The last time Nathan Jones departed Luton Town, it was an acrimonious exit. Leaving in January 2019 for Stoke City, a second consecutive promotion was on the cards with The Hatters enjoying unparalleled success under their Welsh head coach.
His subsequent failure at Stoke City – a 38-game spell mustering up an abject 15.8% win percentage in total – is the only noticeable blot on his managerial resume to date. On his return to Kenilworth Road, the Welshman was welcomed back with open arms after the failed Graeme Jones experiment and made the Hatters genuine Championship promotion contenders.
Now, the 49-year-old believes the time is right to leave again – another red and white team gambling on his services, Premier League Southampton welcoming Nathan Jones to the dug-out after Ralph Hassenhuttl’s exit from St Marys. This time, the bitterness that was felt when he left first time around isn’t there.
Luton fans knew Nathan Jones would eventually garner interest from top-flight clubs, it was just when one of those twenty elite clubs would gamble on a manager yet to taste Premier League football as a head coach. With Southampton in need of something fresh and exciting to instil passion back into the sinking Saints ship, it was a no-brainer to opt for Jones – the nail-biting boss wildly flailing his arms on every dug-out in the second tier, a manager that will galvanise the forlorn Saints group.
Southampton might well still get relegated, but under Nathan Jones, they’ll have an experienced Championship head coach if they do go down. But, what next for Luton? Who will The Hatters hierarchy go for to replace the gaping hole left behind from Nathan Jones? With Luton a club on the up and with a real buzz about them, it’s an attractive opportunity for various head coaches.
The surprising frontrunner for the hot seat at this moment in time is Stephen Robinson, the Northern Irishman currently manager of St Mirren. The St Mirren boss has underwhelmed in English football, both spells at Oldham Athletic and Morecambe poor with his only real successes as a manager coming in his native Scotland.
Robinson’s name being a genuine contender for the vacancy feels unlikely therefore, his ex-Luton connections as a player the only tangible reason he’s being linked so heavily. If the Hatters hierarchy were to appoint Robinson, fears in the fanbase would begin to emerge – the hierarchy getting another appointment wrong, evoking the Graeme Jones era post-Nathan Jones last time.
Stephen Robinson also feels too safe and pedestrian, other names linked to the vacancy feel more exciting and daring. Neil Critchley might well fancy returning to first-team management at Luton, the former Blackpool man without a job now after being axed as Aston Villa’s assistant manager last month. Stepping away from first time duties suddenly at Bloomfield Road – Neil Critchley at the peak of his powers with Blackpool in the Championship before his departure – would his hesitancy to remain in the spotlight put Luton fans off?
You only have to watch games back from his two-year spell at Blackpool to see he would be a great fit for the Hatters, his Blackpool side often played with the same intensity as Nathan Jones’ Luton – always energetic and ready to get stuck in but also showing real quality at times. With Critchley also heavily linked to the Wigan Athletic vacancy in recent days too, Luton could well face stern competition to get Critchley in.
Other names will also excite the Luton fanbase, the idea of Watford flop Rob Edwards coming in at Kenilworth Road and outperforming their arch rivals is too comical to even consider. Impressing at Forest Green before the big step-up to Watford, the discarded rookie boss might well see a possible redemption arc at Luton to get one over on the Hornets.
Mark Bonner and Stephen Schumacher are other notable inclusions from the bookies, both appointments would see Luton swoop for a third-tier manager to try and continue the impressive work of Nathan Jones. That might well be too much to ask of these two picks, Steven Schumacher boasting an excellent 58% win percentage with Plymouth as the Pilgrims continue to sit pretty at the top of the League One table – fighting off the likes of Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday to remain top. Yet, this is his only senior job to date.
Why would Schumacher, therefore, risk his comfortable job at Argyle for the challenging task of replacing Nathan Jones at Luton? Likewise, Mark Bonner will most likely just want to stick about at Cambridge for the foreseeable. A few wobbles here and there recently show a manager still growing, Bonner might well need to cut his teeth a bit more in League One before the lofty heights of the Championship come calling.
A rogue shout for the Luton Town vacancy could well be Gareth Ainsworth, the EFL veteran a decade into his job down at Wycombe Wanderers. Ainsworth, much like Nathan Jones, has always thrived when his team have been labelled ‘overperformers’ – Ainsworth guiding Wycombe to the Championship in 2020, the first time the Chairboys had ever been in the second tier in their history.
He very nearly even kept them up in the division after this unlikely promotion, the long-haired boss an icon to those who come to Adams Park week in week out. Luton need a manager who can unite a fanbase in turbulent times, a fanbase bordering on sour with Nathan Jones departing again.
Although most have graciously accepted it, the fanbase will want a similar figure to Jones in the dugout – a divisive passionate boss on the touchline who players will want to perform under, a manager unafraid to relish in the moment come full-time after a big victory. Ainsworth could well be that man, the 49-year-old isn’t popular with everyone but there’s no doubting he’s earnt his managerial stripes over the past few seasons.
Whoever is next in line for the Luton Town dug-out, it’ll be intriguing to see how The Hatters transition away from Nathan Jones – fears will creep in that they will suffer short-term, and anxiety will loom. But, with the whole host of names lined up according to the bookies to replace the outgoing Jones, it should be an exciting time to be a Luton fan regardless.
By: Kelan Sarson / @SarsonKelan
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / @GabFoligno / Dan Istitene / Getty Images