After a long 18 months locked down, it’s so lovely to catch up with old friends yet again. And Luton Town? Yeah, them too. Why not? It’s the new normal; we’re happy to extend a hand to our near neighbours from across county lines. To be fair, we do so knowing that we’re not quite back to shaking hands with anyone post-Covid. So, let it just be an awkward stand-off; 1m between us, not knowing whether to fist bump, elbow tap, or just launch into the full-on, bear hug embrace. We never really were bone fide rivals – were we?
Stevenage v Luton Town
Lamex Stadium, Stevenage — 10 August 2021 — Carabao Cup R1
It’s been a while as far as the Hatters are concerned. It had its benefits, obviously. Bedfordshire, after all, is the poor relation to our own Sunshine Shire. But it also denied us a local fixture that tend to be lacking in League Two nowadays. Three years have now passed since our 1-1 League Two draw at the Lamex on 10 February 2018. It’s what marks the end of a turbulent chapter in which the Hatters struggled time and again to restore the historic balance of power against us.
Luckily, the game itself captured that chaos perfectly. James Collins’ penalty in the 85th minute had, for all the world, won it for our guests. That was, however, until Danny Newton got us back on terms with two minutes left on the clock.
For us, it wasn’t a dreadful result. They were flying (insert your own airport puns). We were not. The issue is that it went literally no way to making amends for our visit to Kenilworth Road that season. In one of our worst-ever results, the Hatters hit us for seven on 14 October 2017. There was no doubt that day that Luton Town were back on the march upwards. And that’s where we find ourselves today. Us at our level in League Two, and them at theirs in the Championship.
Humble origins in the LDV Trophy
It’s a strange relationship that had humble, almost novel, beginnings during the early 2000s. As reward for the growing standard of non-league football, the top Conference clubs were allowed into the Football League Trophy. The first half of the 2002-3 season was forgettable one for us – with one debatable exception. Well, two. After springing a shock on Swansea City in Round One, our Hatters came to us in Round Two on 12 November 2002.
It was a pretty epic encounter all told; the first-ever competitive meeting between Boro’ and the ex-top flight club. Richard Scott and Richard Pacquette were both on target; adding to an OG as we narrowly lost by the odd goal in seven. And it was such a memorable match that hopes were high when we were paired together again (this time in Round One) the following season. Alas, it wasn’t quite as goal-crazy on 14 October 2003 – and the result was broadly the same.
Boro’ lost 2-1 as the Hatters made it two straight wins at our expense in the LDV Trophy.
Stevenage v Luton Town: A regular diary date
We’re not going to go into how the Hatters lost their way, had points deducted year-after-year, and wound up in the Conference. The fact is that, going into the 2009-10 campaign, Boro’ had new diary dates to look out for; taking on Luton as equals for the first time. And we did our bit when it came to making sure they wouldn’t get an easy ride straight back up. Scott Laird’s late goal on 29 September 2009 at Kenilworth Road secured us a 1-0 win.
The Hatters had their revenge in the reverse match on 3 April 2010. But that was too little, too late as far as their title hopes were concerned. We bounced straight back and clinched the title.
It was then four years before our paths crossed again. We’d just come back down from League One, while the Hatters had (finally) cracked the Conference promotion nut. To be fair to them, they set about making up for lost time pretty quickly. First up, they recorded a 2-1 victory here on 4 October 2014; sub Alex Wall coming off the bench to score a late winner. They followed it with a two-goal win at Kenilworth Road on the last day of the season.
It didn’t damage our playoff bid, thankfully. And it didn’t help theirs.
Boro’ still with the upper hand… for a while
For all the Hatters’ hopes of reclaiming lost ground, League Two again put the brakes on them. And 2015-6 was much kinder to us than the previous campaign; Stevenage v Luton Town ending in a a home 0-0 draw on 21 November 2015, but Michael Tonge’s late penalty securing a 1-0 win at their place on 2 April 2016. Late goals are definitely a bit of a theme as far as we’re concerned.
And if the 2015-6 season made it appear as if the Hatters still had some work to do, the 2016-7 campaign underlined it. Boro’ recorded a happy league double; first with Matt Godden striking deep into stoppage time (six minutes deep) to secure all three points on 20 August 2016. Then, it was Luke Wilkinson and Ben Kennedy who scored as we came back across county lines on 11 March 2017 with the spoils.
That win at Kenilworth Road was the end point of a crescendo that had been building for Boro’. But perhaps it also jolted them into life too. The events of the 2017-8 season, for us at least, are better best forgotten. And, given our recent trajectories, this cup tie is almost like a clean slate.
Keep it Boro’!