It’s funny how much change in a month, isn’t it? Reading’s home match against Luton Town had been arranged for December 18 - set to be a high note for this season with the club celebrating its 150th anniversary - but was postponed. A few weeks later, the mood in Berkshire is markedly more sour after crushing defeats on the pitch and mounting concerns off it.
Beating the Hatters would go a decent way in lifting spirits, but going by the thoughts of Luton fan Matt Storey, that’s easier said than done. Nathan Jones’ side look increasingly secure at Championship level and have recorded some memorable results this season - not least the last-minute win over Bournemouth at the weekend. Matt mentioned that plus where Luton may be heading, the strong and weak areas of this Town side we should look out for, and much more.
How’s your season gone so far overall?
Very well, thank you. Barring a month when we were not at our best between late October and the end of November, it really has been everything Luton fans hoped. We look a dangerous Championship side, capable of mixing it with the best.
Given the players we have and our budget, we need to be at 100% in those games or we get found out. But that is fine. We are Luton and this is the Championship, after all. Stoppage-time equalisers at Blackburn and Bristol City, fantastic wins at Millwall and Blackpool and then Saturday’s euphoria mean there have been no shortage of memorable moments.
In the summer you weren’t certain a play-off push was realistic – could that come onto the horizon or are Luton a mid-table side for the time being?
I would still say it is a step too far this year. It is not impossible and we have plenty of games in hand despite the 10-point gap to sixth. I just think that closing that gap and keeping the pressure on with how busy our fixture list is will be too much. With the likes of Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest coming on strong and sides such as QPR and Blackburn showing no sign of stopping, there are a lot of teams we would have to get past to get there.
What are the main strengths of this Luton team?
Defensively we are very solid. If you looked at the 29 goals conceded, it looks like a mid-range Championship side but I think we are better than that. Eight of those came in two home games against Birmingham (0-5) and Swansea (3-3), which were both freak games really.
We have kept nine clean sheets in 23 games, which is 39% of matches and only Bournemouth, West Brom, Stoke and Birmingham have a better record. Sonny Bradley, Kal Naismith, Reece Burke and Tom Lockyer are all Championship-quality centre halves, while Gabe Osho has done well when called upon too.
Then obviously Elijah Adebayo up front is a real danger for us. We are a more direct side than in previous years with him in the side but he is a handful to any defender. Gary Cahill has won it all but could not cope at the weekend and if your defence is as makeshift as it has been, Adebayo could have a field day. He will be our record sale of £10million plus when he does move on.
Any weaknesses Reading can get at?
I think both our wing-backs can be put under pressure defensively. James Bree has come on leaps and bounds this season and is definitely the more reliable of the two. Fans do get on his back a bit too easily for my liking and that is because sometimes he switches off. On the other side Amari’i Bell started the season very well, yet has dropped off more in recent weeks. He was definitely the weak point at the weekend with both goals coming from crosses from the left.
The centre of midfield can blow really hot and cold too. I’m not entirely sure the reason for it, in all honesty. But there have been games when we have just been overrun in that area. If you manage to do that and force us to go long the entire game, frustration builds.
What do you make of Reading?
I can’t say I have seen a lot of you this season so commenting on performances would be wrong. But it just looks a complete mess both on and off the pitch. I have a lot of sympathy for supporters when clubs are seemingly so poorly run and they’re the ones made to pay. I hope that whatever happens for the rest of the campaign, the ownership and financial situation is sorted. It might not be what Royals fans want to hear, but Luton are proof that sometimes going down can prove a catapult for far better things.
How do you expect Luton to set up?
I would be very surprised if we do not play a 5-3-2, unless Reece Burke is unable to play after limping off and that forces us to play a four. Bree and Bell on each wing with Bradley, the superb Naismith and Burke at the back.
The midfield three changes fairly regularly but unless Allan Campbell’s hamstring problem keeps him out, I’d imagine the Scot, Jordan Clark and Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu all keep their spots after Bournemouth.
Up front will be Adebayo and probably Cameron Jerome. Fred Onyedinma and Carlos Mendes-Gomes are the other options with Admiral Muskwe at AFCON and Harry Cornick out since November. That is a big ask for 35-year-old Jerome to play back-to-back games after limited football though.
How will the game go and what will the score be?
Would I be a football fan if I didn’t fear it’d be a bit ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ for Luton? Saturday’s game was probably the best at The Kenny since a famous 3-2 win over Portsmouth in our League One promotion season. After highs like that, teams often do not back it up. Plus you have been our league bogey side since we returned to this level. I’d be disappointed with a draw but my head says it ends up 1-1 or 2-2.