Hatters midfielder Luke Gambin played his part in Malta’s first win in 17 international matches on Tuesday evening when he appeared as a second-half substitute in the 1-0 friendly win over a Ukraine side managed by former Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko.
Speaking to lutontown.co.uk after making the journey from Graz in Austria, where the friendly was held, to Slovenia – where the Maltese play their next World Cup qualifying game on Saturday – Gambo was a happy man after tasting success for the first time in his eighth international.
“It was good – all the lads were over the moon,” said the 24-year-old, who was sporting a new shaved hairstyle for the game. “Every game at that level you’ve got to take seriously, and although it was a friendly, we knew what quality they had.
“Their manager is Shevchenko, and we did a lot in the build-up to the game on how they were going to play. They are quite a direct side, so we knew it was going to be an intense 90 minutes for us.
“Luckily we got a goal and then we kept our heads, kept our cool and saw it out. It was a good win for us and good for our preparation for the weekend’s game.”
Malta are looking to pick up their first point in qualifying group F when they face third-placed Slovenia in Ljubljana’s Stozice Stadium on Saturday, ahead of England visit to the National Stadium in Ta’ Qali in September.
Gambin said: “We want to get off the mark in the group by getting some points on the board. It’s going to be another great experience for me. It’s a huge game.
“We’ve played them once already in this group so we know their qualities as well and where they can be dangerous. We’ve got to minimise them, play our way and if we can, catch them on the break and get a goal. That’d be brilliant.”
Due to his involvement in the Sky Bet League Two play-offs with the Town, Gambin did not meet up with the Malta squad until Friday 30th May – more than a week after the rest of the group.
“Because I caught up with the team later than everyone else, I’ve been playing catch-up,” he said. “I’d trained only half of last week, where the other guys had been training for two weeks before, so the manager wanted me to be up to speed.
“With it being a friendly, he was going to give everyone a chance to play, and they fielded a whole different XI after half-time, so it was kind of roll-on, roll-off. I came on around the hour-mark and I felt good.
“Spending half a week out in Malta training in that heat, as we did before flying to Austria, is good prep for my pre-season that’ll be coming. It keeps me ticking over.
"All round it’s good for me as an individual, because I can tick over now – and when I’m finished this weekend with Malta, I can maybe have a down week, and then I’m back to it when we are back in for pre-season. It’s all good timing to get me ready for next season.”
Having made 17 appearances in total, eight starts and nine from the bench, following his January move from Barnet, Gambin is looking forward to his first full season with the Hatters.
“It puts me in a good position, coming back having done a bit of work, so I’m looking forward to it,” he adds. “It’s going to be a massive season for the club and for me as an individual.
“I really enjoyed myself last season. Obviously I was disappointed towards the end, but it was a learning curve and I can’t wait to get going again.”
And his thoughts on seeing last week’s announcement of the imminent arrival of midfielder Alan McCormack from Brentford?
“Definitely a good signing,” is Gambo’s verdict. “The more experience the better. We’ve got the likes of Alan Sheehan, Scotty Cuthbert and Johnny Mullins, but the more experience we sign that’s only a positive.
“Obviously with him playing at such a high level, he’s got that experience to help the young players and players like me. It’ll be good to meet up with him when we’re all back together, and we’ll go again.”
Finally, in a brief explanation of his new haircut, Luke added: “It was initiation time – a Maltese tradition. I had no choice!”
If he comes back to Kenilworth Road looking as sharp as his Barnet, you won’t hear any Hatters complaining!
*Special thanks to the Malta FA's official photographer Paul Zammit Cutajar and director of communications Kevin Azzopardi for sending the pictures of the new-look Luke on international duty!