PREVIEW: Luton Town v Forest Green Rovers
Despite being one of the main favourites for the drop this season, Forest Green have done superbly to secure their League Two status with two games to go.
A 0-0 draw at Yeovil Town on Tuesday night meant Rovers, who had come up from the National League last term, will be able to enjoy a second season as a Football League club.
It had looked like the Nailsworth club were going to their debut campaign at this level, as 13 games in, they had just one win and three draws to the name, taking six points from a possible 39 to sit second from bottom.
However, crucially, form started to pick up as they won 1-0 at Coventry and not only started to inch creep closer to the chasing pack, but began to climb the table too.
There have been iffy moments along the way, a four game losing run in December and then five defeats in six during March and April, but vitally, Mark Cooper’s side have always picked up victories when it mattered.
A strong end to the campaign saw them beat Mansfield 2-0 and then win 1-0 at Cheltenham and hammer relegation rivals Chesterfield 4-1, prior to the hard-earned point at Huish Park to seal the deal.
There have been plenty of home comforts too as the New Lawn has been a massive part of Rovers’ survival, with 10 victories in front of their own fans, the most from a bottom half of the table side, and only one less than promotion-chasing Wycombe.
Away results have been something of a struggle, as three wins and just six draws with 13 defeats would testify, although Rovers are now unbeaten in two on their travels heading into their visit to Kenilworth Road.
Without striker Christian Doidge’s goals, it could have been a very different season too, the striker netting 24 in all competitions and 19 in League Two, where he sits fifth in the rankings for the division’s hot shots.
A rightly proud chairman Dale Vince was naturally in buoyant mood when discussing his side’s safety with the official website, saying: “It feels really good, I’m so chuffed, well done to everybody.
“A point was all we needed and now we carry on planning for next season, it’s just brilliant.
“We’ve learnt a lot in our first season in the Football League.
“We know what we got wrong last summer, we put that right in January to keep ourselves up and we will go into next season stronger.
“I didn’t think it would be this hard, but it was and we have survived so it is alright.
“We still think we are capable of getting out of this division and into League One next year, why not? There is no reason why not at all.
“We are heading for the Championship, that’s our plan.”
Boss Mark Cooper wasn’t going overboard about his achievements this term though, saying: “We’re not celebrating the fact that we’ve stayed up.
“We’re relieved that we’re going to be in the EFL next year and we’ll strive to establish ourselves as a Football League club.
“We didn’t recruit well enough in the summer and if you don’t recruit well enough then you’re going to struggle as you’re only as good as your players.
“We had to do something and the boys that came in in January gave us that little bit of know-how and physicality but we’re safe now so we can start planning so that we don’t make the same mistakes as we did last this year.
“We have aspirations and we want to do much better next season.”
Team news: Hatters only have a doubt over midfielder Lawson D’Ath, with Luke Berry also missing due to his long-term ankle injury.
Rovers’ goalkeeper Brad Collins is a worry after sustaining a head injury against Yeovil in midweek, meaning Harry Pickering has been recalled from his loan spell at Shortwood United with immediate effect.
Top scorer: Hatters: Danny Hylton (22). Rovers: Christian Doidge (24).
Milestones: Danny Hylton is just one goal away from his 50th in Luton Town colours.
Man in the middle: Lee Collins – has taken just 14 games so far this season, showing 44 yellows and one red.
First Luton match since the 3-0 win at Plymouth on the opening day of last term when he harshly sent off Dan Potts for two bookings in the final minute.
Officiated two Luton clashes in the 2014-15 campaign, a 1-0 home win over Tranmere and 2-0 victory against Accrington at Kenilworth Road.
Stuart Butler and Thomas Ramsey are the referee’s assistants, with Gregory Read the fourth official.
In charge: Mark Cooper - 49-year-old, who had a lengthy career as a midfielder, making over 450 appearances for clubs including Bristol City, Exeter, Southend, Birmingham, Forest Green and then Tamworth
Appointed player/assistant manager at the Lambs in 2003-04, becoming manager the following campaign, leaving by mutual consent in January 2007 with the club bottom of the Conference.
Named Kettering boss in May 2007, winning the Conference North title, before taking over at Peterborough boss in November 2009.
Was sacked just 13 games in though by the London Road club and took over at Darlington in June 2010, winning the FA Trophy, but was dismissed in October 2011.
Had a one game stint back at Kettering in caretaker charge, as he went to AFC Telford in January 2013, lasting just five games, soon becoming Swindon Town assistant boss.
Took the helm at the County Ground in August 2013, parting company in October 2015, as he spent two months in charge of Notts County from March 2016 to May 2016, leaving to join Forest Green.
Won promotion to the Football League last season and has now ensured the club will remain a League Two side next term.
View from the opposition: Defender Haydn Hollis: “We’ve had a job to do and we’ve done it but we need to finish really strongly now, we’ve got two games to give ourselves a little bit of momentum for next season.
“For the club, you want to progress into next season and two wins gives you a good run of momentum.
“We’ve got places to play for, I think the club is only going to go forward and it’s only going to get stronger and there’s going to be more competition for places.
“We’ve all got to be on our guard and try and keep our place.”
Played for both: Alex Lawless – 33-year-old midfielder who started his career at Fulham, heading to Forest Green via Torquay in August 2006.
Spent three seasons with the club, making over 100 appearances before going to York and then Luton in November 2010 on loan first, making the move permanent in January 2011.
Went on to play 203 times for the club, scoring 22 goals, including a number of long range efforts, leaving in July 2016.
Had a year with Yeovil in League Two, joining Leyton Orient after their relegation to the National League last summer last year, playing 27 times for the O’s so far this term.
One to watch: Reuben Reid. Much travelled 29-year-old striker has proved a valuable asset to the club in support of top scorer Christian Doidge.
Began the season at Exeter, scoring eight goals before Christmas, before leaving in January to join Forest Green for an undisclosed fee.
Netted on his debut in the 1-0 win over Port Vale and has gone on to score six times for the club in 19 appearances so far, including a run of five in nine games recently.
We’ve got form: Luton Town have never lost to Forest Green at home in their history, starting with a 2-1 Blue Square Bet Premier win in March 2010 thanks to Tom Craddock’s double.
They enjoyed a resounding 6-1 victory the following campaign, Andy Drury, Amari Morgan-Smith, Danny Crow (2), Matthew Barnes-Homer and Dan Walker scoring.
Back-to-back 1-1 draws followed, before a 4-1 win last time out, as Luton’s overall record is three wins, two draws, scoring 14 goals and conceding five.
Last time out: Luton eased to a 4-1 win over Forest Green as they celebrated lifting the Conference title back in April 2014.
Yan Klukowski had put the visitors ahead with a penalty on 34 minutes, but Town were level just before half time, Andre Gray netting his own spot-kick.
Cameron McGeehan made it 2-1 on 56 minutes, while Gray added the third on the hour mark, and Mark Cullen rounded off the scoring in the last minute.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Ronnie Henry, Scott Griffiths, Fraser Franks, Steve McNulty (Alex Lacey 48), Jake Howells (Jon Shaw 73), Cameron McGeehan, Matt Robinson, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Andre Gray (Alex Wall 61), Mark Cullen.
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Andrew Parry,