Luton Town had barely savored the prospect of being in the Premier
Hailing from a town with an unfair reputation for being ‘depressing’, the patronizing remarks about their stadium being from a bygone era turned into downright condescension once the season began.
Just three games into the Premier League campaign, BBC ‘expert’ pundit Garth Crooks decided defeat at home to West Ham provided enough evidence that survival in the top flight was impossible for the club.
“[This is a] Luton Town side that is, so far, just making up the Premier League numbers,” Crooks wrote.
“It’s good to see the tangerine colors of Luton back in the big league once more, but I can’t take them seriously and see them down by Christmas. They might take a few scalps along the way but don’t let the scoreline fool you, this victory was as comfortable for West Ham as it gets,” he added.
The former Tottenham striker was far from alone in this assessment. Another TV analyst Paul Merson also labeled them “a cut below the rest” who were “struggling in the Premier League” by just October.
The problem is someone forgot to tell the players.
Although they struggled to win games in the first part of the season, the margins of defeat suffered by the Bedfordshire side were rarely emphatic.
Single-goal margins have decided five of the club’s eight losses and in the past few weeks, they’ve managed to start getting on the right side of those results.
A battling 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool really ignited the atmosphere at Kenilworth Road which was made electric on 25 November when the side recorded a first home win against Crystal Palace.
The result pulled the club four points clear of the relegation zone, albeit with the significant caveat of Everton only being second bottom because of a ten-point deduction.
Even without Everton’s sudden demotion the team still stands only three points from a raft of clubs with far higher budgets, few of which would categorised as demeaningly as the Hatters.
Rob Edwards: The Secret Weapon
A significant factor in Luton’s favor for survival is the manager Rob Edwards.
In previous spells managing Forest Green Rovers and Watford, Edwards was known for his expansive passing game and counter-pressing approach.
But he inherited a Luton Town team last year that had found success from being more direct.
Rather than trying to overhaul a strategy that had seen the side challenge at the top of the Championship, he doubled down on the tactic and it paid dividends.
The result is that, upon promotion to the higher division, Edwards has an outfit that makes teams feel uncomfortable and a style of soccer that is a leveler.
As Jurgen Klopp remarked, after the Hatters had taken a point of his team and come a whisker away from all three; “nobody won here with a crazy result and I knew before why, but now I felt it: they do really well.”
The contrast to teams with more conventionally ‘attractive’ approaches couldn’t be greater.
Burnley won the Championship at a canter last year and arrived in the Premier League with tactics more akin to Manchester City and Arsenal than Sheffield United or Luton.
Yet the Clarets sit bottom of the pile with a meager four points from 13 games having been battered on a number of occasions.
As TV analyst Micah Richards pointed out: “They’ve got something, we expect Burnley to play this beautiful football, it’s not quite worked, Luton at least is a bit more direct, they know what they’re doing.”
“Luton, a lot of people have them as down and out, but I believed they could do something, because they’re very direct, and they’re very good from set-pieces.
The indications are that in addition to the strategic approach Edwards has a good mentality.
Following the first victory at Kenilworth Road, he wasn’t going overboard.
“[It feels] really good,” he said. “Relief, I feel drained now, it was the longest game I’ve ever been a part of. Pleased for the supporters, pleased for everyone connected to the club.
“It’s been a long time coming here at home. I think we deserved a bit more than what we’ve got here in some of the games. We were close against Liverpool, and close against Wolves, Burnley could have gone another way. But it’s taken until today.
“So enjoy the moment, enjoy the feeling, it’s nice. The players can enjoy their weekend. But it’s back to work quickly.”
“I don’t want the players having a party. We’ve done nothing (yet). We’ve got nine points. I don’t think that’s anything to be going out to the nightclub and having a flipping disco or a party.
“Enjoy it, but we’ve got to go again. Brentford’s really difficult next week, then we’ve got Arsenal and Man City to look forward to. We’ve got to keep improving and getting better.”
You wouldn’t bet against the Hatters causing a few more upsets even with that tricky run of games to come.