The inside track on Luton Town: What Middlesbrough's can expect from the Hatters at Kenilworth Road
Middlesbrough will travel to Kenilworth Road for their Championship opener against Luton Town on Friday night – but what can Jonathan Woodgate’s side expect?
We caught up with Hatters reporter James Cunliffe from our sister title Luton Today to see how Boro’s opponents are shaping up.
1. How are Luton shaping up and how have they played in pre-season?
JC: “The last friendly was a 5-1 defeat to Norwich and were thoroughly outclassed. They'd beaten Portuguese top flight side Maritimo a few days before in 30 degrees heat, but manager Graeme Jones said the City loss was a wake-up call ahead of the Middlesbrough game.”
2. Who are Luton's key players and who will Boro need to look out for?
JC: “Two of their biggest attacking assets last term - full backs James Justin and player of the season Jack Stacey - have left for the Premier League.
“They've also brought in six new players, including club record signing Simon Sluga, a Croatian international goalkeeper, so we'll have to wait and see on those players. But striker James Collins has been top scorer for the last two campaigns, and if he gets good service he'll be dangerous.”
3. What system are Luton likely to play?
JC: “4-4-2 with a diamond midfield has been their trademark for the last two seasons, bringing huge success, but that relied heavily on the full backs bombing on and feeding Collins.
“It was also the favoured formation of the last two managers and new bosses come with new ideas. Graeme Jones gave the diamond a go against Norwich but he's already said he'll have to approach things in a different way. What that is, however, is another guessing game.”
4. How are the fans feeling ahead of the season opener against Boro?
JC: “There are quite a few unknown quantities with a new manager in charge and so much movement in the transfer market. But, generally, there's a sense of optimism on and off the pitch, not least because of back-to-back promotions.
“Also, the club was perilously close to becoming extinct 11 years ago, so now fans feel like the dark days are over and the the club is back where it belongs. “Most realistic supporters understand that so much has changed since Luton were last in the Championship, not least the finances, which means the Hatters are no longer a big fish in a small pond.
“But the club is now run exceptionally well by a board of fans who live and breath Luton Town, so the club is more united than it has been in perhaps 30 years and most fans are prepared to just enjoy the ride.”
5. What would mark a good season for Luton this year?
JC: “One place above the relegation zone would be acceptable and anything more would be a bonus.”
6. Finally, how do you think the game will go and what's your score prediction?
JC: “There's no getting away from the fact that Middlesbrough are regular contenders for the Championship play-offs or promotion, so it's going to be a baptism of fire for Luton.
“At their best in the last two seasons Town have blitzed teams early on, but with the step up in class and Saturday's drubbing still in the rearview mirror I can see it being a cagey affair.
“The optimist in me is going for a 1-1 draw, but the realist thinks Boro may be too strong and win 2-1.”