Preview: Luton Town

Saturday’s win over Rotherham United has put the Sky Blues in a position where we can look up, rather than down, the table. Six points clear of the drop and with just two of our next eight games against teams in the top-half, the opportunity is there to push any thoughts of relegation to the backs of our minds.

The difference between kicking on and getting sucked back into a fight for survival will be building on good results and stringing wins together. With our points buffer from the bottom three, there is little pressure to get results right now. This midweek game against Luton Town is a much a test of this team’s desire to keep pushing up the table as it is the quality of the players that we have at our disposal.

Possible Line-Up (3-5-2) Wilson; Ostigard, McFadzean, Hyam; Dabo, Kelly, Hamer, Sheaf, Giles; Walker, Biamou.
Possible Line-Up

Expected Line-Up

Having looked to have settled on a back four, Mark Robins returned to the back three at the weekend to good effect. It allowed the manager to pair Maxime Biamou and Tyler Walker in attack – who were too hot for Rotherham United to handle – while the presences of Sam McCallum and Leo Ostigard in defence allowed us to stand up to the physical threat of our opponents. Whether that was a one-off based on the specific threats of Rotherham or something the manager has in mind going forward will become clearer in this game.

On the one hand, the strike-pairing of Biamou and Walker seems to provide us with the biggest threat compared to any other combination of our attacking players. In addition, with Luton Town a team that also likes to press, being able to go more direct into Walker and Biamou should reduce the opportunities for our opponents in this game to force errors at the back.

On the other hand, the loss of control in the centre of the pitch that came from playing a back three with two up front and an attacking midfielder just in behind could be more exposed in this game than it was against Rotherham. Luton are a side with good technical central midfield players and will be comfortable with having the ball for extended periods. There is a danger that we could find ourselves stretched out of possession, if we replicate what was effectively a two-man midfield set-up.

Furthermore, concerns over individual players’ fitness is likely to have an impact on team selection. With just one substitution made at the weekend, it could be difficult to approach this game with the same intensity. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the fresher Ryan Giles and Ben Sheaf given the opportunity to start this game, having been rested at the weekend.

Last Time We Met

Luton Town looked a team well-set for the Championship in the last meeting between the two sides, back in the 2018/19 League One season. The Hatters, playing the diamond formation they were synonymous with at the time, dominated the early stages of the game, causing the Sky Blues plenty of problems with the intensity of their pressing. After forcing a series of errors at the back, Luton eventually took the lead from a corner-kick, with Matty Pearson heading in.

It was Amadou Bakayoko that helped the Sky Blues back into the game, chasing down a loose ball at the back and getting hacked down by their keeper, James Shea. While no penalty was given and Bakayoko had to be taken off, that incident seemed to put the frighteners on Luton, leading to an equaliser for Coventry City, with Jordan Shipley finishing off a swift counter-attack.

The second-half saw Luton regain their composure, with the Sky Blues attempting to sit back on their point. A combination of some excellent saves from Lee Burge, some determined blocks from the defence and some poor Luton finishing saw the game finish 1-1 despite the home side’s dominance.

The Opposition

The Manager – Nathan Jones

The man who took Luton Town from mid-table in League Two into the Championship – although, having left the club months prior to their promotion to the second-tier – Nathan Jones returned to Kenilworth Road during the first lockdown after an unsuccessful spell with Stoke City. The Welshman quickly restored a sense of identity to a Luton side that had lost it under different management, helping them to safety last year and to a strong start to this season.

Having being almost dogmatic in his devotion to a 4-4-2 diamond system, Nathan Jones has returned to Kenilworth Road a more flexible manager in his tactics. While still aspiring to control games with possession and pressing, Jones has made Luton more resilient defensively. It has come at the cost of a level of attacking verve, but a top-half position after 12 games – albeit, by having only beaten one top-half team – for a club so completely outgunned financially in this division speaks to Jones’ managerial talent.

Possible Line-Up (4-3-3) Sluga; Bree, Lockyer, Rea, Norrington-Davies; Tunnicliffe, Berry, Dewsbury-Hall; Clark, Cornick, Collins.
Possible Line-Up

Who To Look Out For

The midfield is the engine room of this Luton Town side, with a series of technically strong and hard-working players who can each step up with goals and assists. Leicester City loanee Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall has really caught the eye since joining on loan over the summer with his passing ability and skill in beating players in the centre of the pitch. Jordan Clark, Luke Berry and George Moncur can also provide the occasional match-winning moment, while Glen Rea is the anchor that holds Luton’s midfield together.

In attack, Coventry-born James Collins is the go-to man for Luton. Having previously been seen as a limited penalty-area striker who wasn’t a sure bet above League Two level, Collins has scored at just over a one in three rate in the Championship. Furthermore, Collins’ all-round presence provides a useful reference point in the final third for Luton’s technical midfielders to build around. However, Collins could do with another forward to share his goalscoring burden with Elliot Lee, Harry Cornick and Kazenga LuaLua all pretty inconsistent finishers.

At the back, Luton have become a little more conservative during their time in the Championship, to avoid the centre-back pairing of Matty Pearson and Sonny Bradley being caught out for pace – although, both are set to be out for this game. They have tended to play with just one attacking full-back in the form of the energetic Rhys Norrington-Davies on the left, but could opt for a double threat from full-back if former Barnsley youngster, James Bree, is selected for this game.

In goal, the Croatian club record signing, Simon Sluga, has improved massively since making a series of costly errors in his first few months at Kenilworth Road. Although he can still be a little erratic, Sluga is the kind of keeper who can completely shut up shop when at his best.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Luton Town have shown this season that they are more comfortable taking on bottom-half sides, where they can dominate possession, than the stronger teams that look to keep the ball against them. With the team lacking a truly prolific goalscorer, they have tended to require multiple chances to score, which is why domination of possession has tended to be so important for them. The task for the Sky Blues here is to limit Luton’s control of possession and chances as much as possible.

If we are to retain a similar shape to the weekend, Maxime Biamou and Tyler Walker dominating the opposition centre-backs is likely to make or break our performance in this game. Continuing with that system will hand control of the midfield to a team that will be comfortable having it, but if our strike-pairing can create uncertainty in defence for Luton, it could disrupt their rhythm.

Elsewhere, Liam Kelly and Gustavo Hamer are also going to be important in this game in looking to break up Luton’s rhythm. In addition, Leo Ostigard and Kyle McFadzean in defence are going to have to be disciplined in their positioning to avoid Luton picking holes in our back-line, due to the duo’s tendency to be aggressive in seeking the ball.

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