Boss on Norwich test, cup shocks and set pieces...
The time has arrived, as the Hatters brace themselves for a fourth round clash with Premier League opposition in the form of Norwich City at Carrow Road.
Paul Buckle had the world’s spotlight thrust upon his squad as a giant-killing remains fresh in the thoughts of all those involved and the boss he has ensured his squad are ready for the occasion.
“It starts today,” said Buckle on Thursday afternoon. “It's exciting, the press called today for the players and staff and it's brilliant. Our match preparation started a few days ago with the game against Lincoln called off.
“The next two days are big for us so we will be ready.”
The Town lie in uncharted territory ahead of the game with Norwich clear favourites, but much like the Wolverhampton Wanderers tie in the third round, the Hatters are relishing the underdog label.
“It’s no pressure again which is nice for us, so we can enjoy it, enjoy the next couple of days but at the same time we want to do ourselves justice and we want to put on a good show,” said the manager.
Tickets for the tie have been tough to get hold of with demand surpassing quantity available. There’s no doubting that the Hatters fans have done the club proud racing to snap up the 4,000 allocation in double-quick time and Buckle is looking forward to the raucous away following adding to the scintillating atmosphere.
“It’s going to be a full house and it will be brilliant with that many Luton fans at an away game – it will be amazing to see,” said Buckle.
“All of that said we need to prepare and put all that that to one side. We've got to come out of the blocks and the one thing we have to do is make sure we don't concede early.”
Buckle whisked his troops off to Suffolk on Thursday afternoon for two days pre-match preparation at the luxurious Ipswich Town training complex, graciously offered by the club to aid the Hatters’ bid in an attempt to overthrow their East Anglian rivals.
“Mick McCarthey has been good to me over the years and Ipswich have done us proud by letting us train there over the next couple of days,” Buckle said.
“It’s been hard to get a training session here because of the training ground being covered in snow but we can train in the indoor facility they have got there so it will be great preparation for the players.”
Norwich strolled past Championship Peterborough in the previous round - winning 3-0 at London Road - but that has been a shining light in an otherwise bleak Christmas period for Chris Hughton's men who have won just four of their last 11 outings.
With such an experienced squad available for Hughton to chose from it has proved tricky to decipher a starting line-up to prepare against, despite this Buckle is hopeful his players are ready for whatever Norwich throw at them.
“Norwich have changed their team, they played a different side against Peterborough and I think that's one to look at, the Peterborough game” the Town boss said.
“When Chris Hughton changed his team they won four I think, so I'm not sure what team he will play. It's a bit of a guessing game. If we prepare for them to put out what they did against Peterborough that's good, and if they change it then they have paid us a lot of respect.
“We will prepare and the one thing we have to do is that on the day the players will have to play at their highest levels.
“The boys will know that, they know they're up against Premier League opposition and Norwich have earned the right to be in the Premier League. They are an excellent club, they have got really good players and our players will understand that.
“Every player at the club wants to play in that game, we're fighting fit and everyone's okay which is great. Whichever 11 take the field they will give everything, they will have to work their socks off to contain a team like Norwich and the seven subs will have to be ready because I'm sure we're not going to finish the game with the starting 11.”
A huge 85 places separate the Hatters and the Canaries ahead of Saturday's meeting but there will be no gulf in the way the players approach the game and in the manner they sat about their task according to the manager.
“The application and the fitness levels will not be a problem,” continued the Hatters boss. “I don't see a problem from our players they are fit and strong. They will be pushed on by 4,000 Luton fans and the occasion. The occasion is massive, we must enjoy it. We've got through the rounds to enjoy this match.
“We have to respect them but if we do too much we will come away at quarter to five feeling we could have done better.”
Cup upsets and fairytale endings have been all the rage in recent weeks with the Hatters very own triumph over Wolves sparking somewhat of a footballing craze. Macclesfield dumped Premier League chasers Cardiff out of the FA Cup before Bradford stole the headlines by leaving Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa in their wake as they march into the Carling Cup Final. Despite the recent blitz of upsets, Buckle was realistic when taking their achievements in perspective.
“Bradford springs to mind because it’s so fresh and it was a great night for them,” said Buckle,
“At the same time if you look at the game as a professional it can be done but Villa had the majority of both games. On another day Villa could have easily scored a few goals. The gulf in class was there but one thing Bradford managed to do was stay disciplined. They rode their luck at times but ultimately they stayed in the game which got them to the final. It can be done but we know we have to be at our very, very best.”
Bradford found success over their Premier League counterparts by fully maximising their set-play opportunities, something Buckle is very aware of and hopes to emulate to an extent.
“We're on a decent run ourselves,” he said about the Hatters impressive run that spans over three months.
“I think we have only lost two in 14 matches so if we do get the chance from a corner or free-kick, or maybe even a long throw, it will be a chance to ask them a few questions so we have to make sure our delivery is right on the day.”