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Now or never for Luton in bid for improbable Premier League survival

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With matches fast running out in the 2023/24 Premier League season, those at the foot of the table have two options available to them: keep faith with their normal approach and try to win enough points to stay up; or make every 90 minutes a dogfight and try to not lose as many points as their relegation rivals.

The difference is small but significant. It’s a mentality difference as much as anything else at this stage in the campaign. And how successful one team, in particular, are in their chosen approach will dictate much of the remaining relegation battle. Step forward Luton Town.

Four is the number that haunts their recent dreams: it’s the number of defeats they’ve suffered on the bounce, the number of points reinstated to Everton, and the number of points they sit from safety.

And yet, even this is arguably much better than many expected from them this term. The Hatters have made their attempt to survive a real story, attracting neutrals to their corner with their plucky performances.

But storylines only take you so far. The real test – and the only salvation – comes in the form of victories, which makes the next week in the life of Luton their most important of the year.

The Hatters have, after all, made life extremely difficult for several top teams: they were minutes away from beating Liverpool, minutes away from holding Arsenal. They thrashed Brighton and have taken four points off Newcastle.

Yet amid those sporadic shock results and almost-celebrations, the missed opportunities have mounted up far more quickly than their actual points haul, especially in recent weeks. They may be running out of steam after so many months fighting greater quality, greater depth, greater finance. Then there’s the loss of captain Tom Lockyer, who suffered a cardiac arrest in a match last December,

But if survival remains the aim of the club, the team and the management, even in the face of so many hurdles, Luton’s upcoming run is simply one they cannot pass up.

Luton have impressed at home against the top teams (Getty Images)
Luton have impressed at home against the top teams (Getty Images)

They are one of a handful of clubs to have a game in hand in the league, and the only one in the bottom seven. Moreover, these upcoming three fixtures in seven days are against those on the cusp of the bottom clubs, or in them: Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Nottingham Forest.

The last one of the trio, of course, sticks out.

Forest are the team just one place above Luton heading into the weekend and are potentially facing a points deduction of their own. That cannot be what Luton hang their hat on for survival, of course, but it is the biggest carrot out there to at least stay in touch with them.

Without a win in six in all competitions, Luton must find a way to turn around their form - or fortune - before that fixture comes along.

Palace, with a new head coach, present an opportunity. Oliver Glasner has made early strides and changes, but they are far from the finished product in his own version of the team. A 3-0 drubbing of Burnley - one of just two sides below Luton in the table - shows that they will be a tough opponent on home soil, and how much better the Hatters must be than the Clarets were in effort, in organisation, in chance creation.

Bournemouth have been inconsistent in the extreme, but ended a six-game winless run of their own last time out...again, against Burnley. Perhaps that’s no real barometer for any side’s progress this year, but it indicates to Luton what they must do - or not do - to pick up a vital point or three along the way.

If Rob Edwards is able to galvanise his side and find a way to get Luton within a result of Forest by the time they host them next Saturday, there will be all the motivation any club could ever need to find a return to winning ways. Easier said than done in this league at times, however.

Luton boss Rob Edwards (Getty Images)
Luton boss Rob Edwards (Getty Images)
Luton have lost four in a row in the league (Getty Images)
Luton have lost four in a row in the league (Getty Images)

Setting aside drubbings at the hands of Liverpool and Man City, the one-goal defeat has been a familiar theme for Kenilworth Road attendees this term.

Luton lost by one to Villa, to Man United and to Chelsea. Earlier this term it was Tottenham, Burnley and West Ham who did likewise. The margins are small, but insurmountable if they keep stacking up.

Notably, the killer result was not by a single goal: a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Sheffield United was both unexpected and extremely damaging, without which the Blades would be bottom by a distance and the Hatters without touching range of safety.

That improbable dream is not yet out of their hands, but it does rely an awful lot on Luton finding their way, and fast. This week could make or break them as a top-tier side.