PREVIEW: Colchester United v Luton Town
Colchester managed to put a horrendous run of form well and truly behind them to emerge as serious candidates and land a play-off place in League Two this season.
The U’s only managed one victory during a 12-game spell from September 3 to November 19, before, as a number o teams in the division seem to have managed, setting off on a magnificent run of form.
Cheltenham were hammered 3-0 at Whaddon Road to begin the spell as the U’s put a nine game unbeaten sequence together, including five straight wins, one of those coming at Kenilworth Road on Boxing Day.
It was ended at the hands of Exeter, and although Colchester have gone off the boil slightly, three wins and three defeats from seven, they are handily placed, sitting 11th, just four points off the top seven.
Home form has been a huge part of United’s success this term, with 11 wins recorded in front of their own fans, second only to leaders Doncaster Rovers.
Boss John McGreal has now urged his side to make the most of that record to ensure they are involved in the play-offs come May, telling the East Anglian Times: “I know it’s a cliché, but we have been trying to make our home ground a fortress.
“It took a little bit of time to get a few wins, but now they are coming regularly, which is nice, because our away form has not been so good.
“Our home form has kept us in the play-off hunt, and this weekend should be a great game.
“Luton will be looking for the win, to consolidate their place in the play-offs, while pushing for the top three, and we need the points to bounce back.”
Team news: Luton are without defenders Johnny Mullins (leg) and Jack Senior (foot), while Dan Potts (head) remains a doubt, with Danny Green and Cameron McGeehan still missing.
Danny Hylton is fit though after going off against Newport at half time on Tuesday night.
Colchester are besieged by injury problems, with Luke Prosser (knee), Craig Slater (hernia), Frankie Kent (ankle), Doug Loft (Achilles) Denny Johnstone (knee) and top scorer Kurtis Guthrie (ankle) all expected to be out for the season.
They are now also joined by Sammie Szmodics, who broke his leg against Crewe, while Tom Eastman (ankle) is another missing too.
Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton (24). U’s: Kurtis Guthrie (12).
Man in the middle: Gavin Ward - Already the fourth game that the official will take involving Luton this season, as he had the reverse fixture at Kenilworth Road, with Colchester winning 1-0.
Took the 2-0 defeat for Luton at Crawley and the 3-1 Carling Cup win over Aston Villa back in August, as he has refereed 34 matches thus far, showing 119 yellows and five reds.
Last year, Ward officiated Luton twice, a 2-1 loss at Crawley and 0-0 draw with Portsmouth, while prior to that, had Town’s 3-0 win over Mansfield in November 2014, the 2-0 FA Cup victory at Nuneaton in November 2012, plus in the same competition, a 1-0 defeat at Southampton in January 2010.
Also refereed Luton’s 3-3 draw with Bournemouth in League Two in December 2008 and the 0-0 draw with Carlisle in League One during November 2007.
The assistant referees are Geoffrey Russell and Carl Fitch-Jackson, with fourth official Daniel Robathan
In charge: John McGreal - 44-year-old, who began his playing career at Tranmere, making over 200 appearances in nine years and then had spells with Ipswich and Burney until retiring in 2007.
Joined Colchester in 2009 as professional development coach, while was promoted to U18 boss and then U21s manager in 2014
Named as interim manager alongside Richard Hall following Tony Humes’ dismissal in November 2015, before becoming asisstant to Wayne Brown and following Kevin Keen’s appointment as permanent boss, reverted to his former role as U21 coach.
After Keen departed in April 2016, McGreal was appointed his successor on May 4, becoming the first U’s boss since Paul Lamber in January 2009 to win the manager of the month award when he picked up the December 2016 honour.
View from the opposition: Goalkeeper Dean Brill speaking to the Colchester Gazette: “It’s a big game for us against Luton on Saturday but they’re all big games at this stage of the season.
“I’ve never come up against Luton before and so far, I’ve never played against any of my former clubs, during my career.
“It’s changed a bit but I’m still a Luton fan and always will be.
“From a professional point of view, I want to help Colchester win this weekend and help us try and get into the play-offs.
Friendly faces: Former Luton keeper Dean Brill signed for Colchester United back in January following his release from Scottish Premier League side Motherwell.
The 31-year-old who came through the ranks at Kenilworth Road, playing 109 times in two spells, has yet to make a first team appearance.
Defender Lewis Kinsella is at Colchester too with the full back playing three games for Luton on loan from Aston Villa in the 2015-16 campaign.
The 22-year-old also featured for Town in a friendly at Bedford in pre-season on leaving Villa, however was snapped up by the U’s and made 14 appearances until injury struck in October.
Luton striker Jack Marriott spent two months on loan at Colchester in the 2015-16 season when an Ipswich player, as he made five substitute appearances, scoring once in the 3-2 home defeat against Crewe.
Dan Potts also had two months with the U’s on loan from West Ham, as he made five starts in the 2012-13 season.
Played for both: Aaron Skelton - joined Luton as an apprentice in 1992 and played just a handful of games in his five years at the club.
Went to Colchester in 1997, featuring over 100 times for the U’s before a second spell at Kenilworth Road in 2001-2003 where he became captain, before leaving once more after a total of 32 games and two goals.
Headed to Havant where he was forced to quit through injury, although did make a playing return with Poole Town, where he figured in over 150 matches for them.
One to watch: Winger Ben Dickenson has enjoyed an excellent first season with Colchester, scoring 10 goals in 30 league games so far.
The 24-year-old started out at Brighton, but never made a first team appearance for the Seagulls and headed to Chesterfield, AFC Wimbledon and Northampton on loan, before a permanent move to Gillingham in June 2014.
Left the Gills in the summer and was snapped up by Colchester, with his form this season alerting the likes of Ipswich Town, who made a reported bid for his services in January.
We’ve got form: Luton will make their first trip to the Weston Homes Community stadium on Saturday, after the U’s moved into their new surroundings back in 2008.
At Layer Road, Town’s record was won three, drawn five and lost four from their 12 visits, scoring 15 goals and conceding 17.
Their best victory was as superb 5-0 triumph in Division Two back in 2003 with Steve Howard scored a hat-trick, with Carl Griffiths and Kevin Nicholls (penalty) all on target.
Last time out: Luton fell to a 4-1 defeat on their last visit to Colchester with the Championship clash on Boxing Day 2006.
The visitors were 2-0 behind at the break as Kevin McLeod (23) and Chris Iwelumo (65) netted, while Richard Garcia added a third on the hour and Iwelumo had his second on 65 minutes.
Town did grab a consolation when Rowan Vine scored from the spot with five to go.
Hatters: Dean Kiely, Lewis Emanuel (sol Davis 67), Leon Barnett, Chris Coyne, M Heikkinen, David Bell, Ahmed Brkovic, Carlos Edwards (Warren Feeney 66), Rowan Vine, Dean Morgan.
Subs not used: M Beresford, Peter Holmes, Richard Langley.
Referee: P Crossley.