Football: Rivalries Renewed and Deja Vu

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

It might not yet be on a par with the unbeaten run of last season, but thirteen points out of fifteen and just one goal conceded is a good little run in anyone’s book. It’s even more impressive when you consider that we’ve had to endure a number of injuries, players playing out of position and a bout of sickness along with the usual day-to-day problems faced by any professional football club. Do we use these as excuses? No. We use them to fuel the kind of dogged determination that got us back into the football league in the first place.

So, where do we start? In Shrewsbury, of course. Last year it was Wrexham away that proved the catalyst after losing 2-0 at almost the exact same point in the season. This time, it was Shrewsbury Town who deservedly beat us by the same scoreline. It was put down as a bad day at the office and from the accounts I read, we didn’t do too much to deserve anything from the game. Déjà vu!

Beating the then undefeated Cheltenham 1-0 at home was a good way to follow the Shrewsbury result. An early 7th minute header from Mark Cullen and an improved performance all round did the trick. Following that up with a point away at York City in a 0-0 draw was also a good result, but it sounds like we could have nicked a goal and won it. Never mind, we saved that for the next game!

Games against the two Uniteds – Cambridge and Oxford – always proved to be interesting when we were promotion rivals back in the Conference Days (and doesn’t that sound nice to be saying that in the past tense?) but Luton haven’t really had a proper and constant rivalry with either team, despite what some fans might like to think. Sure, there’s been the occasional highly-charged encounter down the years, but most Luton fans consider them to be just another game.

That feeling of indifference changed a little when former Luton Town manager (and player) Richard Money became the Cambridge boss a few years ago. That new ingredient added a bit of extra spice to proceedings, considering the circumstances under which Richard Money and Luton Town parted company back in early 2011. That should all be ancient history by now, and yet it still keeps bubbling back to the surface.

As for Oxford United, there’s only been four or five games over the past 25 years or so that you could point at as being significant. There was the two-legged Littlewoods Cup semi-final in 1988, where Dean ‘Diver’ Saunders tried conning the ref by falling over every time he got near the penalty area in the first match. There was a game the season before when Oxford had to win to stay up (which they managed to do, winning 3-2 on the plastic pitch) but after those it wasn’t until 2009/10 that we played another significant match. We nicked a win at home by scoring twice in injury time to win 2-1, with the winner coming direct from a corner. It kept us in the promotion hunt that year, but ultimately proved fruitless as Oxford went up via the play offs, and we didn’t.

So, the stage was set for two tough matches in what the local papers were calling the Oxbridge double-header. Despite the aforementioned injuries and illness, we emerged with a 0-1 away win at Cambridge thanks to Mark Cullen scoring (again) from his saved penalty and then a 2-0 home win against Oxford, who seemed confident in possession but who were proved to be fragile up front and indecisive in defence. Our second goal that day was scored by Jake Howells, latching onto the rebound after the Oxford keeper saved the initial penalty. Déjà vu too!

The next renewed rivalry was with Stevenage, who had never even been on Luton’s radar as far as rivalries were concerned until we were pushed kicking and screaming into the Conference at the end of the 2008/09 season.

Another magnificent away following of around 2,000 for the second consecutive match (Déjà vu three!) roared us on to a 1-2 away win, and for the second consecutive match, Luke Wilkinson scored a header from a set piece to put us a goal up. Déjà vu once again!
We might not be at the energy levels or the tempo of last season’s scintillating middle-third, yet slowly but surely, we are improving each week and showing flashes of that form. We’ve got players returning from those injuries and the illness that swept through the club a few weeks ago. Once we’re up to full strength, who knows where we’ll be?

#LutonAreBack!

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