Andy Awford praised the character of the young Hatters side that recovered from two goals down at Hitchin last night to draw 2-2 with the Evo-Stik League Southern Premier outfit.
Liam Brooks and Lucas Kirkpatrick struck before half-time to hand an advantage to Mark Burke’s Canaries, who just missed out on promotion to the Vanarama National League South last term with play-off final defeat to Leamington.
A goal on the hour from Connor Tomlinson, however, and an equaliser 13 minutes later from right-back Jack James brought cheer to the many Hatters in the crowd of 1,332 at Top Field.
Awford said: “It’s the first game and we’ve been back just over a week now. We’ve not done a lot of tactical or structural stuff just yet, it’s all been fitness based, so it was a real good work-out and it’s pleasing how they came through it.
“Results are important. We need to win every game that we play. The winning mentality is really important, although people don’t read too much into it in pre-season, we want to win every game that we go on the pitch with.
“So we were disappointed to draw the game with the amount of chances we had in the second half, obviously even more disappointed to be 2-0 down at half-time.
“But what we did show was a bit of character to come back. It was a good finish from Connor for the first and a great little bit of play and nice finish from Jack for the second.
“We could have gone on and maybe won it, but we were down to ten men at the end with a couple of lads coming off with cramp. So overall it was a really good work-out, really good character from the boys and a really good work-out.”
Awford joked that last season’s four-times player of the year and 27-goal top scorer Danny Hylton “would have been pleased with” James’ finish after fine footwork from first-year scholar Callum Stead, who had come on as a sub, put him in on goal, while Tomlinson "had one chance and took it".
He was also delighted by how well the youngsters, several of them in their first week of life as a Luton scholar, fought back in the second half while playing in front of a crowd bigger than they’d have experienced before.
“Toby Byron, who came on at left-back is 15 – he’s only out of school three weeks – so it’s a big thing for them,” the former Portsmouth boss told the local media. “It’s their first game, the manager’s here, you lot are here, so it’s a big thing.
“That’s what I said to them about winning. It’s important that we set that tone, and tonight they’ve put down a good marker. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination – there are lots of things to work on – but we got a good work-out from it, and so did Hitchin.
“They’ve had 1,300 people in here tonight so a few quid in their coffers, which is great for Burkey.
“Hopefully they can go one step further next year because we are close friends with Hitchin and we were gutted for them when they failed just at the last attempt last year. Hopefully they can go one step further this year.”
And asked whether we are likely to see any more of the youngsters in first-team friendlies this summer, Awford replied: “That’s for the manager. What he does know is that he’s got a good array of young players if he needs to use them for numbers or for whatever, so he knows that they are there.
“But obviously he’s got his squad and he’s preparing them, so we’ll wait and see how that goes.”