Luton Town defied the expectations of even their most optimistic supporters last season and Nathan Jones will be keen to prove that is was no fluke again in 2022/23.
An impressive run of form in the second-half of the campaign saw the Hatters finish sixth, earning themselves a place in the play-offs as they looked to return to English football’s top flight for the first time in over 20-years.
Despite drawing 1-1 in the first leg of the semi-finals, a 1-0 defeat to Huddersfield Town in the reverse fixtures meant it was the Terriers who progressed to the final whilst Jones’ side were condemned to another season in the Championship.
But after a busy summer, with no fewer than seven new arrivals at Kenilworth Road, Town fans would be forgiven for feeling optimistic ahead Saturday’s curtain-raiser at home to Birmingham City.
“We lost Kal Naismith, who was one of our top performers last season, and it was a real shock to see him leave.
“But once you sit back and look at it, we’ve actually got enough to cover for him with the likes of Amari’i Bell and Gabriel Osho, plus we are still looking for another left-sided centre-back to come in.
“Aside from that, it’s been another fruitful transfer window, stronger than when we entered it and the optimism is high across the Luton Town fan base.”
A busy summer has continued with striker Carlton Morris becoming their seventh new arrival.
The 26-year-old joined the Hatters for an undisclosed fee from relegated Barnsley – where he scored 16 goals in 55 appearances – with some reports suggesting the fee could be upwards of £2 million.
Morris joins fellow former Barnsley forward Cauley Woodrow and the likes of Alfie Doughty, Matt Macey, Louie Watson, Ethan Horvath and Luke Freeman in making the switch to Kenilworth Road.
The aforementioned arrivals signal a real statement of intent by the Bedfordshire club, according to Ian.
“Nathan Jones asked the board to be brave this window and I think we’ve done that.
“I’d be surprised if the Morris figure is the one reported, possibly close with add-ons, but the upfront fee isn’t likely to be close to the £2 million mark and I’d even suggest it’s paid over a period of a couple of years.
“That said, we’ve spent wisely and cautiously this window, without in my opinion any financial risk or trap doors.
“We are run financially very well and we’ve had some nice income over the last couple of seasons which has enabled us to play a little bit in the market.”
“In terms of further additions – for the first team, it looks like we are still looking for that left-sided centre-back and I have a feeling we may still be in for another midfielder – apart from that we’re pretty much done.
“We are, however, recruiting well for the development team, which has been a focus the last few months and we’re looking to bring in Aribim Pepple from Cavalry FC and Max Haygarth from Brentford B.
“Both look like they’ve got bright futures and will have one eye on the first team.”
As well as plenty of fresh faces, Hatters fans will be buoyed by some impressive pre-season results in a summer that saw Town begin their preparation against non-league neighbours Hitchin Town and ended with an impressive 1-1 draw against last season’s Europa League semi-finalists West Ham.
But it’s not just the results which have filled Ian with confidence, it’s also the way Jones’s side have played, particularly against Premier League opposition.
“The results have been positive and the performances encouraging,” he explains.
“I’d have liked to have played one or two more games in that period but we’ve had a tight turnaround due to the play-offs, but there’s not much we can do about that.
“We’ve been trying to hold possession more and working it into the box rather than playing it long as much; it’s been patient and confident play at times.
“The press against West Ham worked well as they struggled to contain us at times, but overall we look like we’ve upped in quality and that’s balanced across the team more evenly.”
Each season the odds appear to be unfavourably stacked against Luton, yet the club, which appears to thrive in the face of adversity, continues to progress at every opportunity.
The upward curve within the past decade may have culminated in a play-off disappointment last May, but the positives remain there for all to see.
Despite sitting as high as third in the middle of March, a run of three wins from their final eight games – which included a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Champions Fulham – saw Luton slip to sixth spot.
But that’s not to take anything anyway from a Hatters side who still secured their best league finish since 1991/92 – the last time they were in the English top-flight.
So does Ian think that progression can continue ahead of another gruelling Championship campaign to come?
“That’s a very good question,” he says.
“We finished sixth last season and I’ve predicted seventh this, and whilst that’s a decline of one place, it’s a stronger division this season and we’re transitioning the team slightly to add that possession to our game.
“So if you look at the whole picture, and it not being just one season, we’ll improve as a club and a team.
“But we definitely have it in us to improve on last season, it’s just going to be tougher.
“For me it’ll be 7th spot with a possible flirt with the play-offs.”