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- Re: RE from the W Observer
It's long but:
Luton boss Edwards looks ahead to Saturday's derby with Watford
1 hr ago
By Andrew French
Rob Edwards. (Image: PA)
Rob Edwards. (Image: PA)
It’s a game that has a totally different feel in the days before, and will have an atmosphere unlike any other this season on Saturday – but Luton boss Rob Edwards is also trying to make sure he and his players prepare as they do for all other fixtures.
Edwards had 10 league games in charge of Watford at the start of the season – one less than Chirs Wilder is scheduled to have – and since losing his job at Vicarage Road he’s returned to the Championship and guided Luton to fourth in the table and the verge of a second successive play-off campaign.
The Hatters are unbeaten in their last six, and have only conceded three goals in that spell.
However, there’s that old adage that you can throw the formbook out of the window when it comes to derby matches simply because they generate a range of feelings, depth of passion and matchday atmosphere different to other games in the calendar.
“I can’t lie, this game does feel different,” said Edwards.
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“I’ve never gone up against an old club before, so it will be a new experience for me.
“As a manager, the responsibility and pressure that you feel is hard to describe. It’s hard for me to put into words, and you feel that for every game.
“It does add to it that it’s Watford, it’s a local derby and I was their head coach earlier in the season, which I don’t know has ever happened before.
“So all those things add to it, but as a manager you feel responsibility going into every single game.
“It’s Luton v Watford. It’s not Rob Edwards’ new team v Rob Edwards’ old team. It’s not anything like that.
“We’ve organised and planned like we would for any other game, but we’ve also been open and spoken about what this game means to people.
“So of course it’ll be slightly different from the outside, but on the inside in terms of how we’ve prepared it’s very similar to normal.”
Edwards made it patently clear that despite never having been involved in a Watford/Luton game before, he knows what it’s all about.
“I’ve got to stress that I know how important the game is,” he pointed out.
“I do know that. I get it. Trust me, nobody will want to win more than me on Saturday.
“But there’s 46 games in a league season and it’s about where you finish at the end of them. This game is crucial in this part of our journey.
“I know it’s a big game and it’s one that’s been a long time coming. There’s been a lot of talk about it from the moment we stepped through the door, and the moment is nearly here.
“It’s always a big game and we recognise what it means to everyone.”
Of course, although he wasn’t involved himself, there’s the small matter of Watford’s 4-0 win at Vicarage Road in the reverse fixture in October in the minds of both sets of fans – happy memories for the Hornets faithful, the stuff of nightmares for the Hatters supporters.
“The past is in the past and since the game in October, there have been new managers at both clubs, and probably a bit more change down the road,” said Edwards.
“I don’t want to reflect on the past too much because, as I said, there has been a lot of change since. We can’t affect what’s gone on before.
“What we can control is our effort, our commitment, our running and our fight in this game now. That’s all I can try and impact on this week, and when the players go over that white line that’s all they can do too.
“What’s gone has gone. Let’s look forward to this one.”
When Edwards was asked if he bought into the theory that Watford may not fancy a demanding afternoon at Kenilworth Road, and might not be for up for it, his response was very short: “We’re expecting the best version of Watford, don’t worry about that. They’ll be up for it.”
After the thumping at Vicarage Road, Luton chief executive Gary Sweet was very outspoken in his criticism of the Luton performance.
The Luton board has many fans on it, and so has there been much discussion between board members and manager about the game this week?
“This week has been good. Very relaxed and chilled, I’ve exchanged a few text messages with Gary,” said Edwards.
Watford Observer: Edwards talking to Luton's Jordan Clarke.
Edwards talking to Luton's Jordan Clarke. (Image: PA)
“That’s been it and that’s no different to normal. We speak regularly anyway in the build up to any game.
“I try to keep the guys up to date with things, and they are keen to know because they care.
“It’s been very calm, like the lead up to any game really. There’s a lot of trust at the club in us and the players that we know what it means, and we’ve been able to deliver so far on the big occasions.”
Given he was in charge of Watford for 10 league games, while current head coach Chris Wilder has only had three games at the helm, there could be some advantage for Edwards in terms of his awareness of the Hornets players.
“We were there for a short period of time. We can obviously use some of our knowledge of the players and the individuals, but since Chris Wilder has come in he’ll have been asking for something different. We can only go off his three games so far.
“We have a good knowledge of some of the individuals, but that’s all.
“We want to try and focus on ourselves. We’ll look at the opposition like we would for any game but it’s about what we do. We can control what we do, we can’t control what Watford do in the game.
“We can have plans for different scenarios which we always do – we’ve been running through them today and we will again tomorrow.”
Managers can often sense a lot from the players in training before big games, and Edwards said his squad were looking and behaving as they had since he joined the club.
“There’s been a buzz in training this week, but there is always to be fair. That buzz has been there since we came in.
“We have a really great environment here where everyone enjoys coming to work, working hard and having a laugh. You enjoy the moments when you can have a laugh, and work hard in the times you need to.
“That’s always been the same, while recognising we have a big game coming, and so the training has been on point.”
But the Luton manager was also quick to point out that while the mood of the players at training may be the same as usual, he knows that inside they will feel differently about preparing for a derby game, just as he himself does.
“I can’t sit here and say it’s just another game because I recognise it’s not, and I know what it means to the supporters.
“Most football players don’t play for the team they support and so it’s difficult to fully engage with that. But the vast majority have been brought up in this country and recognise the importance of derby games.
“We need to draw on that. There’s nothing wrong in talking about it and trying to draw on it. We’re at home – we’ve got to try and draw on that and use it.
“It’s the most important game not just because of what it means, but also because it’s the next game. With eight games to go there are 24 points to play for, and that’s quite a lot of points.
“After this game then Millwall becomes important because that’s the next game.
“Obviously as well as three points there is a lot of pride at stake, as well as the bragging rights. But the three points is the most important thing.
“It’ll be a special day for a lot of young fans who’ve never experienced it before, but it’ll be a first for a few of us. Some of the lads played in a win here a couple of years ago but that was in front of no fans.
“So it’ll be new for a lot of the lads but it’s an occasion that we want to enjoy, and it’s down to us to make it enjoyable.”
Would there be some relief once the hype of the derby is over, the result is known and the focus moves onto the rest of the season?
“I don’t know, it’ll all depend on how we perform if I’m honest,” smiled Edwards.
“When you’re in a position like I’m in, there’s always pressure going into the game.
“When you’re a manager or a head coach you can try and control things and be as organised as you can, and you can plan fully – but you never truly know what’s going to happen because the game is random.
“We’ll be as prepared as we can be, we’ll look forward to it and my feelings afterwards I’ll tell you afterwards – I don’t know them now.
“We’ll have a final message for the players before they go out, just as we always do. I’m expecting that to be a bit easier this time because I’m anticipating this one to be a little bit livelier than any other we’ve had, even though our supporters have been brilliant since we came here.
“I’m expecting it to be a bit more raucous when the lads are warming up, and I’m expecting they’ll feel that. So our supporters can help with some of the rallying call before the game.”
Watford Observer: The last time Rob Edwards and Chris Wilder teams met, Watford beat Middlesbrough 2-1.
The last time Rob Edwards and Chris Wilder teams met, Watford beat Middlesbrough 2-1.
Edwards was keen to stress that Luton’s advantage in terms of number of fans inside the stadium, playing on their own pitch and in their own stadium is something he hopes will have a telling edge.
“Supporters always do make a real difference. Our supporters have been incredible for us, and they have been really with us. At 2-0 down against Millwall they helped us fight back. They’ve helped us get over the line in games where we’ve been 1-0 up and it’s been tight.
“There’s no doubt we’re going to need them again but it’s not like I’m going to need to encourage them at the weekend at all.
“We’re in a fantastic position in the league, it’s the game all our supporters look for first, and it’s the first time we’re going to be playing at home in this game in front of supporters in 17 years.
“The gap that we’ve got between us and the pack is decent, but it’s not enough to be sure of anything.
“If we were to get a positive result then we extend that gap over another rival and I suppose that is the bottom line with all the other stuff that comes with a derby match.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for us to have a good day, but it’s down to us to work extremely hard.
“There will be a great reception for us coming out on the tunnel, but the key thing is we need to make sure it’s the same when we go back in again. That’s been our line this week.
“We know the fans are going to be behind us from the start, and in the warm-up, and when the lads come out of the tunnel.
“They will be as loud as possible, and that’s brilliant. It’s down to us help create that atmosphere. It’s our job to make sure they are cheering and clapping when we go back down the tunnel.”
Watford are 10th and five points off the play-offs, but that old formbook adage means there will be no complacency from Luton, especially in a derby.
“We have to respect Watford because they’ve got very good players,” said Edwards.
“Chris Wilder is a very experienced manager. We know how difficult it’s going to be but we hope it’s going to be a very good day for us.
“I’ve come across Chris a few times at coaching conferences, and then obviously earlier in the season when we were both in different roles.
“He’s a top manager, proven at this level and in the Premier League, and he’s a really good guy as well. Obviously we don’t wish him all the best in this game, but going forward we do."
In his playing career, Edwards sampled three different derby atmospheres himself.
“I’ve experienced Aston Villa/Birmingham and Wolves/West Brom, as well as Preston/Blackpool. I’ve won and lost derby games, so I’ve known both sides of it.
“I know how our players feel to a point, but you never fully know how they are feeling because I’m not them.
“I do know a lot of people have been looking forward to this game, and we want to put on a good performance. That’s what the lads want to do, and we’ve got to try and make it bring out the best in us.
“I don’t want the difference in the game or the atmosphere to affect us in a negative way. We’ve got to use it as a positive to help us.
“When I played in derby games I’d be lying if I said you treated them just like a normal game, because they’re not. It means more to everyone in the area, especially the supporters.
“It can give you an extra few percent, that noise and the atmosphere behind you – just like it will be for us on Saturday.”
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