FA Cup Preview – Luton (A)

Today presents Latics with a very welcome break from Championship action as we travel down to Luton for our FA Cup Third Round tie.

It’s a competition that we have fond memories of and no matter the mood around the club a cup tie always feels exciting. As I’m sure Luton will agree its far from a glamorous draw but both will feel its a winnable one, particularly if the one team doesn’t take it as seriously as the other. However, thinks at Latics are tough at the moment…

Kolo Touré’s tenure has started pretty much as badly as it could’ve. 5 games, 1 point and 4 consecutive losses is about as grim as it gets and with the transfer window a week old there hasn’t been any sign of reinforcements just yet. Hopefully, that changes soon because its been a rough week!

Latics Team News

Well, if you’d told me after the Hull game that we’d be two players lighter coming into this game I’d have hoped it would be pretty much any players other than the ones we’ve lost.

The sad thing is both exits felt inevitable. Graeme Shinnie will be spending the second half of the season on loan at Aberdeen and Nathan Broadhead will be spending the second half of the season permanently contracted to a club that isn’t Everton or Wigan. Both, in my opinion, were comfortably in our best XI and both will be huge losses to an already weak squad.

Anyway, lets talk about those still here! Ben Amos may well get a chance to show his worth between the sticks, especially considering the fact that Jamie Jones has been far from good recently. Hull’s third goal on Monday was down to his poor judgement and any goalkeeper that’s averaging 3 goals conceded per game under Kolo isn’t secure in his spot in the team.

I’d like to see us go pretty strong for this game and try and find some form for our players. With that in mind I’d probably name an unchanged back 4, maybe with Pearce and Hughes in if they’re back from injury. However, we need to start getting some consistency with our team selection, particularly defensively. After all, how are our players meant to build cohesion if they’re chopped and changed every game…

Midfield is a tough call, especially after Shinnie’s exit. He changed the game when he came on in the league game at Kenilworth Road but now that he’s gone eyes will turn to Power, Naylor and Cousins to do their jobs better. Power needs a rest as he’s played every minute this season, which is a polite way of me saying his performances do not warrant a spot in the first team. Cousins and Naylor for me, maybe even Scott Smith for his token cup appearance of the season.

The forward line is where the real experimentation can take place. Anthony Scully, or as he’s known to many Latics fans – ‘who?’, needs a start on the left wing. I’d put Thelo through the middle in a bid to see him get on the ball more often and show his talent, and probably Lang on the right to try and allow him to recapture form. They need form, Scully needs fitness and everyone needs confidence. They’ll only get those things by playing.

An Opposition View

1) A lot has changed since the last time these two sides met! Despite Latics winning at Kenilworth Road back in September your side have enjoyed a far better season so far, just talk us through how things have been at the Hatters since then.

“Luton’s home results were frustrating under Jones. After that defeat to Wigan, it was two games more before Town won at Kenilworth Rd for the first time. And it was just one more win for Jones before he left for Southampton. Rob Edwards came in and won his first home game and it set Luton up for a perfect Christmas, which has put them back in the play-off picture.” [@LutonJournoLTFC]

2) Nathan Jones left for Southampton back in November and was replaced by Rob Edwards, a man I was keen to see take the Latics job! What are your first impressions on Edwards?

“He’s virtually had a dream start. Town we’re unlucky to lose in his first game, but three victories on the spin since have really endeared him to the Hatters fans. They’ve already got a song for him and a quick bond appears to have been formed. I thought that might be one thing that could be irreplaceable after Jones left but I’m delighted to have been proved wrong. He speaks very well and has delivered on those words so far. You can see why he did so well at Forest Green, so quite what those managerial merry-go-round merchants down the road were thinking is anyone’s guess, but their loss is Luton’s gain.” [@LutonJournoLTFC]

3) Luton had a clear way of playing under Nathan Jones and seem to have picked up where you left off under the new manager. Has much changed on the pitch since Edwards’ arrival?

“The early signs are that Edwards mixes it up more than Jones and can make effective in-game changes. He’s certainly less direct, but no less effective and intense. It’s more pleasing to the eye, but he’s had a good platform to build on and has taken what came before and just enhanced it in small but considerate ways, that suits the players he’s got. Edwards’ subs have also been very bold and influential, while he’s benefitting from the width, pace and power of a fully fit Alfie Doughty and the return of Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu.” [@LutonJournoLTFC]

4) The FA Cup offers teams the chance to rotate their squad, but can also provide a good source of income and success should it be taken seriously. Would you like to see a full strength side against Latics or a more rotated outfit?

“Edwards’ had quite a threadbare squad at his disposal to begin with, with a depleted defence in particular. But the treatment room is starting to empty, so I think he can make changes without weakening the side. Confidence is high too, so that is such an important psychological factor. He’s already said that he wants to maintain their winning momentum and so, in terms of his line-up, he won’t go mad. He’s keen for a cup run, so I think it’ll be a fairly strong side.” [@LutonJournoLTFC]

Tactical Talk

I feel like I’ve written enough about all the problems Latics are currently having with their style of play, or should I say lack there of. The transition from 3-5-2 / 4-2-3-1 long ball, defensive football to 4-4-2 / 4-2-3-1, in theory, more patient build up, forward thinking football hasn’t been smooth at all. We’re paying the price for making radical changes to our playing style without having the time or the money to overhaul the squad.

Against Hull something happened that told me the past month or so have been a complete waste of time though. 45 minutes into Kolo’s 5th game in charge, we reverted back to ‘Leam ball’.

But not the effective ‘Leam ball’ that got us promoted and had us performing well early on this season. It was the kind of football that made us lose 7 games out of 8 under the former manager, created huge anger in the fanbase and made us one of the worst teams to watch in the country. But this was the new manager, the man we’d tasked with revamping how we play and moving us forward with modern tactical thinking. It took 400 minutes of football for Kolo to haemorrhage his philosophies and revert to type.

The model we should be following is that of our opponents Luton Town. As well run clubs go I’d put them up there with the Brighton’s and Brentford’s of this world, just incredibly sensible in all aspects of their football operations. They lost long term manager Nathan Jones unexpectedly to Southampton but had a succession plan ready and employed an excellent young manager in Rob Edwards.

He’s playing the same formation, pretty much the same players and has retained a lot of the key values that made them so good under Jones whilst also putting his own twist on things. This has made the transition from manager to manager really straightforward and shows the benefit of having a club identity that fits specific managers / players. Its something we should look to have from now on.

Their 3-4-1-2 system is well drilled and extremely effective. The front two work tirelessly and have the technical ability to fashion chances for themselves and others. Luton’s midfielders are the engine room and set the tone with their press and aggressive ball winning, as well as offering good ball retention skills. The width comes from their forward thinking wing backs and their back 3 provides them with a good base to launch their attacks from.

Its well drilled, simple and effective. But it has its weaknesses. In the league game at Kenilworth Road we got our joy by playing our wingers high in the space outside the WCB’s and behind the WBs. Callum Lang did it so well, as he did all the time in League One, and created both goals with his intelligent play.

Scully and Lang are the players that can do this for Latics. Get them high up the pitch with Thelo in the 10 role dropping off and making space for others, getting on the ball and creating plays. Their back 3 are dominant in the air so maybe playing someone like Will Keane up top to try and link play as well as provide a vocal point could be good.

I just want to see a genuine plan in this game. Don’t change our ways, play how Kolo wants us to play and see what happens. Its a free hit.

Final Thoughts

We need some positivity. We really really need some positivity.

The FA Cup offers us a great chance to get some tactical familiarity into the players, some fitness and hopefully some confidence too. We’ve got a decent history in the competition recently and Kolo has a great record in it too so I’d like to think we’ll take it pretty seriously. Hopefully some fringe players get a go too, as well as some youth team stars, but on the whole I’d like to see a strong side put out.

Even if we don’t win, lets just make it worthwhile. Play well and build from there. Up the Tics.

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