(Photo: Action Images via Reuters)
By Alex Beard
If any Football League team made more of a statement than Luton Town in their win over Stevenage this weekend please name them now.
Quite right of course. The Hatters turned up at Kenilworth Road on Saturday and decided to put down a marker for their League Two counterparts in the most dominant way possible.
Their subsequent 7-1 thrashing of neighbours Stevenage will surely have put the division on notice: this Luton side is for real and hell-bent on gaining promotion.
This wasn’t a bad Boro side they beat at the weekend, in fact it was a rather good one. Back-to-back defeats have taken the shine off their promising start to the season, but before that they’d won their last three games and were looking good under Darren Sarll – they’re still ninth in the table.
The Hatters, on the other hand, are in third and, alongside fifth place Wycombe Wanderers, they boast the joint best record of any League Two team over their last five games.
Saturday’s win was merely the latest in an increasingly polished set of performances by Nathan Jones’ men – but if their other recent win’s have been polished, this victory was positively gleaming.
Luke Berry’s hat-trick, his first league goals for the club since they coaxed him from Cambridge this summer, will rightly have stolen the headlines, but this was a frighteningly good team performance that shared more than a few similarities with Manchester City’s display against Stoke City on the same day.
Two more goals for Danny Hylton, bringing his season total up to seven were welcome – especially on the rare day when Hylton’s strike partner James Collins didn’t find the back of the net. Both men have been key to Luton’s formidable start to the campaign.
Late goals from James Justin and Luke Gambin were a nice boost to the club’s goal difference, but in truth Stevenage had long since capitulated in their worst performance for some time.
Luton can do that to you, however, as Accrington Stanley, Newport County and the aforementioned Wycombe have all found out this past month.
In his first full-time managerial position Nathan Jones is making it look easy. Having guided Luton away from relegation trouble when he was appointed in January 2016, he secured a fourth place finish last time out – only for his team to fall in their play-off semi-final to eventual play-off winners Blackpool.
The 44-year-old is proving himself to be one of the most ambitious and astute managers in the division, taking on and getting the better of veterans like Paul Tisdale, Gareth Ainsworth and Gary Johnson on a regular basis.
Money was made readily available to him this summer, that’s one of the reasons they were able to keep the dynamic Berry in the division, but he has used it wisely. Collins and Jack Stacey in particular have been extremely smart additions.
There seems to be genuine strength in depth at Kenilworth Road, something the club will need if they’re to maintain their promotion charge over the long League Two season. Goalkeeper Marek Stech is backed up by summer signing James Shea, while former West Ham and Barnsley striker Elliot Lee waits in the wings for his chance up front.
With a young, hungry manager and an inspirational captain in Scott Cuthbert, not to mention one of the division’s most well-balanced squads, you’d be hard pressed to find someone betting against the Hatters’ promotion chances this season.