After moving to the Sky Bet League One summit with a 1-0 victory at Southend on 26 January, Luton Town never looked back as they cantered towards a second successive promotion.
It was a slow start to life in the third tier for the Hatters, who drew one and lost two of their opening three games. That solitary point, however, was at home to Sunderland with a certain Matty Pearson levelling the scores after Josh Maja’s opener.
The 2-1 loss at Peterborough United would see Nathan Jones’ side drop to 22nd – their lowest position all season before they began their upward trajectory.
A return of 18 points from the next nine games was enough to lift Luton to eighth in the table, just two points outside the play-off places and three behind Barnsley in fourth, who they would face at Oakwell live on Sky Sports.
It turned out to be a classic encounter, with both sides showing the attacking endeavour that would prove to be so fruitful come May. But it was the Reds who edged the game 3-2 thanks to a stunning Mamadou Thiam strike.
That would be the Hatters’ last League One defeat until April – an incredible run that stretched six months and 28 games, during which time they amassed 68 points.
Luton were doing it in style, though. Teams were being put to the sword, particularly at Kenilworth Road, where the Bedfordshire outfit remained unbeaten all campaign and scored in all but one fixture.
Just when it appeared as though there could be a potential slip at the end of 2018, the Hatters came from 2-0 down at Walsall to snatch a point with Kazenga Lua Lua bagging a dramatic late leveller.
The fixture generator had provided Luton with a challenging run of matches to begin the New Year, with Barnsley, Sunderland, Peterborough and Portsmouth all coming up in January.
Daniel Stendel’s Reds travelled to Kenilworth Road having begun their own unbeaten streak and claimed a hard fought 0-0, becoming the first team to stop Jones’ side scoring at home in the league since Coventry City in October 2017.
That would prove to be the Welshman’s last league game in charge of the Hatters as he departed for Championship outfit Stoke City to replace Gary Rowett. Town legend Mick Harford stepped in to fill the void as caretaker to help continue the surge towards the second tier.
James Collins’ penalty at the Stadium of Light ensured another point was added to the tally, before the Posh and Pompey were both dispatched with consummate ease as Luton moved five points clear at the summit.
They never looked back and, despite their unbeaten run coming to an end against Charlton Athletic at the Valley on 13 April, Harford’s side went onto claim a second successive promotion and return to the Championship for the first time since 2007.
It has been a remarkable journey for the Hatters, who suffered three consecutive relegations and plummeted out of the Football League for five years before beginning their meteoric rise back through the divisions.
Positive news continues to emerge from Bedfordshire; in January it was announced that planning permission for a new 17,500-seater stadium had been granted by Luton Borough Council, with work projected to start in 2021.
Graeme Jones will be at the helm ahead of the 2019/20 campaign after agreeing a deal to become manager last month. The former Wigan Athletic forward was part of Roberto Martinez’ coaching staff as Belgium reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.
As eluded to earlier, Barnsley were unbeaten against Luton last season as we picked up what proved to be four valuable points against the League One champions.
We have won five of the last 10 meetings against the Hatters, who have emerged victorious on three of those occasions.