As far as it is sensible to try to deconstruct a chant sung by supporters and ascribe deeper meaning to a small reworking of Paul Heaton’s easy on the ear tune, Luton Town away became an anthem with levels of sub conscious and conscious meaning from which the marketing department of Huddersfield Town should have stayed well away.
It is important to emphasise that it was never a disparagement of the Hatters. Their club’s name, first and foremost, easily scanned. They are, like us, unglamorous to the point of parody and have taken relatable, and actually more serious, journeys from pride to desolation; in the Championship it is difficult to find a more suitable contrast to Old Trafford, the Emirates or Anfield (which also scans).
The point of the song was self deprecation, self awareness and a wry acceptance of a fate expected since the play off promotion and known by the time it emerged.
It was also increasingly sung with bitterness. Not at the inevitable demotion from a league which found us irritating after the condescension had subsided, but the utter failure to transition back to the Championship despite the considerable financial advantages the club now has over their rivals, which should have provided a prudent platform to compete.
1 win in 2019, 4 wins in 57 games and a refusal to win a traditional Saturday game for over 500 days are statistics to boil the piss of the most easy to please of supporters. The patience shown has been extraordinary; the adoption of a fatalistic chant about the prospect of a visit to Kenilworth Road iterated their continued support and acceptance of difficult circumstances but contained a subliminal message that the direction of travel needed to be addressed.
Perhaps inevitably, the long anticipated match ended in yet another defeat and it is now clear that the warning succinctly expressed has not been heeded. Acceptable and necessary prudence looks far closer to parsimony, the transfer of power from Dean Hoyle to Phil Hodgkinson looks contrived and potentially dubious (a much more convincing explanation is imperative) and no one seems capable of reversing a catastrophic decline reminiscent of the 1970s implosion.
On the pitch, the performance was fairly typical of the past 20 months. Unconvincing, lacking resilience and purpose, and ultimately weak. It wasn’t disastrously bad – as ever, we get little periods of play which show promise, but even a referee influenced defeat is still another L to add to the chain.
A forgettable first half was littered with errors, largely free of invention and determinedly mundane. A good run by Diakhaby, who should surely be given time to develop as he shows tantalising glimpses of quality, which ended with Grant poking the ball just wide under pressure was the rare exception to a final third ineptitude which has plagued the club now for as far back as you care to remember. Diakhaby also produced another run which narrowly evaded Campbell who was making his debut as Hudson reverted to two up front though to little effect.
Van La Parra, bizarrely transferred to Red Star Belgrade DURING the game, was a constant thorn in the side of Town’s attacking intent; everything he did either slowed down play, stopped attacks as he was dispossessed cutting inside (which was telegraphed every time) or ended with misplaced attempted passes going dead. His signature lack of heed to overlapping left backs was on full display. Thanks for the memories, Rajiv.
At the back, and from the off, Town seemed intent on inviting the easiest press Luton will come across in a lifetime. Trouble was never far away from some absurdly casual attempts to portray competence and confidence with Hogg’s miscontrol of a simple pass the most egregious and potentially costly; fortunately Grabara, no innocent in the shambles, wasn’t called upon to save.
When common sense finally dawned, Grabara’s kicking was generally straight down the middle and on to the welcoming heads of Luton’s imposing centre halves, who were excellent throughout.
Luton played with markedly more cohesion and unity than the visitors but were nearly as lacking in the final third and rarely troubled Grabara, while Town’s other chance was a rushed header back to his keeper by a Luton defender which needed to be turned away for a corner. Grabara did make one sharp save from Collins, the best effort of the half by either side.
The Terriers began the second half with a little more vigour and found themselves one up within minutes with a goal born more of poor execution than sizzling play.
A typically lacklustre free kick was headed out to Hogg who found Van La Parra out wide. The Dutchman’s last meaningful contribution to Huddersfield Town was to deliver a cross behind the forwards which Grant somehow managed to get an ankle too which deflected over to Diakhaby who played a one two with Schindler and fired the ball across for Grant to connect via a defender for the lead.
For a time, it looked like a turning point as Town applied pressure to try to get a second and hopes, oh! cursed hope, rose in an away end still willing to back a team which rarely fails to dash them.
Unfortunately, a referee who had barely been noticed in the first half, which is a compliment, strode purposefully to centre stage.
Luton had regained their composure in response to the opener and began to increase pressure on the visitors and were having some joy down their left. A ball was played in rather innocuously towards Schindler. As the captain shaped to clear, Collins nipped in front of his half cocked leg and was knocked over. The collision was entirely accidental but deemed a penalty which was expertly converted by Collins himself.
Less than ten minutes later, Luton took the lead while playing on, as was their absolute right, with Hogg down in the middle having taken an arm or an elbow to the face. Having stopped play earlier in the game for a similar circumstance, the referee neither gave an obvious free kick nor halted proceedings.
Two pretty terrible pieces of refereeing had undone Town who, true to form, were not going to come back from going behind despite some frantic attempts which never culminated in Sluga having to make a save other than thwarting substitute Mounié in a one on one. That chance came as a result of the referee appearing to waive play on after fellow substitute Kachunga was dragged back in the area.
Grant headed a reasonable chance over the bar and Town dominated the latter stages in a performance which, overall, wasn’t too bad in the second half but this is to damn with faint praise.
Another defeat simply piles on the pressure to a new hierarchy already under deep, possibly unfounded, suspicion.
The transfer of power at the end of last season was opaque, puzzling and inadequately explained. The exodus of players, ranging from the unwisely outspoken Billing to the hugely respected Löwe and Smith, was only partially explicable while the recruitment was baffling.
In the next two weeks, Phil Hodgkinson, somehow, has to make an appointment which will restore some faith, answer questions which he has largely created himself by seemingly not following up his Summer statements with action and transform a deeply troubled club with visible and convincing leadership.
Let us never sing Luton Town away ever again.