PREVIEW: Luton Town v Oxford United

Luke Wilkinson celebrates his opening goal against Oxford last season
Luke Wilkinson celebrates his opening goal against Oxford last season

Oxford United have set their stall out to be one of the promotion candidates in League Two this season, both on and off the pitch.

The U’s, who finished for them what would have been deemed a disappointing 13th last season, started off with a 1-1 draw against recently relegated Crawley Town in their opening match of the campaign.

That already was an improvement on the previous term as it had taken then four games to register even a single point.

However, it was on Tuesday night when rivals will have stood up and took notice as drawn away at Championship side Brentford in the Capital One Cup, with 12 minutes on the clock, Oxford were already 3-0 to the good, going on to triumph 4-0.

Head coach Michael Appleton saw his side made one of the favourites with the bookies to go up this term and that was largely down to his wise summer recruitment policy.

The U’s chief didn’t make masses of new signings, but those he did bring are without doubt quality additions.

Exeter’s Liam Sercombe, who impressed hugely on the Kenilworth Road playing surface for Exeter last year made the switch as did West Brom’s Kemar Roofe, after his superb loan spell at Kassam Stadium last year.

Portsmouth striker Ryan Taylor, who scored against Hatters for the south coast club was also snapped up along side experienced keeper Sam Slocombe following his release by Scunthorpe.

Even just this week, Oxford were continuing to add to their squad as former England U20 midfielder John Lundstram signed a two year deal after being let go by Premier League Everton.

From the noises coming out of the club, Appleton is still on the look out for new players before the transfer deadline closes, and if he lands them, they will be significant additions.

Talking to the Oxford Mail he said: “There’s two or three players out there who would be one of the final pieces of the jigsaw going forward, but I’m not 100 per cent convinced I can get them now.

“If we bring someone in after John, unless something happens and it’s an emergency, it will make a statement.”

The transfer activity led new stopper Slocombe to admit he was expecting his new team-mates to be challenging at the right end of the table this season.

He told BBC Radio Oxford: “Some fresh faces have been added from outside who have experience of the league and promotion.

“We have to be aware there’s another 23 clubs in this division and probably 16 to 20 of them will have the same aspirations of getting promoted.

“But the work we’ve put in on the training ground and what we’ve seen in the games up to now in pre-season, I’m quite confident we’ll be there or thereabouts.”

Team news: Luton boss John Still faces a selection dilemma over who to start in goal with Mark Tyler now fully fit again.

Jack Marriott and Paul Benson are also pushing for league starts, while the only player to miss out is Magnus Okuonghae as he continues to get back to match fitness after his Achilles injury while at Colchester last season.

The U’s are hoping that Kemar Roofe will be fit to continue after being taken off on Tuesday night against Brentford with a tight groin.

The winger is due to train with the team today and if he suffers no after-effects then Appleton is likely to name an unchanged side for the third game in a row, with new signing John Lundstram unlikely to feature as he gains fitness.

Top scorers: Hatters: Jack Marriott (2). U’s: Danny Hylton (2).

Man in the middle: Mark Brown - Has taken two games so far this term, showing just two yellow cards in that time, both during the Sheffield Wednesday v Mansfield Capital One cup tie on Tuesday night.

Last year, he officiated 34 matches, showing 79 yellow cards and seven reds, including the 0-0 draw for the Hatters at York City back in September, the only time he has had the whistle for a Luton game.

The referees assistants are Nigel Lugg and Ian Smedley, with Guy Stretton the fourth official.

In charge: Michael Appleton, 39-year-old who had his playing career cut short by injury at the age of just 27.

Started life at Manchester United, making a handful of appearances for the Red Devils, while having loan spells with Lincoln City and Grimsby Town.

Left Old Trafford when Preston North End shelled out £500,00 and played over 100 games until joining West Brom for £750,000.

Suffered a serious injury in November 2001 and was eventually forced to retire in 2003, where he stayed with the Baggies on the coaching staff.

Had one game as caretaker boss, before taking charge of Portsmouth in November 2011.

Opted to move to Blackpool in November 2012, but after just 11 games and 65 days, decided to join Blackburn as manager in January 2013.

A poor run of results at Ewood Park saw Appleton leave his role two months later after just 15 games and 67 days.

Was back in the game though last summer, when he was appointed head coach at Oxford on July 4, as the club decided to replace former Luton player Gary Waddock.

View from the opposition: Michael Appleton talking to the Oxford Mail - “The biggest thing I’ll be asking the players on Saturday is can we repeat and show the same amount of energy we showed in that first 30 minutes (at Brentford).

“As we found out at Luton last year, you have to make sure you get through that first period of the game.

“We don’t want to be a goal down in two minutes like last season.

“Let’s make sure we’re in the game after 20 minutes and with 70 minutes on the clock it’s still a tight game. If that was the case I’d back us.”

Friendly faces: Town’s Youth Academy and Development manager Andy Awford was first team coach at Oxford under Jim Smith from April 2006 until June 2008 when he became assistant manager of Bognor Regis Town.

Hatters goalkeeping coach Kevin Dearden had a loan spell at Oxford in the 1989-90 season but didn’t feature for the first team.

Meanwhile, U’s assistant head coach Chris Allen spent time at Kenilworth Road on loan during the 1997-98 campaign after joining from Nottingham Forest.

He went on to play 14 games for the Town, scoring once, that in the 4-2 Division Two home defeat by Bristol Rovers.

One to watch: Kemar Roofe - young midfielder had a superb impact while on loan at Oxford last season from West Brom, scoring six goals in 16 games for the club, so the capture of him on a three year deal for an undisclosed fee was certainly deemed a statement of intent.

Had a few loan spells in his time with the Baggies, sent to Northampton, Cheltenham and Colchester before heading to the U’s temporarily and now permanently.

At just 22, he’s considered one of the hottest prospects in the division and already opened his account in stunning style with a magnificent 40 yard lob against Brentford on Tuesday.

We’ve got form: Luton have an excellent record over Oxford at Kenilworth Road in the league during recent years, going eight matches unbeaten with six wins and two draws, as they haven’t lost in over 25 years, since a 3-2 defeat during an old Division One meeting back in 1987.

They did lose a 1998 League Cup tie, but there have been some thumping wins too, most notable a 7-4 triumph during the 1987-88 campaign when Mark Stein (3), Mick Harford (2), Darren McDonough and Brian Stein netted.

In total, Luton have won nine, drawn two and lost six matches, scoring 38 goals and conceding 24, turning round a poor start that saw them lose five from seven between 1970-1987.

Hatters’ biggest win however remains a 4-0 triumph in their first ever meeting when Matt Tees and Malcolm MacDonald both bagged braces during a Division Two meeting in the 1970-71 season.

Last time out: Luton were 2-0 winners over Oxford at Kenilworth Road last season.

The hosts got off to the perfect start, with Luke Wilkinson heading home Jake Howells’ deep free kick after just two minutes.

After the break, Hatters were awarded a penalty for handball on 67 minutes and although Howells’ effort was saved by George Long, he netted the rebound.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Steve McNulty, Alex Lacey, Scott Griffiths, Luke Wilkinson, Jonathan Smith (Jim Stevenson 74), Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Shaun Whalley (Ross Lafayette 51), Nathan Doyle (Andy Drury 67), Mark Cullen.

Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Luke Guttridge, Matt Robinson, Charlie Walker.

Attendance: 9,101.