No bleating from Jones about his lack of a defensive midfielder
Luton boss Graeme Jones insisted he was never going to ‘bleat’ despite not having the options available to go from a back four to a back three earlier in the campaign.
The return of Martin Cranie, plus having a full complement of full backs available, meant that the Hatters chief could switch his formation for the first time this season, when facing Bristol City in the Championship on Saturday.
It worked a treat too, as the hosts won 3-0, keeping a first clean sheet of the season in the process, as Jones said: “Martin’s good on the ball, but it’s his defensive awareness as well, it’s something that you can’t give people.
“Now you didn’t hear me bleat once, everybody’s talking about clean sheets, you didn’t hear me bleat once about, ‘well I haven’t got a defensive midfield player available,’ and I could have, but your job is to get the best out of what you’ve got.
“Let’s not underestimate what Jacob Butterfield did in that role, which is unfamiliar to him.
“He was prepared to learn it, his improvement was massive, he’s a number eight, really, by trade, where he’s had a fantastic career.
“So if you measure that learning process, I think we’ve gained more than we’ve lost, but it’s certainly nice to have Martin available and Glen Rea available.”
Cranie dropped into the back three alongside Matty Pearson and Sonny Bradley at the weekend, and used all his experience to help keep out a Robins team who had scored in all but one of their league games this season.
On a first shut out of the campaign, Jones said: “It’s the most satisfying aspect, it really is.
“I knew a defensive midfield player would help that as I look at the games and we’ve conceded too many goals from just outside the box with shots and Martin’s understanding gave us that.
“We did a lot of work in the last two weeks, it’s what the international breaks do, give you the chance to reflect and measure what’s happened.”
Cranie himself admitted that the change to a back three hadn’t been set in stone until they saw just how the Robins were lining up on the day.
He said: “It was probably an hour before - it was sort of, we’re going to go diamond, but we were waiting for their teamsheet basically, what players they had out and we could work out what formation they were going to play.
“We knew they were going to go 3-5-2 before the game, so we thought we’d match them up and see how that goes.
“We’ve worked on it the last two weeks, just getting a feel for it, but I thought it worked well.
"We were good in possession first half, under the cosh a little bit second half, but generally we limited them to not a lot of chances.”
Jones admitted that he had been looking at altering the shape of his side for a while, and had worked on it extensively in the build up to this fixture with the players available to him.
However, he concurred, it was when seeing what line-up his opponents had gone with that he put the plan into place.
He added: “We’ve been working with a back three for nine days now, so we needed to get another system in this football club.
“I do a lot of analysis on the opposition and sometimes you don’t want to be guessing, so we needed to be ready for both.
“They’ve played 4-4-2 and 3-5-2. Now Lee’s (Johnson) a lot further down the line than I am.
"Immediately, they made a substitution when they went behind, brought on their two wide men into their other shape, so you need to be ready.
"That’s the challenges of this league, you don’t always get them right, but remember I don’t name the team until right before.
"So I was aware of what both challenges, tactically, they could have been.
"Martin Cranie helps you, gives you that flexibility that we didn’t have against QPR, that we did have today.
"So that decision wasn’t made just before the game, we’d had eight sessions last week working that way.”