PREVIEW: West Bromwich Albion v Luton Town
Hatters head to the promotion favourites this weekend
West Bromwich Albion have one aim and one aim only on their mind this term, that is promotion back to the Premier League.
After Sam Allardyce opted against taking on the challenge of trying to restore top flight football to the Hawthorns following their relegation from the top flight, the Baggies made their move in the summer to hire the man they felt could do, Barnsley boss Valerien Ismael.
The Frenchman had done superbly at Oakwell last term, earning the Tykes a play-off spot against all the odds, as his stock rose and Albion pounced.
On getting the job, he said: "This was the next step I wanted to take in my career.
"Although there's going to be a lot of hard work this season, I am excited for the big task in front of us."
There were some players moving on from the squad that came down with Kieran Gibbs going to Inter Miami, Morgan Rogers to Man City and Lee Peltier to Middlesbrough.
Aston Villa snapped up both Finn Azaz and Tim Iroegbunam, with most recently Matheus Pereira getting the move away he desired after a summer of speculation over his future, heading to Saudi Professional League club Al-Hilal for a fee of £16m.
Kyle Edwards, a player Luton were linked with, joined Ipswich, although Ismael has moved to boost his numbers, influential midfielder Alex Mowatt following him from Barnsley, while Sheffield Wednesday winger Adam Reach also joined, and centre half Matt Clarke arriving on loan from Brighton.
Trio Matt Phillips, Kyle Bartley and Darnell Furlong have all signed new contracts with the Championship club, but Ismael is resigned to losing goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, the 28-year-old likely to leave this summer.
The Baggies have already turned down a £10m bid from West Ham, as they are holding on for around £20m for the keeper who was part of England's Euro Championships squad.
Albion started the season with a 2-2 draw against fellow title favourites Bournemouth on the opening night of the season last Friday, while they were given a bye in the Carabao Cup due to their Premier League involvement.
It means that Saturday is the first time that Ismael will lead his side out at the Hawthorns for a competitive game, something he admits has given him some butterflies, telling the club's official website: “I’m really excited but also a little bit nervous for Saturday.
“I experienced supporters in the stadium with Barnsley in the play-offs last season and that was only 4,000 people.
“On Saturday, there will be over 20,000.
“It’s a new feeling for everyone, me included.
“I’m really looking forward to the moment when I get to meet the fans and present the new West Bromwich Albion team to them.
“We’ve already seen the new philosophy in action down at Bournemouth, but it’s important for our fans to see it live and to get a good feeling from the squad.
“The progress we have made over the last seven weeks has been brilliant.
“Now we’re at home and it’s important we put in a good performance and get a win.
“The crowd will push us and they will put the opponents under pressure.
“They can be a huge help to us. My expectation is that the support from the fans and the performances from the players will combine and make The Hawthorns a really unpleasant place to play for opponents.”
Team news: Luton will be without club captain Sonny Bradley as boss Nathan Jones confirmed he is still suffering with the after effects of Covid.
Summer signing Reece Burke is back in training, but the game might come too soon for him, while Dan Potts isn't expected to be back yet from his hamstring injury.
Tom Lockyer got his first minutes since February against Stevenage on Tuesday night, so could well be included in the squad.
Baggies boss Valérien Ismaël has confirmed Matt Clarke and Grady Diangana are both fit after Clarke missed last weekend’s 2-2 draw at AFC Bournemouth after picking up a slight issue on the morning of the game, while Diangana came off just after the hour mark.
Midfield duo Adam Reach and Robert Snodgrass are making progress but might not be ready in time to face the Hatters.
Top scorers - Hatters: Elijah Adebayo, Harry Cornick, Fred Onyedinma, Cameron Jerome, Admiral Muske (1). Baggies: Dara O'Shea; Callum Robinson (1).
Milestones: Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu will become only the 23rd player to make 300 appearances for the club if he features on Saturday and the first since Jake Howells to reach the milestone.
Joined on loan from West Ham back in December 2013, making the move permanent a month later and has won three promotions from the Conference to the Championship in that time, scoring 19 goals as well.
Man in the middle: Tim Robinson - One game so far this term, showing seven yellows as Birmingham won 1-0 at Sheffield United in the Championship last weekend.
Had Luton three times last season, the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United in the Carabao Cup, a 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest, sending off the visitors Nikolas Ioannou in the first half and then the 2-0 home defeat to Cardiff.
In total, he officiated 40 games, showing 123 yellows and five reds.
Prior to that, had Luton back in January 2019, the 1-0 FA Cup third round home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.
The season before, he took Town's 3-2 home defeat to Wycombe in League Two, while has also had Luton's 1-0 defeat to Portsmouth in January 2017, the 1-1 draw with Leyton Orient in October 2015 and 1-1 draw with Bury in August 2014.
Has had the whistle for one victory, that a 1-0 success at Newport County in the Conference back in November 2011, Danny Crow getting a 90th minute winner.
Shaun Hudson and Adrian Waters are the referee's assistants with the fourth official Tom Nield.
In charge: Valérien Ismaël – 45-year-old started his career at Racing Strasbourg, before heading to Crystal Palace for a then record fee of £2.75m in 1998.
Only played 13 times for the Eagles, as he went to Frenchy side RC Lens, loaned to Strasbourg where he won the Coupe de France, and ultimately headed there permanently.
Loaned to Werder Bremen and then moved to Bayern Munich and Hannover 96, ending his playing days winning the Coupe de la Ligue twice, Bundesliga twice, as well as the DFB-Pokal on two occasions.
In October 2009, Ismael became assistant general manager of Hannover 96, leaving in June 2013 and was swiftly appointed VfL Wolfsburg II manager, staying just under 12 months.
Named head coach of 1. FC Nürnberg in June 2014, but was sacked just five months later, returning to VfL Wolfsburg II in June 2015, winning the Regionalliga Nord.
Once VfL Wolfsburg first-team head coach Dieter Hecking was sacked in October 2016, Ismaël took charge, but was dismissed himself in February 2017, heading to Super League Greece club Apollon Smyrnis over a year later.
Out of work quickly again though, staying just under three months, as he was the head coach and sporting director of Austrian team LASK, leaving in July 2020.
Moved to England in October 2020, becoming the new Barnsley boss, leading the Tykes to the play-offs, as he was then named West Bromwich Albion manager on a four year contract in June of this year.
View from the opposition: Valerien Ismael talking to the Baggies official website - "Luton will be tough opponents.
“They have a great manager and he’s done a very good job there.
“They try to be flexible in the way they play and they can change their shape throughout the game.
“We’re at home and our expectation is to start the game in a strong way. We really want to win.
“We want to win with the fans there to see it in our first game at home.
"We want them with us in our journey and a win would be the best reward and a great start.”
Managerial records: The managers have come up against each other just once before, that when Barnsley won 2-1 at Luton last season.
For Ismael that was his only ever meeting against the Hatters, while Jones has taken on Barnsley five times during his two spells as Luton boss.
He has won just the once, James Collins scoring in a 1-0 victory on the opening game of the Championship campaign last term, with two draws and two defeats.
Friendly faces: Town defender Amari'i Bell was in the youth system at West Bromwich Albion before moving on to Solihull Moors and then joined Birmingham City's academy in 2011.
Soon signed a one-year professional contract, having loan spells with Nuneaton Town, Kidderminster Harriers, Mansfield Town, Swindon Town and Gillingham, moving to Fleetwood Town in 2015.
Joined Blackburn Rovers in 2018 and spent three years at Ewood Park until he moved to Kenilworth Road in the summer, making his debut last weekend.
Baggies keeper David Button joined Luton on a one-month loan deal from Spurs in March 2009 and was on the bench for the Hatters' 3-2 Johnstone's Paint Trophy final victory over Scunthorpe United at Wembley, his last involvement for Town before returning to Tottenham.
Left Spurs permanently in August 2012 for Charlton, heading to Brentford in July 2013 where he stayed for three years, making just under 150 appearances and then signing for Fulham in the summer of 2016 for £2m.
Played 61 games for the Cottagers, as Brighton snapped him up for £4m in November 2018 but only played 11 times while with the Seagulls, joining West Brom in September 2020 for an undisclosed fee.
Has only played five times so far, although did start the 2-2 draw against Bournemouth on the opening evening.
Played for both: Tony Grealish - Irish international midfielder who was with Leyton Orient as a youngster, joining Luton in 1979, as he went on to play 86 matches and score two goals during his time at Kenilworth Road.
Went to Brighton in 1981, playing over 100 times for the Seagulls as from the Goldstone Ground, he joined West Bromwich Albion in 1984, featuring over 50 times for the Baggies.
Also played for Manchester City, Rotherham, Walsall and then Bromsgrove Rangers, sadly dying from cancer in April 2013 aged just 56.
One to watch: Callum Robinson - striker who began his career at Aston Villa, playing five times for the club before a loan spell at Preston and then Bristol City.
Went back to Preston in January 2016, making the move permanent in the summer, as he went on to score 33 goals in 132 outings.
That alerted Sheffield United as he went to the Blades for an undisclosed fee in July 2019, but only scored twice in 19 appearances at Bramall Lane.
Loaned to West Bromwich Albion in January 2020, scoring three times in 16 outings as he made the move in a swap deal with Oliver Burke in September.
Capped by the Republic of Ireland, he has scored 10 goals in 46 appearances for Albion and was off the mark for the season at Bournemouth last Friday night.
We've got form: Town have a desperately miserable record at the Hawthorns over the years after their first trip, an FA Cup tie in January 1925, ended in a 4-0 reverse.
They also lost their first league game, a Division Two contest, 3-0 in 1938, before Dally Duncan and Hugh Billington scored to secure a 2-1 win in December 1946.
However from there it was another 12 games and almost 50 years before they won again, losing 11 of those visits, failing to score in eight of them.
March North and Mick Harford netted to finally ended that poor run with a 2-1 Division One Boxing Day victory in 1985, while David Preece scored in a 1-1 draw in January 1994.
Town lost the next clash, but did triumph once more, 2-0 in April 1996, Bontcho Guentchev and Kim Grant on target, as the last four visits have all ended in defeats.
Overall, Town's record is just three wins, two draws and 18 defeats from their 23 matches, with 16 goals scored and 51 conceded, only keeping one clean sheet.
Last time out: Luton went down to a 2-0 defeat on their last visit to the Hawthorns, a Championship clash in February 2020.
Donervon Daniels put through his own goal on 14 minutes to gift the Baggies the lead, before James Collins saw his equaliser disallowed for offside.
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu saw a great chance deflected narrowly over as Semi Ajayi's 70th minute close range header sealed the victory.
Hatters: Simon Sluga, James Bree, Dan Potts, Matty Pearson, Donervon Daniels (Cameron Carter-Vickers 73), Glen Rea, Ryan Tunnicliffe (Izzy Brown 61), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Kazenga LuaLua (Callum McManaman 73), Harry Cornick, James Collins.
Subs not used: James Shea, Luke Berry, Andrew Shinnie, George Moncur
Referee: Stephen Martin.