In-form Hatters midfielder Tunnicliffe had never wanted to leave Luton

Former Manchester United youngster was determined to fight for his place at Kenilworth Road

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 8:36 am
Updated Thursday, 4th March 2021, 8:50 am
Ryan Tunnicliffe celebrates his goal against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday

Hatters midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe admitted that leaving the club has never been in his thinking this season.

The 28-year-old had the chance to move away from Kenilworth Road in the October transfer window, with offers coming in from a number of clubs for the former Manchester United youngster.

However, rather than take the opportunity to exit the Hatters and potentially get some more game time elsewhere, Tunnicliffe was determined to stay and fight for his shirt.

The decision is starting to pay off following his first goal of the season in the 3-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, which he then followed up with the winner at Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night.

Speaking before the midweek trip to the City Ground, Tunnicliffe said: “The gaffer said to me, he wanted to be fair to me, I had a few offers in, and if I wanted to leave he wasn’t going to stand in my way, but that was never in my thoughts.

"He told me it was going to be a level playing field, ‘if you perform well, if you play well in training, then you’ll get a chance.’

“I wanted to play for the club, so I chose that option.

“I’ve not played as many games as I’ve wanted, but I’ve played back-to-back now and scored, so all I can keep doing is trying my hardest and hopefully keep the shirt.”

Before the midweek draw against Millwall, Tunnicliffe had started just four of Town’s 30 Championship matches this term after being a first team regular for large parts of the previous campaign, although more when former boss Graeme Jones was in charge.

Following Tuesday's 1-0 success at Forest, he has begun three league games in a row for the first time since last season, when he played twice before lockdown and then started the 1-1 draw with Preston once the campaign resumed.

On his frustrating season so far, he continued: “It’s been a bit of a grind for me personally, but I think I’ve worked hard, trained well, been in the gym with Planty (Elliot Plant, strength & conditioning coach) a lot, trying to get my body right and be ready for this opportunity when it came.

“Tuesday night I felt I did all right, a kick in the teeth with the last minute goal and then to score today (Saturday), I’m buzzing with it, long may it continue.

“Everyone always says that before the season, 40 points, we’ve got there, all we can do now is look up.

"Let’s see what we can do, keep putting performances together and look upwards.”

Town first team coach Chris Cohen hailed the patience of Tunnicliffe when he hadn't been in the side, plus his efforts on the training ground which were enough to see him put back into teh team.

He said: "Tunni’s had to wait his chance, he’s not played as much as he would have liked.

"Footballers want to play football, they’re all exactly the same, but he’s trained really hard and the manager’s kept telling him his opportunity’s going to come.

"It has taken probably longer than he would have wanted, but god he’s taken it now.

"He’ll be needed for the rest of the season, but there’s a few players that haven’t played the last few games that will be needed for the rest of the season as well.

"It’s a squad game and you’re seeing that really clearly over the last few weeks."

The midfielder's second goal in as many games saw him break into the box once more, as he had against the Owls at the weekend, timing his run to perfection and then producing an excellent volley from Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu's inviting cross.

Cohen added: "Tunni's playing in a more advanced position as one of the two 10s or in the 10 of the diamond, so you do have a license along with Pell, along with Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall because they've got the security of a Glen Rea behind them.

"Whenever they feel there is an opportunity to get in the box we ask them to do that, but it's all about timing.

"If you look at the timing of the run, Elijah (Adebayo) peels away so he ends up causing an issue because of what he’s dong in the last few games and it allows the space for Tunni to burst into.

"It was a brilliant goal, brilliant cross, brilliant finish and thoroughly deserved from the way we started the second half."