Luke Guttridge on facing former clubs, promotion and injury
THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW APPEARED IN SATURDAY'S ISSUE OF TALK OF THE TOWN, WHICH IS AVAILABLE FOR £3 FROM THE CLUB SHOP
“They probably won’t even recognise me,” laughs Luke Guttridge as his mind begins to wonder about his time with this afternoon’s visitors Southend United. “I had a full head of hair back then!”
Nine years ago a 23-year-old Guttridge joined the Shrimpers from Cambridge United. The midfielder was substituted at the Abbey Stadium last month, and was heckled as he left the pitch – much to his amusement. “I knew it was coming to be honest,” he says. “That’s football, though. I know I served Cambridge well, I did well there, I was captain at a young age...but that was a long time ago.”
After 20 goals in 159 games for the Abbey Stadium outfit, Guttridge joined Southend in 2005 and 72 appearances later the midfielder went from languishing in League 2 to starring in the Championship with the Shrimpers.
“I had a great couple of seasons at Roots Hall,” continues the Barnstaple-born playmaker. “I loved it there. We went up through the Play-Offs from League 2 and then won the League 1 title. However, things started to go wrong once we reached the Championship and the wheels fell off a bit.”
His departure from the Essex club came in 2007 but Guttridge’s decision to join Southend’s arch rivals Colchester via a brief spell at Leyton Orient did not go down too well.
“I’m not sure if they’ve forgiven me for either,” he says, before also quickly realising another former club, Northampton, lie on the horizon in a fortnight’s time.
“Again, I felt I did well for Southend, but I’m not sure leaving and then joining their close rivals went down too well but I can hand on heart say that I enjoyed my time there. Southend is a great club.”
In a career which has now spanned 15 years, Guttridge made his 500th senior appearance, according to our abacus, in the Town’s 1-0 home defeat to Crawley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
So what’s changed? How has he adapted his game as he’s grown older and lost those flowing blond locks?
“I’ve always been the same kind of player,” Guttridge says. “Like any player, your game always changes depending on how the manager sees you. I’ve played left wing, right wing, sitting in the centre, as a box-to-box midfielder, in behind the striker – all in a variety of formations.
“I feel athletic, but have never really been one to eat the turf and bomb on, say like Jonathan Smith or Pelly Ruddock. If anything I think my game has got smarter...probably because it means I have to do less running! But seriously, in the final third, especially here at Luton it’s a case of not giving the ball away and making things happen.
“Some players as they get older do tend to change the way they play anyway, but in all honesty I still don’t mind chasing the ball. I think I’m fortunate that I’ve been quite versatile. I think it’s prolonged my career.”
It has only been two years since Guttridge was last showcasing his skills in the Football League when he helped Northampton reach the League 2 Play-Off final in 2013.
Eyebrows were raised in Northamptonshire circles when he decided to drop down to the Conference last summer but Guttridge has no regrets.
“I knew there wasn’t a lot of difference in quality between League 2 and the Conference,” he says.
“A lot more football is played in the Conference than people think but still the standard is very high.
“I think the biggest difference in League 2 is that you’re not necessarily playing better individuals, you are playing against better, stronger teams. Teams who are well drilled, know what they doing. That collective quality is better.
“The standard in League 2 probably has improved since I was last in the division. Given that, I think the way we have performed in the opening two months of the season has proven how much of a good side we are.”
While the Town possess the experienced heads of Guttridge, Mark Tyler, Stephen McNulty and Paul Benson, there is a group of players who are tasting League football for the first time.
As John Still has said, many have already taken to it “like a duck to water” and Guttridge believes the Town have got what it takes to mount a promotion challenge this time round.
“We have a squad with a lot of good individuals, a lot of good characters and a manager who knows the league inside-out.
“The players know that if they do well in training, or in development games – like Alex Wall and Charlie Walker – they will get a chance in the team. That is a sign of a really strong squad. They’ll be times this season where players will be injured, suspended or out of the team and we have players chomping at the bit ready to step in.”
So can the Hatters really win back-to-back promotions?
“100 per cent,” says Guttridge. “We need to realise there will be a few ups and downs, but it’s a long season. We need to overcome the disappointments when they come along. Staying consistent is the key.
“I think we’ll do well. We have a few tricky games coming up so if we’re able to come through this period with some positive results we could find ourselves in a good position.”
Guttridge has been in and out of the Town side this season as he continues his recovery from the foot injury he sustained in March last season.
Still has revealed he has been careful in utilising last season’s players’ player of the year in a bid to keep him in tip-top condition.
Guttridge came through 90 minutes against Crawley on Tuesday and came close when hitting the post in the first half and the bar in the second.
“It’s been frustrating,” he says. “The injury is a really intricate one and it’s been quite uncomfortable.
I’m doing my best and I know the manager is trying to manage me the best he can. All I can do is try and repay him when he does use me.
“It’s getting there, and it was nice to get 90 minutes against Crawley. I had a few shots. The first one was never going in, the second one I hit cleanly. I thought it would hit the bar and come down over the line but it wasn’t to be.”
It was the second time that the Town have come up against League 1 opposition this season after losing at home to Swindon in the League Cup.
And the midfielder thinks the performances in both cup ties can give the Hatters confidence for the rest of the season.
“I thought to myself on Tuesday that we also gave Swindon a good game,” says Guttridge. “And look how well Swindon are doing in League 1 now.
“Crawley aren’t doing too bad either so we’ve not played any easy teams. For us to come up against players from a higher division is great for us, especially our young players who are learning all the time.
“Some of the Crawley players came off the pitch saying ‘well done’ but I think we can play better than that.
“So far this season it’s been a steep learning curve but our hard work is paying off. You can see just by looking at the league table.”