WE have reached the climax of the Championship relegation battle and EFL expert Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) assesses the key clash between the Towns of Huddersfield and Luton.
Huddersfield v Luton | Friday 10th July 2020, 18:00 | Sky Sports
We have reached the stage at which the term ‘must-win game’ is now applicable – and it certainly is for Luton Town. Victory for the Hatters would move them within a bridgeable three points of their relegation rivals with three games to play, whilst helping them gain ground on seven other sides.
Defeat, though, would open a nine-point void which, due to goal difference, would be virtually impossible to close, thus narrowing the group of teams Luton can realistically catch.
Huddersfield’s three-game unbeaten run has put them in a more favourable position in the dogfight than they were in two weeks ago, so while victory would massively boost their chances of retaining their Championship status, ‘must not lose’ would be a more accurate assessment of their requirements.
Campbell key for Cowley’s side
Since Danny and Nicky Cowley swapped Lincolnshire for West Yorkshire on 9th September, Huddersfield have taken 46 points – just 10 Championship teams have amassed more in that timeframe.
In many ways, the two brothers’ work does not merit this season climaxing with a relegation battle, but because Town started so poorly – and because the likes of Barnsley, Luton, Wigan and Stoke have picked up in the second half of the season – they do not yet have enough points to be safe.
The Cowleys can take encouragement, though, from a three-game unbeaten run of successive clean sheets.
It started at Birmingham, where Fraizer Campbell on return inspired Town to a 3-0 win before a functional 0-0 draw with Preston and the same result at Reading, where the team had the better of the play but couldn’t find the end product.
Missed opportunities for Luton
Hope in the Hatters camp is dissipating after a crushing 5-0 loss to Reading was followed by a 1-1 draw with Barnsley, which was in some ways more painful than the previous game because of the late equaliser they conceded.
Those two home games against ordinary opposition represented, in theory, a great chance to follow up a valuable point at Leeds with back-to-back wins, so Nathan Jones will have been greatly disappointed to see his side accrue just a solitary point.
Some blame Luton’s struggles on poor summer recruitment and perhaps, in some ways, it was hard for them to make the budgetary jump from being a League Two club as recently as 2018 to shopping for Championship football.
And yet, Simon Sluga has been an upgrade on James Shea in goal, despite his high-profile errors pre-Christmas. Tottenham loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers made a big impact on the defence after joining in January – the team has conceded just 16 goals in 13 games since he arrived and 63 in 29 beforehand.
Ryan Tunnicliffe has been the Hatters’ most used midfielder this term and Izzy Brown has looked among the Championship’s most creative players when fit.
The more pertinent issue for the Bedfordshire outfit may be that, due to such a quick rise, they still have a lot of players who are used to operating at a lower level and have struggled to make the grade in the second-tier.
The tactics board
Cowley is a pragmatist who is not afraid to juggle the squad at times, come up with different game plans quickly and adapt to the needs of each encounter.
We can expect him to make several changes from midweek and name a starting XI similar to the one that faced Preston last week, with Richard Stearman, Lewis O’Brien, Elias Kachunga and Campbell all standing a good chance of coming back in.
Although Campbell does not score many goals himself, he does work hard, occupy opposing centre-backs and acts as the first line of defence, in a way that Steve Mounie, more of a target man, does not.
Their opponents will also favour more mobility up top, with Harry Cornick likely to come in for Danny Hylton; although Cornick missed a sitter at Reading last time out, he can run in behind as we saw for his opener at Leeds.
Jones will also be hoping to be able to welcome back holding midfielder Glen Rea, whose protection will be vital given the nature of the contest:
Luton’s need for a victory means we could see full-backs James Bree and Dan Potts operate high up the pitch, which may open the game up for Huddersfield to play early balls into Campbell.
We can expect the striker to plough the left channel in the chasm between Bree and Carter-Vickers, then look to help Grant exploit the vacated central areas.
Town also have flair in the form of Arsenal loanee Emile Smith-Rowe, their creator in chief this term, while O’Brien coming in for either Jonathan Hogg or Andy King will bring much-needed exuberance, energy and dynamism.
The betting angle
Grant has scored 11 goals in the 19 league games in which he and Campbell have started simultaneously, which shows the two have a great understanding. Plus, some of those goals have come against much stronger opposition including West Brom and Brentford.
Although Luton have shown glimpses of improvement at the back, they still have the division’s worst defensive record after shipping five to Reading and are likely to leave themselves open for much of the contest.
Based on the assumption that Campbell is likely to come back into the XI, PaddyPower’s 15/8 on Grant both scoring and being on the winning side could be excellent value.
Huddersfield vs Luton – Karlan Grant to score and Huddersfield to win (15/8 Paddy Power)