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by Layth Yousif
at Kenilworth Road
ON A glorious late winter’s afternoon, Saturday was a good day for Luton Town.
Elijah Adebayo's late winner sealed a superb second-half comeback. 2-0 down at half-time they looked dead and buried, before a barnstorming finish saw them rally in a thrilling match to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2.
Josh Windass's first-half brace put the Owls in a comfortable position, but Luton boss Nathan Jones’s inspired triple substitution at the interval turned the game on its head, as the home side rose to the heady heights of 12th in the Championship.
Inside evocative Kenilworth Road, you can’t help but notice a large banner in the main stand that reads: “Luton Town. Established 1885. Betrayed by the FA 2008.”
Back in the mid-noughties, when Mike Newell’s team were impressing in League One, off the field irregularities saw damaging points deductions that led to three successive relegations, as the club hurtled out of league football.
The injustice of the 30-point deduction that doomed the club to five years in the wilderness of the National League still jars. They’ve been on an odyssey ever since.
Yet, things are looking up once again.
With permission for a new ground granted at the Power Court site in central Luton, with a potential capacity of up to 23,500, the move could see the club explode.
Always a club far bigger than many give credit for, the Hatters smashed records with average attendances of around 8,000 during their time in non-league.
For now, they still play at Kenilworth Road, their historic but cramped home.
The stadium is situated in the Bury Park area of the town. To get there, in the traffic, you edge past “Thrill of the Grill” and other fast-food joints, a proliferation of cash and carry’s, fish markets and the proliferation of restaurants offering mouth-watering south Asian cuisine.
In busy the Bury Park, a sign says: “Do not leave your house without a permitted reason.” Yet, the bustling area was reason enough for many out buying food along a vibrant road in a struggling town.
The Covid crisis has hit the town of Luton hard, causing a huge shortfall in the council's budgets, not least through the loss of revenue from the nearby airport and major employer.
Yet, there is hope in a town that proudly refuses to die, not least through the football club.
The visitors to this corner of Bedfordshire were Sheffield’s fallen giants, Wednesday.
It was an irony that 30 years to the day, the Owls beat Chelsea 3-1 in a League Cup semi-final to seal a trip to Wembley — where they were to beat Manchester United 1-0 through a John Sheridan goal, in a season when they also clinched promotion back to the top-flight.
Since their formation in 1867 the club has a proud history that also includes three FA Cup wins as well as being top-tier champions four times. But those league triumphs were all before the Titanic sailed.
Wednesday have now been absent from the top-flight for 20 gruelling years and are in the middle of another debilitating relegation battle to avoid the drop to League One.
It’s been another tough season so far for the Owls and Saturday was no different. Following the dismissal of previous managers Garry Monk and Tony Pulis this term, Neil Thompson has remained in caretaker charge of the club for the time being.
Windass, the son of the incorrigible battering ram that was Dean, impressed in a lively opening 45 minutes, as did the powerful Izzy Brown and the influential Callum Paterson.
You could tell there was a lot at stake for Thompson’s side by the way they vigorously marked Windass’s opening goal. It seemed fitting that the outpouring of joy during the celebrations were in front a Luton banner that read “Nathan Jones Barmy Army!” if only because the sign came complete with an exclamation mark.
As an aside, Luton Town is a fine club with fine people but, it has to be said, blasting continuous canned noise during the game grated hugely.
The constant wail sounded like the B side of a particularly self-indulgent early 70s prog rock band, crossed with a whale giving birth, then mixing it with the braying noise emitted by an audience for Mrs Browns’ Boys.
While the concept, presumably, was intended to offer support to the home side, such inauthentic, irritating noise did absolutely no-one any favours, not the least home side who went into the break 2-0 down after Windass grabbed his second.
While everyone has to find their own way through this dreadful pandemic, football and sport are generally authentic endeavors. Yet, to poison the airwaves with fake crowd noise is an unsettling as it is pointless, as it sadly polluted the airwaves around Kenilworth Road.
With no fans allowed due to ongoing Covid restrictions, a quick look around the ground saw flags read that “Leighton Buzzard Hatters” and “Scandinavian Hatters,” who, to be fair, could probably hear the canned noise all the way from Bedfordshire.
Yet they would certainly have been making enough noise of their own when their team pulled off one of the comebacks of the season following boss Jones’s triple substitution.
His bold changes were soon rewarded when Kal Naismith flicked in Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall's corner before Adebayo's low cross was slotted home by Ryan Tunnicliffe to make it 2-2.
Naismith caught the eye throughout, with resolute defending mixed with influential forays further forward to supplement attacks. Alongside him at centreback was the experienced Hatters captain Matty Pearson.
Glen Rea in the middle also impressed while the cultured Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu added silk and steel. Further forward was the elegant Tom Ince whose sleek engine purred up front.
Yet even at 2-2 you felt more drama was to come, prior to Adebayo capping an outstanding comeback, nodding home Harry Cornick's deep cross.
There was time for the Hatters to see out seven minutes of added time, on their way to clinching three vital points.
And when referee Craig Hicks blew the final whistle to end a riveting match — as well thankfully, the infernal canned racket — they played Eric Morecambe’s signature tune over the PA.
On a gloriously sunny late winter’s day, in front of unbridled joy from the home side’s playing contingent and officials after such a stirring comeback, as the strains of the soothing Bring Me Sunshine rang out, you just knew Saturday was a good day for Luton Town.
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