PREVIEW: Luton Town v Hartlepool

Jake Howells celebrates his goal against Hartlepool last season
Jake Howells celebrates his goal against Hartlepool last season

Hartlepool’s continued flirtation with relegation this season saw a change at the helm earlier this month.

Ronnie Moore, who had led the Pools to a quite remarkable escape last season, winning nine and drawing six of their final 26 games, to finish in 22nd place, was relieved of his duties after a campaign of struggle, with just one win in 12 matches, as former Middlesbrough player Craig Hignett took over.

The 46-year-old is in first managerial role, although did have a spell as Hartlepool assistant manager under Colin Cooper in 2013-14.

On the decision to a appoint Hignett, Pools chairman Gary Coxall said: “We immediately identified Craig as our number one target and we believe he has all the right qualities to help instill confidence back in to the players and help us move up the table.

“He has a wealth of experience in football and has been looking for an opportunity to move in to management so we’re delighted to give him that chance here at Victoria Park.”

Hignett’s first game in charge saw fellow strugglers Yeovil defeated 2-1, but they then were beaten 3-2 at home by Notts County on Tuesday night, as they sit just three points above the drop zone.

He has brought in former Republic of Ireland international and former Middlesbrough team-mate Curtis Fleming as first-team coach at Victoria Park, adding: “Curtis is a fantastic fella and it’s great news for me that he’s coming in.”

Team news: Hatters are hopeful that Alex Lawless is fit enough to return to the side after missing last Saturday’s 4-1 defeat to AFC Wimbledon with a groin injury.

Both Nathan Doyle (knee) and Josh McQuoid (knee) remain unavailable though.

For Pools, Michael Duckworth (hernia) and Harry Worley (ankle) are sidelined, with young goalkeeper Peter Denton likely to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to repair cartilage in his knee.

Top scorers - Hatters: Cameron McGeehan (10). Pools: Billy Paynter (10).

Man in the middle: Andy Davies - first game featuring Luton for the official this season, who has taken 25 games so far, including a number of Championship matches, showing 97 yellows and four reds.

Last season, he had the 3-1 win for Luton over Dagenham in October, a campaign where he showed 105 yellows and seven reds in his 30 games.

Assistant referees are Adrian Sannerude and Christopher Husband, with fourth official Michael Webb.

In charge: Craig Hignett, 46-year-old, who started his playing days at Crewe Alexandra before moving to Middlesbrough in 1992 and then had spells with Aberdeen, Barnsley, Blackburn Rovers, Leicester City, Leeds, Darlington, finishing his career with Hartlepool.

Became part of the Academy coaching staff at Middlesbrough in 2008, moving to Pools as assistant to Colin Cooper in 2013, before returning to the Riverside to work with Aitor Karanka until December 2014 and has now taken his first managerial job becoming Pools boss.

View from the dug out: Pools boss Craig Hignett speaking to the club’s official website: “It’s going to be a tough game for us.

“But any game – home or away – in this league is tough in this league and it doesn’t matter if you’re up near the top or at the bottom.

“We’ll go there and we’ll be prepared, we’ll know exactly what we’re going to try and do, and we’ll give it a right good go.”

One to watch: Billy Paynter, 31-year-old is the leading scorer at Pools with 10 goals this season.

Has enjoyed an excellent recent spell of form, scoring in each of his last three matches and has netted six times during the last 11 games.

Also scored in his opening three games of the campaign, before a run of just one goal in eight, that during the 4-1 home defeat to Luton back in October.

Started life at Hull in August 2000 and has been with Southend, Bradford, Swindon, Leeds, Brighton, Doncaster, Sheffield United and Carlisle, before moving to Pools in the summer.

Friendly faces: Magnus Okuonghae spent a month on loan at Hartlepool earlier in the season, playing four times for the club.

Hatters goalkeeping coach Kevin Dearden had a loan spell at Victoria Park back in 1989 when at Spurs, as he featured 10 time.

Pools centre half Harry Worley was at Kenilworth Road for two months in the 2008-09 season after joining on loan from Leicester, playing 10 times in total.

Since then, the 26-year-old has had spells at Crewe, Oxford, Newport County and Stevenage before signing for Pools in the summer, making just five appearances so far.

Played for both: Adam Boyd - Striker began his career at Hartlepool back in August 1999 and played over 150 times for Pools, scoring 60 goals before a £500,000 move to Luton in July 2006.

The move never worked out though as he scored just two goals in 23 games, eventually released from his contract after Town were relegated to League One and signed for Leyton Orient in July 2007.

We’ve got form: Luton have an excellent record against Hartlepool throughout the years, with seven wins from their nine previous home meetings, one draw, and the only defeat a 2-0 Division Four reverse way back in 1967, when Pools were then known as Hartlepool United.

Luton have scored 19 goals and conceded eight in that time, with the biggest win a 3-0 triumph in October 1968, October 2004 and last season as well.

Last time out: Luton ran out comfortable 3-0 winners when the two teams met at Kenilworth Road last season.

Cameron McGeehan opened the scoring on five minutes, while Shaun Whalley was brought down for Jake Howells to net from the penalty on 17 minutes and Scott Griffiths (71) scrambled home a third in the second half.

Hatters: Elliot Justham, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty, Luke Wilkinson, Jake Howells (Luke Guttridge 82), Jonathan Smith, Cameron McGeehan, Shaun Whalley (Ryan Hall 75), Mark Cullen, Elliot Lee (Ricky Miller 87).

Subs not used: Craig King, Alex Lacey, Lewis Kinsella, Alex Wall.

Attendance: 8,231.

Referee: Gary Sutton.