Football: Is This a Dagger That I See Before Me?

This article was originally published on The Match web site in late October 2014.

The latest batch of leagues games have resulted in Luton reaching the top spot in League 2 with two thirds of the season yet to be played. Last year, we reached the top of the Conference in December and stayed there for the rest of the season. This time around, we’re hoping that we haven’t peaked too soon but are happy to be there none-the-less.
The unbeaten league run is now up to nine, with one draw and seven consecutive wins contributing to the points haul. Most Luton fans would agree that we’re not yet playing as consistently as we know we can, but it’s the ability to grind out results that wins promotion and championships. You can’t play well for 90 minutes and you can’t do it every game. At the moment, we’re resilient and have a few purple spells during games that are enough to win us the points.

For example, away to Hartlepool we didn’t have too many chances, but when they came our way we were clinical and scored twice in the 1-2 win. We scored two in quick succession in the last three minutes of the first half at home to Dagenham & Redbridge just three days later, and that set the tone for the rest of the game that we ended up winning 3-1. A late goal for the opposition slightly took the shine of that score even if it didn’t affect the result, and having conceded a late penalty at Hartlepool in the game before, we have to hope that conceding late goals isn’t becoming a habit.

Scoring late goals is a good habit though, and the latest game against Northampton is a fantastic example of never giving up. For the first time this season, we saw a visiting team who showed no ambition and made it quite clear very early on that their game plan was simply to stop us playing. For most of the game it worked too, crowding us out and providing very little entertainment. It didn’t help that three or four of our players looked jaded in the first forty-five, but yet again John Still made some changes that began to change the pattern of play in the second half.

Luke Guttridge’s late winner against Northampton gave us another three points. The goal almost took the roof off the stadium for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was in the last minute, secondly it put us top of the league, thirdly it was his first goal this season after having missed most of the season so far through injury. Fourthly, there was a smidgen over 10,000 in Kenilworth Road and the relief that the team that at least tried to play football prevailed in the end was palpable.

A quick word about Gutts. He’s has been a brilliant addition to the squad since he joined last Summer, and he was a major contributing factor to our promotion. Hopefully, he can have as big an influence in the remaining games this year. Coming on as a sub and scoring that goal against his former employers is a great way to give the manager something to think about!

Talking of former employers, the game again Dagenham & Redbridge was a bit of a reunion for some of the people currently at Luton Town. We have three former players of theirs – Luke Griffiths, Paul Benson and Luke Wilkinson – and we also have their former manager John Still and his assistant Terry Harris. For the Luton fans it was just another game, but for John Still in particular it was a difficult game for a number of reasons.

John Still and Dagenham & Redbridge go way back. I’ll admit that I knew absolutely nothing about our manager until he joined us, but over the last 18 months or so we’ve quickly discovered that he’s an extremely astute, extremely experienced and extremely likeable bloke. He can talk about football for hours on end, and his philosophy on how the game should be played has patently made all the difference at Luton.

His professional allegiance to Luton Town is obvious. He’s turned us completely around in just over a year and has restored pride (and some justice) to the club. However, his personal football allegiances are to other clubs – West Ham United and Dagenham & Redbridge. He’s never hidden this fact, but his loyalty and honesty is another reason why he’s regarded so highly by Luton fans and the Luton Board. He was a Dagenham fan, played for them and then managed them (twice). He left them after a nine-year stint to take part in what he called ‘the Luton project’ and we’re very glad that he did!

Professionally, John Still was obviously pleased that we got another three points against the Daggers the other week, but he admitted afterwards that it was a horrible experience for him and that he was glad it was over. Quite how he’s going to cope when we play them away is anyone’s guess.

One final thought. Going top adds pressure but we have bags of experience thanks to the players we have at the club and what we experienced last year. We might not stay top, but I suspect here are plenty more twists and turns as the top six or seven clubs start to separate out from the rest. Whatever happens, it’s going to be emotional!

#LutonAreBack!

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