Luton earn more home plaudits but Man City steel means another valiant defeat for the Hatters

Dave Tickner
Jack Grealish scores Manchester City's winner at Luton
Jack Grealish scores Manchester City's winner at Luton

Luton have done what everyone said they had to do, and made Kenilworth Road a horribly difficult place for visiting teams to go. Now they need to make it somewhere they actually win a few more of those games.

Sounds brutally harsh, is brutally harsh. But what happens in their 11 remaining home game is going to define their season.

That we are deep into December and Luton still have a season to be defined is a mini triumph in itself. The late-summer talk of all-time lows and record-breaking campaigns has already gone. Now it’s a question of whether they have enough about them – especially at home – to drag a Nottingham Forest or Crystal Palace into the relegation conversation with them.

And there really is no reason right now to say they don’t. Apart from the pesky reality of results. But a home record of played eight, won one, drawn two and lost five really doesn’t tell the story of Luton’s efforts at the Kenny so far this season. For one thing, all five of those defeats have been by a single goal. For another, they’ve now already played four of the big six at home and been desperately unlucky not to have more to show for those games than a point against Liverpool.

They have done some low-key clever bits of business, and the work of Ross Barkley and Andros Townsend in their shock opening goal against the champions here highlighted it yet again. They were players whose Premier League days appeared to be behind them, but they are players who know Our League and what it’s about.

The brilliance of Barkley’s midfield spin to start the move and the cross from Townsend placed perfectly onto the head of Elijah Adebayo screamed out the one thing that promoted teams like Luton are so often bemoaned for lacking by the punditry class: That Little Bit Of Quality.

Luton do have that, and you couldn’t even say that this defeat was the product of the other failing of promoted sides: A Little Bit Of Naivety.

City’s quickfire double in a much-improved second-half display owed far more to the champions’ own qualities than any obvious failings on the part of the hosts, who remained steadfast in defence after that double blow and spent the final minutes of the game pushing for an equaliser. When they won a corner in added time to added time and Thomas Kaminski sauntered forward, there was the possibility of something to make Pep Guardiola’s head explode.

It didn’t come to pass and Pep – who was close to combusting at half-time after Luton’s late goal – can instead breathe a sigh of relief at an end to the four-match winless run.

He will legitimately be able to point to his Erling Haaland-less side showing qualities they don’t always need but that have been lacking in recent weeks. Luton forced them into a position where there could be no repeat of the complacency of the draws with Liverpool and Spurs, while Luton were never likely to outplay them as Villa did.

What City had to show were fighting qualities today, and the first 25 minutes of the second half looked far more like what we’ve come to expect from City but that has been so starkly absent in recent weeks. There were warning signs for Luton even before the goals, with Kaminski making a stunning save to deny Ruben Dias before being given no chance from an opportunistic and brilliant curling Bernardo Silva effort and the frustration of Jack Grealish’s low shot finding the space between his legs after a City attack launched by a ricochet off Julian Alvarez’s face.

Grealish’s goal will be perhaps the best news for City. His output – or lack thereof – had been a talking point for much of the season, but that’s goals in back-to-back games for Grealish now and both have been smartly taken.

It’s a result City desperately needed but one that leaves them still languishing in fourth. For Luton, it’s another afternoon to be proud of but one that didn’t ultimately improve their position in the bottom three. Newcastle and Brighton are two of the next three visitors here so things aren’t going to get profoundly easier, but at least there’s Chelsea in between.

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