Luton Town were familiar opposition a few decades ago, none more famously than on the grand Old Wembley stage in the 1994 FA Cup semifinals, when Glenn Hoddle’s Chelsea beat David Pleat’s Luton, 2-0, thanks to a Gavin Peacock brace.
Chelsea would go on to lose the final that followed, but have since experienced three decades of nearly unparalleled success, certainly in the club’s own history, on both the domestic and the European front.
Luton meanwhile were headed the other way. They suffered relegations in 1992, 1996, and 2001 to fall from the top flight (just prior to the advent of the Premier League) to the bottom tier of the Football League in the space of a decade. And worse was to come, as they went into administration twice before dropping out of the Football League entirely and into non-league football in 2009. They returned to the professional divisions five years later, and have since been on the rise, earning promotion to the Championship in 2019.
After that rollercoaster, they come to Stamford Bridge for the first time in 30 years, where emotions are just as heightened, yet look hilariously privileged compared to the visitors’ journey.
Date / Time: Sunday, January 24, 12.00 GMT; 7am EST; 5:30pm IST
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: David Coote (on pitch); Peter Bankes (VAR)
Forecast: Heavy sleet or snow showers, and I’m not making this up
On TV: BBC One (UK); none (USA); Sony TEN 2 (India); SuperSport Premier League (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: BBC iPlayer (UK); ESPN+ (USA); Sony LIV (India); DStv Now (NGA) — We (WAGNH) have an affiliate link for ESPN+ if you’re in the US and would like to sign up for the best value in sports streaming (or, if you’re like me, sign up for the Disney-Hulu-ESPN+ bundle).
Chelsea team news: The focus is mostly on Frank Lampard, his job prospects, and how he is (or isn’t) handling the pressure, and that may be a good thing if it allows the team to find some confidence, some spirit, and some way to win a few games. I’d add tactics in there, but the head coach doesn’t think that’s important (at least in the short-term), so I guess we’re grinding and willing our way out of this make-or-break moment.
Can Lampard find some grinders in this team? That remains to be seen. He does have everyone available bar N’Golo Kanté, who’s grinding away at his latest hamstring injury. Oh, and certainly no chance of an Academy Day in this one, though Billy Gilmour seems tailor-made for an occasion and game such as this.
We have three home games in the next eight days. We must win them all.
Luton Town team news: The Hatters are firmly midtable in the Championship, with 5 wins, 5 draws, and 6 losses since the start of November, and 9 wins and 10 losses (6 draws) for the season. They’ve been significantly better at home than away, with just 1 win in their last 8 on their travels. Their defensive record also puts them in the middle of the pack in the division, though the same can’t be said of their attack, with just 21 goals scored in 25 league games.
Despite the gap in talent on paper, Luton manager Nathan Jones isn’t approaching this game as just a fun day out in the snow, but is rather preparing for it as a proper encounter, looking for the right balance between being “gung-ho” and “too negative”. Basically, they’re coming here to win, which would be laughably foolish in most years (given Chelsea’s almost perfect record against lower league opposition in such games), but is just another sign of the times this year.
None of the names on their team come across as eminently familiar. Kazenga LuaLua used to be a bit player at Newcastle back in the day, Brendan Galloway had a season with Everton once, while Ryan Tunnicliffe came through the Manchester United academy. George Moncur is the son of former West Ham midfield John Moncur. And Harry Cornick (not Connick) is a Chelsea fan. Most of their players seem to be in their mid-to-late 20s, and will surely relish this chance to stick it to a Premier League team.
Previously: Rewind the clock to that famous game in 1994, shall we, when goalkeeper shirts were amazing and Chelsea won 2-0.