Kal Naismith. He’s played every position from goalkeeper to centre-forward throughout his career, but the Scotsman has found a home in Luton’s back three that has provided the foundations for Luton’s recent strong run of form.
Joining during last season’s January transfer window as Luton responded to the recall of Sheffield United’s Rhys Norrington-Davies, Naismith’s signing was not greeted with the usual glee that one would expect. Even manager Nathan Jones admitted that signing the ex-Wigan man raised a few eyebrows at the club:
“He’s not what we go for…we go for young, hungry ones who we believe are on their way up, but I’ve watched Kal and he’s hungry”.
That hunger has translated into some of the most complete central defensive performances seen at Kenilworth Road in recent years. Not only does Naismith perform his defensive duties with aplomb, switching between the middle and left of a back three, it’s his composure on the ball and the ease with which he carries it forwards that catches the eye and makes him such a crucial cog in Nathan Jones’ machinery.
His winner against Bournemouth will be forever etched in the memories of Town fans, showing composure and technique that almost made a mockery of the intensity and emotion of the previous 97 minutes. But it was his role in Luton’s second goal that best summed up where he has contributed most for the Hatters this season.
Receiving the ball under pressure deep inside his own half, ‘Kaldini’ dropped his shoulder to jinx his way past Bournemouth’s high pressing front line, carrying the ball forwards before threading a delicate line breaking pass into fellow Scotsman Alan Campbell, who drove forwards and fired home from outside the box.
It’s that ball-carrying ability from deep that is so rare but crucial that makes Naismith so valuable to the Hatters. Within Luton’s overall style of play which is to be direct into athletic front players who can chase and earn territory, having Naismith as someone who can carry the ball through an opposition’s press adds another crucially important dimension to Luton’s forward play. He adds something that most teams with Luton’s lack of financial clout at this level simply don’t have.
With this quality comes an air of leadership. Not just in the traditional sense of a vocal motivator, but a technical leader who players can trust and look towards when in the heat of battle that imbues calm and patience to everyone around him, even the fans.
All of this comes from what was at the time a relatively low-key January signing made in response to a January loan recall. As Naismith stepped out in Luton colours for the first time against Bournemouth in January 2021 as a second-half substitute, coming on as a left-winger, nobody could’ve imagined the impact and transformative effect that the Scotsman would have had after just a year at the club.