Promotion Diaries – Luton Town

Luton Town was idle when they clinched promotion to the Championship. After losses by Sunderland and Portsmouth in midweek action, Luton Town (and Barnsley) were more than three points clear with only Saturday’s matches remaining in the League One regular season.

Here’s a quick look at how the Hatters ended up in this position:

What Went Right

After a slow start to the season (see next section), Luton Town has been mostly unstoppable. From October through April, the club lost only once, at one point being unbeaten over a club record 28 matches (20-8-0). They lead League One in scoring with 87 goals, as well as goal differential at +46. They scored three or more goals in 12 matches (all wins), with a 5-1 victory over Plymouth Argyle in November their peak output.

Leading scorer James Collins had one of his two hat tricks in that match, and has scored 25 times over his 41 league appearances. On the defensive side of the ball, keeper James Shea had 19 clean sheets in 40 appearances, with a goal against average of less than 1.00 goal per match (0.85) overall.

What Went Wrong

It’s been a long time since the Hatters’ promotion didn’t seem like a foregone conclusion, and even a dominant season can have some ugly stretches.

The Hatters stumbled out of the gate, losing three of their first seven matches (2-2-3) and ending September in 12th position with a 3-4-3 record. The club also would have likely found themselves promoted much earlier, but they’ve lost two of their last four (1-1-2) down the stretch, but close with a match against mid-table club Oxford United on Saturday with a chance of clinching the League One title.

Recent English Football League History

Luton Town’s promotion is the second straight season they’ve been promoted. After a 23rd-place finish in League One during the 2014-15 season, the Hatters spent four seasons in League Two before earning automatic promotion with a second place finish last season. They are still only six seasons removed from their last appearance in the National League – a five season stint culminating in a league title in 2012-13 – so a return to the Championship for the first time since 2007 is quite impressive.

Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?

There are 13 players approaching the end of their contracts (or loan spells) this offseason, with one player – forward Elliot Lee – holding a renewal option for next season. Some of these players held clauses last season that renewed automatically due to a promotion clause in the contract, and that could again be the case this season.

The four players on loan this season – Alex Baptiste (Queens Park Rangers), Aaron Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion), Jason Cummings (Nottingham Forest), and George Thorne (Derby County) – made 11 appearances combined (all as substitutes), so they are likely not in the long-term plans of the club.

In addition to Lee, who made 37 appearances (35 starts) in league play, Jack Stacey (44 appearances; all starts) and Harry Cornick (31 appearances; 14 starts) were the only other looming out-of-contract players with significant play this season in League One action. All three players had contracts that auto-renewed last season after promotion to League One; I imagine the same would be true this season as well, but we will see if the players that helped the club to two straight promotions will remain on the club to try the same again next season.

Chances of a One-and-Done?

The club has been led on an interim basis by Mick Harford since January when Nathan Jones left to lead championship squad Stoke City. He will not be managing the club next season, with Graeme Jones waiting in the wings to take over once the season concludes on Saturday.

After spending nothing in the transfer market last season – all incoming and outgoing players were either free transfers or loans – I would expect the club to be active this offseason in building a Championship club, though perhaps avoiding spending too much in case they boomerang back down to League One after one season.

Expect a lot of contracts with relegation clauses or another slate of loaned players to join the holdovers from this year’s squad, especially considering that the Hatters are likely to find themselves towards the bottom of the table when initial odds are released before next season kicks off. The Hatters’ current SPI (per FiveThirtyEight) of 43.2 exceeds only one club that will be in the Championship next season (Reading‘s 36.3), so they should expect a fight to stay up next season.

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