PREVIEW: Preston North End v Luton Town

Preston boss Alex Neil is hoping his side have seen the back of their recent slump in form in order to feature in a promotion push for the Premier League this season.

Friday, 13th December 2019, 10:11 am
Updated Friday, 13th December 2019, 10:13 am
Hatters head to Deepdale this weekend
Hatters head to Deepdale this weekend

The Lilywhites had made a hugely promising start to life in the second tier this season, as despite two defeats in their first three games, at Millwall and Swasea, they weren't beaten again until October 19 at Reading, winning six out of 10, including putting five past Barnsley, to move into third spot.

They reacted well to the defeat too, drawing with Leeds and then winning three in a row, climbing up to second on goal difference.

However, a 1-0 defeat at Derby on November 23 led to a run of four straight losses, including a first home reverse of the campaign to West Bromwich Albion, as they shipped eight goals, scoring none.

That all ended with the visit of Fulham on Tuesday night though as Sean Maguire's 23rd minute goal ended the recent drought and David Nugent's first strike since returning in the summer ensured a 2-1 victory over Scott Parker's Cottagers.

Neil said afterwards: “We are sitting sixth in the league, hopefully that’s our bad spell done now and we can get a few players back and really kick on.

“Our aim this season was to try get into that top six if we can and then see what happens from there so I think we’re right on track at the moment."

Like Luton, it has been a bit all or nothing for Preston this term, with just four draws from their 21 games, although unlike Town, their wins outweigh the defeats, 10 of them, to seven losses.

There wasn't a huge amount of business done in the summer by Neil at Deepdale, as he added defender Patrick Bauer on a free from Charlton, before bringing back Nugent and also swooping for Josh Ginnelly (Walsall) and Tom Bayliss (Coventry).

Out went four, although one of them was Callum Robinson, the club's top scorer from last season, who headed to Premier League side Sheffield United.

Neil's impressive stint as manager at Preston has seen him a wanted man these days too, as Stoke had their approach to discuss the recent vacancy at the bet 365 Stadium refused by the Lilywhites' board.

Preston reported Stoke to the Football League for an alleged illegal approach, which has since been dropped, saying in a statement: “There are now no circumstances under which Stoke City would be given permission to speak to Alex Neil.”

Team news: Luton will have Luke Bolton back after sickness ruled him out of Tuesday's clash at Stoke City.

Alan Sheehan is fit too, but Martin Cranie, Dan Potts, Izzy Brown and Brendan Galloway are all out, with Danny Hylton still unlikely to feature.

Centre half Ben Davies is expected to be fit for Preston, while Tom Clarke and Darnell Fisher should be available.

Joe Rafferty is suspended after being sent off against Fulham on Tuesday, while Daniel Johnson and Paul Gallagher will be assessed, but Louis Moult is out.

Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (6). Lilywhites: Daniel Johnson (8).

Man in the middle: Gavin Ward – third Luton game of the season already, having refereed Town's 2-1 win at Blackburn and 2-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest.

Refereed 14 games so far, with 42 yellows and three reds, while took Town twice last term, dismissing Andrew Shinnie in the 3-1 defeat at Charlton and the opening day 1-0 reverse at Portsmouth.

A regular at Luton matches over the years, he had Town's 8-2 win over Yeovil, 5-0 triumph at Swindon 2-1 win at AFC Wimbledon in the Checkatrade Trophy during the 2017-18 campaign.

Had 11 games before that too, including a 3-1 win over Aston Villa in the Carling Cup.

Richard Wild and Matthew McGrath are the referee's assistants, with Anthony Backhouse the fourth official.

In charge: Alex Neil – 38-year-old who began his career north of the border with Dunfermline Athletic, joining Airdrieonians on a free in 2000, before moving to Barnsley and having a spell with Mansfield, heading back to his home country to join Hamilton Academical in May 2005.

Became Hamilton's player-manager in 2013, leading them to promotion to the Scottish Premiership in 2014, heading back to England in January 2015, appointed manager of Norwich City.

Guided the Canaries to the Premier League, although couldn't keep them up and was sacked in March 2017.

Not out of work for long though, named Preston boss four months later, taking the Lilywhites to seventh in Championship last season and already in play-off contention once more this term.

View from the opposition: Manager Alex Neil talking to the club's official website: “Their first year in this division was always going to be tough, it is for any team coming up to this level.

“They are a good team though, they will play, be expansive and we are going to have to play well.”

One to watch: Sean Maguire - Luton-both attacker caught the eye of Preston after a prolific spell in Ireland with Cork City, scoring 36 goals in 47 games, after joining them in January 2016.

Had started out at Waterford, then going to West Ham, Sligo Rovers, Accrington and Dundalk, before he heading to Cork and then on to Preston.

Started his Lilywhites career with just four goals last term, before a good opening to the current campaign led to three goals in six matches.

Endured a barren run after that, which ended on Tuesday with the first against Fulham and is an international team-mate of Luton striker James Collins with the Republic of Ireland.

Friendly faces: Town striker Jake Jervis, currently on loan at Salford City was loaned to Preston in January 2012 from Birmingham for a month.

Managed two goals in five appearances, netting on his debut in a 1-1 League One draw at Rochdale and the following 3-2 win over Wycombe.

For Preston, attacker Jayden Stockley joined Luton on loan from Bournemouth in January 2015 until the end of the season, scoring three times in his 13 games.

Had further loan spells away from the Cherries before going to Exeter in August 2017 where he really made his name with 41 goals in 76 games.

That was enough to earn a £750,000 move to Preston in January of this year, as he has netted five in 31 so far, although only one in 14 appearances this term.

Played for both: Keith Keane - came through the ranks at Luton, going on to enjoy an excellent career for the Hatters between July 2003 and July 2012, with 285 appearances, sitting 26th on the club's all-time list, scoring eight times too.

Signed by then Preston boss Graham Westley, as he went on to play 77 times for the Lilywhites, netting twice.

Had loan spells with Crawley and Stevenage, going to Cambridge in May 2015 on a free transfer.

Spent four months on loan back at Stevenage from the U's, then signing for Rochdale in August 2016, where his last professional game came in January 2018, a 1-0 FA Cup win at Doncaster, as he was forced to retire through injury.

We've got form: Quite frankly, Luton have a terrible record on their visits to Deepdale.

It had started so well too, Willy Shanks scoring the only goal to settle a Division Two contest back in January 1950.

That was the start of an eight game winless run though, losing seven and netting just twice, until Alan Slough was on target in a 1-0 success in January 1972.

However, that's it in terms of victories for the Hatters, with the 11 games since seeing Luton register just three draws, losing their last seven outings.

They've not scoring a goal themselves in four visits either, since Andrew Fotiadis notched in a 2-1 defeat in 1999, as prior to that Tyrone Mears' own goal in 5-1 Championship defeat in February 2006 was their only celebration.

Overall, Town's record makes for miserable reading, with just two wins from 21, drawing four and losing 17, as they have drawn blanks on 11 occasions, scoring 13 times and conceding 36 to a Preston side who haven't been shut out since that 1-0 win in the 1970s.

Last time out: Luton went down to a 3-0 defeat at Preston in their last visit, a Championship meeting in November 2006.

Goalless at the break, the visitors were then reduced to 10 men five minutes into the second half when keeper Marlon Beresford was dismissed.

Ex-Hatter Graham Alexander scored the penalty, while Patrick Agyemang (60) and Brett Ormerod (87) completed the win.

Hatters: Marlon Beresford, Kevin Foley, Leon Barnett, Markus Heikkinen, Richard Langley (David Bell 65), Steve Robinson, Carlos Edwards, Peter Holmes, Dean Morgan (Dean Brill 51), Adam Boyd (Ahmet Brkovic 76), Rowan Vine.

Subs not used: Russell Perrett, Warren Feeney.

Referee: C Webster.

Attendance: 13,094.