PREVIEW: Cheltenham Town v Luton Town

Cheltenham are finding it tough going back in the Football League once more after lifting the National League title last term.

Friday, 30th September 2016, 11:07 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 2:40 pm
Shaun Whalley and Jake Howells celebrate Luton's leveller at Cheltenham during Town's 1-1 draw in 2015
Shaun Whalley and Jake Howells celebrate Luton's leveller at Cheltenham during Town's 1-1 draw in 2015

The Robins succeeded where a number of teams, including Luton, have failed over the years, by bouncing back immediately from relegation into non-league.

A complete overhaul by boss Gary Johnson saw Cheltenham back into the league at the first time of asking, but they are yet to fully find their feet back at this level.

An opening day draw at Leyton Orient was no bad result, while they then knocked Championship side Charlton out of the EFL Cup, before creditable draws at both Mansfield and Carlisle United followed.

However, the first league win remained elusive, losing at home to Doncaster and then exiting the EFL Cup themselves at the hands of Newcastle United.

The Robins were up and running in League Two at the fifth time of asking, beating Crewe on August 27, but they have failed to enjoy that winning feeling since then, as defeat to Blackpool in the EFL Trophy means Cheltenham haven’t triumphed in their last six games in all competitions, with four defeats and two draws.

Ahead of the new season, manager Gary Johnson kept faith with a number of the players who helped his side romp to the Conference title, gaining over 100 points in the process, although did raid the loan market for Russell Griffiths (Everton), Rob Dickie (Reading), Koby Arthur (Birmingham) and Easah Suliman (Aston Villa).

The Robins boss also brought in Dan Holman from Colchester and Daniel O’Shaughnessy from Brentford too, but has found scoring goals the main struggle this term, as they drew another blank in midweek, held 0-0 at home by Stevenage.

Team news: Luton have Danny Hylton, Scott Cuthbert and Jordan Cook back in contention, although Johnny Mullins (hamstring) isn’t expected to be fit, while Glen Rea (knee medial ligaments) and Jack Senior (ankle) are out too, as Craig Mackail-Smith and Danny Green continue their rehabilitation.

For Cheltenham, on-loan striker Koby Arthur has damaged knee ligaments and will be out until mid-November.

Kyle Storer (back) and Dan Holman (foot) are missing too, while Danny Whitehead (flu), Jonny Smith (leg) and James Rowe could be involved.

Top scorers: Hatters - Cameron McGeehan (6). Robins - Harry Pell (3).

Milestones: Jonathan Smith remains in line for his 150th appearance in a Luton shirt if selected against Cheltenham on Saturday.

Fellow midfielder Olly Lee played his 50th game for the club during Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw against Hartlepool.

Man in the middle: Trevor Kettle, no stranger to Luton games and controversy over the years.

Officiated four games so far this season, showing 21 yellow cards and two reds too.

Took Luton twice last term, with the Hatters winning 3-2 at Oxford United in April, and losing 1-0 at home to Bristol Rovers in August.

Previously had Luton’s 3-3 draw with Bradford in League Two during January 2009, sending off Chris Martin in the 90th minute.

Took Luton’s 3-0 victory over Sunderland in the Carling Cup in August 2007, dismissing the visitors’ Greg Halford, plus a 1-0 League One win over Tranmere in December.

Infamously sent off Sol Davis in Town’s Championship 0-0 draw at Stoke City in February 2007, also showing Richard Fuller a red in the same game, while he had the 1-0 defeat at Plymouth earlier in the campaign.

Has refereed three more Hatters games too, a 3-1 win at Leyton Orient and 3-2 home defeat to Stoke during the 2005-06 campaign, plus a 3-2 win over Wrexham in November 2003, sending off now Doncaster boss Darren Ferguson.

Referee assistants are Andrew Newbold and David Plowright with the fourth official Simon Knapp.

In charge: Gary Johnson, 61-year-old who started his career at Watford and had spells in Sweden with Malmo, plus Soham Town Rangers, Cambridge United and Newmarket Town, where he was appointed manager in 1986.

Headed to Cambridge as reserve team boss in 1988 and then made assistant manager in 1990, while took charge from 1993-1995, until spells at Kettering Town and as director of Watford’s youth academy.

Moved to Latvia in 1999 to coach the country’s national team for two years, leaving the job after a 1-1 draw with San Marino, returning to England where he was named Yeovil manager in June 2001.

Won the FA Trophy and took the Glovers into the Football League, before Bristol City came knocking, as he headed to Ashton Gate in September 2005, staying until March 2010 when he left by mutual consent.

Appointed manager of Peterborough United in April 2010, but only stayed until January 2011, heading to Northampton Town in March 2011 for a short stint once more, leaving in November.

Returned to former club Yeovil in January 2012, leading the club to League One safety and won promotion to the Championship for the first time in the club’s history.

However, relegation followed as he left the club in February 2015, moving to Cheltenham a month later as despite the club being relegated to the Conference, took them up at the first attempt last season.

View from the opposition: Gary Johnson speaking to the club’s official website - “Luton are a strong, strong team at this present time, they’ve had a good start, they’ve got some very experienced players that have done a little bit and have found a consistent game.

“They’ve looked decent and it’s one that if you get a result, then you’ll have earned it.

“We’ve got to make sure we put them under as much pressure as we can and hopefully the boys can bring out a little bit of quality that we all want to clap and cheer and make their goalkeeper make lots of saves.”

Friendly faces: Cheltenham midfielder Asa Hall played 89 times for Luton after joining from Birmingham on a free transfer in July 2008, staying two seasons and netting 16 goals.

Went to Oxford and Shrewsbury, before loan spells with Aldershot and Oxford once more, until he joined Cheltenham in May 2014, and has played 46 times since, scoring three goals, including one in the 2-2 at Newport County this term.

Striker Amari Morgan-Smith joined Luton from Ilkeston Rovers back in September 2010 and impressed during his stay at Kenilworth Road, scoring 18 goals in 48 games, before struggling with a persistent injury.

Released by Paul Buckle, he had spells at Macclesfield, Kidderminster and Oldham, before signing for the Robins in July 2015 and has scored five in 35 games so far.

For Luton, midfielder Jake Gray was signed by Cheltenham on loan from Crystal Palace in January 2015 and made his Football League debut against the Hatters, going on to play four times for the Robins in total.

Played for both: Striker Paul Benson joined Cheltenham on loan from Swindon in January 2013, playing 18 games for the Robins, scoring four goals in that time.

Headed to the Hatters in August 2013 and was a huge part of the club’s promotion back to the Football League, eventually scoring 25 goals in 85 games.

Released at the end of last season and is now back at first club Dagenham & Redbridge, playing six times so far.

One to watch: Danny Wright - experienced striker who played a massive role in the Robins’ promotion last term, scoring 22 goals in 44 games.

Has netted twice this year in 10 games, as the forward has found the net over 100 times in career that includes spells with Histon, Cambridge United, Wrexham, Forest Green Rovers, Gateshead and Kidderminster.

We’ve got form: Luton are yet to win at Cheltenham in their history with three draws and one defeat from their four games.

They started with a 1-1 draw back in January 2002, when Steve Howard’s 73rd minute goal earned them a point.

Town came within nine minutes of triumphing during their April 2003 trip as Paul Hughes (12) and Adrian Forbes (38) put them 2-1 in front, only for Julian Alsop to salvage a late draw.

Andy Lindegaard’s early strike saw Hatters beaten 1-0 in League One back in December 2007, before a 1-1 draw in January 2015.

Last time out: Luton were held to a 1-1 draw by Cheltenham on their last visit to Whaddon Road, that a League Two encounter in January 2015.

Zachary Kotwica had put the Robins ahead on 20 minutes, before Shaun Whalley levelled just moments later, as neither side could find a winner in the second half.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty, Luke Wilkinson, Jonathan Smith, Andy Drury (Alex Lawless 64), Jake Howells (Mark Cullen 63), Shaun Whalley (Ricky Miller 69), Nathan Doyle, Jayden Stockley.

Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Alex Lacey, Matt Robinson, Alex Wall

Referee: Darren Handley.

Attendance: 3,611.