The Next Five: How important is Luton's next five for play-off push
It feels like 45 seconds ago that we were seeing 1,500 inflatable haddocks at Kenilworth Road when Grimsby Town embarrased Rob Edwards' Hatters and took us to a replay in the fourth round in the FA Cup. And yet, now we are on the doorstep of the first international break of 2023 and the beginning of the UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifiers in Germany next Summer, where we can only hope to see more Luton names being called up for their country.
But between now and then are three big leagues games, with two bigger ones immediately on the other side of the pause in domestic action. As we get into the crunch games which will become pivotal as to how Luton Town will finish the 2022/2023 season, we look at what we can expect out of the games ahead.
First up is a big away day to Bramall Lane to second placed Sheffield United. After their 1-0 win away at Reading during the week they hold a seven point gap ahead of third place Middlesbrough, and ten point gap to us, as they continue their surge for Automatic Promotion back to the Premier League. However, if you ask any Luton Town fan they will tell you about the belief and passion that we have going into any big game against higher opposition.
Many will argue we were unfortunate to not come away with anything from our 1-0 defeat to Vincent Kompany's Burnley when they visited us recently, whilst we could have easily taken all three points from fellow Play-off contenders Millwall in our 2-2 draw. A big three points for Rob Edwards' side would not only be a big step to securing the play-offs, but also would not take the late push of a top two finish out of the conversation entirely.
After Saturday will see Nigel Pearson's Bristol City visit Kenilworth Road in what is guaranteed to be a frosty evening for Kal Naismith's return to Luton since his controversial move during last summer's transfer window. With Harry Cornick now joining the side during the January window, both will have mixed feelings coming back to the hallowed turf, as the mid table Robins take us on under the lights.
The final game before the pause is the long away trip to the Stadium of Light next Saturday (18th March) as we face Sunderland, who are far from out of a push to a play-off spot. The Black Cats have always been a bogey side for Luton, with the last three games all finishing 1-1, with the last away day ending with both sides having ten men on the pitch. You would think though that, should we be coming into this game with 4 to 6 out of six maximum, points, all confidence will be with Luton to come away with points in this game.
If you then step back and look at where that might leave us, taking seven points from the next three would take us up to 64 points, just nine points away from last seasons points total which secured us the play-off berth. However, you won't need telling what would then lie ahead after the International Break is over, as we host Watford on the 1st of April before visiting the Den to take on Millwall on Good Friday in front of Sky cameras. After that club down the road sacked Slaven Bilić this week and brought in former Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder, many will consider that a clear sign of weakness from the side as they come down to visit us in front of the sold out Kenilworth faithful for the first time since January 2006.
Finally, a trip to Millwall on Good Friday after the performance we put on against them at home last week will fill Rob Edwards they can go on to match if not better that 90 minute display to get more than just a point against The Lions. It's hard to forecast up to this point where Luton could be depending on what occurs in the previous four that we have spoken about, but when we get to kick-off the picture for the final push to the end of the Season will be crystal clear as to what the Hatters need to do and what we can accomplish.
The Sky Bet Championship is without a doubt the best league in the world, but nobody can predict the twists and turns that are to come as the end of the season draws nearer, and Luton's hopes for another play-off run slowly becomes more of a reality as games go by.