Thanks to Alfie Mayfield for his guest contribution to the site.
January could pan out to the be the most important month in Luton’s 134-year history. After a great 2018 which saw the Hatters promoted from League 2 and announce themselves in League 1 in fine fashion it seems the only way is up for the football club.
Perhaps most well documented is Luton’s need for a new stadium. Although Kenilworth Road is part of a dying breed in English football, known for having to enter the oak road through someone’s house and each stands close proximity to the pitch, it is no longer suitable for the level the club want to compete at.
In late 2015 a plan was announced for a new ground at Power Court in the middle of the town, and plans for these were submitted some 2 years ago. After unnecessary objections to the Newlands Park plan, which is required for the ground to go ahead, the plans will finally go in front of Luton Borough Council on 16th January (PC) and 30th January (NP).
In the match day programme for the League One tie against Barnsley, Chairman David Wilkinson said “We are definitely not being over-dramatic to say that should our plans be rejected the work done would not just be wasted, but the club would not be able to be sustained at current levels and would likely fail.”
This is harrowing for all fans of Luton and shows just how crucial the plans are for not just the club but the town itself. The plans have been a major factor in players joining the club and extending their stay but if the club can’t move and can’t develop it could leave Luton in a state as the ambitious players move on to clubs higher up the football league and potential signings veer away from a club with a home not fit for further progression. The biggest hope is that should the Newlands Park applications fail then Gary Sweet and 2020 will have a plan B to ensure progress is made and provide what is best for the club and town.
On the pitch
On pitch this month could prove to be massive in the hunt for promotion. After a New Years Day draw against a mightily impressive Barnsley side Luton face fixtures against Sunderland (A), Peterborough (H), Southend (A) and Portsmouth (H). There’s also an FA Cup tie against a revitalised Sheffield Wednesday side thrown in there too. Luton will be looking to extend their 12 game unbeaten run and they will be also confident of extending their unbeaten home record this season to 15 league games.
Away from home Luton have upped their game and have not lost on the road since a 3-2 defeat in October to Barnsley, although Sunderland and Southend are tough games the Hatters should be confident of getting something from both and taking points from those around them. Despite Luton’s 12 game unbeaten run and 7 wins in a row, before a draw at Walsall, their promotion credentials won’t be seen until the end of this month. If they enter February in the automatic spots or in touching distance at least then it will be theirs to lose as other than Charlton, Luton have a reasonable last few months of the season and if they can pick up 45 points from 23 games like they did in the first half of the season they may be playing Championship football come 2019/20.
The transfer window is also vital. With Luton’s form it will come as no surprise if there is serious interest in some of their stars once again in January as there was in the summer. Jones claimed that no one was in a rush to to leave the club but if it was right for the player and right for the club then a transfer may happen. All players in the world are available for the right price and with Luton’s reputation of being a selling club it is certain that any outgoing players will be replaced adequately and that the club will get a significant fee. It is believed Leeds United are interested in James Justin and Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, and it would be no surprise if West Brom revive their interest in Jack Stacey as they look to return to the top tier at the first attempt.
With the winter months coming and the games piling up due to FA cup ties squad rotation will be expected which will test the depth of every squad in the division. With skipper Glen Rea out for the season Luton will need to dip into the transfer market to sure up the holding midfield role as it is questionable whether Alan McCormack will be able to remain fit for the rest of the season with the intensity of volume of fixtures. Some names being thrown about include Nottingham Forest’s Liam Bridcutt who previously worked with Jones at Brighton and has been made available to leave his current club as well as highly rated but injury prone Derby County midfielder George Thorne.
Graeme Shinnie, brother of attacking midfield Andrew, is another name that has been loosely mentioned as his contract with Aberdeen expires in the summer and Luton could get him at a good price this window as the Dons may look to cash in on him if he does not sign a new contract. Flynn Downes has been tipped for a return to the Kenilworth Road after helping Luton achieve promotion from the fourth tier last season, and with Ipswich seemingly doomed already 10 points adrift from safety in the Championship it may be a move he’s willing to make. This is however the least likely option as Ipswich will want to keep hold of their academy graduate who will come at a hefty price.
There haven’t been many more names linked to Luton but it is understood Jones wishes to strengthen in the goalkeeper position and is believed to be eyeing up Exeter City stopper Christy Pym who will be available for free in the summer, as well as signing Motherwell forward Curtis Main who made 52 appearances for Championship Middlesbrough and also played for Portsmouth on just 5 occasions in the 2017/18 season.
One rumour that seems to be a product of the silly season that is the January transfer window is Graham Carey leaving Plymouth Argyle to reunite with Sonny Bradley in Bedfordshire. Although this is a reasonable link the fee being suggested is around the £750,000 mark which is excessive for a player scraping 30 whose contract expires at the end of the season. On top of this attacking midfield is a position that Luton are very strong in with Luke Berry back to full fitness Luton now have the options of joint top scorer Elliott Lee, Forest loanee Jorge Grant, dark horse for player of the season Andrew Shinnie, former Brighton star Kazenga Lualua, youngster Arthur Read and Berry himself. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
The recruitment process Jones follows stresses that the club bring in like-minded, ambitious and hard-working footballers who buy into his philosophy and want to help the club achieve success. It remains to be seen whether these targets have this in abundance but if they don’t they won’t be pulling the orange of Luton Town on any time soon.
These 3 factors combined suggest that this will be the clubs most important month in their history, every small thing that occurs could be the definitive moment in a push for Premier League football in the next few years, or potential stagnation and a return to dark days. The board are doing everything right off the pitch, Jones and his staff are doing everything right with the squad and behind the scenes and the players are producing on the pitch and if that isn’t a cocktail for success then I don’t know what is.