OPINION: Luton Town boss Nathan Jones is right to think 'we're back!'
Hatters manager has rebuilt his relationship with the Town fans
‘We’re back, we’re back', maybe with the odd expletive thrown in, was what Luton boss Nathan Jones was heard roaring to the Enclosure once more following the 1-0 win over Hull City on Saturday, and it’s safe to say that you get the feeling he and the fans now are.
For those watching on, it felt like something of a watershed moment for the Town manager as despite having been back in charge for 17 months, that was the first time he had really allowed himself to let go of his emotions in front of the Hatters supporters at Kenilworth Road.
The scenes were reminiscent of his first time with Luton when they happened on a regular basis, as back then, he had formed a supremely tight bond with the Town faithful, leading the club out of League Two and to the upper echelons of League One before appearing to have broken that beyond repair following his controversial move to Stoke City.
How he was going to be received when he came back in May of last year was anyone’s guess, although he needn't have lost too much sleep over it, with no fans allowed inside the ground due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On social media it was a mixed reaction to say the least, but after Jones did superbly to keep the club up against all the odds, with a feat that not many other managers, if any, could have pulled off, he then had a campaign where bar two games against Norwich City and Preston North End, supporters remained absent.
The early signs were that the Welshman was slowly and surely winning Town's followers back onside again with his increasingly impressive efforts at the helm, both times warmly received by the small number in attendance, eventually earning the Hatters their best second tier points tally since the 1981-82 campaign.
With full houses back this term, Jones was given an excellent reception before and after the opening game against Peterborough as in his words, he continued to build the bridges he had already started to put in place beforehand.
Back to Saturday, and the manager had mentioned previously how he wanted to enjoy the moment following the utterly magnificent victory over Coventry recently, Town earning a thumping 5-0 win when it could easily have been lot more.
However on that night, he held back slightly due to the reception following the 3-3 draw with Swansea when struck by injuries, Town let a 3-0 lead half time lead slip away as they only emerged with a point, some in the home stands voicing their frustrations at the full-time whistle.
Jones obviously couldn't go too crazy after a 0-0 draw with Huddersfield, but then at Millwall last weekend, with 1,600 at the Den and Luton winning a first game at the Lions since 1999, the manager stated publicly for the first time he felt his relationship with the Luton fans was 'back'.
Fast forward a week and following a hard-fought 1-0 win on Saturday, with Jones and his players being applauded off, it was like the old days once more, the 48-year-old unable to keep a lid on his feelings any longer, rejoicing fully with those who were giving Town a well deserved ovation.
Speaking about the moment afterwards, Jones himself said: “Brilliant, and we’ve come a long way.
"We've had to come a long way with the fans, they’ve been patient and we’ve had to build some bridges, but we're back now and we should be back.
"Because I think you'd have to choose to be, and I’ll choose my words very carefully, as bitter as bitter can be, to not say, 'okay, we’ll let that one go,' as we’re fifth in the Championship, fifth in the Championship, so let that linger.
"Because that’s a magnificent place to be and for Luton, two years ago, if someone said Luton would be fifth in the Championship, would you take that?
"I think every sane Luton fan would have done that.”
Now, there will still be the small minority of fans who don’t buy into the chest-beating and post-match antics because of what happened before, with not even Jones delivering the Premier League football that Town CEO Gary Sweet is convinced will happen to the Hatters changing their opinion.
However, for the vast majority, it’s safe to say that the history is just that now, with the Nathan Jones’ promotion song to the tune of Herman's Hermits 'I’m into Something Good' getting more and more of a regular airing in recent weeks.
For all the naysayers, there’s no doubt about it, Jones just gets Luton.
He is a great fit for the Hatters as they are for him.
The manager has tried a move away to a supposedly bigger club with a bigger budget and on paper better players, no-one could begrudge him that, it was just the manner in which it happened, the infamous picture with the manager of the month award, which will grate with many, but has been apologised about frequently and covered to death now.
Mistakes happen in life, and the grass isn't always greener, something Jones has found out the hard way, mentioning recently he has had players on far more money with far bigger egos that don’t posses the kind of work-rate and desire that he sees on a daily basis in the Luton squad.
That’s where Jones is at his best, as it’s hard to think of many players he hasn't improved during his two spells at the club, with someone like Harry Cornick now playing the best football of his Town career.
One of the biggest achievements he has managed during his second stint is the ability to turn Town into a side that are not overly worried by the opposition, but can go to places in the Championship expecting, not hoping, to get results.
In recent times, Luton supporters and journalists alike have rocked up at grounds like the Den, the City Ground, or Pride Park looking at the opposition's team-sheet and thinking 'Town will do well to get a point here'.
That has now changed, mainly thanks to the players who Jones has been able to bring into the club, but also with the rhetoric coming from the manager and within the squad that Luton are now established at this level, something that was lacking during the first year in the second tier, with fellow teams starting to fear just who is on the pitch for the Hatters.
It has led to Hatters changing from a team expected to battle relegation to one with what are quickly turning into genuine promotion hopes as they sit fifth in the Championship, Jones' ambitions of finishing in the top six possibly becoming a reality this term.
The fans can play a part in that too as both he and Town's players have often mentioned what a force they can be with the crowd fully behind them, especially at home.
So hopefully those inside Kenilworth Road, even the ones that will forever remain sceptical, will be seeing plenty more of Jones going mad at the full time whistle this term, as that can only mean one thing.