Hatters boss Graeme Jones gave us his verdict on the opening night clash with Middlesbrough last week, but today we got his take on the rest of the Town’s fixtures during the opening month of the Sky Bet Championship season.
The opening game being brought forward for television, he says, gives him the perfect opportunity to prepare for Cardiff away and his former club West Brom at home.
“They are all tough,” Jones said. “I don’t really project or look ahead and say ‘Oh, if we could beat them, or get a draw there, that’ll be a tough fixture’. I just think you have to assess every fixture on its own merit.
“The good thing about playing on the Friday night is that on the Saturday I’ll be able to go to Wigan and watch Wigan-Cardiff, so I’ll have a good idea what’s needed against Cardiff the following week at their place. There is nothing better than seeing live football.
And then at 5.30 that night, I can see West Brom on the TV as well. So within 24 hours I’ll have taken in a lot of information about our team and the next two oppositions as well, so it’s a good period really. I just see it as a positive.”
His former employers West Brom will come to the Kenny in the third league game of the season, and Jones said: “Even in the first game there is a story with two new managers – there is always a story in football, isn’t there?
“The West Brom game is a strange one really. It’s not that I’m looking forward to it more than any other fixture. I don’t really think like that. Obviously, I know a lot of the boys there and have great respect for the players, but also I know them inside out. I know their strengths and their weaknesses, so it can only be an advantage.
“Slaven Bilic has gone in and I’m sure he’s going to change one or two things. I’ve got nothing but good memories of West Brom, apart from the last day that I left there with Darren Moore and Wayne Jacobs. I’m just looking forward to the game and hopefully we can give a good account of ourselves.”
The Hatters face two of the recently relegated Premier League sides – Cardiff and Huddersfield – in the opening month of the season, and Jones added: “There are some great fixtures to look forward to. We play Cardiff and Huddersfield in that first block – Huddersfield is the last game of it on August 31st – so you’ve got two Premier League clubs.
“But I worked at club last year that had just been relegated from the Premier League, and even though they are Premier League players in name, I think there is a big challenge to readapt to the Championship, so I don’t see that as a bad thing, playing them early.
“I think it’s a good opportunity, if I’m being honest, but we assess all games on their own individual merits. You know that they’ve got the Premier League quality at any given moment to hurt you, so we just need to be ready.”
The opening batch of matches presents familiar opposition in the form of Steve Bruce’s Sheffield Wednesday, who the Hatters took to a replay in the FA Cup third round, and Barnsley – the club who were promoted alongside us – coming one after the other.
“Barnsley they’ll know more about,” said Jones of his players’ recent knowledge of the opposition, “but Sheffield Wednesday is just a real traditional English football club, and it’s such a great stadium still – Hillsborough.
“We went there last October with West Brom and you realise the power of the place. I’ve seen 48,000 people in that stadium and they’ve got some fanbase. They finished the season really, really strong with Steve. He knows his way around the Championship, so I won’t expect anything other than a really competitive fixture.”
First he needs to deal with the requests from his wife Debbie’s family – all Middlesbrough fans – for the opening night!
“Tickets requests have been coming in far too early! Yes, there’s a lot and my biggest worry is that I know Kenilworth Road is a sell-out every game with 10,000 people, so there’s not that many spare!
“I think it’s a great fixture for the club. We need to feel privileged that we are kicking off the English football league season, in the Championship, and there’ll be a lot of scrutiny on the game. But we need to embrace that. I know I certainly am. I think it’s a great opening day fixture.”