Luton Town profit from Watford gaffe with manager of the year contender Rob Edwards
Rob Edwards swiftly got over his short-lived spell at Watford as the Luton Town boss is one of this season’s best managers in the Championship…
One significant trademark of the Pozzo family’s reign as Watford’s owners – along with the odd eye-raising financial deal – is the sharp speed with which they go from manager to manager.
The Hornets hauled Roy Hodgson away from his retirement rocking chair last season to save them from relegation. This worked about as well as it did for West Brom in 2021 when they drafted in Sam Allardyce for a similarly unsuccessful salvage job.
Watford went in a different direction last summer as Rob Edwards was plucked away from League Two champions Forest Green Rovers. This was a refreshing change in tack from the Championship outfit, who had previously avoided appointing inexperienced bosses plying their trade further down the Football League.
Given the culture of Watford, Edwards would have known from the get-go that a promising start to the season was required or he would quickly find himself out of work. The Pozzo family saw enough from the 40-year-old after just 11 games as he was sacked after three wins, five draws and three defeats.
This was a rash call even by Watford’s standards. His replacement – Slaven Bilic – has a great reputation at Championship level and was given 25 games to get it right. But the club were arguably no better off under him than they were with Edwards, who was by no means given a fair crack after taking the leap from Forest Green.
Watford have meandered their way through the season, with ex-Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder now being given the unenviable task of reviving the club’s play-off hopes in the eight league games remaining.
In the months since Edwards’ departure, Watford’s faithful have surely grown to rue the club’s decision to part ways with the ex-Wales international, who has been enhancing his reputation at local rivals Luton Town.
Edwards was only of work for around two months before he was appointed as Nathan Jones’ successor at Kenilworth Road.
It is easy to overlook how tough a task it was to replace Jones as his brief spell at Southampton was both hilarious and disastrous in equal measure.
At Luton, the club was built around Jones’ image and the short-tempered former Stoke City manager got what seemed to be the maximum out of the club by turning the low-budget Championship outfit into an overachieving top six contender.
Luton were tenth in the Championship and just two points shy of the play-off positions when Jones left to join Southampton.
After the club fell short in the play-offs last term, Jones’ replacement was always going to be tasked with maintaining their position around the higher reaches of the Championship table.
Yet Edwards has done what few managers have achieved after replacing a long-term head coach; he has taken Luton to the next level.
Since Edwards took over, only Burnley and Middlesbrough have picked up more points than Luton in the Championship. Instead of merely being in the mix for the play-off spots, the Hatters are fourth and seven points clear of seventh-placed Norwich City. Their incredible recent form has also given them an outside chance of automatic promotion, though Sheff Utd will be nine points ahead of them if they win their game in hand.
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This is a stunning achievement from Edwards. He has managed it largely by encouraging Luton to keep doing what they are good at while tinkering with minor aspects of their game to make them more productive defensively and offensively.
Luton have never been a team that places an overreliance upon possession, but they are very good at focusing on key areas and making the most of chances when they come their way. They also have been among the strongest outfits in the Championship in a defensive sense, with just 20 goals conceded in Edwards’ 21 games in charge.
As a young coach, Edwards could have easily let his premature spell in the limelight at Watford drop him down the pyramid of the Football League’s promising young coaches. Instead, a few months on, his credibility continues to go through the roof, with his adaptability making him attractive to Premier League and Championship clubs who will no doubt be tracking his great work at Luton.
Edwards will have the chance to get one over Watford when his Luton side host their rivals at Kenilworth Road in the early kick-off this Saturday.
This game is a must-win for Watford, but it isn’t for Luton. That really emphasises the different trajectories the Championship rivals have been on since Edwards joined the Hatters.
Edwards is unlikely to win this season’s manager of the year award with Vincent Kompany understandably a clear favourite for the accolade. Sheff Utd’s Paul Heckingbottom and Coventry City’s Mark Robins are deserving of being in the running, but Edwards warrants being considered alongside these names.
He started the season tasked with getting Watford promoted back to the Premier League. Yet now, he has rivals Luton Town on track to return to the top flight for the first time since 1992.
Watford’s past decisions to sack managers prematurely has regularly borne fruit, but they dropped the ball when they let Edwards slip through their fingers.
They had a manager capable of bucking the trend of their previous haphazardness. Instead, with the club’s owners reverting to type, Watford are left without a sustainable plan and primed for a prolonged spell in the second tier.
Meanwhile, Luton are in dreamland having profited from their rivals’ gaffe. They could well fall victim in the play-off lottery once again this season, but with Edwards at the wheel, it will be no surprise when they become a mainstay around the summit of the Championship.