Lively Luton continue to surprise

The rise of the Hatters has been a story from a fairy-tale. Lying in third place in the the minefield that is the Championship, Rob Edwards’ charges are eyeing up Premier League football. It is quiet an astonishing feat which many neutrals and even the most die hard Luton Town would have envisaged some 14 years ago.

May 2009 was a dark day in the proud history of Luton Town football club. After a century in the Football League, the Hatters fell through the trapdoor and were sentenced to four long seasons in the Conference. Multiple attempts to get out of English football’s fifth tier proved to be unsuccessful. Heartbreak in play-off campaigns during three seasons under Richard Money and Gary Brabin made Luton supporters wonder if their club would ever make the step back up the pyramid.

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John Still proved to be the perennial Messiah who would get the Bedfordshire club back on track. Still installed a winning attitude in the squad and players thrived in his system such as Andre Gray who would later sign for Brentford was the leading light in the march up the table as his tally of thirty goals helped the fallen side to title glory. It was a proud campaign for the fans of the club who were put through the mill of harsh campaigns of wondering if they would ever have a club again after years of financial crisis.

The first campaign back in League Two proved to be a fruitful one for Luton. The side proved that they could hold their own in English footballs fourth tier. The Hatters were buoyed by impressive results which saw them fall just short of reaching the play-offs despite hanging around the promotion shake up throughout the campaign. The loss of talisman Andre Gray to Championship side and now top flight underdogs Brentford proved to be one of the reasons as to why Luton just fell short.

The 2015/2016 campaign as unsuccessful for the ambitious Hatters as they could only muster a 11th place finish. A loss of form under the man who got the Luton bandwagon back on its way John Still was sacked after poor results. Still’s direct style and safety first approach became outdated for the progressive club as the bad form saw the club plummet in the table. The sixth of January 2016 was a monumental day in the history of Luton Town. Highly rated Brighton coach Nathan Jones was coaxed away from the AMEX Stadium to take the reins.

The appointment of Jones heralded a new wave of positive vibes. Jones saw the need to bring fresh voices into his new home added quality to his ranks such as striker Danny Hylton and Glen Rea who was the marshal in the Luton defence. Luton grounded out a cracking season which culminated in the Welshman’s side reaching the play-offs only to be denied over two legs by Gary Bowyer’s Blackpool. The 2017-2018 term for Jones and Luton was season which the team began to motor.

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Luke Berry a midfielder who is still a Luton mainstay was signed up as was forward Harry Cornick. Those pieces in the jigsaw set the Luton ship to sail its way to promotion to the third tier of English football. Jones’ fingerprints and style of play as a motivator for the side began to catch the eye of several clubs. Further quality was needed for the men in range if they wanted to keep momentum on track. That quality was added with Sonny Bradley, Matty Pearson and Andrew Shinnie all heading south to join the club. Fantastic results and outstanding performances led Stoke City approach the Hatters to poach the up and coming protégé who was enticed by the lure of Championship football. Mick Harford continued the good work left by Jones and took over just after the Welshman departed in January 2019, the spell for Jones was fatal and was sacked just ten months later.

Harford galvanised the group and led them to League One glory and tasted second tier football for the first time since 2007. Graeme Jones was appointed in the summer of 2019 he did however, did not have the same success as his predecessor. The former Belgian assistant manager could only muster twelve wins in 41 matches and left his role just after the COVID-19 pandemic set in. Luton turned their attention back to Jones who was still licking his wounds from his Stoke City departure. Jones rallied his side and steered his side away from relegation trouble and made plans for the upcoming 2020/2021 campaign which they survived comfortably again and ended up in 12th position.

Jones plotted the 2021/2022 season with big ambitions. Allan Campbell a combative midfielder was brought in alongside Amari’i Bell, Reece Burke, Henri Lansbury, Cameron Jerome, Robert Snodgrass and Fred Onyedinma. This added quality proved to be a catalyst for a remarkable season. The Hatters shocked the league to finish in the top six and qualify for the play- offs. The play-offs proved to be unsuccessful as Luton lost out to Huddersfield Town over the two legs. The summer gave Jones and his group to digest and see how they could push the process on.

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Carlton Morris a powerful striker key in Jones’s system was brought in from relegated Barnsley as was Cauley Woodrow who left the Tykes to join Luton. That added quality to a more than solid Championship base fuelled the Hatters yet again as they continue to surprise the division. Luton sat ninth in the table in November however ironically, just before after getting beaten by Stoke City away from home by two goals to nil, Nathan Jones joined Southampton. It was the second time that Jones jumped ship to leave.

Former Watford manager Rob Edwards took over from Jones and has continued the remarkable fairy-tale. Edwards’ has continued the hard working, determined ethos of Jones. The system of 3-4-1-2 continues to pay dividends. Carlton Morris and Elijah Adebayo have found the net at a combined twenty-three times this term. Morris in particular has been the spearhead figure who terrories defences. Tom Lockyer commands the backline. Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu who was their since Luton gained promotion from the Conference is the general in midfield.

Luton now sit third on the table after a Good Friday draw with fellow promotion hopefuls Millwall and a win over Blackpool on Monday. Who knows, we could be talking about Kenilworth Road being a Premier League ground in the near to distant future.

The Author

Jonathan Burke

Mayo Resident, Blackpool supporter

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