Town boss Nathan Jones is convinced his players won’t have any problems whatsoever in bouncing back from Monday night’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the Championship champions Fulham ahead of tomorrow’s play-off decider against Reading at Kenilworth Road.
The Hatters take on a Royals side with nothing to play for, with Jones’ team knowing a victory will be enough to extend their season for a further two games at the very least, while a draw or defeat could still do, albeit depending on results elsewhere.
Luton approach the contest on the back of their biggest defeat in the league this term, and a joint heaviest since October 2019, trounced 7-0 at Craven Cottage earlier in the week, the Whites going on to lift the title.
However, following a season in which they have only suffered back-to-back losses once, and that was back in November against Stoke and QPR with the games divided by an international break, Jones said: “They’ll bounce back.
“Whether that’s a win, draw or whatever that is, we’ll always have a reaction, because this is a proud group.
“Let’s be honest, it was a one-off game, the Fulham game.
“It was moved by Sky so they could have a parade.
“We’ve had so many injuries, they scored when we were down to 10 men.
“We picked up another injury in the pre-match (Allan Campbell), we picked up another injury seconds before they scored (Fred Onyedinma), so a lot of things went against us and when that happens you get rocked.
“They’re the best side in the league, the biggest spenders, the biggest budget, but the best side in the league.
“It’s all very well having the biggest budget, but you’ve still got to spend that wisely and implement that, and they have.
“So, a lot of things happened, but it was a one-off game.
“We don’t concede goals very often, we’re right up there with clean sheets, so I expect the game to go back to normal, and that’s the reaction that we’ve had.”
When Town defender Kal Naismith was speaking after the game, he declared he was ‘glad’ that the Hatters had been beaten as it would mean other sides in the play-off positions would start to underestimate his side.
Asked if he felt something similar, Jones continued: “We’ll see.
"With a full team and when we’re at it, no team relishes playing us, but we’ve been without that, so that’s why we’ve been in this position.
"No-one’s done us any favours because every result that could have got us in, could have helped us, hasn’t, so we’ve had to do it by us.
"If we get in, it will be because Luton have won enough games, got enough points to get in and that’s all we can do.
“So regardless of what's gone on, regardless of anything else, we’ve got to win one football game, I can keep repeating myself, but that’s all we’ve got to do.”
Apart from Naismith, who has tasted promotion before with Portsmouth, the Hatters have plenty of experience to call on for the contest, with the likes of Robert Snodgrass, Henri Lansbury and Cameron Jerome having all been involved in play-off battles, plus also featuring at the highest level themselves, Snodgrass a former Scotland international.
Jones thinks that, and the club’s record themselves of big games in recent years, can help Town during the 90 minutes, saying: “Experience does that because if you’ve been in certain situations you can handle them.
“My mentor, and someone I’ve leaned on heavily in football, is Paul Hart.
"I employed him because he’s been through a lot of stuff, a lot of negative stuff and a lot of positive stuff, so I can lean on him.
“This club’s been used to playing big games.
"Play-offs, games where we’ve had to win and get results, albeit in a different league, but still having to win games.
“Then, we’ve played in a higher pressure game than this because we played Blackburn at home two years ago and if we didn’t get the right result, we could’ve gone out of the league.
“Now, we’re trying to get out of the league at a different end, so, there’s pressure, but there’s pressure all the time.
“I demand from them every day, so it’s not like, suddenly, 10,000 fans will give them more pressure than I do on the sideline in any game we play, or training session.
“They’re used to it, but they have to handle that.
"Strange things happen on the final day, with early kick-offs, crowd noises when someone scores or someone doesn’t.
“If we win the game, we’re in the position we are.”
The fact that Luton are even in a situation to be challenging at the top end of the table this term is a tremendous achievement, considering their wage bill is vastly below the sides like Sheffield United, Middlesbrough and Milwall, who are the three teams battling for the top six berths.
Even if Town don’t make the play-offs, they will still finish well above teams such as West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City and Swansea City, but it’s not something that has come as a total shock to Jones, as he added: “You pinch yourself if something happens that’s unbelievable and if you win the lottery.
"The probability of winning the lottery is very, very low, but we have worked for this, we believed we could do this.
"Yes we are delighted, yes, it is a wonderful achievement, but when you set bold targets and have processes underneath that you believe can accomplish those targets, then that’s all it is.
“So we’re not sitting here thinking, ‘wow, we’re here, what do we do?’
"We think ‘this is what we have planned for.’”