Fan Talk: Unfashionable Luton will not stop ruffling feathers
In the middle of a quiet week of domestic football, videos of Luton boss Nathan Jones jumping into the crowd to celebrate victory at Swansea quickly went viral.
The passionate Welshman roared with delight in front of the 300 travelling fans after a hard-fought 1-0 victory saw the Hatters move within three points of the Championship play-off places.
Currently the only side in the top half of the second tier to have never played in the Premier League, Luton continue to punch above their weight.
Ahead of an FA Cup fourth-round tie at Newcastle’s giant-killers Cambridge, LiveScore's resident Hatters fan looks at his beloved club’s unlikely play-off push.
Victory in South Wales on Tuesday night made it five wins in eight league games since the start of December for Luton.
The only defeat in that run came at Sheffield United, while trips to Blackpool and Reading have seen comfortable victories.
But it is the results at home against the current top three that have the Kenilworth Road faithful buzzing.
In both the 1-1 draw against Fulham and the goalless stalemate with Blackburn, Jones’ men had the better chances.
And against Bournemouth, after throwing away a two-goal lead, player of the season Kal Naismith’s wonderful 97th-minute winner gave them a memorable 3-2 win.
On Tuesday, Jones said: "I don’t think you’re going down on 42 points, but that's our first thing achieved.
"Now we have 18 games to go, 18 massive games where we have to keep consistency, try and get as many points as we can and see where it takes us."
The perfect fit
There is not a manager who better fits a club than Jones at Luton.
In his first spell, he guided Luton to promotion from League Two, before controversially moving to Stoke midway through their League One title-winning campaign.
But Jones came to the rescue after the coronavirus lockdown, ensuring Championship survival for a team that were six points from safety when he took over.
A stress-free 2020-21 campaign saw a mid-table finish and after more good recruitment in the summer, a play-off push is now not out of the question.
While the likes of Bournemouth, Fulham and West Brom spend millions on players, the Hatters pick up free agents and lower league gems.
He’s magic, you know…
The star attraction is 12-goal striker Elijah Adebayo.
Picked up from Walsall for a reported £250,000 last January, he has netted 17 times in 43 games for the Hatters over the past 12 months.
Standing at 6ft 3in, the Fulham youth product is an aerial threat and has dominated plenty of more experienced centre-halves this year.
He has great skill with his feet too and with six goals inside the six-yard box this season, there are clearly natural poacher instincts.
Speaking in January, team-mate Naismith said: "When you've got a Premier League striker up top and I don’t say that lightly, I train with him day in day out, I know what we can do. He’s at a great place to keep progressing and he will."
Adebayo missed the win at Swansea with an injury and it was the first time this season the Hatters have won without him in four attempts.
Solid at the back
There are 12 teams that have conceded fewer goals than the Hatters, yet only Bournemouth have kept more than their 12 clean sheets.
Naismith, who has played in every position on the pitch in his career, has moved to centre-half in his 12 months in Bedfordshire and should be on the verge of a Scotland call-up.
Skipper Sonny Bradley remains a calm and composed presence in his fourth season at the club.
And then Reece Burke, Tom Lockyer and Gabe Osho have all excelled when called upon, with former West Ham youngster Burke producing the sort of overlapping runs from centre-back that Sheffield United made famous under Chris Wilder.
The other consistent is James Bree at right-back. A strong defender whose deliveries from wide and set-pieces get better every week.
A familiar foe
First and foremost, a spot in the last-16 of the FA Cup for the first time in nine years is on the cards this weekend.
Luton visit Cambridge in a meeting of two clubs with no love lost between them after spending much of the last decade battling in League Two and the National League.
U’s boss Mark Bonner said: "I think it’s the whole occasion. I’m quite excited I think about a sold-out Abbey Stadium under floodlights on a Saturday evening."
The ground will be bouncing and if the Hatters do avoid an upset, no Premier League clubs will fancy a visit to the hostile Kenilworth Road.
Beyond that, Jones’ men will look to continue to live up to their tag of dark horses in this year’s play-off race.
If the unthinkable does happen, it would be one of the great fairytale stories in modern football.
From non-league to the Premier League in eight years is not out of the question.
Remarkably, midfielder and club legend Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu would have been there to see it all.