Luton Town: A false dawn or a watershed season in the Championship?

I’m really disappointed but that’s overshadowed by the pride I have for the club and how we have gone about it. We were outstanding tonight. We were the better team, we had the better chances, more corners, we just couldn’t find the opening.

“It’s quite easy to sit in and be pragmatic, we don’t. We go after everyone and how we went about our work, I am so proud of our group – it’s a magnificent group.”

Those were the words of Luton Town boss Nathan Jones, overjoyed with his side’s efforts in the Championship last season as they fell just short of a place in the play-off final with a loss to Huddersfield Town. While the dream of Wembley was always an ambitious one, especially when you consider the Hatters budget and ability of their squad, comprised of Football League rejects and former Premier League bench warmers, they were just a late Jordon Rhodes winner away from their own pitch invasion — their own moment in the capital.

While Huddersfield’s pitch invasion, and impending injury to a Luton fan were brandished a disgrace by Jones, the Hatters journey to the play-offs was completely the opposite. A magic carpet ride of emotion, late comebacks and team cohesion that will be hard to replicate. Only time will tell if last season was a flash in the pan or a statement of intent from Jones, who won the Championship’s Manager of the Year award having come so close to the impossible.

Considering just 12 months ago Luton were strugglers in the second tier, just about maintaining their status and coming ever so close with a return to League One, they were the furthest team you’d expect to be in the conversation for promotion when you look at the latest English Championship predictions with windrawwin but asides from Nottingham Forest, who went on to beat the Terriers at Wembley later that month, Luton were the plucky underdogs every neutral could get behind.

Their stadium, while rough around the edges, had characters, and their form at Kenilworth Road, or as much as it as we could see between the terraced houses and abrased stands,allowed them to brandish their own style, which compensated for their players perhaps lacking the individual quality the likes of Fulham and Bournemouth possessed in FábioCarvalho, Harry Wilson or Dominick Solanke.

Instead, their side was built on the foundations of a solid squad who would dig in and work together, whilst playing a more direct style akin to yesteryear tactically — either playing 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 depending on availability, with the intention of hitting strikers early and running the ball into the channels to create overloads.

The only question you’d have over Jones is longevity. Can Luton sustain this purple patch of form into the new campaign? When you look at the likes of Norwich City and Burnley who come down from the Premier League with big budgets and the intention of getting promoted first time of asking, you fear for Luton, whose ageing squad could be riddled by more injuries, and with the introduction of five substitutions allowed per game, you’d expect Jones’ transfer budget to be stretched to its limits in the hopes of simply competing.

Next season will be an interesting one in Bedfordshire, and most neutrals will be hoping the Hatters can once again conjure up some magic in nine months’ time.

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