Free-scoring Luton are bringing the style on their push for promotion

Luke Gambin of Luton Town and Ben Tozer of Newport County battle for possession during the Sky Bet League Two match between Luton Town and Newport County at Kenilworth Road on September 30,...

If entertainment is what you’re after from football (rather than comforting distraction from the awfulness of the real world) then sure, you could spend £50 on a ticket to watch the luxury football of Manchester City, with their flowing attacks and dazzlingly expensive talents.

Or you could head down to the slightly earthier surrounds of Kenilworth Road, shell out £20 and watch the only team in the country to have scored more goals than Pep Guardiola’s side.

Admittedly, Luton Town have played five more games than City, but that corner of Bedfordshire has seen a blizzard of goals and excitement this season. They have 49 from 21 games, 11 more than the next most prolific in the division. Only four teams have scored more in total than their goal difference tally of 30.

The benefit of this free-scoring approach is not just statistics and their place in the table, but the feel of the place. Kenilworth Road feels optimistic, something much-needed, as a reminder of how they nearly disappeared hangs at the side of the Main Stand. A banner, five metres or so across, displays the slogan “Luton Town: established 1885, betrayed by the FA 2008”. That was when Luton were docked 30 points for alleged financial irregularities, sending them out of the Football League and putting their future in doubt.

They returned in 2014, lost in the play-offs last season but now, under their manager Nathan Jones, sit top of League Two. On Saturday they faced their toughest test of the season yet, against Notts County, behind them only on goal difference. A full house of just under 11,000 felt optimistic, and you can see why.

Their positivity was obvious from the way they lined up at kick-off: five players had their toes on the very edge of the halfway line, and no outfield player started deeper than five yards behind the centre-circle.

Even in a performance that Jones admitted was nowhere near as fluent as some, the positivity on the pitch echoed around the stands.

At one point the midfielder Andrew Shinnie collected the ball about 30 yards from goal and a number of spectators urged him to shoot: the remarkable part was that he was 30 yards from his own goal. But such are expectations, after Olly Lee’s strike from his own half against Cambridge last month.

That game ended 7-0, the second time they’ve hit seven this season and it was not even their highest-scoring game, that being the 8-2 win against Yeovil on the opening day.

This match was not quite so net‑busting, a physical and hard-fought affair which ended 1-1, but even the goal Luton scored was notable. Johnny Mullins became the 10th different player in a row to score for Luton, their previous two games having ended 4-0 and 5-0, and the 21st different player to find the net this season.

“We were nowhere near what we usually are fluency wise, but they must’ve had something to do with that,” said Jones, after a Shola Ameobi header had won a point for Notts. Jones emphasised the last point, crediting the opposition with stopping his side rather than them being off their game.

And that appears to be a sticking point, a slight chip on Jones’s shoulder. “They got a point against us,” he said, when asked if it was encouraging to get a point against a side as good as Notts when not at their best.

“The table says we’re the best in the league. It’s not ‘encouraging’ because I know what we can do. We’ve won by seven goals etc here and other managers have somehow found reasons why their team were at their best.

“Nobody ever says: ‘Luton were a good side, they were quality.’ But I’m going to say that about Notts County: you don’t get 42 points from 21 games without being a good side. It was two good sides going up against each other, probably cancelling each other out a little bit.”

Both teams went home happy with their afternoon’s work, and it is tough to see either missing promotion this season. But while this does not necessarily win you extra points, Luton are doing it in style.

Talking points

• The Leonid Slutsky experiment was an admirable one, but Hull were unquestionably right to make the change when they did. Recruiting Nigel Adkins to replace him represents another risk, given he’s been out of work for 18 months and was last seen taking Sheffield United to 11th in League One. Still, things started off quite nicely, with a 3-2 win over Brentford. “I’ve loved it,” said Adkins, never a man short of enthusiasm. He’ll need that spirit though: their next three games are against Cardiff, Leeds and Derby.

• Time to go in Sheffield too? In Carlos Carvalhal’s first season at Sheffield Wednesday, he gathered together a team who had languished in mid-table for the previous three years and took them to the playoff final. But since then they have spent millions with no improvement, and now they are slipping further and further down. Just two wins in the last ten have seen them drop to 14th place in the Championship, and perhaps more troubling is that Carvalhal seems to be gradually unravelling under the pressure. If Wednesday are going to sack him they surely must do it soon, so a new man has time to take stock and preside over the transfer window. A tough call, but at the moment it looks like a necessary one.

• Hats off to Nottingham Forest and Bristol Rovers, who with their wins over Bolton Wanderers and Southend United respectively, kept up their record of being the only two teams in the Football League yet to draw a game this season. Rovers’ draw-less run stretches back to February, and have thus gone 32 games without finishing a game all-square, before which they drew six in a row. They’re some way off the English record of 51 games, set by Aston Villa in 1891, but they’re hot on the heels of their own post-war mark of 37, set in 1948. Remember this one: it’ll be the hot topic sweeping the nation in weeks.

• Last week saw the 25th anniversary of Charlton’s return to the Valley, which they marked by, among other things, inviting some of the team that played back then to Saturday’s game against Portsmouth. Alas, for the Addicks, they lost 1-0. “We’ve let people down a bit today and that is something that we are very disappointed with,” said manager Karl Robinson. “We’re very thankful to be playing in this great stadium today, due to what the fans achieved back then.”

• You’ll not find many better counter-attack goals than this one, by Blackburn against Peterborough.

• A few games were called off due to the snowy weather this weekend, but Accrington chairman Andy Holt wasn’t impressed that theirs against Swindon was postponed. At around 10.30am Accrington tweeted that the game was still on, but come a pitch inspection at 1pm, the officials decided the pitch was not fit to play on. The referee suggested only part of the pitch was covered, meaning a section near the middle was frozen, but that held little weight with Holt. Take a trip down his Twitter timeline for the full, unadulterated rant.

Powered by article was written by Nick Miller, for The Guardian on Monday 11th December 2017 10.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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