Luton goalkeeper Simon Sluga has admitted he just ‘wasn’t good enough’ during his introduction to English football when joining the Hatters.
The Croatian international was signed by Town for a club record fee of around £1.5m from HNK Rijeka on July 19, 2019 by former boss Graeme Jones and was then thrust into their opening game of the Championship campaign against Middlesbrough just 21 days later.
Although he made a stunning save early on, he was beaten by Britt Assombalonga's tame side-footed attempt that went straight through him, castigating himself by hammering the post with his gloves, as the game eventually finished 3-3.
Sluga then played the next 10 games, conceding 18 goals, but made a number of errors, none more so than at Derby County when he let Matty Pearson’s backpass run under his foot and into the net, while also being beaten from the touch-line by Tom Lawrence’s cross-shot.
That saw Sluga dropped to the bench for the next 11 games with James Shea coming in, before he came back against Swansea in December, playing two of the next four outings.
He returned for the 2-1 home defeat against Birmingham in January, going on to retain his place for the rest of the season, as Town went on to stay up on the final day with a 3-2 win over Blackburn Rovers.
On his tough start to life at Kenilworth Road, Sluga, who was giving his first interview to the club’s official website this afternoon said: “For every person it's different.
"To be honest if I could tell you exactly what was bothering me, why it was hard to settle, why I was not at my best and why I was doing mistakes, I don't know, because if I knew at the time, I wouldn't do it, it's obvious.
"I am not a person that likes to tell stories about why something happened, good or bad or to try and have some alibis.
"I can just say at the moment, at that time, I wasn’t good enough and this is the truth and for me the whole story.
"I wasn’t good enough at the time for many, many reasons.
"But they don't matter now at the moment, I'm thinking about my responsibilities, I don't have a problem with that.”
Sluga started to show just what he was capable of during his second spell in the side, earning a first clean sheet against Sheffield Wednesday in February, with a second following immediately in the 1-0 win at Middlesbrough.
It was at Wigan Athletic where he fully arrived though, with an absolutely stunning last-gasp save to secure what was ultimately a crucial point for the visitors in their bid to stay up before the campaign was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Once the season restarted again, Sluga excellent in the final nine matches, with three shut-outs in the final nine games, plus a starring role during the 1-1 draw at champions Leeds United.
The 28-year-old was typically modest when discussing his impact in the Great Escape, plus that moment at the DW Stadium, saying: "If you want to be very honest, I cannot say that some of my saves or me saved us the last season, it was a lot of things, a lot of persons, a lot of situations,
"If I'm going to say that I keep us up, I also need to say that at the start of the season I almost relegated us.
"So it's a lot of situations, a lot of people, a lot of things were there to keep us up last year and it was unbelievable.
“There were the fans at the stadiums for the biggest part of the season so they have lot of credit.
"I remember against Wigan, it was at the end, a lethargic game that I didn't have a lot of stuff to do then when it comes in the last minute for a point and when it's important, it's a nice feeling, it's a nice feeling."
The stopper also wanted to praise goalkeeper coach Kevin Dearden for helping him through those difficult periods, saying: “Kevin is here from the first moment, one of the persons who wanted me here.
"He helped me the most to get settled to the UK life to the UK football from the goalkeeping side, he's a great, great person.
"I like him very much, all the credit to him to for a lot of good things that happened last year and this year and is going to happen.
"I want to say thank you to him."
Now a full season on, Sluga has been in outstanding form, racking up 13 clean sheets in all competitions, seven more than he managed last term, saving a penalty from Chelsea striker Timo Werner at Stamford Bridge, and but for Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s sensational campaign, would be a shoe-in for the player of the year award.
It has led to the Hatters being breached just 49 times, the 10th meanest defence in the division as they will definitely finish in a top half position after tomorrow’s finale at QPR.
Sluga added: "When you're comparing it with the last year it is progress, of course it is.
“We are in a much better position, we didn’t struggle at any point of the season and we weren’t afraid of being in the relegation battle or not
"We had a lot of good games, much more good games than bad.
“It is a tough, tough league, the Championship.
"Tough opponents so all the credit to the staff and to the players, to the club, to everyone, because we did a massive thing
"I’m very happy with everyone, but like I said we had good games, bad games, better performances, worse performances, but at the end to be in the first 12, we can all be happy with ourselves.”