Last updated at 20:12, Tuesday 17th July 2012
Luton Town manager Paul Buckle has also taken charge of Bristol Rovers

New pressure for Buckle


Henry Milward

Paul Buckle guided Luton to the play-off final last term and he’s out to go one better in his first full season in charge…

LUTON

Stability ***

The spirit of the underdog has often been Luton’s fuel down the years but these are different times and the Hatters sit at the top, there to be shot down. Their third successive play-off failure in May, as they were beaten by York at Wembley, was greeted with Schadenfreude not sympathy and it is a weight Paul Buckle’s men must bear once more.

Chastened by their final defeat the club have chopped and changed again, with Scott Rendell, Ronnie Henry and Jon Shaw among the impressive arrivals. However, Buckle has also retained the core of last season’s successful side, with the likes of keeper Mark Tyler, centre-half Janos Kovacs and midfielder Alex Lawless set to be central to the club’s charge this time around.

Buckle is still new to the job, having only taken over in April, but those final weeks at the end of last term were of significant value for the former Torquay boss, who should be primed to put that play-off disappointment firmly behind him.

Control ***

Buckle endeared himself to Hatters fans last term, partly because he wasn’t Gary Brabin. But he had little to lose, with the club’s play-off bid having faded under the former boss. The manner in which Town ended the campaign under Buckle, including the impressive play-off semi-final first-leg victory over Wrexham, won the 41-year-old plenty of admirers but the supporters and the board will be demanding more this year.

Buckle has terrific pedigree at this level having guided Torquay to promotion in 2009 but the Luton job is another matter entirely. While that experience with the Gulls gives him money in the bank, he must oversee a fast start, with his dismal spell in charge of Bristol Rovers last season still fresh in the memory.

Mood ****

Approaching their fourth campaign at this level, expectations are as lofty as ever at Kenilworth Road. But this year the Hatters are arguably best placed to challenge: in Buckle they have a manager familiar with the demands of the division while their squad is brimming with non-league experience young and old. Shaw has consistently been one of the Blue Square Bet Premier’s leading marksmen while Rendell was central to Cambridge’s promotion charge in 2009.

The arrivals of Henry, Danny Spiller and Garry Richards all make Town worthy favourites for the title. But while supporters will regard anything other than top spot as something of a failure, they have been burned before and remain the side all others are desperate to bring down a peg or two.

Development ***

This season is not about development, it is about promotion. While the likes of Rendell and Henry still have age on their side they have been acquired with the present in mind and on wages to match. This won’t be a year for second chances at Kenilworth Road and while the board appear willing to continue to bankroll the club’s Football League bid there may come a time when patience and money begin to run out.

Early call:

Shaw, Rendell, Stuart Fleetwood, Andre Gray. The Hatters have a strikeforce which is the envy of many Football League outfits and they’ve plenty more besides in their favour. Henry has been through it all before with Stevenage, Tyler is a picture of experience and boss Buckle knows this level as well as anyone.

Everything points to Luton success but not for the first time. Surely they can’t miss out again?

Back Luton to win the Blue Square Bet Premier at 3/1


For more on the Blue Square Bet Premier, read our profiles of the other 23 sides during the coming days: Alfreton, Barrow, Braintree, Cambridge, Dartford, Ebbsfleet, Forest Green, Gateshead, Grimsby, Hereford, Hyde, Kidderminster, Lincoln, Macclesfield, Mansfield, Newport, Nuneaton, Southport, Stockport, Tamworth, Telford, Woking, Wrexham

We also featured the Blue Square Bet North and South divisions.


Follow Henry Milward on Twitter