Although Luton chief Nathan Jones admitted he was left feeling ‘flat’ following his side’s performance during Sunday’s 4-0 FA Cup third round win over Harrogate Town, he could understand why that was the overriding emotion.
The Hatters went into the tie having not played for 29 days since their 1-1 draw with Fulham in the Championship on December 11, after their Christmas schedule was decimated due to Covid outbreaks.
League Two opponents Harrogate on the other hand had played three games in that time, including as recently as Tuesday night, when they saw off Carlisle United 1-0 in the Papa John’s Trophy.
The visitors looked the better side at times, particularly in the first half, when they dominated possession and can be disappointed by the flattering nature of the scoreline, Luton’s extra quality showing when late goals from Kal Naismith and Luke Berry added to the earlier strikes by Elijah Adebayo and Cameron Jerome.
Speaking afterwards, Jones was eager not to come down hard on his players after the particularly brutal nature of training in the build-up to the game, especially as they had achieved what he set out, which was to be in the next round, where a trip to Cambridge United awaits.
He said: “It’s a real pleasing performance, I haven’t been as flat after a 4-0 win because of the manner of the performance, but you have to look at why that was and analyse why that was.
“If in a month’s time, we have a performance like that after we’ve gained some rhythm, you think, we need to be better, but we lacked sharpness today, lacked timing, headers, aggression in everything we did, but that’s understandable.
“We’ve needed that game just to get people up to speed and that’s what it was today.
"It was an FA Cup game against lower league opposition, so with the greatest of respect, we knew that we could probably get away with one or two things and that’s what we did.
"I think Championship strikers would have finished the chances they had, albeit, two of them were late on.
"First half we didn’t defend well, we defended the final ball well, but we didn’t defend our box particularly well.
"So much to work on, but you've got to give them the benefit of the doubt as having not played for a month and the week they’ve had this week, as they've had 50 per cent more work than they would have normally gone into a game with.
"It's normally a 30k week, we average, we did 45 this week, so it's been a big week to get them up to speed.
"When you go a month without playing it’s very difficult, it’s like pre-season.
"No-one looks too much into pre-season results as you don’t know where you are at that stage of the season, and today was like that.
"Not having a competitive game for 29 days, that’s a hell of a long time, they’ve had a competitive game on Tuesday so were fresher, they haven’t had as many games as we’ve had called off and they’re very regimented in terms of what they do.
"So it was always going to be that threat, but all I asked of them today was win the game, because next week is our bread and butter and that’s why we needed to get up to speed."
There were positives to take for Jones though, as not only did the club pick up £82,000 in prize money, they scored four goals with some wonderful finishing, while keeper James Shea made a handful of terrific late saves to ensure the hosts weren't breached either.
The boss continued: "Any time we showed any type of quality we scored, first time we got it down second half, we played into feet, got turned, we scored.
“Any time we showed any type of quality, we scored, any time we did pass it, but the trouble was, we didn't do it.
"We weren’t sharp enough, we had a lot of deconditioned players out there and that’s what happens, you can do as much work in training, but matches are totally different and that showed today.
“It was a great finish from Elijah, but I think all the finishes were really good.
"A great ball in, Cameron made that run, Kal’s absolutely superb and then Luke Berry does what Luke Berry does,
“He (Shea) pulled off some real good saves towards the end, one moment of madness where he comes rushing out, which our keepers are brilliant at...
“But you have to take the positives, somehow keeping a clean sheet, it’s a working exercise, we scored four goals, shown a clinical edge, got good minutes into a lot of players that needed the minutes, so there’s a lot of positive to be taken.
"There’s a lot of things we need to do better, there’s a lot of things we’ll evaluate realistically, but that’s fine."
Luton now have another week to prepare for what is without doubt one of their toughest games in the second tier this term, with leaders Bournemouth heading to Kenilworth Road for a 12.30 kick-off on Saturday.
Jones could give some of his players who didn't feature yesterday match time during a development squad clash with Stevenage at Hitchin tomorrow afternoon to ensure that everyone is as ready as they can be for the visit of the Cherries.
He added: "We’ve got a friendly this week, so we can get minutes into other players then.
"It’s just about getting rhythm back as that’s what we haven’t got, we haven’t got the rhythm back from where we were.
"Blackpool, a fantastic away win, coming here and really having a fantastic performance against Fulham and then it goes dead from the 11th of December.
"Then suddenly you come out and normally you've played four games over the Christmas period and it's been hectic, but we haven’t had any.
"So we’ve just had to train, give them time off, freshen them up, and it’s difficult to find out what to do.
"What they’ve needed is a big week, this week we’ve had a practice match, so we’ve tried do that.
"They’ve had two games plus a normal training week which doesn’t happen as when we have two games in a week you don’t do the training.
"But we’ve done both and really hit them hard, they'll benefit from that, but today it was a bit of a gamble doing that."