Following relegation with his former club, Leyton Orient, last season, defender Scott Cuthbert is doubly determined to win promotion back to League One come May, but this time with his new club, Luton Town.
The 28-year-old, who made over 160 appearances for the O’s during his four-year spell at Brisbane Road, opted for a change of scenery this summer by agreeing a free transfer to the Hatters back in July.
Now settled and already a key figure at Kenilworth Road this campaign, Cuthbert is confident John Still’s side have enough steel about them to lift themselves into the third-tier of English football for the first time since 2008.
Having started his professional career at Scottish Premiership giants Celtic back in 2003, Luton became Cuthbert’s third English side since ditching his home nation for Swindon Town over six years ago.
Shoot spoke to the Scottish centre-half exclusively about his youth career in his homeland, his spell at Leyton Orient, life at Luton and the Hatters’ promotion ambition.
How would you sum up Luton’s start to the season?
“It has been a bit of a frustration really. I think we have put in good performances. If you look back to the start of the season when at Accrington [Stanley] away, we gave away a penalty, and gave them an opportunity to take the lead. Oxford [United] was a deflected goal which got them back in the game and then our goalkeeper has dropped a cross in the last kick of the ball. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and has been excellent, but that just kind of summed up the first couple of weeks. But we have been working hard and we haven’t let it get us down. We have taken a lot of encouragement from our current form, obviously against Bristol City and Stoke [City], and we are looking to bring that into our league form. And we certainly did that against a good team in Cambridge [United] who have recruited well over the summer and they are fully expected to be up there and challenging. So we did really well and got a good positive result and it is something to build on.”
Luton narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season. Is the aim this campaign to finish in the top seven, or even aim for the top three?
“I think we will be aiming for the top three. I think you have got to aim for as high as you can. You know, we have played some of the better teams in this league like Cambridge, Portsmouth and Oxford and they have been good. But we look at our depth in the squad and the class of players that we have got as well. We should certainly be up there and challenging. So I would say the aim is still to get into that top three.”
What are your personal aims for this season?
“I just want to be in the team. I just want to keep fit and keep playing games, that is what it is all about. Obviously it helps to be in a winning team and everything is going well. That is the aim, just to be in the team and playing.”
You have played at centre-back and right-back so far this term. Would you say you’re comfortable playing in either position?
“I am definitely more suited to being a centre-back. I have been a centre-back for the majority of my career. I think two or three seasons ago in Leyton Orient’s play-off year, for the majority of my time, I played at right-back. And that is fine. I can play there, it is comfortable. But I do see myself as a centre-back.”
The club brought in players such as Craig Mackail-Smith and Cameron McGeehan during the summer. Just how strong is Luton’s squad?
“It is a very strong squad for League One if I am being honest. Obviously we have been tipped to be up there and challenging and that is based on the fact that we have brought some top quality players in like the ones you have named. You can see it in training, some of the quality is different class.”
How much confidence did the team get from taking a strong Stoke team to penalties in the League Cup?
“Yeah I think especially because our league form wasn’t going as well as expected, we went into the cup game all freely as the pressure wasn’t on us as much. It was on TV and everybody was expecting Stoke, with Premier League players, to turn up and roll us over. But we really dug in deep and showed a real fighting spirit and really played well. We passed the ball very well and we had the opportunities. That is something that has really given us a lot of confidence, something to help us build and try to get ourselves some league form.”
What is the manager John Still like to work under?
“I met him in the summer after I left Leyton Orient and he won me over straight away with his honesty. The way he spoke about his career; as a manager, about the teams that he has got promoted, the way he develops players, plus his experience as well. I was just really impressed when I met him. He has been fantastic for me since I have come in. We have worked hard on the training ground and he has helped improve me and hopefully it keeps on going that way.”
He described you as a “warrior” when you arrived at the club. How important is it to work under a manager who believes in you like that?
“Yeah, it is always nice. I have been fortunate enough throughout my career that I have had managers that believe in me. It is nice and it keeps on pushing me to do well. You want to be playing week in and week out.”
You were part of the Celtic youth set-up and had a couple of loan spells at some fellow Scottish teams before moving to Swindon Town in 2009. Why did you decide to move to England?
“I think Scottish football was just kind of getting into a bit of a slump. At the time you had the Old Firm [derby], Celtic and Rangers, really dominating things. It was really hard to picture any of the other teams pushing them. That might have changed a little bit now with Rangers dropping out of the division. But certainly at the time, my mindset was to play as high as I could. I felt that going from Celtic to League One was probably an equal standard compared to the SPL [Scottish Premier League] and it gives you the opportunity to step up into the Championship and hopefully get promotion and push on there to test yourself against a better calibre of players. That was really my thinking, to play as high as I can.”
You have been at Swindon and Leyton Orient, who were both beaten in play-off finals and then relegated the following year. What changed during those following seasons?
“I think there was obviously a hangover period. I think after doing so well, everything was going so right, on and off the pitch, so it was naturally going to be that little hangover period. It is all kind of different things. It is hard to put your finger on it. Once you start losing and getting into a slump and when players’ form isn’t what it was a year before, it is hard to correct. Unfortunately in both seasons we got into a bad situation and we just couldn’t correct it.”
Despite the defeats, how proud a moment was it for you to play at Wembley on those two occasions?
“Yeah. Especially in my first season with Swindon; it kind of justified my decision to come down south really. For most people up in Scotland, you are stepping into a team like Swindon, no one really knows who they are, they don’t really know too much about the league and that kind of justified why I went down there and had a crack in England. It was heartbreaking to lose it the way we did. It always is losing in a final. But it was a fantastic experience that you will keep for the rest of your career and I am very fortunate to have played there twice. Some players don’t get the chance to play there at all, so I certainly count myself very fortunate to have played there twice.”
Were you disappointed not to be offered a new deal at Leyton Orient after four seasons at Brisbane Road?
“It was a bit of a strange one to be honest. We had been relegated, we had the Italian owners in for the last season and I think we had four or five managers at Leyton Orient. It just wasn’t the club that I signed for and the club that I had played for the three years previous. It had lost its way a lot. I said that when I left. It got to the stage where they released everyone out of contract, told us all to wait by the phone and if the new manager, whoever came in, wants you then we will offer you a contract. To be honest, I wasn’t set on waiting about to be told whether I was wanted or not. So I took it upon myself to talk to other clubs and start moving forward. I think I felt that the time was right to move on and step away from Leyton Orient and move to a new challenge, and I think I have made the right decision.”