They may sit at the bottom of the Sky Bet Championship table as it stands, but Luton Town’s form is on an upward trajectory - and the Hatters are within touching distance of escaping from the bottom three.
Eyebrows were raised in midweek when, despite having just three shots and 25% possession on the night, Nathan Jones’ men earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw away at league-leading Leeds United. Needless to say, then, that the Kenilworth Road outfit aren’t going to go back down to League One without a fight.
Popular manager Jones returned to the Hatters during lockdown after leading them to promotion last season. He had been swiftly snapped up by Stoke City before this season got underway, but has journeyed back to Kenilworth Road after a difficult spell in Staffordshire.
Ahead of a key meeting with the Royals on Saturday, here’s how the Hatters have got on so far on their return to the second tier…
A steady start upon Championship return
Having been promoted back to the Championship and now under the guidance of Graeme Jones - formerly assistant manager to Roberto Martinez at Everton, Swansea, Wigan Athletic and the Belgium national team - in the dugout, the Hatters were involved in the season’s curtain raiser at Kenilworth Road, taking on Middlesbrough and earning a 3-3 draw in an enthralling encounter at the beginning of the season.
Luton survive a scare as Britt Assombalonga blazes a penalty over for Middlesbrough in a 3-3 draw on the opening day
Five wins in eight matches had the Hatters settled in mid-table when October came around, but there were difficult times ahead as they looked to secure Championship status for another year.
A long barren run and flirting with danger
Results took a turn for the Hatters heading into the winter months, winning just three out of 19 Championship matches in mid-season - a run which saw them fall to the foot of the table, including a 3-0 reverse against the Royals at Madejski Stadium back in November.
Confidence appeared to be low, but Town bolstered their squad with three January signings - including the loan arrival of the highly-rated Cameron Carter-Vickers from Tottenham Hotspur - and their form began to turn as the run-in started.
Simon Sluga lets the ball slip through his grasp as Luton lose to Forest; a 13th defeat in 16 games between October and January
Well-earned wins against promotion-chasing Brentford and Derby County were standout performances from the Hatters, as well as taking maximum points against Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough before the season was halted.
Despite their upturn in form, Graeme Jones was relieved of his duties in April with Town still in a tough position in the Sky Bet Championship standings.
An unbeaten return to action
Town have not been above 23rd place in the Championship since Boxing Day, but they have clawed their way back to within two points of safety by putting together their best run of the season either side of lockdown after the return of Nathan Jones to the dugout.
The Hatters will go into the weekend’s clash against the Royals in buoyant spirits and just two points away from getting above the dotted line in the standings, having successfully held table-topping Leeds United to a hard-earned 1-1 draw at Elland Road on Tuesday night.
Harry Cornick blasts in the opener against Leeds last time out as Luton earned an unlikely 1-1 draw
Harry Cornick’s goal put Town in front on the night, but Stuart Dallas soon equalised for the league leaders to mean the points were shared in a dramatic midweek encounter.
The result in West Yorkshire cemented the Hatters’ best run of form of the season so far - with Jones’ side taking just one defeat in their last nine matches ahead of their meeting with the Royals this weekend. Town are unbeaten since the Championship restarted, with that draw against Leeds supplemented by a further draw against Preston North End, and a well-earned 1-0 win over Swansea City.
How they last lined up...
Luton Town: Sluga, Bree, Pearson, Carter-Vickers, Bradley, Potts, Tunnicliffe, Cranie (Collins 64), Mpanzu, Hylton (Bolton 64), McManaman (Cornick HT).
Unused subs: Shea, Lee, Shinnie, Moncur, Brown, Butterfield.