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EFL Team in Focus: hats off to Luton Town

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Luton Town recorded a striking 3-0 win over Bristol City at the weekend, in a performance that manager Graeme Jones described as “the exhibition, the evidence of four months’ work”.

How have Luton created that work of art? Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) analyses their progress.

Shea for Sluga

Simon Sluga signed from HNK Rijeka in the summer for Luton’s record transfer fee of £1.29 million.

It may be that the Croat has not quite been able to deal with the pressure, with some error-strewn displays in his first 11 appearances.

James Shea might not be the goalkeeper that Graeme Jones wants long-term and some would question whether he will ever perform to a high standard in the top half of the Championship.

The former AFC Wimbledon stopper was, though, a steady enough performer in League One last term and Luton were at the stage where they needed someone they could rely on for a safe pair of hands.

Solidity of Bradley and Pearson

Sonny Bradley and Matty Pearson have certainly earnt their opportunities at Championship level, having been very consistent in the lower leagues.

Bradley scored seven league goals in Plymouth Argyle’s 2016-17 promotion campaign and faired well in League One for them, then Luton, due to his impressive aerial prowess.

Pearson, meanwhile, was a hard, aggressive centre-back in League Two with Accrington Stanley.

While Jones wants centre-backs who can be comfortable in possession, he also needs them to be able to do the basics and both Bradley and Pearson do that.

Mpanzu freed up

On the opening night, when Luton drew 3-3 at home to Middlesbrough, it was clear that Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu was not the perfect option in the holding role in Graeme Jones’ diamond.

Mpanzu does not quite have the athleticism he possessed in Luton’s 2013-14 National League title-winning side, but the spontaneous, impulsive nature of his game is still there.

Mpanzu will challenge for a ball that might not be his or try a pass that might not be on.

Those tendencies can be very useful in certain roles, as we saw in the win over Bristol City, in which he scored a sublime opener.

As a holding midfielder though, any negative consequences of the risks Mpanzu takes will be more keenly felt by the defence.

It is, therefore, a huge plus for Luton to have Martin Cranie back fit to take on the holding role.

Cranie, a centre-back by trade, can plug gaps, remain defensively alert and sometimes even slot to the right of the defence to form a temporary back three, allowing Bolton to push up.

Bolton’s thrust

Luke Bolton replaced James Bree at half-time for the Hatters on Saturday and made a difference; the team scored all three goals after that substitution.

The versatile right-sided player did not do particularly well at Wycombe Wanderers, who like to cross from deep and that might have been something of a culture shock for him last season.

Bolton does seem to be doing well in the division above though with Luton; he brings pace, direct running and impressive crossing ability to the table.

Tunnicliffe’s tenacity

Ryan Tunnicliffe can consider himself unlucky to have been released in the summer by Millwall, having been arguably among the Lions’ better players in the second half of last season.

Tunnicliffe, a one-time academy graduate at Manchester United, brings energy, dynamism and tenacity to Luton’s midfield.

The 26-year-old breaks up play superbly but also makes driving runs to contribute going forward.

Izzy heights for Brown

Izzy Brown was a hugely influential player when Huddersfield Town won promotion from this level via the Play-Offs in 2016-17.

Since then, the attacking midfielder has not quite been able to kick on his career in the way that he might have hoped, with limited individual success in loan spells from Chelsea at Brighton and Leeds in the last two seasons.

Brown though was competing with Pascal Gross at Brighton, then the likes of Mateusz Klich, Tyler Roberts and Pablo Hernandez at Leeds, whereas at Luton he has found it easier to establish himself with a clear run of games.

The 24-year-old provides energy, good movement, creativity and quality between the lines.

Cornick and Collins combo

Anyone who remembers Luton’s League Two promotion in 2017-18 will remember the strike-pairing of James Collins and Danny Hylton.

In League One last term, various factors including Hylton’s injuries meant that the duo rarely started simultaneously.

With Harry Cornick up top next to Collins, they have somebody who makes a lot of selfless runs – individually, Cornick only touched the ball 17 times in 88 minutes against Bristol City.

He will at times drift away from the general direction of play and find an area where there is more space, so he can stretch the pitch; it has been key for Luton to have one of their front two doing that in a narrow, diamond system.