Luton Town: The underdogs performing against the odds

Due to many moving parts during the summer transfer window and last season’s unpredictability, there were very few certainties of what the 2023-24 Premier League campaign would behold. Early-season predictions varied, but the general consensus included Luton Town’s inevitable relegation. 

The write-off by many was neither naive nor condescending but rather more of a rational stance considering the significant financial disparity between Luton and its contenders. If anything, fans appreciated their success in making it to the top division and hoped the best for the club.

To many fans’ pleasant surprise, the underdogs from Bedfordshire are putting up a courageous fight to survive in the Premier League for another season against all the odds.

The Come Up: Luton Town’s journey through the years

Luton’s history books do not entail plenty of silverware and senior division success. After the inception of the Premier League in 1992, the club muddled through two decades of struggle from the fifth tier of English football – the National League – then referred to as the Conference Premier.

Under the guidance of John Still, Luton climbed out of the Conference Premier after spending five years in the league. Nathan Jones took over the helm after Still moved on, leading the club to another promotion after a second-place finish in League Two.

Jones’s success caught the attention of Stoke City in 2019, who snatched the Welshman away mid-season. However, Luton’s momentum remained as they lifted the League One title under Mick Harford.

The following years in the Championship underpinned steady progress, especially after Nathan Jones returned to the helm after a substandard short tenure of Graeme Jones. The young Welsh coach established an identity at Luton over two seasons and developed the club’s status from relegation prospect to playoff contender in the Championship. Jones was pinched once more by Premier League team Southampton, but yet again, Luton’s managerial appointment of Rob Edwards was on the money.

Edwards pushed Luton to a third-place finish, missing out on direct promotion. However, after a rollercoaster semifinal victory over Sunderland and a nail-biting penalty shootout win against Coventry, Luton finally made it back to the promise land.

Their journey from the depths of the fifth tier to the first division of English football showcased unwavering belief, courage, and ambition, balanced with sustainable financial spending and sensible management.

Some felt they looked out of place in the Premier League and that the financial might of the rest might swallow Luton. Little did those realize that the club always fought that notion, and over the years, overcoming mountainous challenges was a motto forged in the club’s DNA.

Rob Edwards’ Principles: Pressing intensity, organization, and resilience

In Edwards’ appearance on The Coaches’ Voice, his tactical principles seem nurtured under three key principles: intensive pressing, out-of-possession organization, and mental resilience. The general focus on off-ball work, coupled with an attitude symbolizing courage and belief, has remained a theme since Luton’s days in the Championship and has translated into the Premier League, aiding in their push for relegation survival.

Championship teams that follow a possession-based approach often struggle to replicate the same in the Premier League, with Burnley being a good example this season.

Vincent Kompany’s stellar team accrued over 100 points in the Championship, averaging 64% in possession over the season. However, this style has not perpetuated after promotion, with the team only averaging 46% possession while finding themselves close to the 20th position where Sheffield United lies – who also earned automatic promotion last season.

On the other hand, Luton averaged the seventh-lowest possession (46.2%) in the Championship last campaign while ranking fourth-lowest in the ongoing season with 40.5%. Their familiarity with not dominating possession has helped the team to cope with the new league, thereby conceding fewer goals than the other promoted teams.

An important caveat is the performance of Luton’s goalkeeper, Thomas Kaminski, who has endured a terrific season between the posts. He has prevented more goals than most goalkeepers in the Premier League according to the ‘post-shot xG’ model.

Furthermore, their effective off-ball tactical principles have opened space for counter-attacks, which the team has efficiently exploited – generating more chances than Burnley and Sheffield, who are becoming slowly accustomed, once again, to attacking on the transition.

Surviving relegation is a genuine possibility

Their tenacious style has yielded many memorable games this season, including a 1-1 draw against Jürgen Klopp’s high-flying Liverpool, marginal losses to Arsenal, Manchester City, and Chelsea, an entertaining 4-4 draw away against Newcastle United – having beaten them 1-0 at home earlier. They have also earned hard-earned victories over Crystal Palace, Everton, and a 4-0 thrashing of Brighton.

Although Luton floats in and out of the relegation zone, they are within arm’s length of 15th place. With more potential point deductions coming in the way of Everton and Nottingham Forest, Luton’s position in the Premier League might be secure, considering that one of, if not both Burnley and Sheffield will also not make it out.

Nevertheless, Luton has shown plenty of signs of why they deserve a place in the Premier League next season, with Edwards epitomizing their underdog DNA. It is rare for fans to root for a relegation-fighting team collectively, but in this case, everyone wholeheartedly supports Luton’s mission of achieving what once seemed impossible.

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