping into his game of late. Stech’s slightly disappointing recent form though may not have been helped by a back four who concentrate more on attacking than defending – left-back Danny Potts has six goals to his name this season, while right-back Jack Stacey is more of a wide midfielder than a full-back.
We’ll have to be vastly improved from our performance on Saturday against Barnet, but if we can continue our record of producing our best performances this season against the better sides, we should be able to come out of this game with a victory. Luton will be desperate to get back on track after some disappointing results recently, so it’s unlikely that they will be approaching this game with a sense of complacency.
I think we have it in our locker to get a positive result from this game. As for a prediction, I’m going for a 1-1 draw.