PREVIEW: Grimsby Town v Luton Town
It's not been a good year for Grimsby Town so far, not in the slightest.
In fact, Mariners fans haven’t really been able to enjoy themselves for quite a while now, having gone eight games without a win, with three draws in that time, taking a mere three points from 24.
A disappointing campaign had appeared to be on the turn in November with three straight wins over Swindon, Grimsby and then Forest Green.
Grimsby then picked up a decent point at Notts County in a 0-0 draw, until losing 2-0 at Kenilworth Road on December 23.
Another encouraging draw against Mansfield followed, before a run of our straight defeats, losing to Accrington, Crewe and then frustratingly at home to both Morecambe and Newport County stopped any momentum in its tracks.
The Mariners picked up a 1-1 draw at Colchester last week to end that sequence, but any play-off bid this term needs a marked upturn in form during the closing stages, as they now sit 16th, 12 points away from seventh spot, but just nine points separating themselves from the bottom two.
However, boss Russell Slade still thinks making that end of season lottery is a possibility, saying: “This game can change so quickly.
“For an example, Stevenage were in a similar position to what we are now.
“I think they put a run together of four or five games unbeaten, and they got themselves on the verge of the play-offs.
“It’s doable, that league is so tight, if you can get some consistency and some back-to-back wins together, anything can happen.”
With the transfer window open, there were thoughts of a bit of much-needed mid-season surgery to the squad at Blundell Park, after a club statement to the Grimsby Telegraph a week into the new year.
It stated: “The board met and voted unequivocally to support the existing management team financially in the current January transfer window and throughout the summer to continue their rebuilding exercise of the playing squad.
“Russell and Paul have also set out a clear vision to the board to continue rebuilding the squad towards a tighter-knit, leaner but higher calibre playing squad. We want to reduce it in size but increase the quality over the next six months.”
Although Mariners moved swiftly to bring in Derby County attacker Charles Vernam, who scored his first goal in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Colchester and Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Jake Kean, that has been it for their January business so far.
The Mariners have been linked with a move for Leeds United striker Mallik Wilks too, while there have been exits too, Jamey Osborne heading back to Solihull Moors, with Tom Bolarinwa returning to Sutton United.
Team news: Luton will have defender Alan Sheehan available after he completed his three match suspension, but Danny Hylton remains a major doubt after a hamstring injury picked up last weekend.
Luke Gambin could be missing after suffering a setback in training, with Scott Cuthbert and Alan McCormack still out too.
Grimsby could be without top scorer Sam Jones due to a bug, while Siriki Dembele looks set to return from his back injury, while striker Jamille Matt is 50/50 following his back injury.
Top scorers: Hatters - Danny Hylton (17). Mariners – Sam Jones (6).
Man in the middle: Michael Salisbury - taken 26 games this season, at League One and league Two level, showing 56 yellows and two reds.
Had Luton’s 0-0 draw at Notts County last season, awarding the hosts a last minute penalty which was saved by Christian Walton.
Assistant referees are Oliver Bickle and David Benton, with the fourth official Paul Thompson
In charge: Russell Slade – 57-year-old who started out as a PE teacher, before being named assistant manager at Notts County, taking charge for a brief period in 1994.
Appointed boss of Midland Alliance side Armitage, and had two separate spells as caretaker manager of Sheffield United as his first permanent position came with Scarborough in November 2001.
Named Grimsby boss at the end of the 2003–04 season, heading to Yeovil Town, with stints in charge of Brighton & Hove Albion, Leyton Orient, Cardiff City, Charlton Athletic and Coventry City.
Sacked by the Sky Blues in March 2017, with just three wins from 16 games, and was back at Blundell Pak a month later, after Marcus Bignot’s tenure was ended.
View from the opposition: Russell Slade talking to the club’s official website: “They’re (Luton) very good, I thought they were a cut above (in the December clash). Certainly early on in the game, they were excellent.
“They’re a certainty, in my mind, to get promotion. They’ve set the standard all season, they’ve got some very good players – they all know what they’re doing, and they’ll be a threat.
“They’re a good side, but they’re not going to win every single game – nobody is – so they’re going to get their moments where things probably don’t go to plan.
“They’re not inflammable, they have lost football matches so it does give encouragement that they can be beaten.
“It is about us, and how we apply ourselves. We think we’ve done that well in recent weeks when results have gone against us.”
Friendly faces: Ben Killip, young keeper was on trial with Luton last season, before heading to Grimsby in the summer and has played three times since, all his appearances coming in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Played for both: Lee Nogan – well travelled striker who began his career at Oxford United and was transferred to Watford (£350,000) and Reading (£250,000), while having loan spells at Southend, Brentford and Notts County too.
Joined Grimsby for a fee of £170,000 in August 1997 and helped the club to win the League Trophy in 1998, plus promotion from the Second Divsion via the play-offs, during his two years with the Mariners.
Moved to Luton in November 2000, where he featured 11 times, scoring twice, heading to York City in February 2001 where he finished his career.
Since hanging up his boots, has managed Whitby Town and then joined FC Halifax Town as an assistant to Neil Aspin, following the manager to Gateshead in November 2015, and Port Vale in October 2017.
One to watch: Charles Vernam. Young striker who joined the Mariners from Derby County until the end of the season earlier this month, scoring his first professional goal in the 1-1 draw at Colchester last weekend.
Not his first time away from Pride Park, as the 21-year-old had a spell at Coventry last term, playing four times.
We’ve got form: Blundell Park has never been the happiest of venues for Town’s away followers, despite a record of seven wins, eight draws and 12 defeats in their 27 previous visits.
There have been some real thumpings in that time for the Hatters, losing 5-0 in 1899, 6-1 in 1949, 5-0 again in February 1995 and then the worst of the lot, a 7-1 FA Cup defeat in January 1996 as Luton have scored 27 goals, but shipped 55 at the other end.
A run of over 30 years without a win was ended by Rory Allen’s single goal in a 1-0 triumph in 1998, while their recent form is not too bad either, two wins and draw from their last five visits, with a memorable 2-1 triumph in the Conference title-winning season in 2013-14, courtesy of goals from Paul Benson and Matt Robinson.
Last time out: Luton were held to a 1-1 draw at Grimsby Town on their most recent trip in February last season.
The hosts were ahead on 56 minutes through Chris Clements, before Isaac Vassell levelled with 13 to go.
Hatters then had a glorious chance to win it, when Jack Marriott’s cross was handled in the area, but Danny Hylton’s penalty was saved by James McKeown and his follow up ruled out for a push.
Hatters: Stuart Moore, James Justin, Jack Senior, Scott Cuthbert, Glen Rea, Jakes Gray (Alan Sheehan 57), Jordan Cook, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Luke Gambin (Ollie Palmer 58), Danny Hylton, Isaac Vassell (Jack Marriott 88).
Subs not used: Matt Macey, Stephen O’Donnell, Olly Lee, Lawson D’Ath.
Referee: Mark Haywood.