Dragons hot for Hatters revenge
Luton’s appointment of Paul Buckle in April almost worked swift wonders. It was exactly the move they needed at exactly the right time and it was no surprise that the former Torquay boss led the Hatters on a late-season charge which saw them past Wrexham in the play-off semi-final.
Because at that time the Dragons had run out of steam. Exhausted and edged out of the title race by Fleetwood, the exertions of the campaign finally proved too much to bear – it was particularly evident in their first-leg showing at Kenilworth Road. But as they return to Bedfordshire on Saturday, the Welsh outfit are close to their peak.
We weren’t convinced by Wrexham’s credentials prior to the start of the campaign, in light of the departures of centre-half Nat Knight-Percival, as well as Jake Speight and Mathias Pogba, while there were also questions over the capacity of Andy Morrell to continue to combine playing and management. But the early signs have been encouraging.
After taking five points from the first 12 available they have since won four on the bounce, ending Newport’s 100% start a fortnight ago and demolishing Cambridge United 4-1 on Saturday.
This is not to dismiss the hosts out of hand but we fancy that Buckle’s men are better suited to attack than defence, an approach which may prove to be their undoing as they come up against perhaps their sternest test yet. The Hatters boast a multi-talented forward line which will blow away plenty of teams but the balance in deeper areas isn’t quite right.
That won’t always matter – Andre Gray and Stuart Fleetwood have been mightily impressive as the wide strikers in a 4-3-3, flanking Scott Rendell in their early outings. Both adept in front of goal – Fleetwood has already notched seven times this term – the pair have been just as dangerous as wingers. But they are set to be matched like for like by the Welsh visitors, who enjoyed plenty of success with a three-pronged attack last season.
Morrell and Danny Wright may not possess the pace of their opposite numbers but they are formidable in the air and after both netting twice at the Abbey last weekend, they are primed to hurt a home defence which has looked less than secure this season.
Buckle allowed George Pilkington to leave for Mansfield in the summer and though Janos Kovacs is a dependable head at the back, he was occasionally exposed by an out-of-sorts Cambridge attack ten days ago. And it got worse four days later as Town were humiliated 3-0 at Alfreton. It was a concerning result for the title favourites and with howls of derision rarely far away, the pressure is immediately on as they return to their own patch.
Their late-season run in 2011/12 was based on clean sheets - they managed five in succession during the run-in and another in the 2-0 victory over Wrexham in the play-off semi-final first leg. But this year they have kept just one in eight matches and none on home turf.
Ultimately, with similar attacking systems, the game may be won and lost in the centre of midfield, and in that regard we’re happy to side with the superior talents of Wrexham’s Dean Keates. The 34-year-old, once a menace on the edge of penalty areas, is now content to control proceedings from a deeper position and he is without equal in the Blue Square Bet Premier.
The Hatters look short of that sort of know-how in the heart of their side, instead relying on the forward-thinking Alex Lawless and Adam Watkins. Once more Luton have recruited a striker – in Northampton loanee Jake Robinson – as they bid to escape the division, when they may be better served beefing up their spine.
There is the risk with this bet that Fleetwood fires, Gray hits his stride and Rendell loiters with his usual intent but at bigger than 2/1, the visitors are too good to resist, particularly with plenty to prove after their play-off surrender.
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