PREVIEW: Blackpool v Luton Town
Blackpool's start to the season couldn't really have gone any worse as after an opening day goalless draw at Wycombe Wanderers, manager Gary Bowyer dramatically announced his relegation from the club.
The former Blackburn chief had led the Seasiders to promotion from League Two in 2016-17 and achieved a top-half finish, but was clearly frustrated with the off-field problems that have tormented the club in recent years.
Assistant Terry McPhillips was named caretaker manager, his reign starting with a 2-1 home defeat to Portsmouth.
Although many fans might have quite rightly looked at the campaign with a real sense of trepidation, the club have simply flourished on the field since.
Since the Pompey reverse, they are yet to experience that losing feeling again, as first they saw off Barnsley in the Carabao Cup, before a solid 0-0 at Shrewsbury and then were up and running in the league by beating Coventry 2-0 at home.
A 1-1 draw at Accrington followed, before an excellent 2-1 triumph at Doncaster in the cup has set up a third round home tie with QPR next week.
The league form remained impressive too, drawing at Walsall, beating Bradford and then Plymouth in their last two outings to lift the Tangerines up to ninth in the table, just two points off the early play-off places.
The character amongst the squad can’t be questioned either as recently against Bradford, they trailed 2-0 with just six minutes to go, somehow fighting back to not only level, but go on and win 3-2.
On the start, McPhillips told the club’s official website: “I think all the games we’ve played, even the Portsmouth game that we lost, we’ve given everyone a game.
“We’re hard to get past that’s for sure, the goalie’s done brilliantly, but it’s the whole squad.
“We’ve changed the team quite a bit and all the lads that have come in have done great. It’s a good place to be, there’s a good buzz about it, the spirit is high and it does make it exciting.”
Prior to Bowyer leaving, a fair few players had departed too, Clark Robertson and Kyle Vassell going to Rotheram, while Caleb Richards, Colin Daniel, Jim McAlister, Kelvin Mellor and Will Aimson, to name a few.
There had been incomings as well, John O’Sullivan, Mark Howard, Marc Bola and Chris Taylor four of the new faces, with McPhillips since adding Liam Feeney from Blackburn and Derby’s Callum Guy on loan.
Off field issues still continue to dog Blackpool though with supporters recently staging a protest outside offices of the Football League in Preston, claiming its inaction in failing to push through changes in ownership.
A High Court ruling in November 2017 ordered owners the Oyston family to buy out the shares owned by VB Football Assets, former director Valeri Belokon’s company, for £31.27m, as in a statement released before their protest in Preston, the Blackpool Supporters Trust said the EFL has refused to take “meaningful action” since that ruling.
Team news: Luton will be without Eunan O’Kane, the midfielder returning to Leeds United for treatment on his double fracture suffered against Bristol Rovers last week.
Luke Berry is out for four to eight weeks after a minor operation on his knee, while Marek Stech won’t play due to his hernia and striker Danny Hylton remains a doubt as well.
Blackpool’s Marc Bola has won an appeal against a three-match suspension following his red card at Plymouth on Saturday, however Donervon Daniels starts a three game ban.
Skipper Jimmy Ryan is set for a prolonged spell on the sidelines as he requires a knee operation.
Top scorers: Hatters: Elliot Lee (3). Tangerines: Mark Cullen (3).
Man in the middle: Seb Stockbridge. Has taken seven games so far this season, five in League Two, showing 20 yellows and one red.
Officiated three Luton games last term, the 1-1 draw at Carlisle which saw Hatters promoted to League One, while also had the 1-0 FA Cup win over Portsmouth, sending off Nathan Thompson and 3-0 triumph against Colchester.
Prior to that, has refereed Luton five other times, a 1-1 draw at Hartlepool dismissing the hosts’ Nicky Featherstone, plus 1-0 win at Wycombe and 2-2 draw at Accrington.
Also had two Conference matches between Luton and Grimsby, a 1-1 home draw in April 2013 and 1-0 win at Blundell Park for the visitors in October 2011, Tommy Wright on target.
In charge: Terry McPhillips, 49-year-old, who started life at Liverpool, with spells at Halifax Town, Northampton Town, Crewe Alexandra and Nantwich Town.
Became academy director at Crewe Alexandra in 1992, spending 14 years at the club before joining the academy staff of Blackburn Rovers in 2006.
Managed the Rovers youth team that reached the 2012 FA Youth Cup Final, appointed caretaker assistant to Gary Bowyer in January 2012, a position he also held between June 2013 to 2015.
In 2016, followed Bowyer to Blackpool as chief scout and number two, taking over temporarily in August when Bowyer left, given the position permanently earlier this month.
View from the opposition: Terry McPhillips talking to the Blackpool official website: “They’re (Luton) a good side, they pass the ball, we don’t expect them to change on that, they’re not going to all of a sudden start booming it.
“So we’re going to have to be right up for it like we have been all the games and try and stop them, impose ourselves on them.
“Everyone who’s come to Bloomfield is having a hard game and I’m sure they’re watching us thinking ‘we might have to do a bit about that,’ so there’ll be some problems to solve I’m sure.
“But if the lads can keep up the same commitment and effort, I’m sure with the football we play, we’ll give anyone a game.”
Friendly faces: Former Luton boss Gary Brabin was appointed as assistant manager at Bloomfield Road this week.
The 47-year-old moved to Kenilworth Road as chief scout in October 2009, named number two to Richard Money in May 2010.
Became permanent manager in March 2011 when Money left the club, leading Town to the Conference play-off final, losing on penalties to AFC Wimbledon.
Was sacked in March 2012 and had spells in charge of Southport and Tranmere Rovers, plus coaching with the Everton U21s and most recently being coach at League Two Port Vale, until rejoining the Seasiders, a club where he made more than 70 appearances with as a player.
Striker Mark Cullen moved to Blackpool from Luton in July 2015, as the Seasiders forked out £180,000 for his services.
Made 83 appearances for the Hatters, scoring 24 goals, his most important strike, the last-minute equaliser at Cambridge United during Town’s Conference-winning season.
Injury ruined his 2017-18 campaign, but was up and running immediately this term, scoring three goals already, making it 25 strikes in 99 games for the club.
Town striker Elliot Lee had a brief loan spell at Blackpool from West Ham in November 2015, playing four times.
Defender Lloyd Jones had two loan spells at Bloomfield Road while with Liverpool, making nine appearances between July 2015 and October 2015, with a further two during March 2016 and April 2016
Played for both: Julian Watts – defender went to Blackpool in the 1998-99 season on loan from Bristol City, playing nine times.
Joined Luton on loan the following campaign, swiftly making the move permanent and went on to feature 87 times for the Hatters, scoring eight goals, before moving to Australian club Northern Spirit in 2001.
Has since been assistant manager of Maltby Main and managed both Hallam, plus Rainworth Miners Welfare, but is now head of development at Player Trader.
One to watch: Jay Spearing. 29-year-old midfielder, who came through the ranks with Liverpool, making over 50 appearances at the Premier League giants, until signing for Bolton Wanderers in August 2013.
Spent four years with the Trotters and after a loan spell at Blackburn, headed to Blackpool in October 2017.
Force to be reckoned with in the centre of midfield and opened his account this season, scoring twice in the 3-2 win over Bradford recently.
We’ve got form: Luton have enjoyed their recent trips to Bloomfield Road in the main, as they had won three in a row up until the play-off defeat in May 2017.
The league game had seen Luton triumph 2-0 through Jack Marriott and Cameron McGeehan, while before that, Steve Howard and Ahmet Brkovic (2) sealed a 3-1 win in League One during April 2004 and Steve Robinson netted the only goal in a 1-0 Division Two win in December 2003.
However, it hasn’t always been such a happy hunting ground since games began in 1898 with a 1-0 reverse, as Town have seven wins to their name from 27 trips in total, drawing seven and losing 13, scoring 32 goals and conceding 45.
Hatters did go 32 years without victory at one stage, from 1971 to 2003 a run spanning 10 games, until Robinson’s strike.
Last time out: Luton were beaten 3-2 in their last trip to Bloomfield Road, the League Two play-off semi-final first leg encounter in May 2017.
Former striker Mark Cullen put the hosts ahead early on, before Luton hit back to lead 2-1 through Dan Potts and Isaac Vassell.
However, Cullen bent a wonderful shot into the top scorner moments after the break and then converted a penalty on 67 minutes to ensure the Tangerines triumphed.
Hatters: Stuart Moore, James Justin, Dan Potts, Scott Cuthbert, Alan Sheehan, Glen Rea, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Olly Lee, Lawson D’Ath (Ollie Palmer 86), Danny Hylton, Isaac Vassell (Jack Marriott 74).
Subs not used: Craig King, Stephen O’Donnell, Jonathan Smith, Jake Gray, Luke Gambin.
Referee: Nigel Miller.