Key player losses have not quelled optimism
8 August ~ Not that much seems to have changed in the five years since Luton Town were last in League Two, although Manish Bhasin will now be able to name-check yet another of Steve Claridge's ex-clubs on the Football League Show (a short and unhappy experience for player and club alike back in 1992). If you've got to make the trip to Carlisle from southern England, you may as well do it on a sunny August Saturday, and Hatters fans will be out in force tomorrow with confidence that last season's record-breaking form will continue.
This is despite losing two key players – top scorer Andre Gray, sold to Brentford for about £500,000, and captain Ronnie Henry, who has returned to local upstarts Stevenage after failing to agree a new contract. (Losing our best player to Brentford – a team we've tussled with many times over the years – gives Luton fans a real sense of how vertiginous the fall has been in recent times.)
Both are big losses, but the strong team ethic promoted by manager John Still should go a long way to compensate, as will a host of new signings, particularly skilful midfielder Andy Drury, who joined Luton in 2010 and had such an impressive start that he was snapped up by Ipswich six months later. It's exciting to have him back.
I've never seen a great deal of difference between League Two and the Conference – proved by the number of promoted teams that have gone straight through – and the football Luton played at times last season was of a standard well above both. The key question is whether the various new strikers on the books can between them contribute the goals Grey would have scored, and if they will combine as effectively with target man Paul Benson and pivotal attacking midfielder Luke Guttridge.
More than anything, though, it is just nice to be on an upward trajectory once more. Aside from Portsmouth and maybe Plymouth, no club in League Two will be as well supported as Luton – last season's average home crowd was 7,387, with 1,087 on average at away games – and the sense of wellbeing (and relief) is almost tangible. Over-optimism is the main danger, because fans consider League Two to be well below the club's natural level. Neil Rose