PREVIEW: Luton Town v Swansea City
Hatters host promotion-chasers this weekend
Swansea City have elevated themselves to becoming serious contenders for a return to the top flight following their two season absence after a terrific run of form under boss Steve Cooper this term.
Following last year's play-off semi-final defeat to Brentford, the Swans made a solid start at trying to go one better, quickly settling into the chasing pack.
A 2-0 defeat to Derby County in early December still left them handily placed in fourth, but the Swans then put the pedal to the metal, beginning a magnificent run of seven wins and two draws from nine games, claiming 29 points from a possible 33, serving notice of their intentions.
Although that sequence was finally ended with a 4-1 defeat at Huddersfield in mid February, the Terriers completing the double, City then hit back with a 1-0 win over Coventry, before another reverse at home to Bristol City their first at the Liberty Stadium since since October.
However, the Swans have bounced back from that mini blip with two wins and a 1-1 draw with Blackburn in midweek to make it seven points from nine as Cooper's side are right in the pack, sitting third, level on points with second placed Watford with a game in hand, three ahead of the much-fancied Brentford.
Boss Cooper is relishing the pressures that come with a promotion battle, as speaking to Wales Online, he said: “We’re feeling really positive, it’s obviously a great situation to be in.
“We’re in the mix of a very busy schedule, so it’s lively at the moment, but we’re trying to thrive.
“We’ve got two away games coming up now, so there’s a lot of emphasis on training and recovery, but the training ground’s really vibrant and we’re looking forward to the games.
“I’m loving our attitude at the moment and our commitment to the cause.
“It should be like that anyway and I can’t see that changing.
“We believe you get the results in the end from the work you do on the training ground.
"Nothing changes in terms of how we prepare for games, we’ll carry on doing what we do and see where it takes us.”
The transfer window saw Swansea substantially strengthen their squad with a push to the top flight in mind, as they brought in goalkeeper Ben Hamer from Huddersfield, while also splashing out almost £1m for attacker Morgan Whittaker from Derby Country, bringing in Kieron Freeman from Swindon too.
Cooper used the loan market as well, heading to America for the signings of Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola from Seattle and DC United respectively, with one of their biggest additions, Aston Villa's Irish international Conor Hourihane, although did see striker Viktor Gyokeres recalled from his loan by Brighton & Hove Albion and quite literally sent to Coventry.
Team news: Luton could well have Glen Rea back for the clash after he had a sore Achilles and missed out against Norwich last week.
Defenders Tom Lockyer and Sonny Bradley are still out with ankle and thigh injuries respectively.
For the Swans, Marc Guehi is rated 'touch and go' with a groin problem, but Ryan Bennett is back in contention after recovering from his calf injury.
Wayne Routledge is back, but Paul Arriola is out with his thigh issue, while Jordan Morris and Liam Cullen are believed to be out for the rest of the campaign.
Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (10). Swans: Andre Ayew (14).
Man in the middle: Darren Bond - has officiated 24 games this season, showing 78 yellow cards and four reds, including two in his last two games, although his dismissal of Rotherham's Michael Smith was later rescinded.
Had Luton's FA Cup match against Reading in January and was in charge of Town three times last term, the 2-1 defeat at Cardiff, 1-1 draw with Millwall and final day 3-2 triumph over Blackburn Rovers.
Has refereed the Hatters a further four times in his career, with three wins against Plymouth, Kidderminster and Wrexham, plus a defeat to Northampton.
Assistant referees are Mark Russell and Robert Hyde, with the fourth official Andy Woolmer.
In charge: Steve Cooper - 41-year-old who began his playing career with Wrexham, but never made a first team appearance.
Featured for Rhyl, Bangor City, The New Saints and Porthmadog, before studying for his coaching badges, starting work at Wrexham's academy where was named head of youth development.
In September 2008, he went to Liverpool to coach the U12s, appointed as manager of the Reds' academy in July 2011, joining England as youth coach educator in 2013.
Named England U16s manager in October 2014, taking charge of the U17s the following year, as he led the Young Lions to the final of the 2017 UEFA European U17 Championship, losing to Spain, but did get revenge by beating their opponents 5-2 to win 2017 FIFA World Cup.
Appointed head coach of Swansea City in June 2019 on a three-year contract.
Manager record: Nathan Jones has come up against Steve Cooper three times in his career, winning two and losing just one.
Meanwhile, Jones has also managed against Swansea on four occasions, recording two wins and two defeats thus far.
View from the opposition: Steve Cooper talking to Wales Online: “Nathan’s had a really good season with his team.
“We had a really tough game here (2-0 win in December), it went in our favour, but we had to work hard to play well and to win and this will be no different.
“They’re a committed group of players, we’ll be ready for that.
“We didn’t play so well against Blackburn, so we’ll want to improve on that."
One to watch: Conor Hourihane – 30-year-old midfielder started at Sunderland before heading to Ipswich, but didn't play for either, with a professional debut coming after signing for Plymouth Argyle in July 2011.
Spent three years at Home Park, playing almost 150 games for the Pilgrims, moving to Barnsley for £250,000 in June 2014.
Had three successful seasons at Oakwell, scoring 33 goals in 135 games for the Tykes as his form saw Aston Villa shell out an undisclosed fee for him in 2017.
Has played 150 times for the Villains, with 24 goals but joined Swansea on loan for the rest of the season in January with his game time limited at Villa Park.
The Irish international scored on his Championship debut in a 1-1 draw with Brentford and netted in all of his first three league games, on the scoresheet at Huddersfield as well, making it four in 10 since arriving.
Friendly faces: Luton's head of academy coaching and professional player development Adrian Forbes played 79 times for the Hatters between 2001-2004, scoring 19 goals, before moving to Swansea in June 2004.
Made over 80 appearances, scoring 12 goals for the Swans, before going into academy coaching when retiring, and returned to Kenilworth Road in June 2019.
Swansea goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson had a two month loan spell with Luton from Manchester City in March 1995, but didn't make a first team appearance.
Played for both: Luton-born winger Gary Cobb started out with his hometown, making his debut in a 1-0 Division One win at Charlton Athletic in March 1987, Mick Harford on target.
Only played 10 times for the Hatters, with a loan spell at Northampton, before moving to Swansea City on loan in for the 1989-90 campaign, featuring five times.
Headed to Fulham in August 1990 and then dropped into non-league, with spells at Chesham United, Aylesbury, St Albans, Chertsey, Bedford and Berkhamsted.
We've got form: Luton had often had the upper hand over their opponents from Wales when on home soil over the years, until recently.
Matches between the two clubs started when the Swans were known as Swansea Town, as Luton were beaten 4-0 at home in the Southern League during February 1913, gaining revenge with a 5-0 victory in the following fixture.
The Hatters enjoyed some hefty wins over their opponents, hitting six twice and five on three occasions too, before the Welsh side became Swansea City in 1969.
Town continued to enjoy the better of proceedings, with some big victories, starting with a 5-0 Division Two thrashing in September 1979.
Another 5-3 success followed in 2001, but a 3-0 win later in the year is Luton's last win at Kenilworth Road, losing the last two matches in front of their own fans.
In fact the 1-0 defeat last term, was the first time that Town had not scored against the Swans in over 90 years, their last blank in a goalless Division Three South draw way back in 1925.
Overall, the Hatters' record is 18 wins, five draws and six defeats in their 29 matches, scoring 80 and conceding just 34.
Last time out: Luton looked on their way to a valuable point in their battle to stay up last season when facing Swansea in their last game before Christmas, going close when Harry Cornick went round keeper Freddie Woodman and squared for George Moncur whose shot was blocked.
However, with eight minutes remaining, a deflected cross fell kindly Andre Ayew to score the winner from a few yards out.
Hatters: Simon Sluga, Luke Bolton, James Bree, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley, Luke Berry (Ryan Tunnicliffe 62), Andrew Shinnie, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jacob Butterfield (George Moncur 61), Harry Cornick (Callum McManaman 74), James Collins.
Subs not used: Marek Stech, Lloyd Jones, Alan Sheehan, Kazenga LuaLua.
Referee: David Webb.