Luton boss Nathan Jones talks to Adam Bate about the season so far and why he is confident that the Hatters are set for a strong finish.
Nathan Jones caused a stir last season when he suggested Oxford were the team to aspire to not leaders Northampton, but the Luton boss felt he'd been misinterpreted. The Cobblers were deserved champions. It was Oxford's style and substance he sought to emulate.
"What I meant was that they had a group of players who were better equipped to step up a level if both went up," Jones tells Sky Sports. "I was criticised a little bit by Northampton for saying that and they won the league comfortably, but that's been proven."
Oxford are indeed above Northampton in League One. They are also Luton's visitors in Tuesday's Checkatrade Trophy semi-final. It will be a test for the team from the division below but Jones is optimistic about the prospect of his players rising to the challenge.
Jones applauds the supporters after the EFL Cup win over Aston Villa
"Without sounding arrogant or presumptuous, we feel we have a group of players who are geared for the level above in terms of how we compete," he adds. "We have beaten higher level opposition in both cups this season and we believe we can test ourselves."
It's true that Luton have form for upsetting the odds. As well as the 3-1 EFL Cup win over Aston Villa in August, they have beaten both Swindon and Chesterfield to reach this semi-final too. The fifth-placed Hatters are also unbeaten against the top three in League Two.
So is this a team playing a style that lends itself to a higher level? "100 per cent," says Jones. "We feel we are a bit like that. We feel that if we can just get out of this league then we will be fine because with what we have we would be very competitive at the next level as well."
Danny Hylton in action for Oxford during last season's final at Wembley
What Jones has are players such as top scorer Danny Hylton and defender Johnny Mullins. Neither will need any introduction to Oxford. Hylton netted for them in their 3-2 Wembley defeat to Barnsley in this competition last season, while Mullins captained them that day.
"They are both big parts of what we are trying to do here," says Jones. "Obviously Danny has taken the eye with the goals that he has scored. I think he's had his best ever season in front of goal and we hope that continues. I'm sure they'll get great receptions."
But Luton's rise is about more than the playing personnel. It's about the work that Jones has done since taking over in January 2016. Back then, they were struggling having lost six of their last eight games. An improved attitude and style has sparked an upturn in fortunes.
Jones's approach is forged by his eclectic experiences. He has coached Yeovil Ladies and had a spell playing for Badajoz in Spain as a youngster. The Iberian influence - he is also fluent in Spanish - continued into his coaching career. He was part of Oscar Garcia's staff at Brighton.
As a result, Jones's support staff at Luton reflects that blend of ideas. There is Paul Hart, the former Nottingham Forest boss, a colleague from his Charlton days. But there is also up-and-coming analyst Joaquin Gomez, who has been given his chance as a first-team coach.
"They are people who have impacted on my career as I've gone along," explains Jones, speaking after a scouting trip to see Oxford face Charlton. "Paul has been a big influence and we always spoke about working together again so I'm delighted to have him here.
"Joaquin is my first-team coach but he is also a top end video analyst so he has a dual role here as well. He is such a worker and he's very innovative. He sees things differently to how I do. It's a real good mix between the three of us.
"Paul has the experience and has done things his way for a long period of time. I see a lot of things the same way as he does, whereas Joaquin is a little bit different and will look at it from another angle along with Jared Roberts-Smith who I also worked with at Charlton."
Adding an erstwhile video analyst to the coaching staff is an intriguing move. Could an emphasis on a more analytical approach give Luton an edge in League Two? "A number of people are doing it but we think the way we are doing it is different as well," says Jones.
"I learnt a lot when I was at Charlton, and especially Brighton, about video analysis, how to use it and how to get the best out of it. Obviously, Joaquin was fundamental in that. I don't know if everyone uses it at this level but we do and the way we do it is a little bit different."
Jones freely admits while he is enjoying his "relentless" first full season at the helm, his team "should probably be a bit higher" and his hope is that a Wembley final could prove the "catalyst" for a strong finish to the season that will ultimately culminate in promotion.
"We have our goals and are on track to achieve those," he says. "We are within touching distance and always felt we were going to come strong in the second half of the season." And a Wembley cup final? "It's an ambitious double but one we're capable of doing."
Latest Nigeria News
- Germany can find hope in France defeat: It's a million miles away from how they played in Russia
- Arsenal's Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi answer questions set by spin of the wheel
- U.S. finally has hope in Sargent, Weah and Amon, but youngsters need time
- The longevity of David Silva - via Man City
- Shahid Khan withdraws offer to purchase Wembley from English FA
- What's wrong with Alexis Sanchez? Even Jose Mourinho thinks it's a mystery
- Hirving Lozano not the only young talent set to lead Mexico forward
- Neymar: We give our lives for this jersey
- Spain's Sergio Ramos: 'Nothing else to say' about Raheem Sterling stamp
- Group-by-group permutations for remaining AFCON qualifiers
- Manchester United icon Ryan Giggs: Harry Wilson free kick technique like David Beckham
- Valderrama: Real Madrid was wrong to give up James Rodríguez
- Transfer Rater: Dejan Lovren and Branislav Ivanovic to Barcelona
- Real Madrid write to Spanish FA, formally object to Girona-Barcelona game in U.S.
- Ex-Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger eyes January return to management
- Manchester United's Jose Mourinho set to be on touchline at Chelsea despite FA charge
- 'Harry Maguire riding inflatable unicorn on new £50 note' petition backed by Kyle Walker
- Odion Ighalo received death threats
- Usain Bolt turns down two-year contract with Valletta FC
- Brisbane Roar worried about Tommy Oar, Ross McCormack rather than Usain Bolt
- John Terry says he has hopes to be a manager, but needs more time
- Mexico's Hugo Gonzalez 7/10 for solid saves in loss to Chile
- Ricardo Ferretti lauds Mexico youngsters: '80 percent of them will be in next World Cup'
- Gernot Rohr pleased with young Super Eagles despite wobble
- Exclusive: Nigeria hero Odion Ighalo nearly quit after death threats
- LIVE Transfer Talk: Lionel Messi can leave Barcelona for free in 2020
- Melbourne City's Bruno Fornaroli aiming to produce 'something special' in final year of contract
- United States 1-1 Peru: USMNT hold on for draw
- Sargent: Coach Sarachan came up with set-piece play
- Twellman: U.S. need to create more chances during run of play
- U.S. attack show flashes, but 'rawness' again an obvious theme in draw with Peru
- Central Coast Mariners captain Matt Simon refuses to comment on Usain Bolt contract
- USMNT's Josh Sargent 8/10, shows promise in partnership with Tim Weah
- Last-minunte goal by Nicolas Castillo gives Chile win over Mexico
- Mexico made key strides in respectable last-minute loss to Chile
- Disappointing Peru draw a 'big picture' win for the United States - Dave Sarachan
- LIVE Transfer Talk: Liverpool eye move for Napoli striker Lorenzo Insigne
- Barcelona to tour Asia in 2019 after consecutive visits to United States
- UEFA charges Romania for racist chants, fan misconduct in match against Serbia
- Uganda's Mathias Kigonya quits Sofapaka