EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) has been mightily impressed with Luton this season and is predicting big things for Nathan Jones’ charges
One To Watch: Luton setting high standards
After Luton Town’s 5-1 thrashing of Plymouth on Saturday, much was made of the away side’s defending.
Yes, some questions can be asked of Derek Adams side, who certainly did not play to their full potential at Kenilworth Road, but it was not as if they lost that game due to overt errors.
Fundamentally, they lost because their hosts set a standard of high-quality, possession football almost unheard of in the third-tier.
Every time Manchester City thump somebody in the Premier League, the main narrative is always the quality of their football, with the performance of their opponents being an after-thought.
Of course, we are not comparing Luton to Pep Guardiola’s side, but what we are saying is that a repeat of Saturday’s performance would see them defeat every other team in this league.
That, surely, is something to bear in mind from a betting perspective.
James Justin’s jinking jaunts
When Dan Potts picked up an injury in October, it looked like a sizeable blow for the Hatters; the marauding left-back offered pace, width and quality, making him influential in all three thirds of the pitch.
Many, understandably, feared that having the right-footed James Justin at left-back would risk stifling momentum– would he need to cut inside every time he received the ball rather than attack the flank?
In fact, Justin’s return to the side has enhanced the Bedfordshire boys.
We saw on Saturday that not only does he have the pace to get to the byline and set up goals, like James Collins’ opener, he also brings an extra layer of intelligence.
Justin can spot quick, forward passes into the final third and, after making the right decisions in possession, he bursts forward to provide overloads and support the next phase of the attack.
Because Jack Stacey has the versatility to do the same thing from right-back, the role of holding the width in this Luton team switches between full-backs and advanced midfielders, making them a very difficult side to second guess.
Rea of light
The full-backs have the freedom to push on as much as they do because Glen Rea does such an efficient job defensively, in the holding midfield role.
The 24-year-old, with whom Nathan Jones worked in Brighton’s Under-21s setup, has been arguably the Luton player who has progressed most this term.
As well as showing comfort in possession and positional awareness, he has also acquired a hardness to his game.
Rea can be strong in the challenge when required and, as captain, he is not afraid to dish out the occasional rollicking; the kind of qualities one would more readily associate with Alan McCormick, who has been forced to accept a place on the bench this term.
Although Rea will not grab many headlines, he is the glue that holds this team together.
No Hylton? No problem!
Last season, James Collins and Danny Hylton became the first fourth-tier players to score 19+ goals for the same team since 2009-10; they were crucial to the team’s attacking play.
Hylton though missed Saturday’s thrashing of Plymouth, with Harry Cornick acting as an auxiliary second forward alongside Collins.
While Hylton tends to stay up top though and look to occupy defenders – which worked a treat last term – Cornick can drop deeper into pockets of space to keep opponents guessing.
That allows nifty operator Elliott Lee, fleet-footed Andrew Shinnie or windy-runner Pelly Ruddock M’Panzu to break into forward areas.
Between Rea and Collins, therefore, there is a cluster of six players who could potentially get into the box in open play, which means that opposing rear-guards have a hard time knowing who to pick up.
Improving the road form
The one question mark about Luton’s season so far is their mixed away form: just two league wins on the road for Jones’ troops.
That is, however, partly due to the aligning of the fixtures: four of their first five matches on the road came against top eight opposition.
In those games, they hit the woodwork twice at Portsmouth but were undone by a solitary goal, then out-shot Peterborough 21-11 in a 3-1 loss; they applied most of the pressure in a 2-1 defeat at Doncaster, before a Mark Howard goalkeeping master-class at Blackpool meant a goalless draw.
There was not too much wrong with performances against a high standard of opposition.
Since those trips, which sandwiched a below-par 1-1 draw at Wycombe, Luton have in fact taken seven points from four, including 2-1 and 2-0 victories at Oxford and Wimbledon respectively.
Between now and the season’s end, the Hatters’ jaunts to Sunderland and Charlton represent their only away matches against current top eight opposition.
While Pompey, Posh and Donny had the clinical finishers to make Luton pay for missed opportunities, their forthcoming hosts might be more lenient and for that reason, we can expect their road form to continue to pick up.
The betting angle
The fact Luton are currently as short as 1/5 for the top six suggests the bookies have cottoned onto their capabilities and thus it is difficult to find genuine value in that market.
They are, however, as big as 9/1 with 10BET to take the title.
That seems an intriguing price, considering they have just produced not only the stand-out performance of the League One season so far, but arguably one of the best team displays the third-tier has ever seen.
Even the 7-0 win at Oxford for Wigan, who went on to take top honours last season, was based on their opponents gifting them space in behind, whereas Luton displayed a unique ability to break a team down over long periods of possession.
Should they take their away form to 10 points from five with victory at Gillingham on Saturday, then destroy a crisis-ridden Bradford on Tuesday – and both eventualities look very plausible – then that 9/1 price could shrink very quickly
League One – Luton to win outright (9/1 10BET)