Late Winners at the KCOM
This article featured in the official Luton Town matchday programme for the game against Hull City (23/10/21), in the 'Dylan's Diary' column.
The date is the 18th of July 2020. The place is the KCOM Stadium. Luton sit second from bottom in the Championship with two games to play, level on points with opponents Hull City and Wigan Athletic who occupy the two places above them.
The stage is set for a defining game in the 2019/20 season, a defining game in both club’s immediate futures.
The Tigers create some early chances before Luton take control of proceedings. Glen Rea’s flicked header sails agonizingly over the bar. Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu’s curling effort flashes past the post and so does substitute Danny Hylton’s.
Have the Hatters blown their chances? Will Luton go into a lottery of a final day level on points with four other clubs who all occupy the bottom four places?
Up steps Kazenga LuaLua, picking up possession on the right before driving inside and smashing home left footed from twenty-five yards, cueing wild celebrations amongst the Luton Town players and staff to seal a crucial three points in the fight for survival.
The Hatters would go on to beat Blackburn Rovers 3-2 four days later to seal a memorable great escape after earning sixteen points from nine games after the return of football.
And today, Nathan Jones’s players meet Grant McCann’s Hull for the first time since that adrenaline filled late victory that summed up the emotion of football, albeit this time fans will be able to watch from their seats, not sofas.
So often in football there’s talk of ‘long-termism’ – plans that look years into the future that dictate the everyday present workings of a football club. These plans are of course crucially important in steering a football club in the right direction, and Hatters fans will be the first to recognise this after the amazing work that 2020 has done since rescuing the club from the brink of extinction.
But days like that in July 2020 show that long-term term plans are only as good as the actions of those in the present, because building success in the long term is entirely reliant on the foundations put in place in the short term.
Kazenga LuaLua’s late winner that day in Hull was potentially a watershed moment in the recent history of Luton Town. The long-term plans enacted since the start of last season which the Town are slowly working their way towards have been possible because of that single moment of quality to earn his team three points.
The Hatters are setting themselves up for success that can last for years to come, but that success will always be built on the actions and efforts of those in the present moment.