PREVIEW: Luton Town v Gillingham
Gilllingham continue to flirt with relegation as their hit and miss season carried on this week.
Two home games against sides at the wrong end of the table represented a great chance for Steve Lovell’s side to put some real daylight between themselves and the bottom four.
They started well enough, beating Oxford 1-0, but that was followed by a disappointing 1-0 defeat against Bristol Rovers, meaning they sit 17th in the table, just three points above the drop zone with nine games to go.
Capable of beating anyone on their day as they proved by doing the double over Portsmouth, without conceding, they can also turn in performances as they did during a 3-0 reverse to Walsall at Priestfeld.
On the road, the Gills have done well recently, beating Wycombe 1-0 and then drawing 1-1 at Fleetwood.
That has made it just one defeat in five away from Kent, as their only loss came at Sunderland, with Gills also winning at Burton and drawing with Coventry.
Lovell remains confident his side have what it takes to remain in League One though, saying after Tuesday night’s defeat: “There’s nine games to go and they are all massive games.
“There are a lot of teams in the mix, had we won tonight we would have gone 12th.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in the boys, just because we lost the game 1-0 I’m not going to get carried away and worry about it, because coming in to this game I was quite happy with everything that was going on, and I still am.”
Team news: Luton have a doubt over midfielder Alan McCormack after he picked up a hamstring injury at Bradford, while Glen Rea remains out.
For Gills, manager Steve Lovell confirmed that ex-Luton defender Alex Lacey, plus midfielders Ricky Holmes, Billy Bingham and centre half Gabriel Zakuani are all missing.
Top scorers: Hatters – James Collins (20). Gills – Tom Eaves (18).
Man in the middle: Andy Haines - Taken 31 games so far this season, showing 98 yellows in that time and four reds.
First trip to Kenilworth Road since August 2017 when he refereed Luton’s 2-0 home defeat to Ipswich in the Carabao Cup.
Prior to that, had Town’s 2-1 defeat at Stevenage in the 2016-17 season, plus a 3-1 home win over Doncaster, sending off Danny Hylton for his second booking, after the striker threw a litter picker that was at the side of the pitch.
Refereed two more Luton games, a 2-2 draw at Grimsby Town in League One during October 2008, plus the 1-1 draw at Oldham the season before, Jaroslaw Fojut on target
Assistant referees are Mark Scholes and Paul Lister, with the fourth official Rob Smith.
In charge: Steve Lovell – started his career with Crystal Palace in 1977, playing 74 times for the Eagles, before spells with Stockport County and Millwall.
Sold to Gillingham for £20,000 in 1986 and netted over 100 goals in 200 games.
Dropped into non-league in the 1990s, and was appointed player manager at Sittingbourne in February 1995.
Left in September 1996, while spent a year in charge of Gravesend & Northfleet, hanging up his boots in 2001.
Had a spell as football in the community officer for Gillingham, returning to management with Hastings United in 2003 and Sittingbourne again in 2005.
Left to take over at Ashford Town, staying until the club’s demise in August 2010, heading back to Priestfield in December 2014, named co-caretaker manager of Gillingham alongside Andy Hessenthaler, Darren Hare and Mark Patterson following the sacking of Peter Taylor.
Remained at the club as first team coach when Justin Edinburgh took sole charge, leaving in May 2016 to become assistant boss at Bromley.
Was back at Gills as a coach in January 2017 under Adrian Pennock, taking over as caretaker boss once he was sacked, named permanent manager in November.
View from the opposition: Steve Lovell talking to the Kent Messenger: “Luton have played the same way all year. They are in a great position but we are looking forward to it; there is no reason why we can’t get something.
“Two of the goals they scored here (3-1 Town win at Priestfield) were down to us. We will always create something but we need to be more clinical.
“I’ll still go and play the same way because I have got the players who want to play that way and can play that way.
“We have had great results going away from home.
“Just because we are playing Luton, it won’t change the way I play.
“If you go there and park the bus and they score early on, it changes your plan, so what’s the point? I trust my players.
“They play the diamond (formation) and so do we. I won’t change. I will still play to take the game to Luton and have a go.”
Friendly faces: Town attacker Harry Cornick had a brief loan spell at Gillingham from Bournemouth in the 2016-17 campaign, making six appearances.
Gills’ centre half Alex Lacey came through the ranks at Luton playing 51 times and scoring one goal.
Released in July 2015 and headed to Yeovil where he played 72 games, scoring four goals before heading to Priestfield in May 2017.
Has featured just 33 times, scoring two goals, playing 20 times this season, his last action back in January.
Played for both: Trevor Aylott – striker started his career with Chelsea, having spells with Barnsley and Millwall before moving to Luton in 1983.
Stayed for a year at Kenilworth Road, playing 35 times and scoring 11 goals.
Then headed to Crystal Palace, Barnsley, Bournemouth, Birmingham and Oxford, joining Gillingham in 1992, netting two in 10, before finishing his career with Wycombe and then Bromley.
After retiring from football in the mid-1990s, Aylott worked as a taxi driver in London.
One to watch: Tom Eaves. 26-year-old striker who started at Oldham and had spells with Bolton, Bristol Rovers, Shrewsbury, Yeovil and Bury, heading back to Yeovil permanently in July 2016.
Stayed for two seasons, released in the summer of June 2017, heading to Gillingham on a free transfer where his career has flourished.
Scored 18 goals last term, and is already up to that tally this year. Bagged 15 goals by mid-December, although has gone off the boil slightly recently, netting just three in his last 14 appearances.
We’ve got form: Gillingham have been the real whipping boys during trips to Kenilworth Road.
Town started with a 3-0 win in the United League back in 1905 and then triumphed in their first seven matches, scoring 25 times, including a 7-0 victory in 1921.
Gills recovered to draw twice during 1924, but Luton continued on their merry ways, making it 19 games without defeat, 16 wins, including a 5-3 success in December 1925, 6-1 in 1927 and then 8-0 in 1929, Andy Rennie hitting five.
The visitors finally escaped with three points after 30 years of trying with a 2-1 win in 1936, but Luton hit back the following season, winning 5-2, Joe Payne bagging four.
In fact, the hosts are currently on a seven game unbeaten run, with Gills’ last win coming some 50 years ago in December 1969, when they won a Division Three clash 2-1.
In total Luton have won 23 from their 33 encounters, while there have been seven draws and just three losses, Town scoring 87 goals, with just thee blanks, conceding 31.
Last time out: Luton’s last home clash against Gillingham was a League Two match in March 2009, which ended in a goalless draw.
Hatters: Dean Brill, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Mark Bower, Sol Davis, Keith Keane, Asa Hall, Ian Henderson (Jake Howells 71), Kevin Gallen, Chris Martin, Sam Parkin, Tom Craddock.
Subs not used: Lewis Price, Claude Gnakpa, Michael Spillane, Ryan Charles.