By nature, I much prefer to play things down rather than up – probably part of the reason why I only ever made it to the very lowest levels of sports writing – but even I’m struggling to downplay the importance of tonight’s game.
A good win and the ship (for a few days at least) will be steadied, but anything that falls into the range between ugly win and horrific defeat and the growing number of anti-Smithers will rise again.
As I’ve described on several occasions, I remain unconvinced by Smudgerball, and Dean Smith certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice as head coach, but (also by nature) I’m drawn to an underdog – a position in which our head coach and his assistant clearly find themselves.
But I do understand the sentiment even if I tire of it raring its ugly head at any performance that doesn’t reach 9/10 or above.
All of which is why a good win and an equally good performance are absolutely vital tonight.
I’d love nothing more than to be able to peruse #NCFC Twitter post-match and not have my timeline filled with the usual suspects finding new combinations of words to say the exact same thing they’ve been saying all season – that they don’t like Dean Smith.
Or in some cases, they don’t like Dean Smith because he’s not German, isn’t especially charming, and doesn’t go out of his way to engage with the fans.
One particular, nameless Tweeter took it upon him or her self to write an open ‘letter’ to Dean Smith
Thankfully, he or she doesn’t speak for the masses, as they claim, and even the most ardent anti-Smithers were unimpressed with its ridiculousness.
But, love Smith or hate him, that good performance for which we’re all waiting can’t come soon enough.
Whether tonight is the night only time will tell – and maybe we’re awaiting something that’s never going to happen – but Luton are probably not the opponents you would choose when in dire need of a win and a good showing.
Despite Nathan Jones popping off to Stoke when a seemingly better offer was put before him, his second coming at Kenilworth Road now comes with the full backing of Hatters’ fans who love the fact this Luton team is built in the image of the man who created it.
Feisty, lively, high octane, hard working, tenacious and aggressive.
If some of the more delicate members of our midfield were hoping for a quieter, less physical night than the one they experienced at Vicarage Road, they are going to be disappointed.
That some of our midfield brethren have shrunk of late in the face of robust, physical tests will not have been lost on Jones and his team, and with all of those things forming a key part of the Hatters’ modus operandi, we know what’s coming.
Whether or not Dean Smith has the personnel available to cope with it is another matter.
What is enough to make the sphincter twitch is that Luton arrive off the back of successive victories and an unbeaten run that’s now extended to six games. At the weekend they swatted aside highly-fancied QPR in a comfortable 3-1 win.
What we also know is that they will line up in a 3-5-2, or a slight variation of it, and will field a team that contains some familiar faces.
In the centre of that midfield five will likely be one Henri Lansbury, who will be one of the main providers of ammunition for a front two of Carlton Morris and Elijah Adebayo – the former of course a hero of our 2012-13 FA Youth Cup winning team.
And should either Morris or Adebayo get a knock or run themselves into the ground before the 90+ minutes are up, then expect to see Cameron Jerome enter the fray and treat us to his usual non-stop, all-action type display.
(Whisper it quietly, but it would surprise no-one if Morris or Jerome [or both] were to get on the scoresheet later.)
Luton’s back-three of Tom Lockyer, Sonny Bradley and Dan Potts will be uncompromising and unyielding, with time and space being at a premium for Teemu Pukki, Josh Sargent and AN Other.
Their midfield five has of late compromised James Bree, Lansbury, Jordan Clark, and Amari’i Bell, with Allan Campbell being the one tasked with getting close to and providing support for their front pairing.
It is, on paper, a good, solid, workmanlike Championship side with a sprinkling of talented individuals who can be matchwinners.
Anyone foolish enough to think this will be a 3-0 stroll as it was the last time the Hatters’ visited could be in for a nasty shock.
Of more relevance perhaps are the three previous fixtures between the two teams, which were all won by Luton. And, in addition, some of us are still scarred from the FA Cup defeat in 2013 – a City side that contained a fresh-faced youngster called Harry Kane.
As if you needed reminding…
All of which has made me doubly apprehensive ahead of tonight…
But, regardless of where we are and how we got here, and who likes who and who wants who sacked, there’s a football match to be won later, and having gone three without one it’s now time to get back on the horse.
For all of my big build up of Luton and their undoubted qualities, they are also a side we’re capable of beating if we play well enough. IF.
It’s time for a few of the players Dean Smith has shown faith in (perhaps too much at times) to start to repay it. For all of the head coach’s supposed failings, there have been some shoddy individual performances of late and it’s time they started delivering again.
Oh how I’d love something positive to write about tomorrow morning.
Never Mind the Danger…