Luton Town travel to Carrow Road in confident mood having successfully avoided a relegation battle this season and already beaten Norwich City twice this campaign.
Canararies.co.uk spoke to Mike Simmonds, Luton News sports editor, about the Hatters recent record over Norwich, their aims for the second half of the season.
Canaries.co.uk: Luton Town are currently well clear of any danger in the Championship and only 11 points of the play-off places. How realistic do you think a charge for the top six is this season for Nathan Jones’ side?
MS: Inwardly, Town could well be aiming for a top six spot, but I wouldn’t say it is a realistic goal for the Hatters this season as it still a fairly big gap to make up on some good sides like Bournemouth and Swansea City. Following on from escaping relegation on the final day last term, most supporters would have been happy with a campaign where they weren’t battling against relegation. It appears that with 13 games to go that will be the case, as Town will hopefully not need to be looking over their shoulders during the run-in and can aim to finish as high as possible.
Canaries.co.uk: Nathan Jones' journey with Luton Town has been quite an incredible one having joined them in League Two, and apart from a brief spell at Stoke, overseen their rise up the division. How much high regard is held at Kenilworth Road?
MS: He is held in exceptionally high regard at Kenilworth Road due to the way he has revolutionised the club since arriving in January 2016. Obviously, there was the much-criticised move to Stoke City, which didn’t do him any favours with supporters, and it was a brave move bringing him back again last term by the club, but it proved to be the right one. Jones just gets the club and what fans want to see from their team, as I don’t think any other manager could have kept them up last season from the position he inherited. This term he has built on that too, with Luton already way above their points tally at this stage last term and are looking well on their way to establishing themselves at this level.
Canaries.co.uk: A few of the players – Harry Cornick, James Collins, Danny Hylton, Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu – were turning out for Luton Town in League Two a few season back as well. Which of these do you think has adapted best to life in the Championship?
MS: James Collins finished as top scorer last season and is currently the leading marksman this term as well, while his form has been enough to win a handful of caps for the Republic of Ireland too, so he has made the switch to the second tier fairly well. Harry Cornick looked to be Luton’s most improved player last season, with a career high nine goals, although has struggled to quite hit those heights this time around and is yet to net for the Hatters this season. Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu can be hot and cold at times,but has produced some excellent performances in the heart of midfield, driving forward in a manner few others can do. Meanwhile, Danny Hylton saw injuries hinder most of last season as he couldn’t get back in under Graeme Jones, while has also been used fairly sparingly by Nathan Jones this term.
Canaries.co.uk: How much does that team spirit, having still got players who have come up through the leagues with Luton, been a benefit to Luton Town and Nathan Jones seems to have a side that really buys into what he is doing and work hard for him?
MS: That is a big part of Town’s success this season as shown during Saturday’s 3-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday when the club were trailing 2-0 at the break, before bringing on three of the ‘old guard’ if you like and then hitting back to triumph. The players speak about just how good the team spirit is at the club, with new signing Kal Naismith mentioning the fact when asked about how he had settled in. Jones does manage to create an excellent atmosphere among the squad with his man-management skills very impressive and it does give them that little bit extra when taking to the pitch, which is vital in the Championship.With most sides having bigger budgets, then Town have to use anything they can to their advantage and having a team who will give their all for the manager is a huge bonus.
Canaries.co.uk: Luton Town have proved to be a bit of a bogey side for Norwich City recently, including an FA Cup win a few years back. Why do you think they seem to have so much success against the Canaries?
MS: To be honest, I’m not really too sure why that has been the case. The FA Cup game was a great occasion for the Hatters who were in non-league at that time, but by name only, due to some bitterly harsh points deductions handed down by the FA, as they still had a side who were good enough to be playing in the league. This season, the Canaries were without pretty much a full team of players when Luton won in the League Cup game, while the league contest at Kenilworth Road was the first one that supporters were allowed back into and that made a huge difference with Town putting on a fine display.Luton are more than capable of raising their game against a good footballing side like Norwich as well, which suits them much better than going up against more direct outfit like Cardiff or Millwall for example.
Canaries.co.uk: Luton Town have brought in Kiernan Dewsbury Hall on loan this season. How impressed with him have you been?
MS: He has been excellent since arriving from Leicester and has quickly become one of the best loan signings ever brought in by the club. After building into his first taste of life in the Championship the midfielder then got to grips with the level and began bossing games, particularly at home, with a number of standout performances. He added two goals as well, including a fine winner at Bournemouth. Although his levels had dipped ever so slightly in recent games, which is understandable for a young player, he still remains a key part of Town’s midfield.
Canaries.co.uk: Are there going to be any key players that are likely to miss the game through injury?
MS: Town are likely to be without both centre halves Sonny Bradley and Tom Lockyer for the trip to Carrow Road. The pair have been in excellent form for the majority of the season and were forming a solid partnership at the heart of Luton’s backline until injury struck, meaning they will both miss out.