PREVIEW: Exeter City v Luton Town

Luton Town FC. Stock images.
Luton Town FC. Stock images.

If it weren’t for Luton’s stunning run of seven straight wins, then Exeter City would be top of the League Two form table right now.

For while Hatters have claimed a magnificent 22 points from their last eight games, the Grecians have been almost every bit as impressive, securing 19 points, with six wins, one draw and one defeat.

What makes City’s rise even more staggering, is that it took them until September 16, seven games into the campaign, to actually register a first win.

Three draws and four defeats left them looking up at the rest of the division, but that all changed once Cambridge were beaten 2-1 at the Abbey.

Exeter then won their next three, triumphing at Tranmere Rovers and Dagenham & Redbridge, plus seeing off one of the title favourites Bury on home soil.

A surprise 2-1 defeat at home to Hartlepool ended that sequence, but they were back on it quickly with a highly respectable 1-1 draw at Southend.

After that, they were right back on it again, beating promotion challengers Wycombe 2-1 at home, and following that up with an even more impressive 2-0 victory at Morecambe.

A marked improvement in front of goal has clearly coincided with Exeter’s run too, as after bagging a paltry four in their first seven games, they have notched 14 in their last eight.

Although no-one stands out at the top of the scoring charts, defender David Wheeler believes having multiple goal threats is key as he told the club’s official website: “Everyone is hunting for goals – there has been about 11 or 12 different goalscorers, so everyone wants to get on the scoresheet.

“The fans respond to it when the teams at the top of the league come to the Park, so hopefully it’ll be the same again.

“I’m sure Luton will be in a similar frame of mind to us, having been on such good form. But at the same time, if you look at Wycombe before they played us, they had been on very good form.”

The Grecians poor start to the season probably wasn’t all that surprising considering they were placed under a transfer embargo this summer after being forced to go to the Professional Footballers’ Association for a loan because the club’s projected income did not match their actual takings.

They have only made two permanent signings, Christian Ribeiro and Graham Cummins, since the end of last season and have a side largely made up with players who have either come through the club’s youth ranks or from non-league football.

Paul Tisdale’s side have made a habit of beating teams at the top of the table though as both Bury and Wycombe found out, when they were at the summit before visiting St James Park, leaving empty-handed after 2-1 defeats,

Tisdale hopes his side rise to the occasion once more as he said: “We’ve beaten Bury and we’ve beaten Wycombe. We’ve knocked them off the top spot, so it’s not all coincidence.

“It’s the third game that we’ll play against a team that have just gone top of the league, and I suppose it’s our target to beat Luton and make it three from three in that regard.

“We have a good opportunity, we’re in good form, and we should be confident. Everyone that played last week is fit again, so we’ve got a settled team

“I’m hoping we get towards 5,000 (crowd) as we did for Portsmouth at the beginning of the season.

“The more the better really. Surely our supporters have every reason to come and cheer us on –there’ll be a thousand or more Luton supporters, we’re on a good run, we’ve got a good chance of progressing up the league – what better time to come and watch City?”

Team news: Hatters are still without Ross Lafayette, while there are doubts over Alex Lawless, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu and Charlier Walker for the clash.

For the hosts, Liam Sercombe is expected to have recovered from a hip flexor strain, but Jordan Moore-Taylor, Pat Baldwin and Jamie Reid are still missing with long-term injuries.

Top scorers: Hatters: Mark Cullen (8). Grecians: Graham Cummins (4).

Milestones: If selected, striker Paul Benson will make his 50th appearance for Hatters and will be hoping to add to his tally of 18 goals so far.

Man in the middle: Dean Whitestone - taken 11 games so far this season, showing 23 yellows and no reds, with three of his last four matches being in the Championship.

Last term, he officiated 34 games, brandishing 84 yellows and four reds too.

Whitestone’s most recent Luton match was a 1-1 draw at Barnet in League Two during April 2009, sending off Kevin Nicholls with 11 minutes to go, while he was also in charge of Town’s 5-1 defeat at Reading in the Carling Cup that season.

He took Luton’s 2-0 defeat at Huddersfield in League One during 2007-08 campaign, dismissing Paul Furlong and the 1-0 win for Luton over Yeovil, sending off the Glovers’ Paul Warne this time.

Also reffed Hatters’ 2-1 win at Barnsley in September 2006.

In charge: Paul Tisdale - 41-year-old, who came through the ranks at Southampton, before loans spells with Northampton Town, Hudderfield Town, Bristol City, Exeter, FinnPa (Finland) and Panionios (Greece) before returning to spend a year with Yeovil Town.

Injury forced him to end his career early, and he took a coaching role with Team Bath in 2000, leaving in 2006, to become Exeter boss, leading the Grecians back into the Football League.

Now in his eighth season, Tisdale is currently the second longest-serving manager in English football, behind Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.

View from the opposition: Grecians boss Paul Tisdale told the club’s official website: “They’ve got good management, a hard-working team, they know their jobs and they put the ball into the right areas.

“They are good at the percentages and I don’t think we’ll have an easy game. Whichever way it goes, even if we have a good day and they have an off day, it’ll still be close.

“The Conference is a tough league to get out of, as we know here at Exeter. hey have got good financial backing, they’re a good club with a good crowd and they are worthy of League One football at least.

“But with all that, you still need a good manager to make good decisions and point the energy in the right direction and get everyone pulling together, and John Still has done that. It’s no surprise to me or people in the game that he has done that.

“He is streetwise and understands the league and how to put a team together. They’ll be competing at the end of the year and he’ll get the very best out of his team. He doesn’t need any star players or any flamboyance – he needs players that will play for a team, and he’s got that.”

One to watch: Graham Cummins - 26-year-old striker, who began his career at Cork City, with spells at Preston and Rochdale before joining Exeter in the summer.

Took a while to find his feet, but then bagged three goals in three games and added a fourth in the 1-1 draw with Southend to make it four in his last eight outings.

We’ve got form: Hatters have an highly impressive record at St James Park over the years, winning 10, drawing seven and losing seven of their 24 visits, scoring 39 to the hosts 36,

In fact, Luton are unbeaten in over 45 years, although in that time, they have only made the long trek three times, winning twice and drawing once.

The biggest win was a 5-0 triumph in Division Four, October 1967 thanks to goals from Ian Buxton, Alan Slough, Keith Allen (2) and Ray Whittaker, while a heaviest defeat was the 5-1 hammering in Division Three back in 1965, with Tommy McKechnie scoring.

Last time out: A goal just after half time from Sam Parkin secured victory for Town in their last visit to Exeter back on August 30, 2008 in League Two.

Hatters: Dean Brill, Claude Gnakpa, Lewis Emanuel, George Pilkington, Sol Davis, Kevin Nicholls, Michael Spillane, Keith Keane, Rossi Jarvis, Chris Martin (Ryan Charles 80), Sam Parkin.

Subs not used: Conrad Logan, Asa Hall, Ian Roper, Kevin Watson.

Attendance: 5,328

Referee: Oliver Langford