Club desperate to return to the League
16 February ~ A cup run, according to the editorial in the new WSC, can more often than not have an energising effect on a team's performances in the league. Sadly for Luton Town, they are among the nots as they head into today's FA Cup fifth round tie at home to Millwall. Since the first round, Luton have managed 12 points out of a possible 36, slipping out of contention for the most winnable title in the four years the club has been in the Conference. They are now even six points off the play-offs, albeit with games in hand. At least Millwall only have nine from 36.
What makes it even more frustrating is that the third round home win against Wolves and then the triumph at Norwich were not flukes – the team more than held their own and earned both victories. In the Conference, where Luton are the big scalp rather than the underdog, it has not proved so easy. Losing at second-bottom Barrow a week after Norwich – only their second home win of the season and less than a month after we won the reverse fixture 6-1 – has caused an existential crisis for many Luton fans, now wondering what the point of it all is. It is starting to feel as though, however hard the well-intentioned owners try, we will never get back into the League.
The calls for boss Paul Buckle's sacking are growing. He won respect when he took over from the hapless Gary Brabin towards the end of last season and got us into the play-offs, but this year he has too often talked a better game than his team have managed on the pitch. Some strange selections and a kid in a sweetshop approach to transfers haven't helped.
More damning is the fact that at the same stage of last season, which was the most prolonged period of tedious football I've ever witnessed, we were ten points better off than the 44 gained so far this. But we keep ditching managers and it's not getting us anywhere, so on balance I'd give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that time will allow him to stumble across the winning formula. My impression is that I'm in the minority, however, and he's now had the vote of confidence.
Such is the desperation to return to the League that the debate over whether the Cup run is a distraction has been fierce. Ultimately for a club our size, even with crowds holding up at the 6,000 mark, you can't look past the cash. Prize money to date is £215,000, with another £180,000 if we beat Millwall, plus a live broadcast fee of £233,200 for this game. The last two games have also been a reminder of happier times – the Kenny was rocking against Wolves like in the good old days.
I know I shouldn't but I can't help wondering what would happen if we beat Millwall and then draw MK Dons or Barnsley at home. At this rate, however, the FA Cup – rather than the play-offs – represents our best chance of reaching Wembley and that would add up to another wasted season of despair. You can only put up with so many of those. You'll have noticed that I've got all this way without mentioning the 1985 riot. I wasn't there and it's ancient history. Neil Rose