Hatters boss Nathan Jones believed Saturdays’ 2-0 defeat at champions Northampton Town showed him and his side the level they need to be at if they are to challenge for the League Two title next season.
A below par Town were easily second best for the first period against the Cobblers, as they trailed after just three minutes to Zander Diamond’s header, before Sam Hoskins made it 2-0 prior to the break, with Luton unable to mount a fight back.
“It’s all a learning curve and ones that are vital for me in terms of moving forward.”Nathan Jones
Afterwards, Jones admitted he was grateful for the lesson his team had received, saying: “Realistically, they were better than us and they showed why they’re champions and I’m glad we played them to be honest.
“Because it’s a gauge of where we want to be and these have been the best side all season, they must have been because the league doesn’t lie.
“I’m glad we’ve had this, glad we haven’t gone to another side in a similar position to us, glad we’ve had a gauge because this is what we have to attain, this is the levels week in week out we have to attain if we want to do anything.
“I said the other day, I thought Oxford were probably the best footballing side, but these are the most complete side in terms of how they press, how they work, they had a threat, they can score goals. Full credit to Chris Wilder for assembling and putting out a team week in week out that’s won the league.
“They showed first half why they are champions if I’m honest. I would like to bemoan the way we went about our work first half, but they pressed us, they outworked us and did all the hard, ugly things so much better than we did and that’s why they won it.
“Days like today are disappointing, a few home games have been disappointing, but it’s all a learning curve and ones that are vital for me in terms of moving forward.”
Although happy to give credit to the champions, Jones was bitterly disappointed with his side’s defending for the Cobblers opening goal as from a corner, Diamond rose unopposed to power a header beyond Elliot Justham, despite the visitors being pre-warned of Northampton’s threats.
The boss continued: “It’s criminal really. We do our work on it, we show them videos on where they score and these are very good on set plays. Throw-ins in they score, free kicks they score, from corners they score.
“We showed them, then you just have to go out and mark your man, we didn’t do that, and it gives them a great start after four minutes.
“They don’t need that, on the day they celebrated, are in high spirits and so on and they never really looked back from that. That’s a lack of discipline from us really, and not ability, just a lack of discipline.
“We had too many lightweight players out there in mentality, not lightweight in term of physicality, but lightweight players. We wanted this to be a gauge and it is a gauge and we’re realistic to know where we are.”
Hatters improved in the second half, with Joe Pigott denied by the woodwork and having a goal disallowed, as Jones felt they belatedly got to grips with their task.
He added: “It was just a little bit more urgency, a little bit more hard work, that’s all it was, the difference in the two sides.
“They have the league’s outstanding player in Ricky Holmes and he was a little bit of a difference, but apart from that, all the difference was they worked harder than us, they pressed harder than us, that was it.
“Because we have some good players, but if you don’t work hard, it’s fundamental, at any level, but at this level especially.
“If you don’t work hard you won’t get your just rewards and we didn’t work hard. Seventy five per cent of the time they have been at it and worked hard and grafted and deserved what they got.
“There’s been a few where they haven’t and whether they’ve been in easy-oasy mode, I don’t know, but that won’t last.”