Luton Town’s lack of “superstars” is the secret behind their surprise push for promotion to the Premier League, says Hatters boss Nathan Jones.
Jones was named Championship manager of the season at Sunday’s English Football League awards ceremony but none of his players made the team of the year.
Luton, fifth in the table, are looking to end a 30-year top-flight absence.
“Structurally, we are the envy of a lot of football clubs,” Jones, 48, told BBC Three Counties Radio.
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“We have no superstars and we have a group of players that want to achieve something – they are nowhere near their ceiling.
“Outside Luton, everyone would have thought this is a huge, huge surprise, that it couldn’t be done – but inside we had that confidence that we could push boundaries this year.
“Ideally everyone would like to do fantastically well without spending a hell of a lot of money. That isn’t the case in football on all levels but we do it very well.”
The Hatters know two points from their final two games will seal a play-off spot and they could even afford to lose both if the sides chasing them drop points in their remaining fixtures.
“We don’t know what we need but we can’t leave anything to chance,” added Jones, whose side visit champions-elect Fulham before ending the regular season at home to lowly Reading.
Evolution, revolution and a ping pong ding-dong
Jones had large boots to fill when he arrived at Kenilworth Road in January 2016 – succeeding John Still, who had ended a five-year stay in non-league by guiding Luton to the 2013-14 National League title.
Having cut his coaching teeth at Charlton and Brighton, Jones took Luton into the League Two play-offs in his first full season, then achieved automatic promotion the following year.
The Hatters would achieve successive promotions but Jones left for an ill-fated spell at Stoke midway through Luton’s League One title-winning campaign, only to return 18 months later.
If that hiatus was a decision he might regret, it is one of few given the success he has enjoyed in Bedfordshire – although the choice to burn a ping-pong table at the training ground ranks with the most bizarre of managerial calls.
While drinking and gambling cultures have often been known to poison dressing rooms, it was a far more mundane pursuit that unsettled Jones.
“When I came in, I felt some of the players were more concerned about being good on the table tennis table than they were about being professional footballers,” the Welshman explained.
“There was a big table tennis culture so I thought I can either cajole them and try to get them into the gym or I can burn the table tennis table. It was far easier to burn the table tennis table.”
After returning to the club in May 2020, Jones guided the Hatters to 12th place last term with 16-goal top-scorer Elijah Adebayo, a January 2021 purchase from Walsall, an example of bargain recruitment.
“It’s evolution really – we’ve been on a journey. This year we wanted to really challenge – we believed it, we recruited that way,” Jones added.
“Recruitment is everything because no matter how good a manager or coach or CEO you are, if you get that wrong you are done. And we’ve got recruitment right – that’s probably been the secret.”
Nathan Jones was speaking to BBC Three Counties Radio’s Roberto Perrone.