Hatters boss Graeme Jones is hoping that a ‘robust’ Izzy Brown can play a major role in helping the club’s fight to survive in the Championship this season.
The 22-year-old has missed Luton's last 10 matches with a torn hamstring suffered in the second half of the 7-0 defeat at Brentford back in late November.
Initial thoughts were that the on-loan Chelsea midfielder would be out until the middle of February, but he has returned ahead of schedule and is in contention to be in the squad that faces Derby County tomorrow night at Kenilworth Road.
Jones said: "Izzy’s trained now for the last seven days and played an in-house game last Thursday.
"I’d like to think we’ve made him robust now, as I had a conversation with him a month ago and said, ‘come on, you need to knuckle down here.’
“Izzy’s one of these free spirits that turns up because of his talent and can just play, but he’s really, really worked hard in the gym and in his rehab to become robust and to stay fit.
“You need to have a good measurement of his physical output daily, not just in games.
"You can’t overstretch him, otherwise he’ll get re-injured, so there’s a real skill in that between the coaching staff and James Redden, who’s the head of sports science here.
“We’ve got to make sure that we measure that well, because the temptation is just to play him, because we know the quality he can bring.
"He gives you a different dimension, so that’s the frustrating part where you’ve got to do it gradually.”
A stat released last week showed that Brown was the top opportunity creator in the Championship, this term, fashioning a chance every 21.8 minutes, topping a list that contained Reading's John Swift (28.6mins), Bristol City's Niclas Eliasson (32.8mins), West Bromwich Albion's Matheus Pereira (33.2mins) and Blackburn's Stewart Downing (34mins).
Hatters have felt his absence too as in the 10 games he has missed, they have won just one, and drawn one, losing eight.
Prior to that, Brown's 11 starts for Luton had led to three wins, one draw and seven losses, while he also came off the bench when the Hatters were 1-0 down at home to Huddersfield back in August, the hosts hitting back to win 2-1.
Jones felt the stats show just how much Town have missed a player of his undoubted quality, as he continued: “I got slaughtered for saying we need to keep Izzy Brown fit to stay in the Championship and now two months on, it was proved right, because we are a different dimension as a team when he’s in it.
“That’s just a fact, that’s not me saying it, that’s a fact.
"We’re talking about the top creator in the Championship, so we’re talking about numbers, we’re talking about stats, we’re talking about facts, and we’ve missed him, is the truth.
“But I’d rather look on the positive side, we’ve got him back now and lets see where that takes us.”
Brown got injured when the Hatters were 5-0 down at Griffin Park, and appearing to have very little chance of getting anything from the game.
A number of supporters have stated that given his recent injury problems, the midfielder should have been taken off at half time.
When asked if he regretted not doing so, Jones added: "Everybody's a great manager in hindsight, ‘take him off, no problem at all.’
“I was still trying to get back in the game at 5-0.
"We had a small-sided game today and there was a five goal deficit, a two minute game and the red team scored five goals to get back in it, because in football you never know.
"You have to be optimistic and you think 'come on,' so rightly or wrongly, everybody's a wonderful manager in hindsight.
"You have to see it before it happens, and if I had my time again, of course I would (take him off).”