RR: A lot has gone on at Luton since we last met, to say the least! You were relegated out of the Football League but things have changed now and the club is looking much healthier after promotion back to League One. I appreciate it may be hard to be brief here but what went so wrong during those dark years of relegations?
JD: Where do I start with this one?!
The slide from a top half finish in the Championship to the conference in three years was incredibly painful. I’ve seen Luton play in five divisions and the conference years pushed my loyalty to the limit. It was dire. I kept thinking why am I doing this to myself every week. But as we know football is a drug and you can’t give it up.
In simple terms the club wasn’t run correctly. They punched well above their weight in the championship with the resources available and suddenly millions of pounds worth of players left. Players like Curtis Davies, Steve Howard, Rowan Vine, Kevin Nicholls, Kevin Foley and Carlos Edwards all left. A brilliant team became a very average team that couldn’t compete at that level.
Relegation from the Championship was followed by another relegation and an unprecedented points deduction of 30 points was handed out before a ball was even kicked in League Two because of financial irregularities and misconduct charges. The club was a complete mess and relegation to the conference was a formality.
The club’s current owners (2020) took over just before relegation to League Two and were harshly punished for the mistakes of the previous regime. Importantly, the club is now run by Lutonian’s who understand what the club means to people. Those in charge at 2020 have worked miracles to get the club back in League One and are extremely ambitious people.
Plans for the new state of the art stadium in the heart of the town centre were submitted to Luton Borough Council over two years ago and a decision on planning permission is due before the end of year. Over 11,000 people wrote to Luton Borough Council to support the plans - a UK planning record. After years of football hell - the future is looking a lot brighter.
RR: Back onto more positive things, what has gone so well to see you get back into League One? What are the clubs aims for this season as well? I’ve seen a few outlets giving you an outside chance of promotion to the Championship.
JD: The pressure to get out of the Conference and into League One was immense. It feels different at the moment. It’s taken a decade to get back to this level and as it’s our first season in League One - the pressure is off. No target has been said publicly by the manager but in saying that I’m sure that Nathan Jones and the players will have their eye on a play off place.
Jones and this group of players won’t be happy with just making up the numbers.
RR: Nathan Jones has taken you from the threat of being relegated out of the Football League again, to back into League One. His name always seems to be linked with Championship level jobs and he’s earning himself a great reputation at Kenilworth Road. What is it that he does so well and do you see him being another Eddie Howe type manager, making his way up through the divisions?
JD: Nathan Jones has a work ethic which is bordering on obsessive. He works all hours of the day and night to get his side right. He told me has nightmares about defeats - waking up in the middle of the night and then putting on the match videos at 3am to work out how to ensure the same mistakes don’t happen. That tells you everything you need to know - this man HATES losing.
Jones’ passion also drives on his players and fans. He also plays an attacking style of football that is great on the eye. Last year we witnessed 8-2, 7-1 and 7-0 victories.
I think he can go all the way to the top, he has all the ingredients. If Luton are in the top six and there’s a few sackings we will have to see, but he has said he would only leave if something really really special came along.
RR: Onto the game, who should us Sunderland fans be keeping an eye on in the Luton side? Any summer signings you’re feeling particularly excited about?
JD: Danny Hylton is the one to keep an eye on. We adore him and you will absolutely hate him. He is the sort of player that makes football fun. He’s a complete wind up merchant. However he’s also a fabulous footballer and has scored over 20 goals last season and the season before.
Pelly Ruddock, on his day, in midfield can be a game changer. He has the pace and skill to win any game. James Justin is also a great home grown prospect. He will without any question play in the Premier League at some point in the future.
RR: How about Jack Ross’ squad, anyone in our dressing room you’re worried about?
JD: O’Nien is a great signing for you. He’s one to keep an eye on - a great player at this level.
Before hearing he was injured, Jerome Sinclair would have worried me because he’s on load from the lot down the road!
RR: What approach do you think Nathan Jones will take in this game and what will his starting line up be?
JD: Jones will approach this game like any other. His team will go out and attack to win the game.
I expect just the one change to the side that lost at Pompey last week. Danny Hylton was suspended and he will come straight in. Despite losing - fans were happy with the performance last weekend.
Stech in goal, Potts, Sheehan, Pearson and Justin at the back. Grant, Mccormack and Ruddock in midfield and Lee just behind a front two of Collins and a returning Hylton.
RR: Finally, can we have a score prediction please?