Luton midfielder Mpanzu aiming to make trips to Chelsea a regular occurrence for the Hatters

Longest-serving player targets promotion to the Premier League
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu moves forward against Brentford in midweekPelly-Ruddock Mpanzu moves forward against Brentford in midweek
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu moves forward against Brentford in midweek

Ambitious Luton midfielder Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu has set his sights on trips to Stamford Bridge becoming a regular occurrence for the Hatters once more during his time with the club.

Although fans of a certain age will remember regular matches against Chelsea in the 1950s, 70s, 80s and early 90s when Town and Chelsea regularly locked horns in the First and Second Division, since relegation from the top flight in 1992, they have faded into distant memories.

In fact the last meeting between the two sides came back in 1994, an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley that Luton lost 2-0, with Mpanzu himself only a few weeks old then.

Fast forward 26 years and the former West Ham youngster is now the longest serving player at Kenilworth Road, joining in 2014 when the club were in the Conference, but 276 appearances later, sees the club establishing themselves in the second tier once more after a scare last season when they only just survived.

Ahead of a visit to Frank Lampard’s side in the FA Cup tomorrow, Mpanzu is now hunting a fourth promotion to his own personal honours list to maybe even see them returning to south west London next season.

He said: “It is a day to enjoy, but we’ve got to make sure we try and do as best we can, as we want to be playing teams like Chelsea every week.

“Hopefully as the season goes on we can make it into the play-offs, you never know what can happen, but it’s going to be a great day.

“That’s the aim of the club, the aim of the manager, when he first came he wanted to get us to be an established Championship team.

“I think we’ve done that and now we’ve got to keep pushing on.

"The fans have been great for us and we're going to miss them on the weekend, they’ve been here week in week out, the pandemic has put a stop to that, but hopefully they’ll be cheering from their seats at home and next season if we do make it to the Premier League they can support us all the way.

"Chelsea are a great team though, they've been in the Premier League, they've won the Premier League, so we’ve got to make sure that we do our job and hopefully can cause an upset.

"It’s the cup, anything can happen, so hopefully it goes well for us."

Although much has been made of Chelsea’s poor form in recent weeks, currently on a run of five defeats from 10 in all competitions leaving manager Frank Lampard under growing pressure, Mpanzu thinks the Blues could approach a cup tie against a team from a lower division in one of two ways.

He continued: “They’re going to think, ‘okay we’ve been on a bad run, Luton are a Championship team, we can get at them,’ but it works for both sides.

“It can inspire them and it can make a downfall.

"Obviously Chelsea aren't in great form and hopefully we can go and attack them, it’s the only thing we can do.

“If we sit back and allow them to grow into their game they've got great players who can punish us, but we've got to go out, do a job and hopefully we can come out with a result.”

Although it will be a huge game for the Hatters players, a fair few of them have been in this position before, heading to Newcastle United back in January 2018, while also coming up against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup this term.

Mpanzu appreciates the magnitude of the task in hand, but is confident it won’t be too much for the players, as he said: “Everyone knows what Chelsea is about, they're a great team, have won titles, have international stars, but everyone's still calm.

"It's not a game that's too big for us, we can more than manage Chelsea, it's about doing it on the day and hopefully we can get a result.

“We’ve grown as a team (since Newcastle), got a lot better players than we did, grown as a group, got our manager back and hopefully we’ll be much better.

"We’re in our second season in the Championship now and hopefully we can go and show Chelsea what a good Championship team we are.

“Going up the leagues, performing well, there's blips here and there in your performance but you've got to keep mentally strong.

"I think I've done that and we managed to stay up last season by the skin of our teeth, but we made a good run when Nathan (Jones) came back and it gives you a good stead for games like these.

"Chelsea is a big game and I've had big games here before, so this is just one you've got to try and tick off and hopefully get a positive result.

"You never know what happens in the FA Cup, there’s magic there.”

Mpanzu wasn’t involved in the previous round as Luton saw off Reading at Kenilworth Road, Jones making nine changes on the day, but although he is desperate to start at a ground that regularly hosts Champions League football, he knows whoever is selected will do the club proud.

The midfielder added: "Any changes he does, the team never weakens, so everyone has got to make sure that they’re on the job and making sure they’re doing everything right.

"He can pick any team and any team he puts out will be a strong enough team for Chelsea.

"It's a big game and everyone wants to play, but if you are selected or come on, you've got to be ready.

"Game changers on the bench, make sure you're doing everything you're doing, your head's in the right space and whatever team he picks, I know we're going to go out and do a good job.”