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Exclusive: Tom Smith talks Flitcroft, Bath City and becoming a Swindon Town regular

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Tom Smith

‘Wise beyond his years’ would undoubtedly fall under the category of overused football clichés, but it is perhaps the best way to describe Swindon Town’s Tom Smith, the 19-year-old currently on loan at National League South outfit Bath City.

“I’ve been there since I was eight/nine years old, coming all the way up through the academy, seeing everything that has been going on with the first team squad,” said the highly-rated midfielder, as he reminisced on his childhood spent admiring the club he has come to call home.

“I always used to watch the games thinking, “I could be out there one day”,” he professed. “There is no better feeling than stepping out to the County Ground. Is always where I wanted to be growing up.”

After seven years spent progressing through the Swindon Town youth system, Smith was handed his first professional contract with the Wiltshire outfit in the summer of 2014, before making his debut under manager Mark Cooper as a first-year scholar in 2015.

An appearance as a second half-substitute against Preston North End at the end of the 2014/15 campaign would mark his first outing for the club before he went on to score his first goal for the Robins in a 3-1 victory over Crewe Alexandra the season after.

A difficult 2015/16 season at the County Ground would lead to the sacking of Cooper. However, his successor, Luke Williams, would go on to reward Smith’s hard work with a run of first-team appearances throughout 2016/17.

This would be the year that Smith began to establish himself as a squad player at Swindon, but one that would ultimately lead to the club’s relegation. The midfielder featured 12 times in total for the Robins, earning himself seven starts.

Naturally, the loss of the club’s League One status led to the dismissal of Williams in May and a month-long wait for a new manager ensued before the Robins finally settled on the appointment of David Flitcroft.

Flitcroft’s arrival has seen a change in the wind at the County Ground and the new Robins boss has influenced a significant turn around in the club’s fortunes in the five months he has held the position.

The summer window saw an almost-complete overhaul, with 16 senior players arriving and just six surviving from the 2016/17 squad that suffered relegation to the fourth tier. This makeover has reaped its rewards thus far, with Town sitting comfortably in the League Two play-off places while boasting the best form in the division, and Smith was quick to praise the early work of his new manager:

“He has brought in a number of new players, but we needed it. A number of those players have really stepped up over the last month or so, and no we’re on a bit of a run. We have recently had back to back wins and a really good away record.”

While the club’s current standing is a delight for all fans to see, improved team performances led to fewer playing opportunities for Smith. It was, therefore, no surprise to see him depart on loan a month into the season.

“I was getting in the squad, but dipping in and out on the fringes,” Smith explained. “This is a big season for me, following on from the last couple, and I need to build on that. It was a no-brainer going out on loan somewhere.”

National League South side, Bath City, would be the eventual destination for the midfielder, after “ongoing discussions” that lasted “a couple of weeks”, to ensure the move was correct for all parties.

Smith, clearly recognising the need to be playing regular football in order to ensure continued development, stated: “On a personal level, I just needed to get out on loan and play games. There is nothing better, being young, just playing games. 

“They have a good set-up down there. I went there to get games, experience and get my confidence back. Jerry and Bath City have helped me to kick start my football again.”

Smith certainly appears to have regained his self-belief and has made quite the impression at Twerton Park, where he has linked up with new Romans boss Jerry Gill. He has won two man of the match awards since his arrival in October while contributing two goals in his eight appearances.

The youngster stated his desire to add goals and assists to his game and will hope his improved efforts in the final third have caught the eye of Flitcroft. The Swindon boss made it clear that the midfielder remains in his long-term plans, giving him even greater motivation to impress while away from the club.

“We had a conversation before I went on loan,” Smith explained. “The idea is for me to get out and get experience playing, rather than just being stagnant around the squad. I am a Swindon player, born and bred, and long-term there will always be an option for me to be used.”

This involvement is critical for a player of Smith’s age, who is still adapting since his graduation from the Swindon Town Academy. Despite being around the first team set-up for three years now, fans would be forgiven for forgetting that the 19-year-old has made just 10 league appearances for the club. He looked to be on the verge of establishing a regular spot for the Robins last term before injury hampered his progress.

“I was getting a run of games and that really helped me push on and cement my place. I played against Rochdale at home, when we won 3-0, and I did well, but I actually got injured after that game.

“As a young player you have to take your opportunities, but sometimes when you do get injured you lose that place in the squad, whereas a more experienced player might come straight back,” Smith admitted. “It is a difficult one, as I was doing well at the time, but things come up and things change.”

However, having accepted that injuries are part and parcel of the game, Smith was determined to bounce back and reclaim his spot in the squad, even if it required a temporary loan move along the way. He thoughtfully stated, “You can’t really control what happens. You just have to get on with it and keep working hard.”

After initially arriving at Bath City on a one-month deal, the club were delighted to extend Smith’s stay until after the New Year. This comes as little surprise considering his early performances for the Romans. It is clear that he thrives on playing matches and his displays have proven key to the club cementing a comfortable mid-table position in the National League South.

Of course, this is not the first loan move of Smith’s career. Last season the 19-year-old spent a brief spell out on loan with League of Ireland First Division outfit Waterford, where he proved vital in the club’s successful push for promotion, alongside Town teammate Jake Evans.

“It was a similar situation to the beginning of this season. Come January the club brought in new players and it meant I probably wasn’t going to get in the squad. I needed to continue playing games and continue doing well, in order to make it a good season. Despite looking at other clubs in England, everything just fell into place behind the scenes.”

Moving to a new league, in a new country, represented a fresh challenge for Smith. However, it is one that saw him thrive. He made 11 appearances for the club, scoring a single goal in a 2–0 away victory over UCD.

It ended up being a really good move for me. It was my first loan and a really great experience. We had to fly out there and live away from home. I got to meet loads of new people and experience a different style of football.

Seemingly, the canvas for Smith has always been painted red. The long-term ambition for the teenage midfielder is to establish himself as a first-team regular at the County Ground. Everything he does in the meantime is in pursuit of realising that goal.

“With playing games and getting experience, I think my time will come. It would be nice this year, or maybe the year after, to play in a Swindon shirt regularly.”

Smith still looks back with fond memories of his time as a ball boy for the Robins. In particular, he recollects the excitement of the Paulo di Canio era, but he never envisaged himself gracing the same turf as those he considered his childhood heroes.

“Looking out onto the pitch I just couldn’t ever imagine myself being there. It seemed so far away.” 

Being a Swindon Town first team regular may have been little more than a fantasy for a 13-year-old Tom Smith. Now, into his third year as a pro, he is closer than he ever would have expected. Despite all this, he remains grounded. Determined as ever to prove his worth at the club that has been a substantial influence in his life, to date.

“It is a weird thing, thinking I’m so close to being a regular. For me, being at a young age, I need to take a step back from everything, remember I am a young player, and keep working hard.”

Chris is the founder of The Boot Room. He is a Swindon Town supporter, having lived in Wiltshire for most of his years. His work has also featured on Squawka, Bleacher Report and Eurosport.

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Everton

Michael Keane: Big Sam, Wayne Rooney’s influence and World Cup dreams

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Michael Keane
Photo: Reuters

Before the start of the 2017-18 Premier League season, there was talk of a revolution at Everton.

The Toffees had been a rejuvenated outfit under Ronald Koeman last time out, only finishing eight points behind Manchester United in seventh place, and the top six was all of a sudden a genuine target.

This was a feeling that was only heightened by the Dutchman’s elaborate spending during the summer – which rose to above £150 million by the time September was upon us – and it seemed that it was now Everton who could be the ones to attempt to ruffle the feathers of the Premier League’s elite group.

One man who was part of this movement on Merseyside was England defender Michael Keane, arriving from fellow top-flight side Burnley for a fee believed to have the potential to rise up to £30 million – a club-record deal for a defender.

It was a move that was hugely justified following a mightily impressive season at Turf Moor, where he helped Burnley comfortably retain their top-flight status after Championship promotion in 2016.

In the space of just ten months Keane had returned to the Premier League, earnt his debut England call-up and been nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year, as well as secure his Everton move.

And discussing his decision to move to Merseyside with The Boot Room, Keane said that it was the right move for his career – even though boyhood team Manchester United showed interest.

“I thought I’d get more chance of playing at Everton.

“Manchester United was my Club growing up but I put my heart to one side, thought about it realistically and decided that I would definitely have more chance of playing at Everton.

“Everton is a massive Club, it’s got a huge fanbase, the supporters have been brilliant with me and the manager convinced me to come in the summer – all of these things play a factor and it just felt right.”

It was a move that was merited after an outstanding year at Turf Moor, but it was also a decision that was made with a heavy heart after leading the Clarets back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

As much as nobody wants to be relegated, a year spent in the second division ultimately developed Keane into the hardened and established Premier League centre-half that he has become, and he insists that time in the Championship changed him for the better.

“It was the making of me going back down to the Championship.

“It’s never nice to get relegated but I was only young still and playing week-in, week-out in the Championship is tough – it’s a difficult league – but it built me up as a man. On the pitch I was a lot more aggressive after that year, and winning games gets you in the habit of winning football.

“Looking back it was a massive year in my career, and probably the most enjoyable too – you want to win lots of football matches and win titles and that’s exactly what happened that season. It gives you that hunger to try and do it again.”

But, despite earning his big move over the summer to an Everton side brimming with financial backing and ambition, it has been anything but plain sailing since making the switch to Goodison.

The 25-year-old’s record transfer fee for a defender immediately set expectations rolling amongst supporters, and it is something that Keane confesses he’s had to deal with over the past six months.

“There was [a sense of expectation] but that’s just natural, it doesn’t add any pressure to me coming into games. If anything it spurs you on and it’s a compliment that Clubs are willing to pay that much for you. You want to pay them back and show Everton supporters that you’re worth that

“It has been a difficult start, I want to perform at my best more consistently and to be playing all of the games, but a lot of that has been down to injury as well”

Both Keane and Everton started the year well enough but things began to unravel in spectacular fashion as the Toffees gravitated towards the bottom three of the Premier League table, winning just twice in 12 matches in a barren run between late August and November.

Combine this with a wretched Europa League campaign – earning just the solitary win in six group stage matches – and those pre-season hopes and aspirations of a top six battle swiftly changed into stark relegation fears.

It was a run of form that ultimately cost Koeman his job in charge at Goodison Park, and Keane is the first to admit that his Everton career has had a rude awakening this season.

“It’s been up and down. It started really well when I first came in, we had a good pre-season when the Europa League started and we did well in the Premier League in the first couple of games, but then it went downhill for a few months. We had a few bad results and a lot of the lads – including myself – lost confidence and form which resulted in Ronald Koeman getting sacked.”

The immediate period following Koeman’s departure was just as problematic as the preceding months however, with interim manager David Unsworth overseeing a troublesome five weeks in charge.

The Everton Under-23 boss managed seven first-team games whilst the board of directors searched for a long-term replacement, losing five of these as their demise into the relegation spots continued.

However, they say that every cloud has a silver lining, and it came in the form of Sam Allardyce.

Big Sam’s Premier League pedigree is one that can’t be doubted – after all, last season he came in and miraculously helped Crystal Palace avoid the drop when all seemed lost – and after an arduous first three months of the Premier League season there was a ray of light at Goodison.

Within just seven matches he had pulled Everton away from danger and back towards the top-half, winning four and drawing three as an all-too rare sense of optimism started to return into the Gwladys Street Stand.

And Keane has praised the immediate impact that Allardyce has had since arriving on Merseyside, citing his ability to right the wrongs of the opening months of the season.

“He’s just got us back to the basics, doing things that we weren’t doing well during the few months before he came. We’re defending well now, defending as a team, working harder and he’s got us fitter and harder to beat because we were conceding a lot of goals. Considering the players we’ve got that should never have been happening but we were just a bit all over the place positionally and he’s come in, he’s sorted it out and I think you can see the results straight away.

“We’re definitely harder to beat, we’re looking more of a threat going forward at the minute and hopefully the new signing we’ve made [Turkish striker Cenk Tosun from Besiktas] and maybe one or two more will help us to add to that.”

It is not just Allardyce that Keane credits with Everton’s upturn in form, though, and he points out childhood icon and ex-Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney as a vital first-team figure.

The former England captain returned to Goodison in the summer and has arguably been the pick of the recent arrivals, leading by example and reaching double figures for goals already.

“I used to play with him at [Manchester] United and England and used to watch him growing up all the time, so there’s no doubting the ability he’s got. There was the question of whether he could play regular games and bring it to the table but he definitely has done and he’s been one of our best players this season.

“He’s scored a lot of goals and set a lot up, and when he’s in the team it’s always a lift. He’s always looking to get on the ball going forward – he’s been brilliant.”

It is not just on the pitch where Rooney has impressed this season, with Keane praising the 32-year-old for the presence he brings into the dressing room.

“He’s a leader. He’s got all the experience and he passes it around, especially to the younger lads, and he’s a great person to be around. He’s a good lad, a good laugh, but he knows when he needs to be serious as well and he’s never afraid to deal with the team at half-time which is what you need.”

Yet, whilst Everton’s – and Rooney’s – form has improved, Keane’s stop-start year has continued.

After picking up an injury earlier in the season the England centre-half was absent from last Saturday’s defeat at Tottenham with a cut to his foot, stalling the momentum that he’d been building up in the back-line.

The former Claret endured a rocky start to life with Allardyce, being omitted from the starting line-up for three successive league fixtures in mid-December, but he returned for the visit of reigning champions Chelsea and showed the new boss just what he can do with a rousing and determined individual display in a 0-0 stalemate.

This performance – allied with another clean sheet against West Brom in his next outing – finally allowed Everton supporters the chance to see their £30million man hitting top-form.

Another untimely injury has forced Keane into pressing the pause button on his 2017-18 season once again though, and he explained the frustration that injuries at the top level can cause.

“It’s hard. To be honest it’s something I’ve never had to do before, so it’s quite new for me to have injuries that keep you out for two or three weeks. You enjoy playing football and training every day on the pitch but when you’re injured you’re on the bike and doing things like that which isn’t nice.

“Other players then play and, if they do well, you won’t get back in the team and that’s something I’ve had to deal with this season. I knew I couldn’t complain but at the same time it is frustrating. You have to work so hard when you’re injured as well to keep that fitness up.

“I just need to get over this one by next week and then hope I won’t have any more.”

Keane’s frustrations at another injury can be understood considering that competition for places in the Everton defence is rife at the moment. With Ashley Williams, Phil Jagielka and Mason Holgate also battling for starting berths there’s big strength in depth – but Keane insists he thrives on the competition.

“We need competition.

“In my position we’ve got four or five centre-halves at the minute at Everton who are all ready to start a game at any time. It’s chopped and changed quite a lot, so there’s not really a settled centre-back partnership yet but that’s good when you’re training, you want to bring the best out of each other. That’s what the manager wants and you’ve got that in our position.”

Whilst the competitiveness for places at Goodison Park is healthy on a domestic front, Keane will no doubt be desperate to re-instate himself as a first-team regular upon his return from injury with the 2018 World Cup fast approaching on the horizon.

The 25-year-old was awarded his England debut by current manager Gareth Southgate in March of last year, earning his first cap in a 1-0 friendly defeat to reigning world champions Germany, and since then he’s featured a further three times to put himself firmly in the reckoning for a spot in the final squad for Russia 2018.

Reflecting on his England bow, he said:

“It was unbelievable – I’ve actually only just got my cap through for the first time.

“It was an unbelievable feeling and I wasn’t expecting it at the time. I was focused on what I had to do and the game came around, went well, and afterwards it was the best I’ve ever felt after a football match.

“It’s a huge honour to play for your country but to do it away in Germany in such a difficult game, even though we lost, was special. On your debut you look more at your own performance and I think I did well, so I was pleased with that.”

He certainly did well enough to impress Southgate, who called on him once again in the final World Cup qualifying match away at Lithuania in October as part of his first five-man defence experiment.

It is a system – likely to be used in June – that Keane has expressed his comfort in.

“I’ve done it quite a few times this season, and done it in the past, and if you get it right it’s a good system to play in. The manager’s made it obvious that he likes to play like that so I feel I can fit into the system. I just need to get back playing for Everton, play well week-in, week-out, get a bit of consistency back in my game and hopefully I’ll be knocking at the door come the summer.”

“It’d be a dream to go to the World Cup. It’s going to be difficult as there’s a lot of competition for places and a lot of the lads are playing well at the minute so all I can do is focus on getting back fit for Everton and playing well there – what will be will be with England.”

It is this final comment that’s one of a player who knows that his immediate priorities lie with Everton, who head into the final stretch of the Premier League season inside the top-half.

Four defeats on the bounce had somewhat stopped Allardyce’s runaway train in its tracks over the past few weeks but yesterday’s draw against West Brom – whilst far from ideal – at least steadied the ship.

Keane – who watched from the substitutes bench – has now called on Everton to end the season strongly ahead of next year,  and he knows how key this period is in order to build for next season.

The England international may not have endured the dream first six months at Everton but the current side is undoubtedly a work in progress, and he predicts that it won’t be long before the Merseyside outfit are once again aiming to compete with the Premier League’s very best.

“Going forward we’ve definitely got the capabilities of getting in the top six and, who knows, maybe knocking at the door of the top four in a year or so.

“At the minute we need to concentrate on getting ourselves back up the table but we can also learn from the start we had to this season and hopefully next year we can hit the ground running.”

It is a bold statement of intent to emanate from a testing few months at Goodison Park but with Allardyce steadying the ship since arriving, and with further additions set to be made in January, Everton have the necessary platform and resources to re-build themselves as a consistent top-seven side – with Keane intending to be a vital component at the heart of it.

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Massimo Luongo: Tottenham education, Ballon d’Or recognition and Loftus Road experiences

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Reuters

Massimo Luongo has had an interesting career to date and, at the age of 25, he will be looking to build on his experiences and continue to progress as a footballer. The midfielder is currently on the books of Queens Park Rangers and has emerged as one of the club’s key players under Ian Holloway.

Although the Rs are not currently in a position to challenge for promotion, they are a developing a promising team and the Australian international has impressed this season. In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, he admitted that the squad feel they should have more points to their name this term. However, he suggested that now they are getting back to the level at which they should be.

“It’s been very up and down. We are probably a few points off where we should be, but there have been a lot of good performances and we picked up a lot of draws early on that could have been wins, which would have put us in a better position. We’ve had a lot of injuries and we are getting back to where we should be, I think.”

QPR are currently in 17th position, 13 points off the pace when it comes to the Sky Bet Championship play-offs. It seems unlikely that they will be able to make that gap up and another mid-table finish looks likely for the club this term. Nonetheless, Luongo is an ambitious player and he will be looking to return to the Premier League in the long-term.

He was given a taste of the English top flight after starting his career with Tottenham. The North London side are now renowned for giving young players a chance, but the 25-year-old was there before that became the norm. Although he failed to make an appearance for the club, he remains grateful for the education that he received.

“It was difficult for me at first, because the direction of the club was different to what it is now. They were always pushing for a Champions League spot at the time. When I came, Harry Redknapp just took over after getting them up from the bottom of the table. The direction they were going was to find a bit of security so it was difficult to break through, but development wise, it was the best place I could have been.

“The coaches I had, Tim Sherwood, Les Ferdinand and Alex Inglethorpe who is at Liverpool now, prepared me for English football in general. I think from then, it has gone pretty well. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been on loan to Ipswich, which was a good education for me.”

There is often a lot of criticism directed at Premier League clubs for not giving young players a chance in the first team. Tottenham are now famous for getting the most from their academy, but that wasn’t the case when Luongo was at the club. He had to go out on loans to Ipswich Town and Swindon Town to get experience.

Despite not making his Premier League debut at White Hart Lane, the midfielder clearly made an impact, as Les Ferdinand was influential in bringing the player to QPR after taking the post of director of football. Although he didn’t make it in North London, there is no ill feeling from the midfielder and he suggests that they are now the example to follow for other clubs.

“It didn’t work out, but they’ve hit the nail on the head now. They probably realise that they trust in their youth academy and their development now more than they did when I was there. The likes of Harry Winks are doing so well and obviously Harry Kane.

There are a few boys in the Championship from Tottenham that are full of quality. Josh Onomah from Villa. He was there when I was there. I think they are doing it right. If any a club wants an example to follow, they should follow Tottenham.”

There are lots of young players let go by Premier League clubs every year and it can be easy for them to lose faith, but Luongo didn’t take the failure to heart and joined Swindon Town on a permanent deal after a loan spell at the County Ground.

The Robins were clearly impressed by his talent and opted to pay £400,000 for his services, which was too much for Tottenham to turn down considering he was far down the pecking order at the club.

During the following two years, he became an influential midfielder in League One and his reputation grew on a weekly basis. During the 2014-15 season, he helped the Robins to a play-off final, where they were ultimately beaten by Preston North End. This denied them a return to the second tier, but it was Luongo’s performances on the international stage that allowed his name to enter the mainstream.

He had found himself in and around the Australia squad prior to the 2015 Asia Cup, but it was during the tournament itself that he made his breakthrough for the Socceroos. Scoring two goals and contributing four assists throughout the competition, he steered his country to glory, before later being handed the competition’s Most Valuable Player accolade.

“It was good, as I hadn’t really established myself in the Socceroos yet, so it was my first time being called up. The people didn’t really know much about me and it was in Australia. The final was in Sydney where I’m from, so that was pretty cool. It was amazing and scoring in the final of any tournament is big, but the fact it was at home meant a little bit more.”

Incredibly, his performances during the tournament earned him worldwide recognition and, still a Swindon Town player at the time, he found himself included on the Ballon D’Or long-list for 2015. The voting system means that those who impress at international level receive credit for their performances and Luongo was an example to everyone that no matter which club you play for, you can aspire to reach individual goals.

“The Ballon D’Or thing was pretty cool as well. I was happy about that. It was nice to get the recognition from the Asia Cup. Over here, you don’t see much of what happens in comparison to other continents. Being at Swindon at the time, it’s nice that they recognise wherever you are. At any club, you can still get on the Ballon D’Or list.”

After returning from the Asia Cup, it was obvious that Luongo should be playing at a higher level than League One. It would have been special to have achieved promotion with Swindon Town, but their play-off failure left the midfielder with a decision to make. QPR were quick to act, as they paid £3.5 million for the Australian and his club team-mate Ben Gladwin.

As the Rs had recently experienced relegation from the Premier League, Luongo would have seen it as a stepping stone to the top flight. Unfortunately, the club have been through a difficult period of transition ever since, forcing them to re-build and re-stratergise in the Championship.

Despite this, Luongo has successfully continued his development and he is now performing to a very high level in the division. When asked about the influence of the managers he has worked alongisde, he describes Ian Holloway as the one who has been able to get the best form out of him.

“All the managers are different, but at the moment, I’d say Ollie. He’s given me the role that I’m suited to best, the box-to-box role. I’m behind Luke Freeman and ahead of Josh Scowen, so I’ve got the creativity of Luke to combine with and the security of Scowen behind me.

“I’d say he’s brought out the best in me, but I learned a lot from [Jimmy-Floyd] Hasselbaink when he was here. The security that he wanted to play with and the discipline needed to play for him. It took me a while to get into his squad and I learned a lot of the game from Hasselbaink.”

This season, Luongo has been a consistent performer for QPR in the midfield and has regularly contributed in the final third. His current haul of a goal and two assists shows that he can offer something in attack, but he will be looking to improve on these during the second half of the season.

It has been his defensive work rate that has stood out most, averaging 3.9 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game. As he alludes to, he is a box-to-box midfielder and, at the age of 25, there is potential to grow further. The Premier League remains his ultimate goal in England and he is now closer than ever to achieving this dream:

Getting to the Premier League has always been the goal and I’m working hard to achieve it.”

The short term aim will be to get there with QPR and there is no reason why that cannot happen. Paddy Power latest football offers suggest it doesn’t look likely this season, but fortunes in the Championship change on a yearly basis and if they can find some consistency under Ian Holloway, promotion is a realistic aim for the club.

Luongo has stepped up to every new level with ease and has already been nominated for the Ballon d’Or by his peers. He has quite some pedigree, despite never playing in the Premier League.

If unsuccessful in achieving this objective with the London outfit, he might just be worth his weight in gold to any onlooking current Premier League sides.

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Danny Hylton – Fronting Luton Town, the Football League’s high scorers

Luton Town striker and The Boot Room contributor Danny Hylton reveals the secret to his prowess in League Two this season as he explains what makes The Hatters so prolific in front of goal.

Danny Hylton

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Danny Hylton
Photo: Reuters

The season has been very successful so far, both for myself and Luton Town. The club strengthened well in the summer and made some really good signings after narrowly missing out in the play-offs last season. At times last term we were lacking a certain level of experience, so we brought in a few older heads, players who know and have been about the Football League.

We all wanted to achieve promotion and set that as the target at the beginning of the season – it is not something we are going to hide. We think with the squad that we have, we can achieve that. We have started the campaign really well and it seems the longer it goes on we are moving from strength to strength., while playing some really great football.

We have some fantastic individuals at the club, those with incredible ability. Not just goal scorers, but players with great technical qualities and athleticism. We score goals from everywhere and do not just rely on one person or the forwards. From set pieces we are especially a real danger. We are lucky to have goals throughout the team.

Every time I go onto the pitch I want to score, but it is not the be-all and end-all. If I am bringing something to the team and we are winning games, then I am happy. It is not about me or any other individual, but I am definitely aiming to beat last year’s tally of 27 goals in all competitions, this season.

Credit has to go down to our First Team Manager, Nathan Jones. Ever since I have come in he has been fantastic with me. He has filled me with confidence and now every time I go out onto the pitch I know he is 100% behind me.

As a team, our performances come down to the amount of work he does with us on the training ground, the runs he tells us forwards to make, the time he spends with the midfielders so they know what ball to play.

We work tirelessly on patterns of play and structure, so we know what each player is going to do with and without possession. I have never seen a manager coach like he does and he deserves a huge amount of praise.

On a personal level it is great to be the leading goal scorer in League Two. Although football it is not about the individual, it is nice when you know you are doing your job and things are going well.

I go out there every game and work hard, trying to bring as much to the team as I can. If I am playing well and creating, or helping the squad in any way then that is great. If I am scoring goals in doing so, then that is even better. When you are playing in a team with players of the quality that we have at Luton, then you are going to get chances to do just that.

Our Head of Sports Science, Jared Roberts-Smith, always reminds us that we score most regularly in the latter stages of games. He takes big pride in that. We have a great backroom team at Luton and Jared is fantastic at what he does.

He places a huge amount of emphasis on the team’s fitness and the work done in the gym. When you see that we score a lot of goals in the closing stages of games it is because we are a very fit and in great shape as a squad.

It is also down to the way opponents set themselves up. Typically, they make it difficult for us, playing defensively and trying to counter attack.

They make it hard for us to score in the first period and if we don’t get an early goal it makes the game more of a challenge. If we then grab a goal early after half-time, teams are forced to come out and attack more, which makes it easier to grab a second or third.

It is really difficult to single out a particular team performance this season, as we have had a few high scoring wins. However, our recent win over Swindon, against a really good team, stands out.

At the County Ground they made it really hard for us, packing their half with 11 men. It took us until the second half to get one goal, but then in quick succession we managed to score four more. It is really pleasing to see that.

Ultimately, we have a great squad at Luton, not just the boys who are starting. When we make changes we are able to take the game away from people. We have fantastic ability coming off the bench, which gives us a different dimension and can help to take us to a new level.

When I got promoted last with Oxford we thought that we were by-far the best team in the league. However, sometimes we were a bit complacent, turning up and just expecting to be given three points. We ended up coming second that year, securing promotion on the last day of the season and it was not quite as comfortable as we would have wanted it to be.

This year we definitely won’t be taking anything for granted or taking our foot off the pedal. You have to go out there and fight for every point and we will definitely be doing that after being so close last year. We drew 17 games in total and if we could have turned just a few of those into wins then we might have gone up automatically.

It just goes to show the fine margins come the end of the season. We are only at the halfway point of the domestic campaign and anything can happen still. It is a bit of a cliché, but we need to take the second half of the campaign one game at a time.

Before this week, no-one in the team has really spoken about our upcoming FA Cup tie with Newcastle United. We have real tunnel vision on the league at present, taking each match as it comes. It will be a nice day out and a great tie at St. James’ Park, a huge stadium with lots of home support. The atmosphere should be fantastic.

We will go there and give them a good game. We can test ourselves against their big name players and really see how far we have come, as well as how far off the level we are now. However, we won’t be going there to get a draw or a replay. We will be going there to try and win and hopefully add to our goal tally.

 

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