It is a strange time to be an R’s fan. In the midst of illustrious form and results brimming in the league table of 2021 (that, is what only matters!) we find ourselves in indirect attendance of 48 games in all competitions this season around. I don’t even want to check my bank balance for the “£10” drawn from my Nationwide app on the activation of a matchday, or see the frozen screens on my TV, or the loading sign spinning precariously…Oh, I’ve missed a goal, all I want, all we want is to be in attendance amongst one another to see LIVE atmospheric football and not the obscure and cringey tones of Nick London at times (Nick, don’t worry, you’re a Rangers Legend too!)
Earlier in the week Todd Kane, representative of AFC Shephard’s Bush has been alleged to have abused Sergi Canos, in reference to nationality or ethnicity. After such an illustrious win last weekend, it feels somewhat of a kick in the teeth. Importantly he represents the club and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that if he was to be found guilty, he should certainly be shown the door (the likelihood, prior to that was similar). Todd has had it hard recently, but due to his own downfall- first the abrupt comments regarding Kakay’s quality- ( Alarm bells ring of him saying out loud “Lovely Jubbly!”) , but now 3 months on from the incident, another sharp slash has pierced through his reputation once again, something which a Scottish Championship side’s right back would never do, especially since his move to Sheffield United as his next career move looms- £13 million bid here we come, Lee Hoos licking his lips at that sight! But to a more touching subject, the departure of Geoff Cameron to his home country, the States. Having successfully served his tenure with dignity, effort and leadership, he really is a true professional and the impact he has had on the side from a Club Captain point of view, indirectly from what happens on the pitch has been a huge upturn in our form amongst the quality we possess. For Clive, (@LoftForWords) he will be relieved that his fact encyclopaedia of jokes comes to an end with Geoff, but I’m sure he had too many left in his locker. (Expect a publishing date soon, at your Waterstones near you…) But from having to fill the seeping holes of Mclaren’s injured squad to becoming a mainstay over the two years under Mark Warburton, at the age of 35 is a big achievement for a true professional. We certainly will not miss his lunging long legged runs, stretching for loose balls and heavy touches, but Captain America departs as a Rangers superhero to some of us, maybe even most of us, for his commitment to the club over three years.
Luton at home, final game. A further ‘dead rubber’ but a final game for a bunch of players. Geoff Cameron, who I mentioned previously subject to fitness is leaving but the most important bunch are the loan players. They have been a breath of fresh air and galvanised a bleak period of a winless 10 game stretch over Christmas. Sam Field is an interesting one, four weeks ago the deal almost looked certain but as reported by West London Sport, he required 12 starts for the deal to be in our hands, something which took a steep decline since the Swansea game, however the deal looks like it will go ahead. De Wijs, the man mountain or as his nickname goes ‘De Fridge’, is an interesting one. Whilst his performances within the side have been superior, it is whether his sick notes are sustainable for a defender to play 35+ games a season, and there will be no need for the club to go out and buy another three centre halves. But whilst Field and De Wijs are both of significance, it is both Charlie Austin and Stefan Johansen that is looming on the lips of several R’s fans. Whilst we would love to have them both, we should not break the boat for them. Stef is a cut above the rest and a joy to watch who I would love to stay, Austin the same, his finishing is so ruthless, so influential, that hopefully if he does not sign has nurtured the likes of Lyndon Dykes, Macaulay Bonne and even Charlie Kelman. Why break the boat? We are adopting the Brentford ‘Moneyball approach’, it has been effective. We sold Eze, Manning, Bright and let go Hugill, Wells and Hall and have become a progressive better side.
Luton last game out was our turning point. Austin, our god like figure, scored on his debut in a 2-0 win. A saviour. How different we look now. Additions to the backline have meant we have kept 15 clean sheets this season, something of huge importance to last season’s frailties. That hopefully does not come down to personnel, but instead the system whereby when/ if these experienced heads depart, we can thrive in the system based on the squads experience with the addition of a further few heads. Dykes the provider come Luton turned sharply (after time) into the prolific Charlie Austin in the side, keeping his superior out of the side for a few games. Arguably, the most crucial part in the system has excelled- the wingbacks, both Kakay and Wallace. Wallace has seen a significant upturn in form and relishes the battle of throwing his ever-ageing body up and down the left channel. Kakay, compliments nicely as the more defensive of the two, a certain good tackler of the ball but has room for improvement on the ball- the antithesis of a modern wingback and someone of the Aaron Wan-Bissaka ilk who can only improve. He is warm, hard working and the kiss of the badge signifies it- something perhaps the true ‘pros’ should look to as a role model.
Our future is exciting that is for sure. Chair, Thomas, Willock and Dickie are hot prospects as the next ‘big sale’ for the club from the economic cries of Hoos whilst Ferdinand for sure will want to maintain the core key players like Dieng whose influence has been illustrious to the side. If a good offer comes in, wed be silly to keep. We can trade our way up the championship like the Barnsley’s, the Norwich’s, the Brentford’s and look to that as wanting to thrive as a sustainable club. Our transfer window will create surprises and mystery on the way, that is a fact, especially for all selling clubs. Our window may be frenetic, it may be a whirlwind but with Warburton at the helm and Belk in recruitment, we are able to trust the process, trust the outcome because these things are in safe hands.
Opposition View- Luton Town
The Manager- Nathan Jones
Having climbed quickly in recent years from League Two to the Championship, Nathan Jones and Luton Town are a club that look to be 12 months ahead of where the Sky Blues want to be. Survival last season was narrow but, off the back of a handful of decent additions in the transfer market and a core of pre-existing players who have gradually risen to the level, Luton have never really been in trouble this season and will look ahead to another year of Championship football targeting further improvement from a top half finish secured on Tuesday night.
Nathan Jones has compromised at times on his preferred, attacking style – especially away from home, where Luton have scored just fifthteen goals in 22 games – but it has afforded the team some breathing room to work on improvements that will stand them in good stead for next year. With a top half finish secured at this point, Luton are likely to be concentrated on returning to the attacking football that got them into this division two seasons ago and will relish the prospect of taking on a team above them in the table.
Who to look out for
The emphasis at Luton under Nathan Jones has been about building a team collective stronger than any individual, but their progress this season has been aided by a handful of stand-out individuals who have raised the bar for the collective. While top-scorer James Collins remains a key player, he has been helped by the presences of players such as Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu in midfield providing stand-out moments that have eased the burden on him to score goals.
Furthermore, the January addition of energetic target-man Elijah Adebayo has further reduced the reliance on Collins and provided hope heading into next season that the team can return to playing regularly with two strikers up top now that they have seemingly found a long-term replacement for stalwart Danny Hylton. Although there still aren’t a lot of goals in this team, there is a greater array of players available to Nathan Jones that can provide match-winning moments.
Defensively, there has also been a collective improvement as a unit that has helped keep Luton away from danger. Most notably, goalkeeper Simon Sluga has almost completely cut-out the errors that characterised his first season at the club and is the kind of keeper that can completely shut up shop when at his best. Centre-backs, Matty Pearson and Sonny Bradley have also gotten better compared to last season, aided by the addition of summer signing, Tom Lockyer- who is out injured.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
With Luton strong in midfield and our starting formation likely to be based around packing that area of the pitch, the individual battles in the middle of the park are likely to be key here. Containing Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu looks set to be the primary concern for a lone Stefan Johansen as a holder as the likelihood is we remain with a strong attacking side, however, there is the risk that we become too focused on shutting down the opposition and fail to support the attack in a meaningful way.
In addition, with the physical threat of Elijah Adebayo as part of a front two for Luton, our back three is likely to have a tougher time of containing Luton’s attack than they did against Stoke City. While the presence of both De Wijs and Dickie in our defence will help in the physical battle, the issue is that if one or two of our centre-backs is occupied by dealing with Adebayo, it leaves space for James Collins and Luton’s midfield to exploit.
Written by Daniel Lambert