Hatters will have City support at Wembley
David Cuffley It is ironic that in this year, of all years, Luton Town's success in reaching a Wembley final has been greeted with wholehearted approval at Carrow Road.
It is ironic that in this year, of all years, Luton Town's success in reaching a Wembley final has been greeted with wholehearted approval at Carrow Road.
Exactly 50 years after the Hatters broke Norwich City's hearts by ending their heroic FA Cup giant-killing run in a semi-final replay - before going on to lose 2-1 to Nottingham Forest in the final - they are looking forward to another grand day out.
Luton will take on Scunthorpe United in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at Wembley on Sunday, April 5, after beating Brighton on penalties in the southern area final, the second leg of which ended 1-1 after 90 minutes at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday night.
Mick Harford's team will have the wholehearted backing of the Canaries when they step out under the famous arch. Their success in the competition is due in no small part to the contribution of a quartet of City players past and present, with defender Michael Spillane and striker Chris Martin currently on season-long loans with the Football League's bottom club, and midfielder Rossi Jarvis and forward Paul McVeigh on the permanent staff. Another ex-Canary, Ian Henderson, is now playing for Luton but is ineligible for the Trophy after he appeared in an earlier round for Northampton.
City boss Bryan Gunn was quickly on the phone to congratulate Spillane, 19, and 20-year-old Martin, and plans to watch them in the final.
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He said: “I think I'd better go to Wembley and have a look at them. I've spoken to both the lads and I'm delighted for them. It's a big bonus for them.
“They went down to Luton and expected to be there for the season and they've got a good reward for doing that.”
With the Hatters still trying to complete mission impossible by staying in League Two after starting the season with a 30-point deduction, Gunn hopes their Wembley trip will have a beneficial effect on their league results.
“I hope it will give Luton the confidence to maybe accumulate points that will see them achieve a miracle,” he said.
Harford, who was a Wembley winner with Luton when they beat Arsenal 3-2 in the 1988 Littlewoods Cup final and a runner-up in the same competition the following year when they lost 3-1 to Forest in the final, has given Gunn good reports of his two loan recruits.
Said the City boss: “I spoke to Mick regarding the players and he's nothing but good things to say about them, so that's good to know that when you do send players away they're doing their jobs properly.”
However, Gunn has made it clear he wants both players to be back at Norwich next season, whoever is manager.
While Martin has a year to run on his current contract, Spillane has been offered a new deal by the Canaries.
The Republic of Ireland Under-21 international is out of contract in the summer, but Gunn revealed that talks had begun with a view to extending his stay.
Said Gunn: “We have made the offer of a new contract to Michael and he's currently thinking it over.
“I think it's important that someone who has come through our Academy structure has gained experience in a lower division and we hope there will be a reaction to that when he comes back to Colney - but that's a decision Michael will have to make for himself.
“We've made the offer now and we hope he is seriously considering it.”
In fact, Gunn admitted yesterday that he would like to have had the services of Spillane and Martin in the current fight against relegation.
City could have recalled both players from Luton in early January, but former boss Glenn Roeder decided not to exercise the option.
Roeder, who once referred to the pair as “Tweedledum and Tweedledee”, quickly dismissed the idea of a recall and, when asked about their progress at Luton, more than once said they were “doing just OK - two leagues below”.
But Gunn said: “I would have taken them back if I'd been given the job a week earlier. There was a clause in the contract to say we could have called them back but unfortunately that didn't happen.
“But the good thing is they're playing football, we can watch them, the scouts have been out watching them and come back with good reports, Mick Harford's happy with them and they've got a trip to Wembley to look forward to as well, now.”
Gunn would not disclose the length of contract offered to Spillane, saying: “That will be part of the discussions and negotiations.
“We will have our compensation rights if he does walk but we hope he decides to stay and that he will use the experience at Luton and come into our squad as a player under contract, so it will give us a little bit of solidity next season. He will hopefully get an opportunity to prove his early promise and show us why he has been named the Republic of Ireland Under-19 player of the year.
“He's showing people he's got that promise and we will hopefully reap the benefits of that next year should he accept the contract.”
While Spillane may after all get the chance to add to his 18 first team appearances for City, Martin will hope to build on his tally of five goals for the club. Those five goals came in his first nine senior outings, but he failed to score on his next 21 appearances, only three of which came under Roeder before he was ditched from the side.
Gunn is hoping Martin will fulfil that early potential when he returns.
He said: “He's proving that he's got the potential to be a good player. He's under contract next season and he will be able to prove to, hopefully, me that he deserves to be a Norwich City player.”
It is hard to imagine that a fully focused Martin would not have made more impact up front this season than some of City's loan recruits. Alas, we shall not find out.
But one hopes that even if both players are back in first team action with the Canaries next season, the Johnstone's Paint Trophy does not feature on the fixture schedule.