PREVIEW: Oxford United v Luton Town

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It was a busy January for Oxford United as they reshaped their squad for the second half of the season.

The U’s were active on deadline day, bringing in Burton Albion striker Alex MacDonald for an undisclosed fee.

Oxford had missed out on one of their main targets when Tyrone Barnett joined Shrewsbury after a successful loan spell at the Kassam Stadium.

They had agreed a fee with Peterborough for the forward as chief executive Mark Ashton told BBC Radio Oxford: “I’d suggest it’s one of the largest fees this club’s ever paid.

“The challenge we have is that there are a number of other clubs in higher divisions - including the Championship - that are trying to persuade Tyrone to go there.”

After Barnett opted for the Shrews, U’s managed to net former Scottish U21 international MacDonald, who was the Brewers leading league scorer with seven goals.

Head coach Michael Appleton said: “He scores his fair share of goals but is also a very hard worker.

“He will give us options going forward and I think he will be a very good signing for this club.”

After the deadline passed, the U’s also added former Premier League goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown to their squad, who had been a free agent.

Prior to the window closing, Oxford borrowed Rotherham defender Richard Brindley, 21, on a month’s loan, with a view to a permanent deal.

They also went back to the Millers to sign left-back Joe Skarz on a free transfer after his contract was ended by mutual consent.

With new additions in place, Appleton reduced his squad size as defender Tom Newey was released, along with winger Alfie Potter, Junior Brown and Michael Raynes earlier in the month.

On the pitch, Oxford are trying to turn things around after a nightmare start to proceedings.

The club lost their opening four League Two games as it took them seven matches to register a win, eventually beating Accrington in September.

Results picked up slightly, with the U’s putting a six game unbeaten run together before Christmas, before hitting another blip, with only one win in eight games, that a 2-1 triumph at Plymouth.

However, they managed an impressive 2-0 triumph at in-form Stevenage last weekend, so can approach this weekend’s encounter with renewed confidence.

Home form has been a real problem for Oxford all campaign though, with U’s supporters witnessing just four successes so far.

Appleton’s side haven’t enjoyed that winning feel in front of their own fans since the 2-1 win over Bury on December 13 either, some four matches ago.

They lost three in a row, including defeat to struggling Cheltenham, just about stopping the rot with a 2-2 draw against Exeter last time out, although that was due to a last minute strike.

Team news: Luton could hand debuts to new signings Ryan Hall and Nathan Oduwa.

Luke Wilkinson is fit after his tight hamstring, but Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu might not be risked once more.

Paul Benson (leg), Luke Rooney (hernia) and Curtley Williams (shoulder) are the only definite absentees.

United are likely to hand a debut to deadline day signing Alex MacDonald, while full backs Joe Skarz and Richard Brindley are set to make their home bows.

Striker Will Hoskins (groin) is the only injury.

Top scorers: Hatters: Mark Cullen (9). U’s: Danny Hylton (14).

Milestones: Luke Guttridge remains one away from his 50th game for Luton after joining on a free transfer from Northampton in the summer of 2013.

Man in the middle: Richard Clark, taken 18 games this season, showing 52 yellows and four reds, including one in his last game, the 0-0 draw between Doncaster and Notts County in League One.

Second Oxford match this term having officiated their 2-1 defeat at Mansfield.

First time he has been in charge of a Luton game, while last term, he brandished 102 yellows and 12 reds.

Assistant referees are Christopher Husband and Mark Mellor, with the fourth official Kevin Johnson.

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 £500,000 for his services 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 only 15 games and 67 days.

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

View from the opposition: Michael Appleton talking to the Oxford Mail - “It’s going to be a great game. I’m expecting a big crowd there, Luton will bring a few thousand hopefully.

“They are all out at the minute to get promotion and stay in the play-off places so we expect a tough fixture.”

“Luton are a spirited side and win a lot of tight games, by the odd goal.

“This year we’ve been on the wrong end of a lot of games by the odd goal.

“We have to make sure we reverse that this weekend.

“We know what their strengths and weaknesses are and it’s up to us to exploit them on the day.”

One to watch: Danny Hylton - 25-year-old forward who began his career at Aldershot, scoring 35 league goals in over 170 appearances.

Joined Rotherham in June 2013, but the move didn’t work out as he was loaned to Bury and then AFC Wimbledon.

Left the Millers and was snapped by Oxford during pre-season, scoring in his second game and has netted 14 times so far.

Goals have dried up slightly in recent weeks though as has managed just two in his last 14 games as opposed to 12 in his opening 19 matches.

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

We’ve got form: Town have a good record at Oxford, winning six, drawing five and losing six of their previous 17 meetings, scoring 23 goals and conceding 25.

After losing the last league visit, Hatters were unbeaten in their previous four Football League meetings since 1992 with three wins and a draw.

Luton’s biggest triumph was a 5-2 success with Tim Breacker, Mick Harford, Ricky Hill, Chukwuemeka Nwajiobi and Brian Stein all netting in an old Division One clash in September 1987.

Town’s biggest defeat was a 4-0 reverse however, five years later.

Last time out: Luton were beaten 2-0 on their last visit to Oxford, a Conference meeting in September 2009.

James Constable put the hosts ahead early on, while Jamie Cook soon doubled the lead after 15 minutes as Luton were reduced to 10 men in the second period when Kevin Nicholls was sent off.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Alan White, George Pilkinton, Adam Newton, Asa Hall, Keith Keane, Kevin Nicholls, Shane Blackett (Freddie Murray 46), Rossi Jarvis, Tom Craddock (George Donnelly 73), Kevin Gallen.

Subs not used: Shane Gore, Jake Howells, Steve Basham.

Attendance: 10,613.