It’s hard to think of a worse way to lose a game than the manner in which we contrived to do so against Walsall last week. While the almost freakish nature of the two late goals conceded could otherwise be put in a box psychologically, it is now seven games without a win as we head into the Christmas period. We are relatively comfortable in mid-table at the moment, that could soon change.
We can talk about tweaks and personnel changes, but the most important thing is to re-discover some confidence and self-belief in the team. A confident side would have put away the chances we had last week to kill off the game, a confident side wouldn’t have made the nervous errors that led to the two goals conceded.
There were still some positives to take from the performance last week, mainly in the added dynamism that Liam Kelly provided us in midfield in place of Michael Doyle. While we still had trouble creating and taking opportunities to win the game, there looked to be signs that the shift to the 4-3-3 system could be something that works for us.
Against a Luton Town side likely to be looking to dominate possession, Mark Robins may be minded to shift to a more overt counter-attacking strategy. That is likely to involve attempting to solidify things in central midfield while injecting pace into the side. Jordy Hiwula in particular is likely to benefit from such an approach.
Elsewhere, the key change looks likely to be Jonson Clarke-Harris in for Conor Chaplin. Right now, our big summer signing is in a rut and wasn’t helped last week by being asked to lead the attack as effectively a lone front-man. While Clarke-Harris doesn’t really resolve the goalscoring issue, he at least adds a physical presence to the side.
Last Time We Met
The up-tick in form that delivered us a play-off place last year was in full flow the last time we took on Luton Town. An early Peter Vincenti goal and a Marc McNulty free-kick gave us a comfortable 2-0 lead heading into half-time, engendering the belief that perhaps we could be more ambitious than simply looking to secure a play-off place. However, a set-piece routine put Luton in the ascendency, capped off by a late James Collins goal to hand the Hatters a share of the points on their march to an automatic promotion place from League Two.
Manager – Nathan Jones
Having built a reputation as one of the most promising young coaches in English football, this season has really cemented that status for Nathan Jones. Although his style of play had already won many plaudits, winning promotion from League Two with one of the division’s biggest budgets – largely generated from player sales – wasn’t necessarily a career-defining achievement, to have the side in the automatic promotion places, playing the same style of football and with largely the same players, has really shown what Jones can do.
Largely wedded to a 4-4-2 diamond system, Jones’ football is predicated on domination of the ball and overloading the opposition high up the pitch. While that approach can leave gaps at the back and his team a little lightweight when players aren’t playing at 100%, it has meant his side has adjusted almost seamlessly to League One football. Players are getting better and better under his tutelage, there are goals all over the pitch, the way Luton are going, they are in the automatic promotion places on merit.
Who To Look Out For
This season has been about the improvements in fringe and bit-part players from last season, providing Luton with real strength in depth. For example, forward Elliot Lee has scored as many in 18 appearances in League One this season as he did in 32 last year – caveat, he has played roughly the same amount of minutes.
Elsewhere, box-to-box midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, winger Harry Cornick and full-back James Justin have really stepped things up for Luton this season. Ruddock Mpanzu is the last remaining member of the squad from their time in non-league and is currently in the sort of form that could earn him a move to the Championship. Cornick’s pace and directness has added penetration to Luton’s play, especially on the counter-attack. While Justin, a right-footed defender playing on the left, is yet another goal threat in this side.
With James Collins up front, the talismanic Danny Hylton and midfielders in the form of Luke Berry, Andrew Shinnie, and Jorge Grant all capable of getting on the scoresheet, Luton have an impressively varied goal threat, which makes them especially difficult to contain.
Areas To Exploit
While Luton have a big physical duo of Matty Pearson and Sonny Bradley in central defence who have stiffened them up at the back since joining over the summer, there is a lack of pace and ball-playing ability between the two of them in a side that likes to push forward and take risks in possession. With two attacking full-backs, there is likely to be opportunities for us to catch Luton out on the counter-attack. The question is whether we have the quality to find those openings and then the composure to actually put them away.