The World Cup in Qatar has noisily crept up on us, and the first half of the 2022/23 Championship season has come to an end. It has been a condensed, frenetic and injury plagued season so far. With not only the Hatters experiencing a pile up of injuries, with most squads now happy to sit back with a month long break to get players back to fitness. Most notably Sheffield United have reported 10 first team players are currently injured. Both Wigan and Luton will benefit greatly from this winter break, with both teams looking to bring in Managers who can use this break as a pre season with their players.
Before the first ball was kicked, I wrote a comprehensive pre-season report on r/soccer about what my expectations were for the coming season for Luton Town. I predicted a top 8 finish for the Hatters, with a little play off flirtation on the cards. Now we are at the enforced halfway point, having played 21 games, still with 2 teams to play (recently Carrick-ified Middlesbrough, and fellow “in the play-off mixer” Millwall), before we reach our true halfway point for the season.
July – August – P8 W2 D3 L2 (+1L in EFL Cup)
We ended our Birmingham hoodoo, which saw us concede 8 without reply last season, with a 0-0 stalemate. Birmingham looked a much better team this season, although that does take into account they lined up with 4 Premier League loanees, with Austin Trusty impressing as well as John Ruddy who was an astute free agent signing from John Eustace. We followed this with a hard fought 1-1 against Burnley, where we took the lead, before Josh Brownhill levelled. We saw a quick exit from the EFL Cup losing 3-2 to Newport, after leading twice, before a Matt Macey disasterclass sealed the victory for the League 2 side. This was followed by a 1-0 loss to Preston, where Erling Haaland’s cousin Brad Potts scored a fantastic volley, in a game we should have picked something up from with our 18 shots. The Luton Town team coach then travelled to Bristol, but left the team back at Luton, well it may as well have, as we rolled over for Bristol City, losing 2-0, with Kal Naismith and the best manager in the league Big Nige, revelling in getting one over on the mighty Hatters.
This was a packed month, and finally Luton Town grabbed their first 3 points of the season, with a well earned 2-0 victory over Swansea, with Morris giving us a taste of what to expect from him, seeing his quick feet and top class finishing. Next up, Sheffield United visited the Kenny where we certainly did enough to win, but McBurnie scored after Sander Berger won a corner with some good offside work. The final game from the hectic month saw the Hatters travel to Wales for the second time, and beat Cardiff 2-1.
September P4 W2 D1 L1
We kicked off September by welcoming Wigan to the Kenny, and after a rather unspectacular 80 minutes, where Morris scored and we managed to keep Wigan at an arms length, we completely self destructed. Lockyer scored a scrappy own goal, before Aasgaard added a second with a brilliant effort from outside the box. We then saw an entertaining game at the Kenny with Coventry, who were at that point bottom of the league, Morris notching a brace, Gyokeres running through our defence and Hamer scoring a wonderful long range effort. We followed this back to back 2-0 victories against Blackburn, giving us our first home victory of the season, and Hull away, who had sacked their manager the morning of the game.
October P6 W2 D3 L1
We kicked off October with 2 draws. Firstly an entertaining but frustrating 3-3 with Huddersfield, where we dominated, but conceded 3 goals as a result of Sorba Thomas’ sublime corner delivery. We scored 2 own goals, and gave away a penalty after a hand ball, fortunately, we saw Adebayo notch his first two goals of the season. The second draw came at WBA, which was a game that also happened. We got the job Dunne against QPR, with an exciting 3-1 win, where we were winning 2-0 until the 90th minute, with QPR pegging us back to 2-1 in the 91st minute, before Freeman sealed the 3 points against his former club with a 93rd minute effort. The Hatters travelled to East Anglia and returned with the three points, with Morris grabbing a fine solo goal against his former team. Then the team bus left the squad behind again, when it travelled to Vicarage Road. Watford were awarded a 4-0 victory as a forfeit. We closed the month up with a 1-1 draw against Sunderland at the Kenny.
November – P4 W1 D2 L1
We started losing momentum in November, with injuries starting to take their toll. We kicked off November with a 0-0 draw against Reading, which was like watching tennis at Wimbledon, with the ball getting pinged from end to end, with the respective target men being Andy Carroll and Elijah Adebayo. Unfortunately Sonny Bradley was stretchered off with a nasty looking injury, fortunately it wasn’t as serious as first thought, and we may see him play in the second half of the season. Then came a hard battled 1-0 win against Blackpool, with some heroic defending on display, most notably from Tom Lockyer, who may have sealed his spot with the Wales national team after that performance. Then came the last match under the leadership of Nathan Jones, ironically it was a 2-0 loss at Stoke, meaning the Stoke fans got the last laugh before Jones moved onto manage Southampton. At least they had something to laugh about, I wouldn’t be laughing if I had to watch Stoke play every week. We battered them, but alas we were unable to give Jones the send off he deserved. Mick Harford took over Luton for the last game before the winter break, with a 1-1 draw against Rotherham. It was great seeing Mick again on the touchline, stepping up again during our time of need, especially as he continues his battle with prostate cancer.
Underlying stats for the first half of the season
Overall Played 21 – Won 7 – Drawn 9 – Lost 5 – Scored 23 – Conceded 22 – Points 30 – 1.4 ppg
Played 11 – Won 2 – Drawn 7 – Lost 2 – Scored 14 – Conceded 12 – Points 13 – 1.2 ppg
Played 10 – Won 5 – Drawn 2 – Lost 3 – Scored 9 – Conceded 10 – Points 17 – 1.7 ppg
Chance creation and Goal scoring Big chances created – 28 (5th in the league = good)
Total goals scored – 23 (joint 19th fewest in the league = bad) Goals scored per match – 1.1 (joint 16th fewest in the league = bad)
Total Expected Goals (xG) – 24.5 (11th in the league = mediocre)
Goal scoring conclusion
Although we are creating a good amount of chances in the league, this is not reflected by how many goals we are scoring, as of course you are not going to put away every big chance you carve out, and goals can be scored without needing a big chance. Opta define a big chance as “a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one on one scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal, with low to moderate pressure on the shooter”. In addition to this, Luton Town’s xG is comfortably midtable, and we have scored the same amount of goals that have been expected of us. Something that has been noticed is the hesitance from our players to take a shot from outside the box, according to Whoscored, we attempt 3.9 shots per game outside the box (15th most), with 7.6 shots per game inside the penalty area (6th most). Of these shots inside the penalty area 1.3 per game are inside the 6 yard box (4th most), so to paraphrase the IT crowd, the thing about Luton is, they always try to walk it in.
Defending and goals conceded
Total goals conceded – 22 (joint 4th fewest in the league = good)
Goals conceded per match – 1.0 (joint 5th fewest in the league = good)
Clean sheets – 8 (joint 4th = good)
Total Expected Goals conceded (xG conceded) – 20.4 (22nd in the league)
Goal prevention conclusion
Defensively, we are sound, with the odd exception of losing 4-0 to that lot up the road. Surprisingly though our good defensive record, is not reflected by our 14.5 tackles per game (19th in the league), or 10 interceptions per game (11th), but through our out of possession structure, we are disciplined and we do not faff about at the back with the ball, as shown by our 22 clearances per game (2nd most in the league). We are very good at disrupting play in the middle of the park, as shown by our blocked passes number (162 total – 6th best), but our blocked cross success is amongst the lowest in the league, having only blocked 27 crosses, and as shown by the game against Stoke, we can be vulnerable from crosses, especially with the centre back injury crisis we have experienced.
Overall conclusion of the season so far
Considering losing 13 points from winning positions so far this season, Nathan Jones has left us in a good position. We are established as a Championship side, we have recruited well with forwards who will yield a lot of value, as well as youth who will step up when given a chance in the first team.
If we are to push on to solidify our position in the top half of the table and even flirt with the playoffs, it’s a case of holding onto leads, carving out more chances from open play, finding more goals from midfield, and having Elijah Adebayo flying out the traps for the second half of the season, as he has struggled this season, specifically at the beginning of the season, and has only scored 3 goals. Morris has gone off the boil the last few games, most notably missing very good chances against Stoke and Rotherham, although, I predict a big second half of the season for him.
Overall, new manager, new ideas, all the scouting reports and analysis our opponents have on us are going out the window. Providing the new manager has a good mid season “pre season” with the squad, we could storm out the blocks in the last 4 games before the January transfer window opens.