Luton Town v Middlesbrough Cheat Sheet
Luton Town v Middlesbrough
It is really difficult to know what to make of this match. Both teams are now mathematically certain of play-off places, and neither harbour any real hope of catching Sheffield United for automatic promotion.
In some ways, it is a pre-cursor for a potential play-off final. Regardless of the make-up of the 5th and 6th places come the end of the season, there is no doubt that Luton and Middlesbrough will be the favourites to progress from the two semi-finals.
This leads us to a strange place where we begin to call into question how much Rob Edwards and Michael Carrick will really want to give away in this match. I’m sure that both will be looking to win this, if only for a psychological advantage if nothing else, but my feeling is that, especially towards the end of the game, neither side will be looking to give everything to make something happen. Certainly, not anything that might risk an injury.
There was a period in the season in which you could look at Luton’s performance data and surmise that they were on the right side of fortune to be achieving the points haul that they were getting. That has not been the case in 2023 though. Taking the period since 1st February, Luton are in the top four for expected points with a top three expected goal difference. Whilst their attack numbers are indeed above average, this is a team based on sound foundations. Luton’s xG against figures since the transfer window closed are the second-best in the division, only behind champions-elect Burnley.
This is another factor that obfuscates the thinking around this match. Luton’s mean defence is coming up against the division’s most dynamic attacking unit. Middlesbrough top the charts over the same period of time for xG created, 27.4xG in 14 games, almost 2xG per match. Their defence is obviously much more porous as well. So this is the immovable object and the irresistible force analogy made real on the Kenilworth Road pitch.
In this case, I refer the jury back to the initial point regarding the lack of importance to this match. Luton, as the home side, will feel the onus to control the game to their greatest advantage. They have Carlton Morris and Elijah Adebayo/Cauley Woodrow, getting the ball forward directly to their front two will be their priority and then keeping a solid 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 shape preventing penetration through the central areas. It will be up to Boro to find a way through that.
The evidence of Boro’s away matches leans toward goals. However, looking at Luton’s home matches they have been so effective at holding their opponents at bay. With the ‘before the Lord’s Mayor’s show’ feel of this one, I am leaning towards a low-margin encounter here.
This doesn’t mean that there won’t be goal attempts though. The role created in this Middlesbrough team by Michael Carrick for Chuba Akpom was a big surprise when it was originated, but has been incredibly successful for the big former Arsenal academy graduate.
Playing in the pocket off the main striker, likely to be Cameron Archer here, Akpom has the technical ability and physical capability to pick up the ball and either play it or turn and drive, both of which have been seen to great effect this season.
What it has meant as well is that he can float around and time his arrival onto the ball to coincide with the most dangerous opportunities. Hence the fact that he has streaked away at the top of the goalscoring charts. Akpom has a lot of opportunities at goal, and they have been underestimated for this match, the price for two or more shots looks attractive here.
We backed this in a bet builder a couple of weeks ago when Boro were at home to Norwich, and that match remains the only time in the last nine that Akpom hasn’t hit at least two shots in a match. He followed up his one against Norwich with 5(!) against Hull City.
What I can see in this match is the potential for a little bit of needle. There can be no doubt that these two clubs will be looking at each other as the biggest obstacle to overcome to reach the promised land of the Premier League.
The battle lines will be drawn in midfield. If Hayden Hackney is deployed in the deeper central midfield role then he is an absolute dead-cert for a foul in there. The problem is that the bookmakers are alive to this as well and he is far too short to seriously consider in the fouls market.
However, the Luton deep sitter is Marvelous Nakamba, and I am surprised at the size of his price for fouls. He is a magnificent tackler, with over 40 tackles in his last 10 matches, and he does incredibly well to not give more fouls away. However, it only takes one of those tackles to be mistimed to give a free-kick away, and at his price and the likely way the match will play out, and the responsibilities he will potentially have to deal with Akpom, he must be added to the bet builder here.
Also worthy of addition is the Luton centre forward Carlton Morris. Morris’ robust style has been ultra-successful this season. When Luton signed the former Barnsley forward in the summer many thought he might be the understudy or support to Elijah Adebayo but he was excellently identified to play a different game to Adebayo and has become the main man in the Hatters attack.
He has been physical in the battle with opposing central defenders. His foul record is one of the highest in the Luton team. His last few Championship games read 2,2,1,1,3,2,2,1,2,2 in terms of fouls committed. Again, given the type of match I expect here then his price for two or more fouls looks more than fair.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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