Well, January… I don’t quite know where to start with the last month for Luton Town.
If someone had offered me the scenario that we’d be top of the league, that we’d have signed George Thorne and George Moncur without losing any players of our own and have picked up 10 out of 12 available points from games against Sunderland, Peterborough, Southend and Portsmouth I’d have bitten their hand off. I was confident that Luton would have a good month but I wasn’t expecting they’d have done it manager-less. As gutting as this was for all Luton fans the club is now more united than its been for a long time, and the team itself is somehow better- all fuelled of a sense of unjust. I can’t knock Jones for what he did at the club, he provided a great system of football, assembled a brilliant squad and got us out of the hell hole that was League Two, but as mentioned by CEO Gary Sweet the timing was just plain wrong. The manner in which Jones left has tarnished his reputation at the club slightly, he’s gone from being the best Luton manager in EFL history when it came to win percentages and a breath of fresh air into the club to a badge-kissing, chest pumping conman- or a snake if you like to keep it simple. I like many other Luton fans want him to do well in the future, just not at Stoke to be perfectly honest.
The Post-Jones Era
The managerial departure had the potential to completely derail Luton’s season but it has in fact made a strong club even stronger, and has also spurred them on to achieve the dream that was sold to the players of Championship football with Luton and maybe, just maybe in one or two players cases walking out onto the Power Court pitch in 3 or 4 years time. The narrative for the first game of the new era was perfect, club legend Mick Harford would be overseeing his first game as interim manager against his boyhood club and if ever there was a day where the Luton fans needed to get behind their team and the manager it was that day up in Sunderland.
The players appreciation to the 3,000+ travelling fans was immense and it showed how much of a bond the players have with the fan base. This post-Jones era shows that these players haven’t been performing in the impressive manner they have to ditch the club for the next big cheque book that gets waved in their direction, but they’re doing it for the club and the fans which is refreshing in the modern game. Luton showed great character that day to draw 1-1 and had it not been for Danny Hylton getting an unnecessary red card they may have gone on to win the game seeing as they bossed proceedings from the very first whistle.
The League run continues
This game was followed up by an FA cup replay against Sheffield Wednesday and despite another good performance the result went Wednesday’s way even though Luton had the better chances. Despite that disappointment Luton bounced back instantly by signing George Moncur from Barnsley, a player who 3 months beforehand had played them off the park in a 3-2 loss at Oakwell, to add to the wealth of attacking options available at the club, and despite losing Elliot Lee and Harry Cornick to injury Luton kept up their form by convincingly beating Peterborough 4-0 at Kenilworth Road and it could’ve been more.
Kazenga Lualua is a player who’s had to be patient this season and he didn’t receive his first league start until that match day against Posh, but what a performance he put in, grabbing 2 assists and providing a different commodity upfront to what we’d seen in previous games. He has continued that form and turned in another fine game against Southend before having another great game against Portsmouth popping up with another assist and winning the penalty that led to Luton’s second goal.
Another player who has been like a new signing is Luke Berry. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried he’d be a shadow of the player he was before his injury, but credit to him he has come back arguably better than he was before which is one hell of a feat. Not only has he got stuck in and worked hard for the team over the last month he has also popped up with a glorious goal, channeling his inner Bergkamp against Posh with a majestic touch and turn before firing into the back of the net sending Kenilworth Road crazy. Berry’s return encapsulates everything right with Luton Town at the moment, a hard-working, talented player who wants to get the club promoted and plays every game with a smile on his face and allows for all his passion to spill out after every goal. He’s not alone in this, every member of the squad is the same and that’s why they are where they are and that’s why they will continue in their quest to reach the Championship and get the club back to where it belongs.
It’s safe to say Luton have recruited well this transfer window. The aforementioned George Thorne and George Moncur are players who are arguably above League One level and to have them pushing the current crop of players for a place in the starting XI can only be a good thing. The arrival of Jason Cummings is significant too. When previewing January I stated that, ‘Posh may send him back to Forest in January and if they’re willing to give up a striker of that quality then Luton should grasp the opportunity to bring him in’. Cummings is certainly a character and arguably that has stopped him from meeting his full potential so far, but with a goalscoring record like his one at Hibs where he scored 20+ goals in each season at the club there’s no disputing he’s a talented lad and I’m sure Mick Harford and the squad around him will be able to get the best out of him while keeping his off-pitch antics to a minimum.
Despite these quality signings the most important part of the transfer window was not losing any members of the current squad. Understandably Lloyd Jones, Jack Senior and Aaron Jarvis needed to go out on loan as they’re promising young players and it’s no good them sitting on the bench week in week out without getting league minutes. Amidst speculation Aston Villa were after him, James Justin remained at the club. Justin has played a crucial role in Luton’s unbeaten, chipping in with two goals and a few assists, as well as helping keep 13 clean sheets in the last 20 games, since first choice left back Dan Potts picked up a ground injury. It was also rumoured Leeds were after Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu as they apparently are every window, but there were suggestions they were interested in striker Harry Cornick who has been out injured since New Years Day. To manage to keep this squad together was majorly impressive, and despite the departure of Jones the players are still committed to the club and the cause. The credit must go to not just the level-headed players themselves but the ambitious CEO Gary Sweet and manager Mick Harford for holding strong amidst mounting interest from clubs higher up the league pyramid.
On a side note the January transfer window was strange for the teams around Luton. Barnsley sold Brad Potts to Preston, George Moncur to us, and loaned out Lloyd Isgrove to Portsmouth, while only bringing in a relatively underwhelming winger for the division below. For a club the size of Barnsley this was odd, especially given the position they find themselves in sitting in 3rd place with 56 points. Portsmouth recruited well bringing in Omar Bogle and James Vaughn up front, but settled for some pretty regular midfielders in Andy Cannon and Bryn Morris. Sunderland lost Josh Maja but unsurprisingly they splashed out the cash on Will Grigg who will undoubtedly score goals at this level as he has previously done with Brentford, Milton Keynes and Wigan last year, as well as acquiring Lewis Morgan from Celtic and bringing back Grant Leadbitter. Charlton also lost Karlan Grant to Premier League Huddersfield and then replaced him with the strangest transfer of the window by signing Josh Parker from Gillingham. Surely they signed the wrong Gills striker?
A New Home
This January was the biggest month in the clubs 134-year history and despite some of the adversity faced it remains so. On the pitch results have been fantastic and the squad is getting ever stronger, but all of this would have paled into insignificance had the application for Power Court not been approved on January 16th. To the delight of Luton fans, and the people of Luton the application was approved meaning Luton can finally move into a larger and more appropriate stadium for their ambition. Despite this great news it’s still only 1-0 at half time, the application for Newlands Park will go in front of the council at some point in February and although Power Court could possibly occur without the second application the finance would enable Luton to compete and consolidate in the Championship.
There is no bigger news this month, year, or even decade for the club and after 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,” it makes this news all the more sweeter.