Hatters boss Nathan Jones says he wants his players to enjoy their football and keep producing performances that are earning the team vital points in the fight for survival – and in goalkeeper Simon Sluga’s case, some incentives for his upcoming wedding!
Jones said after Saturday’s win at Swansea, when Sluga kept his second clean sheet in three matches, that the Croatian international would be given a little reward.
Speaking to the press this lunchtime ahead of tomorrow night’s trip to Leeds, he explained that it was for his wedding later this summer to fiancee Anamarija, who is also expecting their first baby.
Jones said: “Simon gets married in the summer so he asked to get a flight earlier than I would have liked him to, so I said ‘If you keep a clean sheet, you can go on the day you need to’.
“His partner is pregnant and he’s getting married, he’s had to change the date because of that and because of COVID-19, so it’s just a reward for his clean sheet. If he keeps another one tomorrow, I’ll pay for his wedding!”
Sluga pulled off a brilliant second half save to prevent Ben Cabango giving the hosts the lead, and Jones went on: “I’ve known about him because he’s been here for a year. I watch a lot of football, I watch Championship football and obviously I had a big interest in Luton even when I wasn’t manager here, so I know all about him.
“In training, he’s done well. He’s conceded one goal in two games, so let’s hope that continues. I know he had a tough start here, but at times when you’re a foreign player coming into a difficult league and in a side that was always going to be challenged at this level, sometimes it takes time to settle. Ideally you have that settling period.
“With Simon, he was rushed straight into Championship football, which is very difficult. It’s one of those things. I think he’s getting better week by week. We saw that before I came in.
“I think he was excellent in the unbeaten games they had before and he’s just continued that, so I want him to be secure, I want him to take calculated risks and I want him to enjoy his football. And you only do that when you’re playing well.”
Elliot Lee was another to impress at the Liberty Stadium after months out of the team.
“The group I left I believe was a Championship-level squad,” said Jones. “They needed certain help, certain things. Generally, we wanted the opportunity to go up against Championship sides.
“To have people come back in and they’re motivated to play for you and want to do that, especially with the talented players is brilliant. We’re going to need everyone.
“Elliot has shown real courage and a real enthusiasm since I’ve come back in to do well and he earned that. I thought he was excellent at the weekend, I really did.
“They’re all going to be big players. Some will be key but they are all going to be important players for us.”
Currently on a five-match unbeaten run, and with just one defeat in the last eight, the belief is definitely growing among the squad and staff that the Hatters can beat the drop back into League One.
“I think that belief is a big thing, believe that they can win games, believe they are going to places with an opportunity to win games from a strong platform, and that’s all we can do with them.
“We’ve been here effectively three games if you’re talking about the Brentford friendly so we’re gathering a little bit of momentum, we’re gathering sharpness and a rhythm, that’s only going to get more as we get to work with them.
“One thing we’ve had here is desire and hunger to do well and that’s why we did well because everyone from the kitman, to the groundsman to the cleaners want to do well for Luton Town, right through the players and the staff.
“There’s no complacency here at this level, below us, or anything. We’re always striving for the next thing and are in it together.
“That’s the beauty of Luton and that what, collectively, we’ll have to be doing because, individually, there are more illustrious people out there.”
Jones also explained about the tough decision that has been made to release the five players - Marek Stech, Frankie Musonda, Donervon Daniels, Jake Jervis and Lloys Jones - as their contracts come to an end tomorrow.
“It’s always tough to tell people that they’re not going to get contracts, but what we’ve had to do is make sure that we make decisions now, looking ahead," he added.
“Those were ones we were able to make and were categorical. We won’t be able to take them forward. We’ve spoken to everyone individually, no problem with anyone. We wish them all the best because they’ve been good servants for however long they’ve been here.
“Some, like Jake and Lloyd, have had limited exposure. I explained to Jake Jervis that we brought him in to play, then the level that others were attaining meant that he didn’t have the game time. But he provided that competition.
"People might think he was a waste, but he wasn’t because by having him in the building, he provided that competition that James Collins, Danny Hylton, Elliot Lee and all those players went through the roof. It was just unfortunate and that’s happened to the football club.
“It’s wrong to call them casualties, but they will go on, I’m sure, to have productive careers and we wish them all the well."
He added: “We’ve managed to agree with all of the other out of contract players to extend their contracts, and we’ve spoken to all the players that are on loan. They all want to stay, it’s just about making sure that we can agree that with the clubs. We’ve got a little bit of time to do that, but we want to do that to keep everyone together."