Rob Edwards said Luton’s 1-0 victory against Newcastle was the “embodiment” of their captain Tom Lockyer as his side moved to within two points of Premier League safety.
It was Luton’s first game since Lockyer suffered a cardiac arrest during last Saturday’s abandoned game away to Bournemouth.
The 29-year-old’s name was sung around Kenilworth Road throughout the contest, with the club having laid out his strip pre-match in their dressing room in tribute.
Andros Townsend headed the only goal in the first half, stealing in at the back post after Ross Barkley had flicked on a corner from Alfie Doughty and nodding beyond Martin Dubravka to a deafening roar from the home fans.
Newcastle piled on pressure in pursuit of a way back but it was Edwards’ side who came closest to adding to their tally.
First Barkley slammed an effort off the underside of the bar, a rasping 30-yard drive that beat Dubravka at full stretch, before Jacob Brown did the same in the second half after being played through by good work from Elijah Adebayo.
Alexander Isak thought he had equalised, sliding the ball into the far corner past Thomas Kaminski from Miguel Almiron’s pass, only for VAR to judge he had strayed fractionally offside.
Edwards said his team had gone into the game looking to win it for their absent captain, who was discharged from hospital on Thursday.
“I’m immensely proud of everyone,” he said. “This has been a really challenging week. They don’t teach you this on the coaching courses. I’ve needed my team around me.
“The players have been amazing, really brave. We’ve rallied around each other.
“It’s been hard to concentrate on a game of football this week. My focus has been on Tom and has family, but then there’s been a job to do, an important Premier League game. We’ve all helped each other.
“The performance was probably the most complete performances we’ve had this season.
“We’ve been playing really well. I don’t think it’s because of what’s happened that we’ve won the game today.
“We talked about it, we wanted to do it for Tom. But I don’t think there was any extra motivation there. Today we embodied everything that Tom Lockyer is.”
The result puts Luton to within a win of Nottingham Forest who were beaten 3-2 by a last-gasp goal at home to Bournemouth.
Despite an important three points, Edwards’ focus after the game was firmly on Lockyer.
“Today was about doing it for Tom,” he said. “He’s a leader and an inspiration figure for us.
“A football match pales in insignificance in that moment. It still feels a bit weird me coming in here, talking about a game of football.
“When you’re talking about someone’s life, it doesn’t matter then.”
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe reflected on a disappointing loss which was his team’s fourth in a row away from St James’ Park.
“We’ve spoken about it internally, we know how important away form is,” he said.
“We have to be consistent in home and away form. It epitomised our away form today, we didn’t compete well in the first half. We were reactive instead of proactive.
“We have an incredible group but I was disappointed with the first half, I thought we needed more emotions and energy in our performance.”