After surviving relegation on the last day of the 2019-20 season, Luton Town are enjoying a great run so far in the current campaign, impressively reaching 12th place in the Championship.
Ahead of the game, we spoke to Luton News’ sports editor Mike Simmonds about the season so far, their man in charge and ambitions for the rest of the season.
Canaries.co.uk: Last time Norwich and Luton played each other was in this season’s Carabao Cup, the game going Luton’s way. What did you take from that game and how impactful was it to the start of their season?
MS: Luton played really well that day, actually. James Collins got his hat-trick and they won what was a close, tight game, Luton just having the end of it.
Norwich obviously played a very different team to what they played on the weekend and had about twelve players out on international duty, something like that.
I’m not reading too much into that game going into this game because I think both teams will have many changes, but it did start off a good start to the season for Luton and they did win their first few games and were looking really good in the table. I think they used that performance to kind of springboard a decent start to the campaign.
Canaries.co.uk: Luton are enjoying a great season so far compared to the last campaign, sitting comfortably at 12th compared to last season's position of 18th after 14 games. Is there a real sense that the team is now adjusted to the league or is it more down to the man in charge, Nathan Jones?
MS: I think it’s both, having a season at this level, you talk to the players now and they say that they’re used to it all now and they know what to expect in how hard it will be, so they’ve improved that.
I don’t think they were aware of the challenges of the Championship, so they’ve got that from playing under both previous managers. I don’t think they’d have stayed up if Nathan Jones didn’t come back, he led them to a brilliant run of form after lockdown which kept them in the league and he’s taken it on this season and made some good signings.
He sends them out with more confidence and belief in themselves that they can go and get results in this level, which has been proved so far this season with their start. I think it definitely is a combination of both players believing and knowing they can perform, and they belong at the level now and the manager giving them that bit more confidence behind the scenes too.
Canaries.co.uk: It must’ve been quite an intense end to the season watching Luton pick up points after so long in the relegation spots, to all of a sudden going on to survive and stay in the Championship.
MS: I think they were at the bottom from New Year's Day until after lockdown and six points adrift. Nathan got a draw in his first game, which was important, then he went to beat Swansea and built on that.
They got hammered by Reading in one game, but then after that they just kept picking up points and away wins to set-up the game against Blackburn, which they again won. They got on some form, got the belief and used that momentum, which other teams didn’t do coming out of lockdown, so they just managed to have the belief that they could go and do it, and they did!
Canaries.co.uk: How has someone like Nathan Jones been under that kind of adversity? To bounce back from last week’s 4-0 defeat to Cardiff must be nothing compared to coming in and being at the helm to survive the threat of relegation last season.
MS: I think he’s realistic and he knows that, although they have done well this year and they are looking to improve on last season, there are going to be some games where they lose.
You don’t want to lose 4-0, but there are going to have to be some bumps where they have to take a bit of a beating. Thursday’s game was just a game where everything they’ve done well defensively recently; they just didn’t do.
They were two down by nine minutes to goals they just haven’t conceded so far. You can put that game down to a one-off, the fact that no one really played well on the day, as long as they learn from that one.
I don’t think they would’ve been happy in the dressing room or happy afterwards, but once Nathan gets his points across, they looked to the next game to see how they could improve for that one. They will lose more this season, it’ll happen, it’s how they react and bounce back on Wednesday now.
Canaries.co.uk: There’s news that fans will be at tomorrow’s game, is that something you feel will give a boost to the side?
MS: It’ll be a huge boost for the players, they can’t wait for the fans to come back. They’ve gone to half the number they’re allowed for the pilot event. It’s a great ground, but it’s quite an old stadium where they’re going have to figure out how to get people in the right position and social distance them in the ground.
They’re going to have 1000 back for that one, it’s gone to their longest-serving season ticket holders, they’ve done it in a ballot. If they can create a little bit of that atmosphere, which will be tricky considering they’ll be spaced apart with no away fans to bounce off and be wearing masks, it’ll be great.
Canaries.co.uk: Now we’re firmly into the season and coming up to the hurdle of a Christmas schedule, what do you feel are your expectations of Luton for the rest of the season?
MS: For them this season, staying up and a midtable finish would represent a great effort this season. They have been up towards the play-offs at the start of the season and they’ll say they want to continue that form and stay there, but I think this season is all about staying at the level, becoming an established Championship side and making sure they’re there for next season because it is such a strong league.
The fact they only stayed up on the last day of the last season, they can look to have a season where they’re not battling relegation and they’re safe with six to eight games to go, with the players getting another season of Championship experience to build again.