Luton come into Saturday’s clash with Plymouth Argyle having picked up 32 points out of a potential 36 in their last 12 home league games, winning 10 and drawing two. In stark contrast, the Pilgrims will be looking to bounce back from a 2-0 defeat to Sunderland after previously impressing with back-to-back wins over Gillingham and Scunthorpe.
Sonny Bradley looks likely to partner Matt Pearson in central defence as he faces his former side for the first time since he left in the summer after failing to agree on a new deal with the Pilgrims.
Defender Dan Potts and goalkeeper Marek Stech will be pushing for recalls to the starting line-up after both recovering from injury. Potts started the opening 14 matches of the campaign before suffering a groin injury against Walsall last month. However the game comes a bit too soon for influential midfielder Luke Berry.
Top scorer Danny Hylton will also miss out for the Hatters through suspension. The 29-year-old was sent off in the 0-0 draw with Rochdale at the beginning of the month and as a result will be completing the final game of his three match ban.
In the absence of Hylton, Harry Cornick should continue to partner Danny Collins up front in Luton’s 4-3-1-2 diamond formation.
Stacey, Bradley, Pearson, Potts
Ruddock, Rea, Shinnie
Style of Play
Because of the absence of wingers in their 4-3-1-2 formation, Nathan Jones’ side are more technically skilled and possession-orientated. Their midfield quartet of Ruddock, Rea, Shinnie and Lee – alongside several impressive back-ups – are all precise with the ball but make surging runs into the opposition final third, with the accompished Shinnie in particular impressing, registering two goals and two assists in his past four matches.
Though Luton line-up with no official wingers, the diamond midfield drift across the pitch to target the spaces between full-back and centre-back, and midfield and defence, distorting the team’s defensive shape with their passing and movement. The Shinnie and Elliot Lee in particular support one another in build-up play as they are consistently the most advanced of the quartet, finding spaces on the edge of the area to either create or dispatch a shooting opportunity.
The quartet have been absolutely pivotal to Town’s fantastic start to life in League One. This following highlight – involving Ruddock, Lee and Shinnie, who made the final pass – demonstrates the movement and precision passing of the quartet.
Their movement has ensured that Luton are not short of options once they reach the final third of the pitch, and this has helped the team spread the goals evenly among them. Whilst Danny Hylton and Elliot Lee boast five goals apiece for the Hatters, they have a steady flow of goals throughout the squad with 12 different players contributing to their 27 league goals this season.
Full-backs Jack Stacey, Dan Potts and James Justin allow the side to compensate for the lack of outright wingers, often making driving runs down the flanks or into the box, utilising their speed to cause opposition defences problems. Stacey in particular excels in this area with the ability to pick a pass that will create opportunities for his teammates and should perhaps have more than just two assists this season. Just how direct and attacking the full-backs are can be demonstrated by this assist created by Justin in only the fifth minute. When Luton’s midfield quartet gain control of possession, they will bomb forward and pose a real threat from the wings.
When they get the ball out wide they often look to cut inside and pick a pass rather than crossing the ball directly into the box. This tends to be because their attackers aren’t especially tall with James Collins the tallest standing at 6ft 1in whilst Cornick and Hylton are both 6ft and under. By creating space in the inside-channels, they can increase the time they have to pick a precise cross and allow other teammates to position themselves as best as they can to receive the ball.
The emphasis of keeping the ball on the floor helps them to tire out their opponents and wear them down over the course of 90 minutes. This is partly evidenced by 14 of their 27 league goals coming after the 60th minute with seven of those in the final 15 minutes. In stark contrast they have only conceded four goals in this time, showing how their domination of possession helps them in fitness terms during the closing stages of matches.
The control that they exercise over possession helps Luton in defensive terms too. At the back, Town are sound, conceding 19 goals from their 17 league games this season which ranks them the joint seventh best in League One. With centre-back pairing Bradley and Pearson standing at 6ft 4in and 6ft 2in respectively they provide plenty of height when defending set pieces and crosses as well as a physical presence in the middle. Though they are not especially mobile, their understanding of the game means their positioning often makes up for this. Luton have kept six clean sheets so far this season, with three of those coming over the course of the last four games against Walsall, Wimbledon and Rochdale.
Primarily a forward, Elliot Lee has been asked to perform his duties as an attacking midfielder at the tip of the diamond by manager Nathan Jones. He scored 12 times in 38 appearances last season as Luton gained promotion to League One and hasn’t found the step up in any way daunting, already adding five goals in 14 appearances. The 23-year-old has a shot accuracy of 65% from his 31 shots so far this season, far exceeding that of all of Argyle’s players, despite consistently taking shots from distance. Indeed, three of his goals have from outside the area.
At 5ft 11 he isn’t the strongest but he is quick to accelerate into spaces and will look to find gaps within Argyle’s back line and midfield from the beginning of the match. Niall Canavan and Yann Songo’o will need to keep tight to the former West Ham man when be breaks into the box to minimize any potential damage. In the absence of Danny Hylton, he will likely carry the biggest individual threat to Argyle’s goal.
Whilst they have been defensively sound for much of the season, Luton have often found themselves looking vulnerable from crosses. The game against Accrington in particular highlighted this with forward Offrande Zanzala often finding himself in space and dominating the centre backs in aerial duels.
Furthermore, sides have been able to exploit Luton’s lack of protection for their full-backs or hit them on the counter while they were pushed up-field. Barnsley, Peterborough and Portsmouth were able to do that successfully, with the first two finding the net three times.
Argyle’s wider 4-2-3-1 formation could allow them to exploit Luton’s narrow style of play, with Graham Carey, Joel Grant and Antoni Sarcevic expected to work in the spaces around inside the full-backs and interchange with one another in an attempt to stretch the defence. Whilst Luton have been comfortable against the likes of Wimbledon, Walsall and Shrewsbury who have all deployed a 4-3-1-2 formation, they have struggled against wider opposition sides like Doncaster and Portsmouth who play with two wingers in much more attacking formations similar to that of Argyle.
I feel as though it will be a tight encounter but, whilst Argyle might well grab a goal, Luton’s impressive home form is too difficult to ignore this season. Their midfield is technically superior to Argyle’s and they deploy a similar style to the one that Charlton used to grind down the Pilgrims back in September. Danny Hylton will be a huge miss for the Hatters but with the likes of Cornick, Lee and Collins in the final third they certainly will not struggle for chances. I predict that Luton will win 2-1.