TOP HATTER

Lu­ton striker Isaac Vas­sell looks ahead to their play-off semi-fi­nal

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By John Lyons

ISAAC Vas­sell had to re­build his ca­reer in Non-League af­ter be­ing re­leased by Ply­mouth Ar­gyle – now he’s ea­ger to ce­ment a place in League One.

The Lu­ton Town striker has hit an im­pres­sive 13 goals in his first sea­son at Ke­nil­worth Road, help­ing the Hat­ters fin­ish fourth in League Two.

But, just a few years ago, the 23year-old’s fu­ture hit a brick wall when Ply­mouth, where he had come through the ranks, re­leased him.

He moved down the lad­der to join Evo-Stik South­ern League Truro City and com­bined play­ing part-time with work­ing as a builder to make ends meet.

Yet that com­bi­na­tion proved the cat­a­lyst for Vas­sell to earn a sec­ond chance in League foot­ball.

He said: “I played two sea­sons at Truro and it was very ben­e­fi­cial for me. The first sea­son we got pro­moted (via the play-offs to Na­tional League South) and that was a great ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ex­pe­ri­ence

“I needed to get a good run of games in com­pet­i­tive men’s foot­ball in­stead of play­ing re­serve games and a hand­ful of first team games for Ply­mouth. It was im­por­tant to get games un­der my belt.” And the labour­ing work was also pos­i­tive for Vas­sell.

“I was work­ing for one of my friends back home in Newquay and it re­ally got me fo­cused on where I needed to be,” he said.

“It wasn’t some­thing I wanted to do and it got me driven. It made me aware of how much I wanted to be a foot­baller. I don’t want to go back to it!”

So, is there a big gulf be­tween play­ing in the higher lev­els of Non-League and the EFL?

“It’s mas­sive, and that’s no dis­re­spect to Non-League,” said Vas­sell, cousin of for­mer Eng­land striker Dar­ius. “The tempo of the game is so much quicker, there’s a lot more foot­ball played and there’s greater phys­i­cal­ity.

“A lot of it comes down to fit­ness, too. When you’re in Non-League and train­ing twice a week, you don’t re­alise how much fit­ness you lose in com­par­i­son to when you’re train­ing at high in­ten­sity ev­ery day. Com­ing in from NonLeague, I found it harder to come straight in and be at the level of ev­ery­one else.

“I’ve got used to it now and the sec­ond half of the sea­son has been more pos­i­tive for me.”

In­deed it has. Vas­sell scored twice be­fore the turn of the year, but has since found the the net a fur­ther 11 times, sug­gest­ing he has suc­cess­fully made the tran­si­tion back to full-time foot­ball.

It means he has played his part in earn­ing Lu­ton their shot at play-off glory, which starts with a semi-fi­nal first leg at Black­pool this evening.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing fourth to Black­pool’s sev­enth and do­ing a league dou­ble over the Seasiders, win­ning 2-0 at Bloom­field Road and 1-0 at home, it’s hard for any­one to

sug­gest the Hat­ters are any­thing but favourites go­ing into the two-legged tie. “We beat them both times and that’s good for us,” said Vas­sell. “We went there and dom­i­nated the game. “They were in form both times we played them, which sug­gests we can nul­lify their threat.” Yet he is wary of there be­ing any com­pla­cency. “We can’t take it that, as we beat them be­fore, we are just go­ing to turn up and win,” he said. “We have to do our jobs. “Nathan (Jones – man­ager) has re­ally tried to get the squad fo­cused. We are do­ing a lot of prepa­ra­tion on how they play and the way we set up.” On a per­sonal level, Vas­sell is hungry to get down to busi­ness.

“I’m so ex­cited,” he said. “I can’t wait. There’s a bit of nerves, but it’s not fear – it’s healthy nerves. I just want to get on the pitch and do what I can do. Hope­fully, I can add my bit.”

If he does take the play-off spot­light, Vas­sell will be the first to thank the likes of team-mates Alan Shee­han, 30, and Danny Hyl­ton, 28, who have helped him set­tle so well at Lu­ton.

Out­stand­ing

“When I first came in, I sat next to Alan and he’s re­ally helped me out,” he said.

“He’s given me bits of ad­vice and en­cour­aged me to be the best I can be. He’s on at me, which is good.

“Danny has been mas­sive for us this year. He’s on 26 goals and he’s been out­stand­ing. He’s a role model and we should be try­ing to do what he does.”

What­ever hap­pens next, it’s been a mem­o­rable sea­son for Vas­sell, but a trip to Wem­b­ley and the prospect of League One foot­ball next term would put the ic­ing on the cake.

“I didn’t think the sea­son would go as well as it has done and I’m re­ally happy with my progress,” he added.

“We just missed out on Wem­b­ley in the Check­a­trade Tro­phy and it would just be the per­fect end to go there and win in the play-offs.

“Over the whole sea­son the squad has done so well and I think we’ve earned it.

“If we could get League One foot­ball that would be amaz­ing.

“I’m try­ing to keep im­prov­ing and play­ing at that level you are go­ing to im­prove be­cause it’s a bet­ter stan­dard. “It would be a new chal­lenge.” He’s al­ready over­come quite a few in the last three or four years.

PICTURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

KEY MAN DANNY HYL­TON Lu­ton MAK­ING HIS MARK: Isaac Vas­sell scores for Lu­ton against More­cambe

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