Brkovic's lucky break gives Luton new impetus

Luton Town 1 Hull City 0
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The Independent Online

Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki, Alen Boksic. Croatians all, and all three have made their not insignificant mark on English - and world - football over the past few seasons. They have all moved on, but that does not mean there are no more footballers from that country by the Adriatic plying their trade over here.

Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki, Alen Boksic. Croatians all, and all three have made their not insignificant mark on English - and world - football over the past few seasons. They have all moved on, but that does not mean there are no more footballers from that country by the Adriatic plying their trade over here.

Step forward Ahmet Brkovic, Dubrovnik-born - "I'm probably the most famous footballer from there right now" - but now of Luton Town and scorer of the only goal in this largely uninspiring game that paired first with second in League One, a match that promised far more on paper than it ever produced on grass.

Not that Brkovic, once of Leyton Orient, was complaining about the performance, and even less about the result, which meant that the Hatters moved four points ahead of their closest rivals, albeit with a decidedly chunky third of the season remaining.

That the 30-year-old found himself at the near post for Steve Robinson's right-wing cross or was even on the pitch for his last-minute winner was slightly fortuitous in itself.

The midfielder explained: "I wasn't sure whether to run to the far post as I was feeling tired. I made the run and I was really pleased I did." His manager, Mike Newell, had also noticed Brkovic's energy levels drop, saying: "We were thinking of taking him off before the end because he was looking a bit leggy." So, good fortune all round for this victory that avenged the Hatters' 3-0 defeat at the KC Stadium in October, but Luton's persistence in remaining at the top of their league - the Third Division in pre-1992 money - owes precious little to luck.

Newell, a Premiership winner with Blackburn in 1995, is too modest to take much individual credit for hauling a club only recently out of administration to a position as promotion favourites, but the former Hartlepool manager has worked wonders at Kenilworth Road since June 2003.

Questions aimed at him are deflected into a more general "we", much in the way he used to nudge headers in the direction of his best friend Alan Shearer at Ewood Park.

To wit: "We're not getting too carried away with this. There's a little bit of daylight between us and the others and we're getting closer [to promotion]. We always believed this team is a good side and they can compete with anybody, particularly at home. This is a team job, I've got honest staff, and players with good attitude."

Brkovic backed that up, adding: "The spirit in the team is unbelievable. Everyone wants to go up and play at a higher level next season. The spirit comes from the manager first of all, and then the staff and the players."

The man who has been a Hatter for over three years also made a key point about the squad remaining barely untouched for a couple of seasons. Administration meant the squad was frozen at 20 players and no signings could be made. Out of that apparent cul-de-sac has emerged a team with a singular direction. Now, however, Newell has some freedom to sign new players if he chooses.

Bringing in new faces has not been a problem for Peter Taylor, the Hull and England Under-21 manager, given their far greater resources, but the Tigers were far less than the sum of their parts. Deprived, through injury, of Stuart Elliott, the striker with 24 goals to his name, they only threatened to score on a couple of occasions.

But Taylor, hurt by the late goal, has set his side a target of 30 more points which he thinks will lead to promotion, probably behind Luton and their little Croatian.

Goal: Brkovic (89) 1-0.

Luton Town (4-4-2): Beresford; Neilson, Davies, Coyne, Davis; Foley, Nicholls, Robinson, Brkovic (O'Leary, 90); Vine, Showunmi (Andrew, 79). Substitutes not used: Seremet (gk), Perrett, Keane.

Hull City (4-4-2): Myhill; Stockdale, Cort, Delaney, Edge; Green, Hessenthaler (Price, 90), Ashbee, Lewis; Wilbraham (Facey, h-t), Barmby. Substitutes not used: Duke (gk), Dawson, Hinds.

Referee: M Messias (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Luton Town Davies, Vine, Davis; Hull City Ashbee.

Man of the match: Brkovic.

Attendance: 9,500.

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