Brabin challenges defenders to hold on to their shirts

STRETCHED Hatters have a real defensive headache for their opening game of the season tomorrow night, writes Mark Wood.

Tuesday, 16th August 2011, 12:07 am

Forest Green Rovers help to kick of Town’s season when they visit Kenilworth Road, after Luton’s trip to AFC Telford United was cancelled on Saturday following a request from West Mercia Police.

Town are definitely missing captain George Pilkington and fellow defenders Shane Blackett, Freddie Murray and Dan Gleeson.

Wingers Dan Walker and Charlie Henry are still sidelined and there are also a number of other players struggling with injury, one of them believed to be keeper Mark Tyler.

Manager Gary Brabin said: “Murray had the op at the end of the last season and has been taking it steady.

“He has stepped up his training but is not ready for the competitive games. The same with Shane Blackett.

“George Pilkington has been a little bit frustration. It’s taken a lot longer than what we thought.

“We thought it would just be two weeks and it’s been five or six so it is a bit of a concern.

“He (Gleeson) has gone over on the same ankle again and it’s a little bit of a setback again for Dan.”

And on Henry, he continued: “We are not putting any pressure on him to rush back. It was a freak accident but he is a long way off at the moment.

“There’s a couple (of others) but I don’t want to mention them at the moment.

“Obviously you want all your best players fit. In those terms it been quite frustrating.

“Players were playing and carrying little knocks and it overspilled into the start of the season.

“We’ve got some good additions in the squad and they have a lot to live up to because we had a good defensive unit last season and it’s been ripped to shreds a little bit.”

Brabin though called upon Town’s new defenders to try and pick up the gauntlet laid down by last season’s mean defence.

He said: “It’s going to be tough to try and replicate that.

“Hopefully they are on the money and we’ll have them back soon.

“We have some new players who will be be put in straight away and it’s up to them to keep their shirts.”

However, he admitted he would like to add some quality in certain areas, especially up from, saying: “I’m delighted with the squad we’ve got and could add a little more quality in certain areas.”

Saturday’s cancellation has also meant that Town have had to adapt their preparations this week, but Brabin believes Luton are well set for the start of the season.

Brabin said: “I was frustrated, but at the end of the day if they’ve deemed it dangerous, safety has to take priority.

“It’s a bit frustrating with everyone else starting the season and we’ve got to sit back out.

“It does change our training programme a little bit but the advantage is you can get out and watch other games.

“We’ve had to change our training programme around a little bit and we’ve got to focus on tomorrow’s game.

“We want to win every game. Pre-season is what it is and we want to give everyone minutes on the pitch.

“Everyone’s got good fitness levels and want the competitive matches to start.”

That postponement did allow Brabin to take a closer at other opponents and he was impressed by what he saw as Rovers held relegated Stockport County to a 1-1 home draw on Friday night.

Brabin said: “They are very much improved on last season. They’ve got a few new signings and bulked up the squad and have better quality than they’ve had previous seasons.

“First half they looked a good side and will be tough opponents.”

There will also be a return to Kenilworth Road for former on-loan defender Luke Graham who signed for Forest Green in the summer.

Brabin said: “Luke was part of the squad at the end of the season and was probably frustrated he never played.

“He is a good honest competitor in this league and I’m sure he will be a good signing for them.”

Town will also be without young defensive duo Alex Lacey and JJ O’Donnell who have joined Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division team Cambridge City on a month’s loan.

Experimental Town have used both 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formations to good effect in pre-season and Brabin believes both are real possibilities for his side.

He said: “I think we’ve got some good players and want them to adapt to whatever formation we play.

“4-4-2 is the easier option and our players are no different but I think we adapted well to 4-3-3.”

The Luton manager also believes his charges have put the bitter disappointment of last season’s play-off final defeat to AFC Wimbledon behind them.

Brabin said: “In terms of moving on and going forward they are over the disappointment and are looking forwards to going one better this year.

“I do think that lives with you forever that little bit of a knot of hurt but that can work as a catalyst to move on to something better next season.

“We’ve brought some good young players into the squad we are building and have blended in well with the lads and it would be good if we can get off to a good start.”

Among them is winger James Dance, with Brabin adding: “James brings a lot of honesty and endeavour and work his socks off.

“He can be a real matchwinner and delivers some good crosses.

“He is a young lad and I know he will improve playing for this football club.”