If Man City ever got 35% possession in a game, Pep Guardiola would probably grow some hair, only to pull it out. It’s just not what his sides do. Nathan Jones is no Pep Guardiola: he’s better! Okay, okay, I may be overdoing it a little bit, but in Nathan’s defense, 35% possession was all Luton needed on Saturday to beat Derby County 2-1 at Kenilworth Road. Luton now sits in the dizzy heights of second in the EFL Championship.
Derby County, with the once-great Wayne Rooney gracing their first eleven, started the game with much more of the ball without creating anything of serious note. Rooney’s half-chance after four minutes was the closest Derby came, but his shot from the edge of the box was comfortable for Simon Sluga in the Luton goal.
Despite all of Derby’s possession, it was Luton who had the better chances, especially off the counter-attack. Glen Rea broke everything up playing in front of Sonny Bradley and Matty Pearson. His early release meant Harry Cornick, Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu, and company could break at speed against an immobile Derby defense. After 18 minutes, Luton came closest when Cornick had a glorious chance from the edge of the box hit the post and spin wide.
Moments later, Harry Cornick was causing Derby problems again. He raced down the right, past Craig Forsyth, and crossed the ball to the back post. Unfortunately, the outstretched foot of James Collins could only direct the ball wide with David Marshall beaten in the Derby goal.
As Luton upped the pressure, Cornick was again at the center of Luton’s attack on the 27th minute. Great play from Mpanzu and Luke Berry set Cornick free on the right. His cross was nicked away from James Collins by a last-ditch tackle from Andre Wisdom.
Seven minutes later, Luton finally got their reward. Rhys Norrington-Davies found Elliott Lee on the left, and the forward cut into his right foot. Whipping a cross into the box, it looked like Marshall had it covered but Luke Berry, making a deep run from midfield into the penalty area, stole in ahead of Marshall to poke the ball home and put Luton 1-0 up.
From there on, it was all Derby as they applied the pressure to a resolute Luton defense. The Hatters got to half time seemingly unscathed, but when Glen Rea didn’t return for the second half, the dread set in. The Midfielder had performed stoutly during the first 45 minutes, blocking Derby from playing it through the middle and giving Rooney little to no time on the ball.
“He just felt a little bit light-headed, whatever it was, diet-wise, or heat, we couldn’t really risk that.”Nathan Jones on Glen Rea substitution at half-time
His presence was missed on 52 minutes when a ball went into the Luton box and was not cleared. Former Hatter Jack Marriott was unmarked on the edge of the box to fire a shot past Sluga. This was the position Rea takes up frequently when Luton defends, but his replacement Martin Cranie, naturally a defender, had dropped deeper, leaving the space open.
Derby continued to dominate with a half-chance falling to Jahmal Hector-Ingram. The striker replaced an injured Marriott and found himself with a chance after turning defender Matty Pearson. Simon Sluga reacted quickly and got off his line to deny the young striker a first senior goal for the Rams.
After bringing on James Bree at halftime for Glen Rea, Nathan Jones made his final two changes in the 83rd minute with George Moncur and Jordan Clark replacing Elliott Lee and Harry Cornick. With the impact they had, it is easy to see why Jones doesn’t refer to his substitutes as squad players but rather game-changers. Both were involved in the build-up to the deciding goal that saw James Collins start it all with a fantastic hold up to allow the midfield to join the attack on 87 minutes.
After playing the ball from the right to the left it was George Moncur who let off a shot, only to see it blocked back to him. With Rhys Norrington-Davies overlapping on the left he played the on-loan full-back into space. From there Norrington-Davies found Jordan Clark completely unmarked at the back post to head in. It was Clark’s second goal in five days after scoring the only goal in a 1-0 Carabao Cup win on Tuesday against Reading.
The three points put Luton second in the table after two games with a Carabao Cup clash upcoming on Tuesday against Manchester United. Despite drawing one of the Premier League big boys, all eyes will be on next Saturday’s clash with Watford. With a win, Jones will be rendered a hero, even by those still on the fence about his return. Nathan Jones is no Pep Guardiola. He’s better. Or at least until next week he is. We’re still building bridges.
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