PREVIEW: Luton Town v Notts County
Nott County's superb start to the season is certainly hitting owner, local businessman Alan Hardy, in the pocket, as the Magpies continue to mount a serious promotion challenge.
Hardy, who took over from Ray Trew in January with the club facing a winding-up petition brought by HM Revenue & Customs, saved the club from potential liquidation at the time.
He has overseen County becoming one of the main players in League Two this term, going toe-to-toe Luton in what could well turn into a battle for the crown of champions, but on supporting such a push, Hardy told BBC Radio Nottingham earlier this month: “It’s going the wrong way (financially) due to the fact the players are doing so well on the pitch.
“Each month we’re paying out over £40,000 in bonuses to players and management because they are on great win bonuses.
“That’s how you motivate people, by putting it out there.
“You get bonuses for being top of the league, bonuses for (being in the) top three, and that’s why players are scoring in the 96th minute, because it all goes towards motivation.”
The Magpies have an identical record to the Hatters this term, with 12 wins, five draws and three defeats from their opening 20 games.
They are only behind Town on goals scored, managing 13 less than the Hatters, with their goals against record virtually the same too, conceding just 20 to Luton’s 18.
A stunning early season run showed the Magpies meant business, as after going down 3-0 to Coventry on the opening day they then went on a 10 game unbeaten run, winning nine times, including six straight League Two victories to firmly lay their marker down.
It hasn’t been all their own way since then though as a 3-1 defeat at Mansfield at the end of September started a run of one win in six, however league-wise they are currently on a run of seven without defeat since October 17, when they lost 2-0 at Crewe.
Like Luton, home form has been key to Kevin Nolan’s side success, with eight wins and two draws at Meadow Lane so far.
On the road, they have been tough to beat too, although County haven’t actually won on their travels in the league since a 3-0 triumph at Exeter on September 26, losing to Mansfield and Crewe, while drawing with Carlisle, Stevenage and Yeovil.
Defender Matt Tootle certainly isn’t too fazed about coming up against a side who have netted 34 goals in just 10 home fixtures this term, including eight on one occasion and seven twice.
He told the club’s official website: “You get to challenge yourself against one of the best attacking teams in the league. On the flip side, they have to defend against our attacking prowess.
“It’s an exciting game and one we’re really looking forward to. We’re definitely not daunted by it or their attacking players.
“They are very expansive and have put seven and eight goals past teams at times this season at home. Their attacking players are a threat so it will be a job for us as defenders on Saturday to keep a clean sheet and make sure we nullify them.
“Preparation isn’t different. Every game is only worth three points. It’s a big game because it’s first against second but we are capable of going there and doing a job on them.”
Boss Nolan believes he can formulate a plan to keep Town quiet, but wasn’t giving away any secrets about what that was when speaking to the Nottingham Post, saying: “I am not going to say how we are going to go about it, because Nathan Jones (Luton’s manager) will know what I am going to do.
“They have played some lovely free-flowing football this year and you have to give them massive respect in terms of how they have gone about it.
“But with the players they have I am sure that is what he (Jones) expected so it’s about us trying to exploit their weaknesses.
“They may think they don’t have any, but we’ve seen some that we think they have.
“If we can exploit them then we will give them a run for their money.
“But we have to be respectful of what they do at home because they’ve hit a team for eight and two others for seven.
“They’ve done that three times and they are a good side with some quality players, who they have paid lots and lots of money for.
“But like I say when we do what we do then we give ourselves a fantastic opportunity of winning.”
Team news: Luton could welcome back both James Collins and Harry Cornick into the squad, although will be without Scott Cuthbert (groin) and Alan McCormack (calf) once more.
County boss Kevin Nolan revealed striker Shola Ameobi is a major doubt, while Jon Stead should be okay after suffering a dead leg against Oxford City in the FA Cup last week.
Michael O’Connor remains out with a long term knee injury.
Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton (13). Magpies: Jorge Grant (14).
Milestones: Town midfielder Olly Lee is set for his 100th game for the club against County.
The 26-year-old was signed by former boss John Still in August 2015 and has netted eight goals in that time.
Meanwhile, full back James Justin is in line for his 50th appearance too.
Man in the middle: Charles Breakspear – has taken 25 games this season, showing 89 yellows and five reds, one coming in the only Town match he has done so far, dismissing Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu as Luton beat Chesterfield 1-0 in September.
Refereed Luton three times last term, the 4-0 win over Chesterfield at Kenilworth Road and then both games with Newport County, sending off Johnny Mullins in the 2-1 home win in which he awarded a last minutes penalty for the Hatters to win it.
Also dismissed Newport defender Mark O’Brien as Luton were held to a 1-1 draw in Wales later in the campaign too.
Officiated Luton twice in the 2015-16 season, with the 1-0 wins at Leyton Orient and then home to Dagenham, while had the 2-2 draw with York in February 2015, showing reds to Jake Hyde and then Steven McNulty.
Luton are yet to lose with him in charge too as his only other match was a 2-2 draw at Cambridge in March 2013, when both sides were in the Blue Square Bet Premier.
Referee’s assistants are Anthony Da Costa and Daniel Cook, with the fourth official Geoffrey Russell.
In charge: Kevin Nolan – 35-year-old, who gained a huge wealth of experience during his playing career, where he started out at Bolton Wanderers in 1997, playing over 300 times, before a £4m move to Newcastle in January 2009.
Made almost 100 appearances for the Magpies and headed to West Ham in June 2011, featuring more than 150 times, before leaving by mutual consent in August 2015, to take up his first managerial role, as player manager at Leyton Orient in January 2016.
However, just three months later and with the O’s only two points away from the play-offs, Nolan was relieved of his duties, leaving the club altogether on July 6.
Was appointed manager of Notts County in January of this year, as the Magpies finished 16th in the table, but has turned around their fortunes considerably this season, and signed a new three year deal back in September.
From the opposition: Boss Kevin Nolan talking to the Nottingham Post: “They have hit teams for an eight, and a seven and a seven and I think it shows just how far we have come in a short space of time.
“We are going to enjoy the game and we will give it all we’ve got.
“We will have a proper go at them and I am really looking forward to it.”
Friendly faces: Luton defender Alan Sheehan enjoyed a fine stint with Notts County earlier in his career, spending two spells at Meadow Lane.
The Irishman first joined in June 2011, playing over 120 games for the Magpies, scoring 10 times, before returning on loan in September 2015, making 15 appearances, netting twice.
Town assistant boss Paul Hart was with County as player coach between 1987-88, featuring 23 times, while in October 2014, he was appointed as acting academy manager.
He later became caretaker manager in March 2015, after the sacking of Shaun Derry, guiding the club to three draws in three games, before the appointment of Ricardo Moniz, which led to Hart’s departure in April.
Played for both: Adam Newton - began his career at West Ham United, before having a loan spell at Portsmouth and then joining County in November 2000, scoring the winner on his debut in a 3-2 win at Oxford United.
Made 22 appearances in total for the Magpies as he then went to Leyton Orient before a six year stay with Peterborough, racking up over 200 appearances for the Posh.
Spent a season with Brentford, signing for Luton in July 2009 when the Hatters were in the Conference, as he went on to play 66 times scoring four goals.
Joined Woking on leaving Luton and made over 150 appearances for the Cards, while also played six times for Saint Kitts and Nevis during his career, retiring at the end of the 2016 season.
One to watch: Jorge Grant - on-loan at Notts County from rivals Nottingham Forest, the 22-year-old midfielder has had a fine season in front of goal this term.
Netted three in his opening three matches including a brace against Chesterfield and had bagged eight in his first 12 games.
Didn’t score in his next six, but back on the goal trail with a double in a 2-0 win over Newport and has managed six in his last eight matches to make it 14 for the campaign in just 24 appearances.
Second loan stint with the club too after playing 17 times for County last term, where he scored six goals.
We’ve got form: Luton finally ended a run of almost 14 years without a victory over Notts County last season, although in reality, that sequence was just two games, which finished 1-1 and 2-0 to the visitors.
On the whole, Town have an excellent record against the Magpies at Kenilworth Road since games began with an FA Cup tie back in 1912.
The Hatters have won 22 of their 37 encounters, drawing eight and losing seven, scoring a hefty 83 goals in that time, conceding 41.
Hatters have enjoyed three 6-0 wins as well, with Hugh Billington scoring five in an FA Cup triumph in 1947, plus other victories in 1951 and 1978.
Last time out: Luton ran out 2-1 winners over Notts County in their penultimate home match of the regular season at Kenilworth Road last term.
The hosts had gone behind to Elliot Hewitt’s sixth minute impressive strike, before Ollie Palmer drew Town level, with a diving header after Danny Hylton’s spectacular effort came back off the bar.
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu netted what turned out to be the winner on the stroke of half time, while Hylton saw red late on after picking up his second booking.
Hatters: Stuart Moore, James Justin, Dan Potts, Scott Cuthbert, Alan Sheehan, Glen Rea, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Olly Lee, Lawson D’Ath (Jake Gray 61), Ollie Palmer (Isaac Vassell 72), Danny Hylton.
Subs not used: Craig King, Stephen O’Donnell, Jonathan Smith, Luke Gambin, Jack Marriott.
Referee: David Webb.