Opposition Profile: Luton Town
Everything you need to know about Middlesbrough's upcoming opponent Luton Town
There is just two fixtures left for Middlesbrough to play before the season draws to a close but the team has been performing well over recent weeks and they will be going into the match against Luton Town with the belief that they can make it three wins on the bounce. Meanwhile Neil Warnock has used these last few games to bleed a couple of youngsters into professional football, with Connor Malley and Josh Coburn particularly impressing in recent games, so the youth prospects that have been training with the first team in recent weeks, will be optimistic about the chances of them seeing first team football before the season comes to an end.
On the other hand, Luton Town have shown a marked improvement on last season as the side is sitting comfortably in mid-table. A good platform to build from as they enter the 2021/2022 season. The Hatters have also been in good form in recent weeks and will fancy their chances to overturn Middlesbrough at Kenilworth Road.
This fixture has very little history behind it as Middlesbrough and Luton Town have only played each other 3 times, with the first of these coming as recent as 2019. Equally this upcoming fixture may set a precedent on which side is more successful over the other as the record so far: 1 draw, 1 Luton Town win and 1 Middlesbrough win, highlights the unpredictability of this fixture.
This match may also see Martin Cranie line up against his former side. He had a mixed experience in the North-East as he made just 9 appearances following his arrival in January 2018. He then left the club to join Sheffield United and then Luton Town, both transfers were on frees.
(I do not claim any of the images as my own: all sources are named and images are hyperlinked to the website that they were found. All research and sources used can be found at the end of the article)
Season So Far:
Luton Town’s fans will be happy with their mid-table position as it means that they will be safe from relegation this season and so they will not have to go through the nail biting end to the season that will also be familiar to Middlesbrough fans. Instead, their 11th place position, means that Luton Town are in for a drama-less conclusion as the games plateau into securing their place in the league for next season.
The Hatters are one of the few sides that is behind the rest of the league in games played, as they still have to play their postponed fixture against Rotherham United. This means that while all the majority of the league have played 44 games, Luton Town have played just 43 and this extra match in hand may have an impact on how high they finish this season. If they manage to beat Rotherham to add 3 points to their tally then, Luton Town would be going into the match against Middlesbrough on the same amount of points so, while it doesn’t bare any impact on the most important battles in the league (promotion and relegation) the upcoming match could dictate whether they finish within the top ten, or even above Middlesbrough in 9th.
The season long return of 1.36 points per game is very respectable as it has secured their future in the league but they have struggled on goal difference and they currently sit on -9. This is largely due to the sides failure going forward this season as they have scored just 39 goals in 43 games, the lowest number of goals scored in the top 15 sides in the division. This is also highlighted in their victories this season as 13 of their 17 wins have come due to a one goal difference, while 8 of these wins came with a 1-0 scoreline. On the other hand, Luton have been impressively solid, with goalkeepers Simon Sluga and James Shea conceding just 48 goals this season; joint 7th best goal difference in the top 15 sides. However, it is clear to see when the side does struggles defensively as 10 of their 17 defeats came with a -2 goal difference or higher, while the sides worst defeat of the season came in a 4-0 defeat against Cardiff.
Overall, Luton Town has been a defensively secure side this season and considering the financial wherewithal of the club, it is impressive that the defence has managed as well as it has, even if there has been a few notable fixtures where the side has struggled. Unfortunately, they have been let down going forward, and the gulf between James Collins’ 10 goals, then Eiljah Adebayo’s 5 and then George Moncur’s 3 highlights how the they have been struggling in the top end of the pitch this season. A few welcome additions to this side of the team and retaining their best players may mean that they can kick off on next season to challenge on the outskirts of the playoffs.
Form: L W W D W
If Middlesbrough felt as though they were coming into this game in good form then they may feel overshadowed by Luton Towns recent streak of 3 wins and a draw in 5 games. This recent run of success has been one of their best runs this season as it is only surpassed by the sides first 5 games in all competitions this season (W W W W L) and so the Teessiders couldn’t be facing the Hatters at a worse time.
In this more recent positive run, Luton have managed to beat lowly Wycombe Wanderers away (3-1), highflying Watford at home (1-0), before drawing with 10th placed Reading (0-0), and then finally beating Bristol City away from home (3-2) with the sides defeat, at home against Barnsley (2-1) coming at the top of this run of results.
What is most interesting here is the variation of sides that Luton Town have overcome, unlike some sides in recent weeks that appear to perform better against teams that sit in a certain position in the league, Luton Town has overcome an almost relegated side in Wycombe Wanderers, a bottom half of the table Bristol City and a now promoted side in Watford, while their only game against a mid-table side during this period was the 0-0 draw against Reading. This shows that Luton are capable of giving any side in the league a real challenge on their day and, particularly when they are in good form, they are able to steal three points from anyone, just ask Norwich City who Luton have beaten twice this season. Unfortunately for Luton though, is this also indicates that there is a large amount of inconsistency in the side as success against a wide range of sides would usually indicate towards a side fighting near, or at the top, which has not been the case this season. However, taking this into consideration, further indicates that Luton Town may be candidates for a dark horse for promotion next season.
Luton Town has also been pretty stable in their home vs. away form, with only a few place discrepancy between the two form tables (home: 14th and away: 12th) showing that the side is able to perform at around the same level both home and away. However the sides home form is more stable than the away one as they have managed 8 wins, 7 draws and 6 defeats at home as opposed to 9 wins, 2 draws and 11 defeats. While the sides dependance on wins away from home may be a slight concern for Nathan Jones, their relatively stable home and away platform will be useful to build on for next season.
So what can we learn from the sides recent form? Firstly, and unsurprisingly, the sides current form is far beyond their season average, as their 2 points per game in their last 5 is more indicative of a side competing at the top of the table. In fact, extrapolating this form over the season would be equal to that of Watford’s and the Hornets have just confirmed their place in the Premier League. Additionally, the sides goalscoring form is well beyond what you would expect from their season as a whole as Luton Town have managed to score 8 goals in the last 5 games (an average of 1.6 goals per game in comparison to the season average of 0.9) while it is valid to argue that this form is unsustainable when considering their season as a whole it does indicate that Luton Town have been prolific in front of goal in recent weeks and so Middlesbrough’s defence will have to do its utmost to stop the opposition from scoring a hatful. Yet, as if to prove that the offensive side of the game has been what is lacking, the Hatters defence has remained at a level consistent to the rest of the season (1 goal per game average in comparison to 1.1 during the whole season) indicating that there will be an opportunity or two for Middlesbrough in this game.
Overall, Middlesbrough will have to handle an increasingly prolific attacking line-up if they want to get anything from the game but if they successfully smother the oppositions chances then there may well be a few opportunities for Neil Warnock’s side and it will be up to the players on the pitch to convert these chances.
Top Goalscorer: James Collins (10)
Most Assists: Harry Cornick (7)
Most Yellow Cards: Glen Rea (8)
Most Red Cards: Matty Pearson, Tom Lockyer (1)
One To Watch: Sonny Bradley
Luton Town has managed to get where they have this season thanks to a solid defence and Sonny Bradley has proven to be a key component to the sides success in this area this season. Not only has the player played every minute when he has been available for selection, and fit enough to see the game through, but he has also been given the captaincy in almost all of his appearances as just 4 of the 34 fixtures with him involved have been without him playing as the captain. His willingness to step into the role of captain and lead the team so successfully as to secure their mid-table position this season is very impressive and he deserves serious praise for his performances this season.
Born and raised on the outskirts of Hull, the 29 year old centre back made his first steps into professional football with the tigers. He would go on to make 6 appearances for the under-23s as he attempted to bridge the gap between youth football and the first team and his only appearances for Hull City’s first team, in 3 championship fixtures, came in the first half of a season that saw him move out on loan to Aldershot Town in January.
Valued at £45,000 on his arrival in Hampshire, he would go on to make 14 appearances between his arrival on the 1st January 2012 and the end of the season, averaging 83 minutes per appearance as he managed to establish himself as a key player and earning himself a second stint at the club in the following season. He continued his long run in Aldershot Town’s first team during the second season too as he played every minute of every game that he was involved in during the 2012/2013 season. It is safe to say that Aldershot Town were impressed by his contributions during his loan with the player also adding two assists and a goal during his time in Hampshire.
He was rewarded for his performances at Aldershot Town with a free transfer to Portsmouth. He would go on to make 38 appearances across a single season on the South coast, with an average of 83 minutes per appearance. His performances at Portsmouth garnered the interest of Crawley Town who paid an undisclosed fee to bring him to West Sussex.
He would spent two season at Crawley Town where he made 79 appearances and his almost constant involvement continued with him averaging 88 minutes per appearance. He also supplied 2 goals and 2 assists while he displayed strong discipline during these 79 games as he was reprimanded with just 8 yellow cards.
Sonny Bradley then left Crawley Town on a free transfer, returning to the South coast with Plymouth Argyle. He would go on two spend 2 years in Plymouth, making a massive 96 appearances, averaging 88 minutes per appearance as he became irreplaceable for Argyle. He also but up his best offensive numbers during his time in green as he supplied 11 goals and 5 assists, averaging a goal contribution every 526 minutes, an impressive return for a centre back. Meanwhile he also continued in his brilliant disciplinary form as he received just 7 yellow cards during his time on the coast.
In July 2018, he was on the move again, the player had seen a small spike in his value over his time at Crawley and Plymouth and he was now worth £90,000 as he made a free transfer to Luton Town. He has already broken the centenary for his new club as he established himself as a vital player playing 11,300 minutes across 128 appearances. He earned himself the team captaincy through his leadership skills within the squad and he supplied 3 goals and 3 assists for the side. His time at Luton Town has to be regarded as a great success and that is highlighted in his market value which has spiked to £1.26m since his arrival at Luton Town.
Note: It is unusual for defenders to be substituted during games so it is little surprise that they played so many minutes per appearance however the number of appearances prove how key he was for the side.
Sonny Bradley is a dominant centre back who has a good positional awareness and his leadership of the team on the pitch has been key to the sides respectable success this season. He will be a difficult barrier for Middlesbrough to overcome when they face Luton Town.
Hot Prospect: Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall
Leicester City has a good track record with talented young footballers with the likes of James Justin, Hamza Choudhury and Harvey Barnes breaking into the first team from the youth sides in recent seasons. It appears as though Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall may be the next player that comes off this conveyor belt and into the Leicester City first team. He has certainly been a undeniable success at Luton Town so far as he has contributed 2 goals and 6 assists in 37 games from central midfield.
Born and raised in Shepshed, he joined Leicester’s youth system in 2006 at just 8 years old. He would continue to develop and impress Leicester City’s youth coaches as he made 17 appearances for the under-18, played in two UEFA Under-19 Youth League games before establishing himself in under-23 side at an early age. His involvement from a young age allowed him to establish himself in the final stop before the first team. He made 70 appearances averaging 79 minutes per appearance for the Under-23's scoring 3 goal and getting 10 assists. While he was willing to put his body where it hurt with the player picking up 8 yellow cards during this same period.
His first move away from the club came in January 2020, when Blackpool decided to bring him to Bloomfield Road until the end of the season. He would have a very impressive second half to the season as he averaged 85 minutes per appearance across 10 games, providing a goal contribution every other game. There is no doubt, and no surprise, that it was his form during the latter stages of the 2019/2020 season that drew the interest of Luton Town.
Luton Town managed to convince the left footed midfielder that the Hatters was the best place for him to be for the following season and the 22 year old agreed to the move on 16th October 2020. He would quickly establish himself in the first team and he has been involved in 37 matches so far this season, averaging 82 minutes per appearance, indicating that he has grown into a key player for the Kenilworth Road based side. He has been a vital contribution to an attack that has been lacking this season too and so his 2 goals and 6 assists have been key and, while the bare figures aren’t as impressive as his time at Blackpool, the sides limited success going forward means that these goal contributions are possibly more valuable to the club and more difficult to come by this season.
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall is willing to drop deep to collect the ball, as Nathan Jones likes one of his midfielders to do, but his impact goes further than this as his passing range and energy levels means that he can have an influence in any area of the pitch. On his day, Dewsbury-Hall can control the game and play a role in everything that happens in his side. Middlesbrough will need to clamp down on the 22 year old if they want to beat Luton Town.
Manager: Nathan Jones
Far from an unknown on his arrival at Kenilworth Road in 2020 reunited of two well acquainted friends. The 47 year old took over the reigns at the club in 2016 but he moved up the divisions to join Stoke City with a Luton Town receiving a compensation package for his extraction. His time at Stoke City was not as successful as he would have hoped and so he returned back to his former club after less than a year with Stoke City.
History: Playing Career
The Welsh midfielder has had an extensive playing career that has spanned across 10 clubs but a number of these sides were in the lower echelons of Welsh football and so there is limited information about how he managed at these clubs. These clubs (Maesteg Park, Ton Pentre, Merthyr Tydfil) all came earlier in his career while his first period in English football came at the side he is currently managing, Luton Town, however he failed to make an impact with the club and he was swiftly moved on within half a season. He then moved to the continent where he played 37 games across 2 seasons with Badajoz and Numancia respectively. His success in Spain brought the interest of Southend United. He would go on to make an impressive 99 appearances for the Shrimpers before he moved to the Yorkshire coast on a short term loan. He would go on to make 8 appearances for Scarborough before Brighton & Hove Albion came in for the player.
He joined Brighton on a free transfer and he established himself as a first team player while at Brighton but he failed to convince the club that he was a key player for the side as he averaged 63 minutes through 86 appearances for the Seagulls. Instead, he would have to wait until he joined Yeovil Town to really establish himself.
Another free transfer, Yeovil Town brought the ageing midfielder to Huish Park, it may have been seen as a final stop on the road to retirement for some but Nathan Jones seized the opportunity and established himself in the first team. He would go on to make 201 appearances across 7 years at the club, averaging an impressive 83 minutes per appearance as he appeared to refuse to let his ageing body get in the way of his performances. He had always lacked an offensive edge as a more defensive minded midfielder but he found an, albeit limited, attacking touch as he managed to contribute 2 goals and 9 assists to the cause. The fact that he remained at the club, kept training and managed to make 201 appearances at a good level up until the age of 40 speaks a lot about the players mental attributes and there is no doubt that he brought some of these into his managerial career.
History: Managerial Career
Nathan Jones started his trek into a managerial position by agreeing to be assistant manager of Yeovil Town in 2009, adding his coaching responsibilities to his playing ones before he left the role in 2012. He would then join Charlton Athletic’s youth academy in a very short stint as manager of the clubs under-21’s yet it wasn’t until 2014 that he was given a short opportunity to as caretaker manager of his former club Brighton, where he led the side into two fixtures, and he was a relative success too as he had a return of 4 points from these fixtures. Nathan Jones finally had a real opportunity at management when he took over Luton Town. He signed the contract on 6th January 2016 and he would remain at the club until January 2019, he would lead the team into 170 matches during that time with an impressive points return of 1.82 points per game. It was this solid form that led the club to second place before he was poached by Stoke City.
In a way, Nathan Jones was a January signing for Stoke City, and with many January signings, it didn’t work out for him at the club. He led the Potters into 38 clashes but he failed to recreate the form seen during his 3 years at Luton Town. The club had a return of just 0.89 points per game, relegation form, and so he was replaced in an attempt to save the clubs 2019/2020 season. Nathan Jones would remain unemployed until his former employers drafted up the contract that currently holds him at the club.
Since his return to Luton Town, Nathan Jones has stood on the touchline 57 times, and while he has yet to recapture the form of his first stint at the club, he has done very well in obtaining 85 points during this period, particularly considering the clubs financial circumstances.
Both Neil Warnock and Nathan Jones deploy man-marking systems, but that is about where the similarities end, and so it will be interesting to see which philosophy comes out on top. While some may argue that Neil Warnock’s style of football is more pragmatic, with a deeper defensive line and a defensively resolute midfield; Nathan Jones prefers to defend on the front foot. The Welshman uses his man-marking system to suffocate the passing options for the ball-carrier, often forcing them into mistakes deep in their own half, or forcing them to attempt long balls which are bread and butter for Luton Town's centre backs including the previously mentioned Sonny Bradley. Somewhat ironically, he plays a similar style as he poaches on as Nathan Jones likes his sides to play from the back with a midfielder and the right back typically dropping back to support the centre backs that lack passing prowess. While in the final third, Luton Town take on a similar profile to Manchester City or Arsenal with fast tempo short passing to displace and disrupt the defensive line and allow them to create key goalscoring opportunities. Naturally there are weaknesses in this system, and they are vulnerable to the same press that they, themselves, often use to poach the ball in oppositions half of the pitch. While their offensive style can prove to be an exciting watch they have failed in terms of an end product this season, in turn questioning how effective this style is for the side. Finally, if you can break the offside trap, and prevent the aerially dominant centre backs from regaining possession then there is a serious possibility for 1-on-1 situations as the defence lacks pace.
There is no doubt that Nathan Jones is a great manager, as highlighted in his managerial record to date, but it is the marriage with Luton Town that has paved the way for his success. The club has wholly embraced his style of football and the club has adapted along with it. Every player at the Hatters has embraced the style of football that they play and they are all perfectly aligned to the roles that Nathan Jones expects them to play. The Welsh manager’s reputation will continue to grow during his time at Luton Town as he becomes one of the EFL’s successors for Eddie Howe, a manager of great tactical intelligence that has managed to succeed as well as he has thanks to the circumstances he has found himself in and, like Eddie Howe, questions will be raised on whether he can replicate his success away from this environment. This concern is perhaps most jarring when considering his failed stint at Stoke City. For now, Luton Town and Nathan Jones make a perfect pairing and the pair will want to exploit this situation for all it’s worth. However, a time may come where they have to part ways again and it is at that point that he may well have to prove his managerial credentials.
The question here is whether Luton Town will return to type against Middlesbrough and, as a result, cause a low scoring game, however that does not appear likely in reflection of their recent form and so there could well be +3 goals in Saturday’s game. While the Hatters will prove to be a dangerous opposition for Middlesbrough, there may well be a large contingent of Boro youngsters that are hoping to stake their claim to a more permanent role in the first team. Adding this to the cohort of loan or players on short term deals and there should be ample motivation within the squad to win a match that really could go either way.
https://footballbh.net/2019/03/25/nathan-jones-stoke-city-luton-town-tactical-analysis/ (Nathan Jones' tactical breakdown)
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/46810017.amp (Nathan Jones appointed as manager of Stoke City)
https://youtu.be/ApWtMC90dwI (Dewsbury-Hall highlights)