Hatters keeper highlights the family first environment created at Luton by boss Edwards

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Town stopper discusses the impact of former Forest Green manager

​Town keeper James Shea can’t speak highly enough of manager Rob Edwards for the family first mentality he has instilled at Kenilworth Road.

The former Welsh international has enjoyed some real success on the pitch since taking over at Luton from Nathan Jones, leading the club to the Premier League by winning the Championship play-off final in May 2023. However, it is his methods off the pitch that have really seen him earn some glowing praise from Shea, who signed a new deal to remain in Bedfordshire recently, as the long-serving shot-stopper said: “He’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

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"What you see is what you get, the way he talks in the press, everything. I remember when he first came in, the first thing he said was the most important thing was family and he’s never changed. Family has always been first for him. He’s a top, top coach, a top manager, but he’s got that human side to him as well, which I think he’s absolutely brilliant with.

Luton keeper James Shea with his family after the final match of the season against Fulham - pic: Liam SmithLuton keeper James Shea with his family after the final match of the season against Fulham - pic: Liam Smith
Luton keeper James Shea with his family after the final match of the season against Fulham - pic: Liam Smith

“You can get some people that probably fake it, but you kind of see it when they fake it. With the gaffer it’s just him, just the way it is. There’s nothing he can do, it’s just him.”

With Edwards unable to keep the Hatters in the Premier League this season, when relegation was all but confirmed after the 3-1 defeat at West Ham United, the absolutely crestfallen Town chief spoke to the press afterwards, stating that he felt he had let everyone associated with the club down. It couldn’t be further from the truth though, as Shea continued: “No-one has taken it harder than him us going down this year.

"He’s been gutted about it, devastated. You see his reaction after the West Ham game, it’s a shame as he was desperate for us to stay up. He wanted to do it for everyone, but it’s just one of those things. There’s no shame in it, he was desperate for not just the fans, but for the boys as well, he wanted to do it for everyone. If we would have stayed up it probably would have been one of the great achievements in Premier League history and we just fell a tiny bit short.”

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In the end it was injuries that stunted the Hatters’ chances of remaining in the top flight, as following the 4-4 draw with Newcastle United in early February, Luton were often missing up to double figures in terms of first teamers, with Elijah Adebayo, Sambi Lokonga and Chiedozie Ogbene missing for lengthy periods, Jacob Brown, Marvelous Nakamba and Amari’i Bell out for the season too.

It meant Shea often found himself on the bench along with fellow stopper Tim Krul and a host of teenagers as Town could only manage one win from their final 17 Premier League matches, which meant they ended up dropping back to the Championship. The keeper said: “Injuries killed us at certain times with certain players, there’s no hiding that fact.

"We had a right back playing centre half, it was ridiculous. At one point we had two goalkeepers and four kids on the bench so you feel sorry for the gaffer. He turns around looking at the bench and it’s hard for him. Don't get me wrong, the boys are there on merit, but sometimes you want a bit of experience. You turn around and it’s not there, so it’s been tough. I do believe if we had, not a fully fit squad as you’re going to pick up injuries in the season no matter what, but if we had a little bit more luck I do think we would have given ourselves a great chance.”

Although Shea did make his top flight debut in the final match of the season against Fulham when replacing Thomas Kaminski between the posts during the closing stages, he did think he might have been called on as a makeshift outfield player at one point such were the lack of options available for Edwards, adding: “I thought I was going up top, I had Tommo the kitman print me out a Shea one orange kit just in case!

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“It just felt like they got injured as we were in a real good position and it wasn’t like little injuries where they were missing for a week, maybe two, it was a couple of months here, a couple of months there and before you know it they’re missing eight, nine games and it’s a big chunk of the season. Injuries are part and parcel of the game, it’s just a shame we had so many at one time.”

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