Underdogs Luton are looking to play with a rare amount of freedom when they head to Premier League big boys Norwich City in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday, writes Mark Wood.
For once the pressure will be off the Hatters, who are favourites virtually every week in the Blue Square Bet Premier, and firmly on City.
And having beaten Championship Wolves in the previous round, Town know they have the ability to potentially knock the Canaries off their perch.
Boss Paul Buckle said: “The Wolves game was very different from what we’re used to. Our league is very hurried, the ball changes hands on a regular basis and it’s sometimes hard to play good football.
“The pitches sometimes don’t allow that, certainly at this time of the year. In the Wolves game both sides played good football and it will be the same at Norwich.
“One thing we’ll have to be aware of is that we don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. When we’ve got the ball we have to take real care because one thing Premiership teams have got is pace.
“If we lose the ball, or give the ball away, one thing we have to make sure we’re really safe behind the ball and really switched on.”
League Two Bradford City produced one of the greatest cup shocks in recent times this week to beat Premier League Aston Villa over two semi-final legs and set up a League Cup final against Swansea.
And while Buckle said he wouldn’t be drawing on that precedent, he did intimate Luton’s players would be reminded of their phenomenal performance against Wolves.
“I think that was a fantastic achievement and deserved to go through over two legs,” said Buckle.
“It’s an unbelievable achievement what Bradford have done. I think if we focus on what we’ve done in the FA Cup just recently against a very good team that should be enough for the players.
“And we might show them clips of that to remind them that we can, when we’re at our very best, cause problems for higher opposition, that will be the key.
“The key is to understand how we can do well in the game. that’s what we’ll be working on in the next two days.”
And Buckle asserted Luton will look to play against City like they do most teams every week.
He continued: “You need a gameplan, definitely, you can’t be off the cuff against Wolves or Norwich, otherwise you’ll seriously come unstuck.
“We have a gameplan, of course we do. It’s doesn’t go far away from what we’re about in our league games week to week.
“Our work ethic, our togetherness, them things and our fitness levels we’ll take into this game. We’ll have to be switched on and we’ll have to double mark it at times in the game.
“We won’t be able to afford to allow one v ones. If we allow one v ones we will come unstuck.
“We will prepare, we will be organised, we will be ready, but what we must do as well, we must be able to try and to commit and go forward as well.
“It’s no good just going there and sitting back, we’ve got to pick and choose the right time to attack them, but at the same time we must make sure that we’re nice and solid at the back and stay in the game as long as possible, that’s the biggest thing for us.”
Town’s forwards boast over 40 goals between them in all competitions this season, with pacy striker Andre Gray likely to be one of Luton biggest threats.
On whether he might be able to cause them problems, Buckle said: “I’m not sure about the run-around, I think that might be taking it a bit far.
“But we have got good players and we proved that against Wolves, Wolves were a Premiership side last season.
“So we’ve proved we can do it, and it wasn’t a fluke against them so we must take heart from that.
“We have good players in the team and it will be their opportunity on the day to go and show that they’re not a million miles away from that level.”
After today’s press conference Town were heading to Norwich’s arch rivals Ipswich to use their facilities in the build-up to the game.
This was even more important for the Hatters boss given the snow and ice in and around Luton.
He said: “I know Mick (McCarthy). He’s been good to me in the past. When he was at Wolves we used their facility and they’ve been brilliant for us because it’s been a late shout, but they’ve helped us out.
“Because we need that preparation. Obviously you need to prepare for games, but if you’re playing a Premiership team as we are, I really, really wanted to get a few good days training into the players so when we go out we can be as organised as what we were against Wolves.”
But he refused to be drawn on whether he thought Luton might be able to cause an upset - although instantly admitted he would take a replay even if it would add to an already frenetic schedule.
Buckle said: “I’m not even going to go there. We’ve got 48 hours to prepare and my focus is on us doing our jobs on the day and staying in the game and if we do that we give ourselves a chance.
“I would take a draw now definitely. I’ll be absolutely delighted with that.”
And if Luton can progress it will be the furthest Buckle has ever gone in the competition.
“I’ve been to this round before, I don’t think I’ve been beyond this round,” he said.
“I’ve not taken a team to a Premiership club, so this is a fresh challenge for me and I’m not sure any of the players have done that.
“But we want to be excited about it, it’s something I want the players to look forward to.
“We’re taking a lot of supporters, so if we can have that energy about us and look forward to the game, plus be organised we will give ourselves a chance.
“You’ve seen us enough this year - the Wolves game is a big marker for us that we can, when we are on top of our game, cause problems for a higher level side.”
The match will be one of the biggest in most of the Luton Town players’ careers, but Buckle believes last season’s play-off final defeat to York City will have stood Town in good stead.
He said: “The majority of them played at Wembley not so long ago in the play-off final where we took 30,000, so that will serve them well.
“The game here was a great atmosphere and it seemed like 20,000 here against Wolves.
“The warm-up will be big for us. We’ll calm them down in the warm-up and make sure we are in a good place.
“We can enjoy it. Every week the pressure is on us to win. There will be no pressure on us at all this week at all, we can go and enjoy the game.
“We know the pressure will be on Norwich to win and probably to win convincingly. What we mustn’t do is over-respect them.
“We must pay them the respect they deserve but not come away at a quarter to five and think we could have done more.”
In the last round Norwich played a slightly understrength side as they eased to a 3-0 win at Championship strugglers Peterborough United.
City boss Chris Hughton has indicated his entire team at the weekend will have Premier League experience and Buckle was unsure about picking out any key danger men.
He said: “I’m reluctant to sort of name any really because Chris changed the team quite a lot at Peterborough.
“So I’m not sure which team will play. But all I know is we’re up against a Premiership team and it doesn’t matter who they put out there, the gulf in class is there for everyone to see now because we’re in the Blue Square and they’re at the top of the tree in the Premiership.
“We’ve got it all to do. Obviously the pressure is off of us which is a good thing for us.”
Town’s players are also said to be ‘buzzing’ ahead of the encounter and Buckle had nothing but praise for charges.
He added: “I think obviously coming in this morning with a lot of press, a lot more press than we’re used to here, gives it a buzz.
“We’re leaving today, we’re preparing we’re going up to Ipswich today to do our training.
“We will train today and tomorrow there and get some quality. There is a buzz around the place, although I’ve not noticed anything different in the players this week.
“We trained straight after the game was called off Tuesday morning, we had a double session.
“They’re a brilliant group anyway. I’ve got to say this group of players we’ve got at Luton are an absolute pleasure to work with.
“They work their socks off in training, so I’ve not noticed anything different in the way they’ve trained.”