Having won probably our two easiest fixtures remaining this season, we head into what is undoubtedly the toughest remaining game – away at a 20-game unbeaten, league-leading Luton Town. Although a distant possibility, any lingering hopes of making the play-offs probably rest on getting a positive result here. If we don’t, it’s easy to see the remainder of the season petering out.
The key team selection concern heading into this game is whether Lee Burge is fit enough to return in goal, or if David Stockdale’s emergency loan deal is extended. It would be a difficult situation for Lee Burge to return to, against the in-form league leaders while memories of Stockdale’s ‘heroics’ against Rochdale and Walsall still linger. That said, Burge will have to come back at some point and will be compared unfavourably to Stockdale regardless of the difficult of the opposition.
Another area of focus will be whether Amadou Bakayoko can build on last week’s performance against Walsall. If he can’t replicate the effort and aggression he showed against his former employers last week, question marks have to be placed against his ability to motivate himself. In fairness to Bakayoko we’ve yet to see what he can do over an extended run of starts and he now has that opportunity to show what he can do.
Unless there are any injuries that Mark Robins is tactically keeping out of the news, there are unlikely to be any changes to last week’s starting XI. While there may be justification for bringing David Meyler into midfield to tighten things up in the centre of the park, the Irishman looked short on match fitness even in his cameo against Walsall, pulling up with a tight hamstring but managing to play through it.
Last Time We Met
Despite the game finishing with a narrow scoreline of 2-1, as well as a potential opening goal from Jordy Hiwula being controversially disallowed, Luton Town comprehensively took us apart in our meeting back in December. The Hatters zipped the ball around our penalty area with confidence, probing, waiting, expecting opportunities to present themselves, taking the lead in the first-half from a corner-kick before a well-worked move played in Coventry-born James Collins to score what proved to be a decisive second goal. An injury-time penalty from Jonson Clarke-Harris did little to dissipate the impression that we were well beaten.
Manager – Mick Harford
A man who in his playing career had a 100% scoring record for the Sky Blues (he played one game for us) and something of a legend at Luton Town from two successful stints as a player and an earlier managerial stint that may have seen the club relegated from the Football League – largely down to a hefty points deduction for financial reasons – but also saw him restore some pride at Kenilworth Road in winning the then Johnstone’s Paint Trophy despite non-league looming on the horizon.
Harford has stepped in to replace the successful Nathan Jones, who departed the club in January for Stoke City, having been the Head of Recruitment. While Harford is clearly benefiting from the groundwork laid down by Jones, there is an argument that he has improved the team a touch over the past month or so, particularly in his recruitment of George Moncur in midfield and Jason Cummings in attack, along with getting a tune out of forward Kazenga LuaLua.
Who To Look Out For?
James Collins up front has graduated this season into one of the best strikers in League One, having previously been perceived as someone who struggled to perform at this level. A big presence in attack, Collins’ main job is to get on the end of Luton’s devastating build-up play, however, he has served a useful role in the side in linking the play around the penalty area.
Luton’s midfield diamond ensures they dominate the ball and create overloads in both central and wide areas. It’s not an easy system to learn, particularly the inherent lack of width in the system, but Luton’s work-rate without the ball in pressing opponents is a key feature of their play, more than any individual player.
With the creativity of Andrew Shinnie, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Elliot Lee, and January signing George Moncur – whose free-kick taking and long-range shooting have added a further string to Luton’s bow – in the centre of the pitch, it gives the Hatters’ attacking full-backs free reign to take adventurous attacking positions. Jack Stacey at right-back is a converted winger, while James Justin, a right-footer at left-back, offers a threat cutting inside and shooting like an inside forward would naturally do.
In central defence, summer signings Sonny Bradley and Matty Pearson have imbued a physical edge to Luton that was perhaps missing in previous years. Not only do the duo dominate opposition attackers, they present a huge presence from set-pieces, coming up with some crucial goals this season.
Areas To Exploit
While Luton tend to be good at protecting their defence by pressing high up the pitch or by killing opposition counter-attacks by rotating cynical fouls throughout the team, a lack of defensive pace is their key weakness. It is no small task breaking through Luton’s press, but if we can, we have pace in the side in Bright Enobakhare, Luke Thomas and Jordy Hiwula that could cause Luton’s defence problems.
We’re going to have to be clinical in our finishing to enact a successful game-plan here, but there is no reason to think that we cannot get the win here in this game. It has been a feature of Mark Robins’ management to get results against big teams, doing so here would further underline Robins’ nous.