Investigating the squad depth at Luton Town
The first 12 days of January have been relatively quiet. Rumours surrounding a loan approach for Elliot Anderson popped up and then got quashed quickly by Eddie Howe claiming that Anderson is part of his first team squad and will not be leaving. Other than that there have been no fresh rumours of incoming transfers, the last rumours to circulate were in early December linking Regan Poole of Lincoln and Ryan Porteous of Hibernian. There has been no news on Poole since and it appears that Porteous may be turning up in Hertfordshire, with a connecting flight from Trieste Airport (the closest airport to Udinese). Both of these defenders would be solid additions to our backline, which is starting to look better now that Reece Burke has made his return following a 3 month injury layoff. But the fact remains that our backline remains fragile and lacks the depth seen elsewhere on the pitch. We currently have 23 registered players, which excludes our U21 players from the development squad that have seen minutes, such as Louie Watson, and those that have been named on the bench; Casey Pettit, Zack Nelson and Jayden Luker. This means we have 2 spaces left in our Championship squad. We are all unaware about how Glen Rea and James Shea are getting on with recovering from their serious knee injuries, it's likely they are still training solo, and therefore unlikely to be making the squad for the second half of the season. However this brings me onto my first concern. The goalkeeper issue
We currently have three goalkeepers that are registered in our 23 man squad, with James Shea some way from returning. Although we have an option on Horvath, he is reportedly on big wages at Nottingham Forest, and would need to take a significant pay cut if we were to exercise that option and tempt him to stay at the Kenny permanently. Isted was re-signed after being released by Luton to provide cover in goal, he now finds himself as second choice goalkeeper, it is rumoured that he signed a short term extension and this will expire at the end of the season. We then have Matt Macey, who after his solo Luton match against Newport in the league cup, has been deemed surplus to requirements. Therefore the recruitment team have a job on their hands to rebuild the goalkeepers union for the start of the new season.
Defensive depth? As shown in the squad depth graphic, there are least two options for every outfield position, with the exception of defence. Multiple players able to play in different positions, as well as having U21 players who are exempt from registration that can step into the starting XI providing there is a severe injury crisis. However with the exception of Josh Williams, who is a full back, we are lacking developmental back up, and are reliant on both Bell and Bree to fill in at the wide centre back positions. As well as Bell and Bree have performed when required to fill in at the wide centre back positions it does leave us open should the opposition decide to target these players with aerial bombardment. Most importantly we lose their potency as attacking outlets, examples of this being Bell's late run into the box for his goal vs Huddersfield and his cross for the Morris goal vs Sheffield United. In Bree, Luton Town have one of the top right wing backs in the Championship, as shown by his 58 created chances (2nd in the league), 12 big chances created (2nd in the league) and 3 assists which are incredible numbers considering he has played so many games from right centre back. In the wing back positions, which have proven to be very important in the early Rob Edwards era, we have seen Doughty playing left wing back and right wing back. This is because we have been juggling the defensive issues (discussed above) where either Bell, Bree, or both have needed to fall back into the back 3. With Onyedinma continually experiencing hamstring issues, we must be wary of Doughty getting overworked, we already saw him needing to be substituted against Huddersfield after experiencing cramp. We were fortunate that this was the first game in 10 where we had a defender on the bench, therefore it was a simple enough reshuffle, pushing Bree back to his preferred right wing back, and Burke slotting in at right centre back. However, until actual defensive cover is brought in, it will have a knock on effect in both the wing back positions. We currently have a nailed on first choice back 3 in Potts, Lockyer and Burke, with Osho as a capable understudy and Bradley out for an undisclosed length of time. This means we are in a fragile situation, injuries or illness can pop up at anytime, and then it's a case of square pegs in round holes again.
Midfield is great and filled with prospects
Fortunately we are pretty well stacked in the middle of the park with plenty of options, even with Lansbury struggling with injury and Berry seemingly not up to match fitness with persistent injuries. The absence of Lansbury and fixture pileup have seen the emergence of Louie Watson, who impressed against Huddersfield before dazzling fans against Wigan in the FA Cup. We may see a League 2 or National League loan this month for Casey Pettit due to the large amount of players in front of him in the midfield spots, although with a mini fixture pileup coming, including playing Wigan twice in two days, it would be advisable to perhaps give him some minutes and see if he can mix it with Championship players. A big question is what do we do with Elliot Thorpe, he has made 2 appearances for Luton prior to going on loan and since he has returned after making 5 appearances (totalling 114 minutes), he is now unable to play for another club this season. Does Thorpe stick around with a hope of grabbing some first team minutes? Or will he play some games for the development squad and sit on our bench? In the interest of keeping players fresh for the league campaign, it wouldn't be a ridiculous statement from Rob Edwards, to try out a midfield 3 of Pettit, Thorpe and Watson/Berry for the FA Cup, in order to keep our first choice midfield 3 of Pelly, Clark and Campbell completely fresh for the league match 4 days later. To summarise, we are pretty stacked in the middle of the park.
Good things are coming upfront
Upfront, it's important that all fans get behind Adebayo, because he and Morris are very much our first choice strikers, and are a devastating strike partnership waiting to happen. Fortunately we have Cornick and Jerome available as able back ups, with Woodrow also able to play as a striker and a central attacking midfielder. Fortunately both Cornick and Woodrow are off the mark for the season, so we can all hope they fill their boots! If Rob Edwards feels the need to register additional fire power in the squad, we have options out on loan, with Mendes Gomes impressing at Fleetwood. Although Muskwe and McAtee should stay put to continue their development at Fleetwood and Grimsby, respectively. It may be worth recalling Bim Pepple and perhaps give him a loan in the National League system, as he is so young, and one can imagine the step from Canadian football to English football is a very large one.
Players out of contract
Although we keep out contract information private, there have been reports that Isted (discussed above), Osho, Berry and Jerome are out of contract at the end of the season. Gabe Osho has split supporter opinion, but it's important to remember he is still young and full of potential, he has shown glimpses of what he can do this season, I would back him to either have an extension triggered or to be offered a new contract. Luke Berry is a tricky situation, because although he has given so much to the club, and when he plays he offers those magic moments where he ghosts into the box to score crucial goals, he hasn't been featuring much this season, it's apparent that he struggled with an injury last season, but it seems he carried it into this season too. Rob Edwards didn't bring him to the club, therefore will have no loyalty to Berry. Cameron Jerome at 36 can't have much left in his legs surely? Well yes he does, he's now a full international with Granada and has shown on the pitch he has no interest in slowing down. It also can't be underestimated the parental role he has within the squad with the experience he can pass onto the younger team members.
In conclusion, two central defenders isn't asking for too much is it? Preferably one on loan from the Premier League and a gem from League 1, to ease the burden on the rest of the defensive line. Regarding the goalkeeper issues that will arise at the end of the season, I am sure the club have it in hand.