Luton striker Isaac Vassell looks ahead to their play-off semi-final
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.
“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.
“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.
KEY MAN DANNY HYLTON Luton MAKING HIS MARK: Isaac Vassell scores for Luton against Morecambe