PREVIEW: Portsmouth v Luton Town

Hatters midfielder Alan McCormack in action
Hatters midfielder Alan McCormack in action

Portsmouth have had something of a drama free close season as they look to reach the upper echelons of the Football League once more.

The south coast side ended four years in the bottom division by somehow winning the title on the final day in the 2016-17 campaign and had what can definitely be described as a satisfactory campaign last term.

They looked like they could make the play-offs at times, only to finish eighth, six points away from the top six.

Over the summer, manager Kenny Jackett has been making improvements to his squad, the biggest outlay going on Spurs defender Anton Walkes who has joined for an undisclosed fee.

The experienced boss also moved to bring in long-serving Bristol Rovers defender Lee Brown, versatile Burton Albion midfielder Tom Naylor, Shrewsbury keeper Craig MacGillivray, plus Louis Dennis from Bromley and Derry City’s Ronan Curtis.

They have also added Croatian goalkeeper Petar Durin from Italian Serie A club Atalanta for an undisclosed fee, subject to international clearance.

Exits were always expected, with winger Kai Naismith departing after failing to agree a new deal, while Jez Bedford, Nicke Kabamba and Theo Widdrington were released.

Jackett remains hopeful there will be future business into the club before the window shuts, though whether that’s ahead of tomorrow’s game remains to be seen.

He is confident defender Matt Clarke will stay, while Connor Chaplin, who is looking to leave in a bid for regular first team football will only do so, should an adequate replacement be found first.

Jackett is hoping all this means the club’s fans will witness a crack at getting back into the Championship, saying: “We want to establish ourselves in these opening weeks.

“We want to try to get one of those three promotion spaces and if we get into the top six then it will be an improvement.

“But every side will be saying the same thing – and rightly so. At this stage you should have aspirations to be successful.

“There will be bumps in the road and you don’t know when they’ll come along, but the more preparation you do, the more you can get over them.”

Team news: Luton will be without striker Danny Hylton, with last year’s leading scorer suspended for one match after his red card on the final day at Notts County.

Luke Berry is also missing as he continues to recover from his serious injury suffered against Colchester.

For Pompey, exctiting winger Jamal Lowe is out with an ankle injury as is Dion Donohue who has been suffering from glandular fever.

Man in the middle: Gavin Ward. Coincidentally, took Luton’s opening game last season, the stunning 8-2 win over Yeovil at Kenilworth Road.

Went on to officiate 45 games, showing 128 yellows and six reds, having the first leg of the League Two play-offs between Coventry and Notts County too.

Had the whistle for two more Luton games, the 2-1 win at AFC Wimbledon in the Checkatrade Trophy and the superb 5-0 drubbing of Swindon on Boxing Day.

A regular at Luton games recently taking four matches in the 2016-17 season, both defeats to Colchester, plus the 2-0 loss at Crawley and 3-1 win over Aston Villa.

Had a further seven encounters in the years before that too, including the 0-0 draw at Fratton Park in December 2015, with Town’s overall record six wins, five defeats and three draws with Ward in charge.

In charge: Kenny Jackett, 55-year-old who spent his entire playing career at Watford, winning 31 caps for Wales, until injury ended it prematurely at the age of 28.

Remained on the coaching staff at Vicarage Road, before being appointed manager in May 1997, returning to an assistant role under Graham Taylor until leaving in 2001.

Went to QPR as number two to Ian Holloway, leaving in April 2004 to become Swansea manager, departing by mutual consent in February 2007.

Appointed reserve team manager at Manchester City and then headed to Millwall in August 2007, as he led the Lions to the FA Cup semi-final in 2013, losing to winners Wigan, resigning three days after the end of the season.

Named new head coach of Wolves in May 2013, leading them back into the Championship, until his contract was terminated in July 2016.

Brief spell in charge of Rotherham, spending just 39 days and five games in charge, named Portsmouth boss in June 2017 once Paul Cook left for Wigan Athletic.

View from the opposition: Kenny Jackett talking to the Portsmouth official website: “We played them in the cup last season and suffered a narrow defeat – there were a lot of chances at both ends.

“They’re coming off the back of a very good campaign and have spent recent years in the National League and League Two – it’s too low for the size of the club.

“So they’ll be looking to continue their momentum and are definitely a side we’ll be respecting, while concentrating on our game.

“Luton is a big game and when you include the cup tie against AFC Wimbledon, three of our first four fixtures are at home, so we have a chance to establish ourselves at Fratton Park.

“Fratton Park has a special atmosphere and the fans will be looking to get behind and encourage the players.”

Played for both: Steve Claridge. Well-travelled striker joined Luton in 1992 from Cambridge for a fee of £160,000, playing 20 times and scoring six goals.

He then went back to the Abbey five months later for £195,000 before a loan move to Portsmouth in 1998.

Returned permanently later that year and went on to play over 100 times for the club.

Had a spell as player manager at Fratton Park between 2000-2001 and is now is manager at Southern League South Premier side Salisbury City.

One to watch: Brett Pitman, 30-year-old striker is natural penalty box predator, having a brilliant first season at Fratton Park scoring 24 goals in 41 games.

Started out at Bournemouth, where he netted 62 times in 197 games during six years, before a two and a half year spell at Bristol City saw him notch on a further 20 occasions.

Went back to the Cherries on loan in November 2012 and then permanently, as he bagged another 40 strikes until an undisclosed deal took him to Ipswich in June 2015.

Managed 15 goals in 70 matches for the Tractor Boys, snapped up by Pompey in July 2017 and has proved a fantastic signing.

Friendly faces: Luton’s squad and backroom staff is littered with players who have turned out for Portsmouth in their career.

Centre half Sonny Bradley moved to Fratton Park on a free from Aldershot in May 2013, playing 39 times and scoring two goals until leaving for Crawley in June 2014.

Striker Jake Jervis had a spell too, after leaving Turkish club Elazigspor in January 2014, netting four goals in 15 games, then moving to Ross County in June 104

Defender Dan Potts went to Pompey on loan from West Ham in November 2013 for a month, playing just six times.

Quite possibly the biggest connection between the sides is Andy Awford, who spent his whole playing career at Fratton Park, making over 300 appearances, before becoming academy manager and then caretaker boss, getting the top job in May 2014.

Relieved of his duties in April 2015, he becoming Hatters Youth Academy and Development manager in June 2015.

Luton assistant boss Paul Hart joined Portsmouth as Director of Youth Operations in 2007.

Became caretaker manager following the sacking of Tony Adams in February 2009 and continued until the end of the season, when he as appointed permanent manager, sacked in November though.

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

We’ve got form: Fratton Park has been a miserable hunting ground for Town over the years.

They started terribly, losing 12 in a row during their their Southern League days from 1900 to 1913, with a first win 2-1 win through Frank Rollinson and Arthur Wileman.

Luton’s recent run isn’t much cop either, winless in their last eight visits, with two draws and six defeats, while they havent scored in their last four trips, as their last win was a 2-0 triumph, coming in a Division Two clash during September 1975 thanks to Adrian Alston and Andy King goals.

Overall, Luton have headed south on 40 occasions, losing a whopping 25, with six wins and nine draws.

Last time out: Luton suffered a 1-0 defeat at Fratton Park on their last visit, that a League Two clash in January 2017.

The game was overshadowed by a serious injury to midfielder Cameron McGeehan who was stretchered off after just 20 minutes, for what turned out to be his final appearance for the club.

Christian Burgess then scored on the half hour as Luton improved in the second half, Danny Hylton hitting the bar, although Gary Roberts missed a late penalty for Pompey.

Hatters: Christian Walton, Stephen O’Donnell, James Justin, Johnny Mullins, Scott Cuthbert, Glen Rea, Jonathan Smith, Cameron McGeehan (Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu (20), Jordan Cook (Olly Lee 54), Alex Gilliead (Isaac Vassell 54), Danny Hylton.

Subs not used: Craig King, Jack Senior, Josh McQuoid, Jack Marriott.

Attendance: 17,402.

Referee: Tim Robinson.