Harry Cornick’s knees buckled as he was swamped by his team-mates, collapsing in the goalmouth at Kenilworth Road on the opening day of the 2021/22 season.
The Hatters kicked off the season in style, cruising to a 3-0 victory over Peterborough United; a result which gave the attacker the long-awaited boost he needed.
Already 1-0 up with just over 20 minutes left on the watch, Fred Onyedinma’s low cross in from the left fizzed across the face of goal and landed at the feet of Cornick, who was waiting in the wings to tap home.
“From a mental aspect, the main thing was getting that first goal against Peterborough on the opening day to prove to me that I can do it at this level,” Cornick said.
“It was pure, pure relief to get off the mark. Last season, it took me 30 or 40 games to score my first goal against Bristol City. To score in the opening game, it was just relief to get that first goal. Since then, I haven’t looked back.”
His self-belief hit rock-bottom last season.
With four games to go until the curtain came down on the 2020/21 campaign, the forward opened his account in a 3-2 win over Bristol City.
However, he was hugely disappointed with his statistics, notching one goal in 40 League appearances as he endured a 37-game-long drought, having tallied nine strikes in his first season in the Championship.
“I was constantly doubting myself and my confidence was so low in front of goal,” he explained. “It got to the point where I just thought, ‘I’m never going to score this season’. I was getting chances and not shooting because I was thinking, ‘I’m not going to score’. I didn’t want to get into that rut again because it’s a horrible place to be and you keep overthinking it.
“It meant a lot to me and my team-mates when I scored that goal. Everyone came over and celebrated with me because they knew how much that one goal meant to me.”
Determined to rectify the situation, the 26-year-old worked harder than ever with the staff behind the scenes during pre-season, although he fully appreciates that goals are not the only aspect of his game, having chipped in with a handful of assists, too.
“It’s probably one of the weakest areas of my game,” he admitted. “I’ve been doing a lot of work with Chris Cohen (first-team coach) and the sports scientist, Jared Roberts. We’ve been working really hard to make sure I’m keeping on top of my injury prevention and my strength work to make sure I’m fit and firing.
“It’s all about the end product. A few years ago, people used to say, ‘he’s such a good player because he does this, and he does that’. Now, they only care about who scores and who gets the assists really. It’s become such a stat-crazy world. The game is changing, and goals are going to make you look like a good player or not a good player, so I need to score as many as I can.”
He continued: “I can’t believe I’ve never had a brace in the six or seven years I’ve been playing,” he added. “To get one against Coventry and then two games later to get another brace against Millwall was good. I need to get one more now to make sure I get the hat-trick next time!”
Cornick, who had piqued Luton’s interest as a teenager plying his trade in the non-league scene, eventually earned a move to AFC Bournemouth, but not before now-Luton manager Nathan Jones made an attempt to draw him elsewhere.
“When I was younger, he was the Under-23s manager at Brighton and he was looking at me then. He tried to sign me once when I was at Bournemouth before, but it never went through. He said, ‘you can turn me down once but if you turn me down again, I’ll never speak to you again’. He gave me an ultimatum to sign for him. He feels like I owe him one because I didn’t sign for him the first time.
“We’ve got a really good relationship and it’s growing all the time. He went away to Stoke and came back, and we all welcomed him back with open arms because we knew how good of a manager he was. We never held a grudge against him for that. Since he’s come back, we’ve been flying.”
When the Cherries ascended to the Premier League, he opted to make the move to Kenilworth Road. There, he added back-to-back promotions to his CV, as Luton went from a Sky Bet League Two team to a Championship outfit, all in the space of two years.
Cornick and Luton have acclimatised to life in the second-tier, after securing their Championship status on the final day of the 2019/20 season, as the Hatters took it down to the wire.
“When I first signed, I sat down with the manager and he said: ‘I’m not signing you to play in League Two or League One, I’m signing you to play in the Championship’. It was always the end goal.
“I feel like I’ve improved as a player at the same rate that the Club has, which has been quite handy. As I was playing in League Two, I felt like I was improving and getting too good, and then we got promoted and same happened again. I want to keep improving, and hopefully take Luton further along.
“Last year was a bit of a nothing season. It was strange because usually we’re fighting until the end for some sort of promotion or relegation. I really do believe we can do something special this season. Barnsley made the Play-Offs last year and look how well they did. Why can’t we do that?"
This weekend, the Hatters entertain promotion rivals Stoke City. In one of Nathan Jones’ former teams, Luton will face a tough test, but Cornick and company have already shown that they are up for the challenge.
But the underdog tag doesn’t bother Luton, according to their second top-scorer.
“We know we’ve got a tough run, but there’s no easy fixtures in the Championship and that’s why it’s such a good division. We’ve pretty much got no pressure on us. Nobody expects us to do as well as we are.
“I know Stoke is a big one for the gaffer because he used to manage there so that’s a big game for us.”
Although he remained tight-lipped on his goal target, it’s clear that Luton, with the help of Cornick, have set their sights promotion no less and with the forward fit and firing, there’s no reason why not.