PREVIEW: Luton Town v Stevenage

editorial image

After finishing just outside the play-offs last season, Stevenage have made another fine start in their attempts to go a few places better this term and break into that top seven.

Boro began by conceding a last minute leveller to draw 3-3 with Newport on the opening day and were then held 1-1 at Colchester, before a fine run of league form saw them beat Grimsby, Barnet and Cheltenham.

A sticky patch was endured in September, with Darren Sarll’s side beaten at home by Lincoln, drawing with Crawley and losing again, 3-2 at Swindon.

However, Boro hit back in style, with three straight wins, defeating Morecambe and winning at Carlisle, which is no mean feat, plus seeing off Port Vale too.

That run did come to an end last weekend, losing 1-0 at Crewe, again to a last-gasp strike, but Sarll will no doubt be pleased with a start that sees them in seventh, just three points behind Luton, who occupy third spot.

The Boro boss certainly believes the Hatters will be one of the sides looking to finish in the top three this term and expects Saturday to be a guide of just where his team are.

He said: “It is a good game and you want to challenge yourself against better sides.

“They are certainly one of the better sides, consistently in those top positions and we are striving as ever to stay in or catch up and get as high up the league table as we can.”

Sarll’s transfer activity in the summer included bringing back one of the club’s former favourites in Chris Whelpdale, while he also added Joe Martin, Blair Turggott, James Ferry and Kevin Lokko among others to the squad.

Boro did lose plenty of experience from their ranks though with keeper Jamie Jones heading to Wigan, while stalwarts Steven Schumacher, Charlie Lee and Michael Tonge all departed as well.

Team news: Luton are without Dan Potts who is suspended for one game after his fifth booking at Accrington last weekend.

However, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu is available after serving his three game ban, while Luke Gambin is back from international duty and both Alan McCormack and Andrew Shinnie are fit too.

For Boro, Terence Vancooten, Ben Kennedy and Dale Gorman are back from international duty too, while Matty Godden and Tom Pett are in contention.

Jack King and Mark McKee are still not quite ready to be considered though.

Top scorers: Hatters – James Collins (7). Boro – Dan Newton (6).

Man in the middle: Brett Huxtable - official has had 12 games so far this season, showing 46 yellows and one red to date

Refereed 38 games last term with 140 cautions and five sendings off, one of those in Luton’s 1-0 win over Accrington, dismissing Jordan Cook for his second booking with seven minutes left.

Also had Luton’s 2-2 home draw with Leyton Orient, while he had been in the Conference prior to his promotion, where he took Luton four times, two 0-0 draws with Forest Green and Hereford, plus victories over Welling (2-1) and Southport (3-1).

Referee assistants are Grant Taylor and Dean Treleaven, with the fourth official Ian Cooper.

In charge: Darren Sarll - 34-year-old who was a non-league midfielder in his playing days, on the books of teams such as Hitchin Town, Dunstable Town, Bedford Town and Biggleswade United.

Began his coaching career at Stevenage, in a variety of roles, including managing the youth team, before moving to Brentford as youth team boss at the beginning of the 2008–09 campaign.

Was promoted to first team coach and also became the reserve team manager in 2009, leaving at the end of the 2010–11 season, where he headed to Rotherham United, named head of player development.

Left at the end of the 2011-12 campaign and returned to Stevenage as head of youth in June 2012 before being promoted to first team coach by Teddy Sheringham in June 2015.

Named caretaker manager when Sheringham was sacked in February 2016 and led his side to 18th in the division.

Was then appointed permanent manager in May and enjoyed an impressive first full campaign, with Boro finishing in 10th spot.

View from the opposition: Darren Sarll talking to the club’s official website: “I just enjoy it; it is a proper football match. I enjoy the fact that Luton play a certain way and we play a certain way, you know you’re going to get a decent spectacle out of it.

“We know Luton are going to play good football, they always have done under Nathan. We know it will be a tactical game, it will be very intense.

“You throw in the derby, you throw in being at Kenilworth Road and the atmosphere it generates there.

“It is always a good game and obviously we have had decent experiences there up to this point, but we also know what it has taken to earn those experiences and those highlights across our seasons in the past.

“We are very excited about it and very much looking forward to it, but we do know it is going be one of those tough games in the season fixtures.”

Friendly faces: Stevenage continued their influx of former Luton players with the signing of Jonathan Smith in August.

The midfielder played 176 times for the Hatters, scoring 11 goals, battling back from a horrific leg break against Barnet in the club’s promotion winning Conference campaign, but was transfer listed in the summer.

He joined Boro and has made 14 appearances so far, netting twice too.

Smith is one of a quartet of ex-Hatters at Stevenage, including former captain Ronnie Henry, who lifted the Conference trophy and made 87 appearances in total for Town.

He moved back to the Lamex Stadium in the summer of 2013-14 and has now played more than 400 games for the club over two spells.

Centre half Luke Wilkinson was allowed to leave Luton for Stevenage in January 2016.

He played 72 times for Luton, scoring seven goals and has an almost identical record for his current side, making 75 appearances, finding the net six times.

Finally, defender Fraser Franks played 34 times for Luton, before joining Stevenage in the summer of 2015 and has gone on to complete his century of matches, with 101 games for Boro, scoring seven goals.

Town striker Josh McQuoid had a loan spell with Stevenage last season, playing 16 games and scoring once. He has now moved to Torquay on loan too, scoring one in four matches so far.

Played for both: Andy Drury. 33-year-old midfielder who moved to Stevenage in July 2008, where he played over 50 games, before heading to Luton in May 2010.

Impressed so much for the Hatters in his first spell that Ipswich snapped him up in January 2011 for £150,000.

Went on to have a decent two and half years with the Tractor Boys, playing 64 games, scoring twice.

Headed to Crawley and then returned to Luton once more in June 2014 after the Hatters shelled out £100,000 for his services.

Played another 39 games, with two goals making it 65 appearances and 10 goals over his two spells.

Signed for Eastleigh in July 2015 racking up more than 50 games and headed to Ebbsfleet in December last year, where he has 10 appearances season in the National League, finding the net once.

One to watch: Dan Newton – 26-year-old striker, who spent time with Hinckley United, Nuneaton, Brackley and Leamington, before making his name at Tamworth.

Bagged 26 goals for the Lambs last season in Conference North to alert the attentions of Stevenage, who signed him on a two year deal.

Netted on his debut for Boro and had three in four games, as slthough he has slowed down somewhat since, still managed three in his next 10, proving he is more than at home at this level.

We’ve got form: Luton have found Stevenage one of their bogey sides in recent seasons, having lost the last three matches and drawn the other, making it four without a win, scoring once in that time too.

At home, Town have a bad record too, losing their first encounter 1-0 back in September 2009, and winning once, when Mark Cullen and Michael Harriman scored in a 2-0 win in May 2015.

They have lost the last two outings without managing a goal, making it just two scored and four conceded in all their home matches.

Last time out: Luton were beaten 2-0 at Kenilworth Road last season by Stevenage, as their recent hoodoo continued.

Ex-Town defender Luke Wilkinson opened the scoring with a brave header after just three minutes, while Ben Kennedy netted a wonderful effort five minutes from time to seal victory.

Hatters: Matt Macey, Stephen O’Donnell, Dan Potts (Luke Gambin 46), Scott Cuthbert (James Justin 74), Alan Sheehan, Glen Rea, Jonathan Smith, Jordan Cook (Ollie Palmer 77), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Danny Hylton, Isaac Vassell.

Subs not used: Stuart Moore, Jake Gray, Lawson D’Ath, Jack Marriott.

Attendance: 8,502.

Referee: Darren Handley.