PREVIEW: Luton Town v Newport County

Newport County could end any lingering fears of an unlikely relegation back to the National League by getting any sort of result at Kenilworth Road tomorrow.

Friday, 22nd April 2016, 1:29 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd April 2016, 5:14 pm
Luke Wilkinson opens the scoring for Luton against Newport last season
Luke Wilkinson opens the scoring for Luton against Newport last season

With basement side Dagenham already gone, the Exiles are nine points above second bottom York City, with just three games to go.

Newport’s far superior goal difference of 11 means that just a point would see them safe, although if the Minstermen don’t win at Accrington, the Welsh side will remain a Football League club anyway.

County are thankful the bottom two have struggled so badly of late, as after a good run of form which garnered five crucial wins from eight games, including a superb 3-0 triumph at Portsmouth, results have been desperately hard to come by since.

Six defeats in a row saw Newport dragged down to the foot of the table, but they finally managed to stop the rot against Oxford on Tuesday night, with a creditable 1-1 draw, the result still making it eight games without a win now.

Off the field it’s been a tough campaign for County as they started the season with Terry Butcher in charge, before he was sacked in October.

John Sheridan took over, only to be tempted away by Oldham Athletic after just three months in January, as Feeney was then appointed later that month.

The new boss is determined to take care of business themselves at the weekend though, telling the South Wales Argus: “The important thing was to get a performance and get off 41 points the other night and hopefully we can put it right for good on Saturday.

“A lot of people have said to me ‘that’s it’ but it’s not.

“Until it’s done we’ll still prepare the exact same way as we prepare for every game.

“Fair play to York; they’re down there fighting for their lives and they’re making it hard.

“But we’ve just got to look after ourselves. We are close but until it’s done we’ll keep going and hopefully get over that line.”

Team news: Hatters captain Scott Cuthbert is closer to returning to the squad after his leg injury against Stevenage, but Paddy McCourt is out due to personal reasons.

Magnus Okuonghae and Craig Mackail-Smith are both still missing for Luton as well, with neither likely to feature again this term.

Top scorers: Hatters: Jack Marriott, Cameron McGeehan (13). County: Scott Boden (15).

Man in the middle: Fred Graham - first Luton game this season for the experienced official who has shown 113 yellows and one red in his 30 games so far, with plenty at Championship level.

Took Town once last term, the 3-2 defeat at AFC Wimbledon where he controversially booked Jayden Stockley for what he deemed a dive in the area.

Prior to that, officiated two Luton games in the 2008-09 season, a 0-0 FA Cup draw with Altrincham and 2-1 home defeat to Bury in League Two,

Had two more games the season before, a 2-1 home loss to Bristol Rovers and 3-1 defeat to Swansea in League One, although did have the whistle for one Luton win, that a 3-1 victory over Swindon back in March 2005.

Assistant referees are Ian Smedley and Stephen Wade with Neil Hair the fourth official.

In charge: Warren Feeney - 35-year-old who had a lengthy career as a striker, playing 46 times for Northern Ireland, scoring five goals, until injury cut short his playing days.

Started out as a trainee at Leeds United, but never made an appearance, heading to Bournemouth and Stockport, before Luton snapped him up for £150,000 in March 2005.

Left Kenilworth Road for Cardiff two years later and later went to Swansea City on loan, before spells at Dundee United, Sheffield Wednesday, Oldham, Plymouth and then Salisbury, where was he named player-assistant manager.

Became manager of Linfield in April 2014, before he was appointed assistant at Newport in October 2015 and then took the job permanently once John Sheridan left to go to Oldham Athletic in January.

View from the dug out: Warren Feeney, speaking to the South Wales Argus: “Luton will be a tough game because they’ve had two very good results lately but we’ll go there in the right frame of mind and with confidence.

“They are one of the big hitters in the league and Nathan (Jones) is a very good coach.

“He’ll just want to get this season out of the way and I’m sure they’ll be one of the big ones for next year.

“But it’s a bit like Portsmouth – if you get on top of them then the fans can get a bit frustrated with their own.”

On his reaction from the Kenilworth Road crowd, Feeney added: “I don’t know what response I’ll get.

“I went back with Salisbury in the Conference and it was a wee bit of a mixed reception.

“Fans will always have a little bit (of a go) but I was there to play football and I loved it and I’ve moved on from it.

“It’s a fantastic club with fantastic support and I had some great times in the Championship when I was there.

“There was no hard feelings. Obviously I moved on to Cardiff, which was a good opportunity for me, but I loved it there under Mike Newell and Nick Owen the chairman.”

One to watch: Scott Boden. 26-year-old striker is having an excellent first year at Newport County, netting 13 league goals so far and 15 in total for the campaign.

After three in his first five games, took a while to get going again, before a purple patch between January and March saw the former Halifax, Macclesfield and Chesterfield forward net seven goals in just eight matches.

Is on something of a drought now though, with his last goal coming in the 3-0 win at Portsmouth eight games ago.

Friendly faces: Hatters striker Joe Pigott had a loan spell at Newport from Charlton last season.

He bagged three goals in 10 games, including a double in the 4-1 home win over AFC Wimbledon.

Meanwhile, County boss Warren Feeney signed for the Hatters from Stockport for £150,000 in March 2005. He played 83 times for the club, scoring 11 goals, before a loan spell at Cardiff which became permanent in June 2007.

Played for both: Midfielder Ian Hillier signed for Luton on loan from Spurs in August 2001, eventually joining for £30,000 as he made 68 appearances, scoring once for the club.

Joined Chester on loan, before moving to Newport in July 2005 and played over 100 games for County, as he then joined Neath and Carmarthen Town later in his carer.

We’ve got form: Luton have a stunning record over Newport County at Kenilworth Road in their history, having never lost a game against their Welsh opponents.

From the 29 previous matches, dating back to the Southern League encounters in 1913, Town have enjoyed a staggering 21 wins and eight draws.

There have been some high scoring encounters too, with Luton notching 86 goals and conceding just 28, hitting five three times, six once and racking up seven too, that a 7-0 triumph in Division Three South back in 1932.

Last time out: Luton Town enjoyed a 3-0 win over Newport County at Kenilworth Road last season.

The hosts were ahead when Luke Wilkinson headed home in the fifth minute, while Luke Rooney doubled Hatters’ advantage moments after the interval.

Jake Howells added the third late on, turning in Andy Drury’s cross to complete a comfortable victory.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty, Luke Wilkinson, Jonathan Smith, Andy Drury, Luke Rooney (Ross Lafayette 81), Shaun Whalley (Jake Howells 72), Nathan Doyle, Mark Cullen.

Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Fraser Franks, Paul Connolly, Jim Stevens, Ricky Miller.

Attendance: 8,383.

Referee: Darren Drysdale.