Soft underbelly gone as Town starting to win the battle
SINCE manager Paul Buckle has taken over at Kenilworth Road, Hatters are finally, finally starting to win the battle, writes Mike Simmonds.
Town’s soft underbelly was an feature of their game that was more and more noticeable in the early stages of the season when they were knocked out of their stride all too easily by an opposition who took the game to them.
Home defeats against the likes of Fleetwood, Wrexham, York and Cambridge showcased this, as did shocking away performances at the likes of Forest Green Rovers and Braintree.
Although Buckle has only been in charge for seven games, he has quickly remedied that, with Town’s awesome showing against Wrexham in the play-offs on Thursday night a prime example.
Speaking about Luton’s new-found battling spirit, Buckle said: “It’s a case of us not thinking that we’re Luton and this league owes us something.
“We can play all our nice football, but it’s not like that. I know this league inside out. Any league is the same, even in the Premiership, there’s second balls to be won, not as many of course, but there are second balls.
“What we’re doing is we’re realising that’s a massive part of the game and if we can be nice and aggressive and win those, we’ve got an opportunity to attack more and not be on the back foot.
“So that’s an education for the players and they’ve started to grasp the concept that it’s a big part of the game. It’s not just about when we’ve got the ball, it’s about when the ball is in transition and when the ball is in the air, that we make sure we’ve got our bodies in there.
“We’ve had some big tests. Kidderminster was a bit test. Alfreton away, where they looked to impose their physical strength on us. Wrexham was another big challenge, but we’re standing up to it.
“If someone’s playing big balls against you, you’re going to do one of two things. You’re going to cry about it or you’re going to stand up and be counted. Well it’s going to be the latter.
“At the same time, they’re not going to affect our rhythm, as that’s what teams that try to play that style do. They try to upset you, break your rhythm up and we’ve got to have the combination to stop that, be aggressive and nasty, and then quickly turn into getting the ball on the floor.
“It’s not easy, but we’ve shown we can do it. They can’t be brilliant on the floor and brilliant long, that’s probably too good for this level.
“So what we have to do is pay full respect to what they’re going to try and do and then impose our game on then, which (against Wrexham) we did.
“They struggled against the pace, the counter attack, with us moving the ball swiftly on the floor.
“That’s how I like to play. I’m not going to be playing any long ball game, that’s not me, but we pay total respect to anyone who wants to do that.
“In the first game I saw we got bullied, we weren’t switched on, but now we’re turning the corner where that’s concerned, but we can’t take anything for granted, we’ve got to keep up high standards.”
With the spine of Town now considerably bolstered, as six clean sheets in six games would testify, the next challenge was to start winning the so-called big games.
Victories over Kidderminster and Fleetwood, along with the 2-0 play-off victory are slowly bit surely starting to prove Hatters can be a force when it really matters.
Buckle continued: “I think there might have been a question mark over our mentality in big games.
“We’ve come unstuck in the past. I think the no fear element is the key though. In games of football it goes against you sometimes, so it’s how you react.
“If you’re consistent with each other, you can get some consistency. As much as it hurts when you concede a goal or make a mistake in a game, as long as you’ve got that feeling that everyone’s behind you, it’s a team game, you’ve got more chance of recovering.
“Work-rate is a huge, huge part and if you’ve got that and the opposition can see that you’ve got that willingness to run and harry and try and never give in, it’s such a strong platform to go from.
“We’ve had that in abundance and we’ve got our rewards.”
Now that Town are working from a solid base too, it allows the likes of centre halves Janos Kovacs and George Pilkington to venture forward too, which both did at times on Thursday night.
Buckle was pleased to see their adventurous nature in action, although wants to make sure it is harnessed at the right times.
He added: “That’s something that we work on. We don’t want to be a team where we’re playing with eight men.
“The centre halves have that responsibility. We don’t want them just to head it and clear it. That’s their main role but when we’re playing against team with one up, then you can drive through.
“I’ve given them the license to do that. It surprises the opposition and surprises the crowd, when you see our captain coming through the middle.
“He (Pilkington) took it to the extreme when he played it wide and got in the box. I couldn’t shout when you’ve got 9,500 in the ground, so we’ll have to get the reins on the captain and (Janos) Kovacs, but they’re both capable on the ball.”
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Weather for Leighton Buzzard
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 13 C to 24 C
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Wind direction: North
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