PREVIEW: Portsmouth v Luton Town

editorial image

Portsmouth are starting to believe they could be in with a late shout of the play-offs this season after finally coming into some kind of form.

The 2008 FA Cup winners had flirted with what would have been an unthinkable relegation for large parts of the campaign after picking up just four league victories between September and January.

However, after winning a crucial clash over Hartlepool at Fratton Park on February 7, Pompey have managed to put a string of results together with four wins from five, including a magnificent 6-2 triumph at Cambridge, lifting them to 14th in the table, 10 points away from the top seven.

The home form has started to turn too, with Pompey now unbeaten in four matches at Fratton Park, including an amazing come-from-behind win over Tranmere when they turned around a 2-0 deficit in the final 14 minutes.

A return of 14 points from a possible 18 saw boss Andy Awford named February’s manager of the month, while the impressive Jed Wallace took the player’s award after scoring twice and setting up four in the win at Cambridge.

March hasn’t started quite as well, with Pompey beaten at Northampton, a first defeat in seven games, and then drawing 1-1 at Accrington last weekend.

“The manager - John Still - is a fantastic fella. I have spoken to him a couple of times privately, in tricky spells shall we say.”

Andy Awford

The south coast club made a significant signing during the January transfer window though, that being forward Matt Tubbs on a two and a half year deal following his release from Bournemouth.

Tubbs, who scored for AFC Wimbledon at Kenilworth Road this year, believes his new side can still feature in the end of season play-offs as speaking to BBC Radio Solent, he said: “I think we’ve got to be ambitious.

“If you’re looking over your shoulder then it’s a negative thought straight away.

“There’s no reason why we can’t look upwards. We have to be positive, and we’ll look to pick up points when and where we can.”

Boss Awford admitted it has been a hard season so far and revealed he has confided in Luton manager John Still at times too.

He added: “The manager - John Still - is a fantastic fella. I have spoken to him a couple of times privately, in tricky spells shall we say.

“He is somebody that has been there, seen it and done it at several levels. If you can’t learn from John Still, then who can you learn from?

“He’s a lovely man and a very astute football person. I have a lot of time for him.”

Team news: Hatters are expected to continue with Elliot Justham in goal once more as Mark Tyler recovers from his knee injury.

Paul Benson and Luke Rooney could both be involved after coming through the development game on Tuesday, but Nathan Doyle (knee), Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (hamstring) and Curtley Williams (shoulder) are definitely out.

For Pompey, Ben Chorley is available after suspension, while Danny East has been recalled from his loan at Aldershot as cover for Josh Passley, who has a tight hamstring.

Top goalscorer: Hatters - Mark Cullen (12). Pompey: Jed Wallace (14).

Man in the middle: Darren Drysdale - vastly experienced official has been in charge of 22 games so far this season, showing 75 yellows and six reds.

Taken Luton once this term too, a 3-0 home win over Newport County back in December.

His most recent Luton match prior to that was a 2-0 FA Cup win at Brentford in 2007 when Chris Coyne and Jaroslaw Fojut netted, while Matthew Spring and David Edwards were booked.

Also reffed Luton’s 5-1 hammering at Preston in the Championship in 2006, sending off goalkeeper Marlon Beresford in the last minute, plus the 3-0 home win over Stockport in 2005, with Coyne again, plus Steve Howard and Kevin Nicholls on target.

Assistant referees are Kevin Morris and Andrew Turner, with Constantine Hatzid the fourth official.

In charge: Andy Awford. 42-year-old who began his career at Worcester City, before moving to Portsmouth in 1989, making over 300 appearances until retiring with a knee problem in November 2000.

He took up the position of chief scout and later reserve team manager at Fratton Park, before being appointed first team coach at Oxford United and then assistant boss of Bognor Regis but resigned in January 2009.

In 2011, he was appointed academy manager at Portsmouth and was promoted to assistant boss by Guy Whittingham following Michael Appleton’s departure in November 2012.

Became caretaker manager in November 2013, although returned to work at club’s academy when Richie Barker was appointed a month later.

However, when Barker left in March 2014, Awford was named caretaker manager once more and became permanent boss in May, signing a one-year rolling contract.

View from the opposition: Boss Andy Awford told the Portsmouth Evening News: “They have had a good season and have been around the top six or seven for most of it.

“However, they have just lost four out of five and I think they have only won one out of 12 on their travels.

“If ever there was a good time to be playing Luton or a top-six team, it is now, I suppose.

“Our performance levels have been very good of late so we are looking forward to it. It should be a good game.

“It was an important game in our season at their place.

“We went 1-0 down quite early and some people might have been expecting us to fold but we showed that we still had the fight to get back into it and got the draw. I think we could have gone on to win as well.”

Midfielder James Dunne said: “Luton lost to Morecambe last week, which shows you what this league is like.

‘We’ve been playing well and getting wins. Luton at home is a tough game still. If we get back to how we’ve been playing it’s a game we can win, though.

“If we play how we have been playing in February, we will pick up wins.”

One to watch: Matt Tubbs. 30-year-old striker is natural penalty box predator, and scored the only goal for AFC Wimbledon earlier this season as they defeated Luton 1-0 at Kenilworth Road.

Netted 15 goals for the Dons until joining Pompey on a free transfer, notching a treble in the 6-2 win at Cambridge, although has gone four games without a goal.

Started life at Salisbury where his stunning form alerted Bournemouth and then Crawley where he bagged 49 league goals in 65 games.

Spells at Bournemouth, Rotherham and then Crawley followed, before moving to AFC Wimbledon on loan, scoring 15 goals in 30 games until he was snapped up by Pompey following his release by the Cherries.

Friendly faces: Town centre half Luke Wilkinson was with Portsmouth as a youngster, but didn’t ever make a first team appearance for the club.

Paul Benson spent two months on loan at Fratton Park in the 2012-13 season, scoring twice in his seven games, while defender Paul Connolly also was at Pompey for a loan spell in that campaign, as he made five appearances.

Town goalkeeping coach Kevin Dearden was also loaned to Pompey from Spurs in 1992-93, but didn’t figure for the first team.

Ex-Luton striker Tom Craddock, who netted 38 goals in 86 games for Town remains at Fratton Park too, although a long-term knee injury means he hasn’t played this season.

We’ve got form: Fratton Park hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for Town in recent years, with five straight defeats, as the last victory was a 2-0 win in September 1975 thanks to strikes by Adrian Alston and Andy King.

Overall, Luton have won just four times in their 21 visits, with seven draws and 10 defeats, scoring 23 times and conceding 39.

Town’s biggest win was a 3-0 triumph during the 1971-72 season with goals from John Ryan (2) and Don Givens’ penalty, while their heaviest defeat was a 5-0 Division One hammering back in 1957.

Last time out: Luton were well beaten 4-0 on their last trip to Fratton Park, that a Division One clash back in December 1995 as Paul Hall netted twice, while Jimmy Carter and ex-Hatter Paul Walsh were on target.

Hatters: Kelvin Davis, Darren Patterson, Marvin Johnson, Steve Davis, Gary Waddock, Paul McLaren, Graham Alexander, Scott Oakes, John Taylor, Dwight Marshall, Richard Harvey.

Subs: Mitchell Thomas, Tony Thorpe.

Attendance: 7,012.