PREVIEW: Luton Town v Notts County
Notts County boss Kevin Nolan can reflect on a hugely satisfying first three months in charge at Meadow Lane.
The 34-year-old was appointed on January 12 after John Sheridan paid the price for a massively disappointing start to the season, with the Magpies in serious danger of being involved in a relegation battle.
In fact when Nolan took charge, it was a County side who were languishing in 22nd position, in real danger of slipping out of the league, just one point above second bottom Cheltenham Town.
He was appointed by new chairman Alan Hardy, who had only completed his takeover after purchasing the club from Ray Trew a few days previously
Nolan began with a draw against Mansfield, plus defeat to Grimsby, while beating Crawley and losing to Accrington meant he took four points from his first four games, which saw County still only just keeping their heads above water, by a single point from Orient this time.
However, things started to click into gear for the Magpies though as they set off on a run of form more suited to a side attempting at getting out of the division at the right end.
They started a five game unbeaten sequence with three wins to give themselves real breathing space, including a 1-0 triumph at now promoted Plymouth, and crucially, beating Nolan’s old club Orient, 3-2 at the Matchroom Stadium.
Defeats at Stevenage and Doncaster followed, but an improving home record saw County see off Hartlepool, Barnet and Colchester, while also getting maximum points at Wycombe and Carlisle to go put four successive wins together at one stage.
Although County’s last two games has seen then draw at Crewe and then lose for the first time at home since Nolan took over, Portsmouth ensuring promotion with a 3-1 victory last weekend, the Mapies’ upsurge has lifted them to 15th place, 11 points above Newport with their League Two status secured.
Watching Pompey celebrate on the Meadow Lane surface was something that stuck in the manager’s mind though, as speaking to the Nottingham Post, Nolan said: “As much as I like Cookie (Paul Cook) and Leam (Richardson), I don’t like giving other people beers and champagne and saying ‘well done’.
“I just don’t want it happening again anytime soon because it hurt and made me angry.”
Team news: Luton expect Johnny Mullins to be fit, but there are doubts over Jordan Cook, who has a knee injury, with Cameron McGeehan and Danny Green missing.
County captain Michael O’Connor is out as he awaits scans on a knee injury, but striker Shola Ameobi should be available for selection.
Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton (26). Magpies: Jon Stead (14).
Man in the middle: David Webb - has refereed 41 games in total so far this season, showing 110 yellows and two reds in that time.
Officiated one Luton match, the 3-0 victory at Cambridge back in August, ony the second time he has had the whistle for a Hatters game, the other back on Boxing Day in 2008, when Town drew 2-2 at Chesterfield in League Two.
Referees assistants are Dean Treleaven and Marvyn Amphlett, with the fourth official Kevin Howick
In charge: Kevin Nolan - 34-year-old, who started his career at Bolton Wanderers, where he came through the ranks in 1997, helping the Trotters qualify for the UEFA Cup, before a £4m move to Newcastle in January 2009.
Joined West Ham in 2011, before leaving by mutual consent in August 2015, taking his first managerial role, when named 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 as manager, the role transferring to Andy Hessenthaler, as he left the club altogether on July 6.
Appointed manager of Notts County in January of this year and also registered himself as a player, but is yet to pull on the Magpies’ shirt.
From the opposition: Boss Kevin Nolan talking to the County website: “A lot of our lads have got a lot to play for - whether that be contracts here or somewhere else.
“Whoever is lucky enough to wear the shirt at Luton, they’ve got to make sure they’re on it - because it could be the last time.
“We’ve got to go there and give a good account of ourselves. I’ll be very, very disappointed if the professionalism, attitude and application drops this weekend.
“I want to finish this season on a high and keep this momentum going.”
Friendly faces: Town defender Alan Sheehan is something of a crowd favourite at County, after two spells there.
He first spent three seasons with the Magpies, playing over 120 games, scoring 10 times, between June 2011 and June 2014, before returning on loan in September 2015, for a further 15 appearances, scoring twice.
Luton then took him on loan after Nathan Jones was appointed, with the move becoming permanent in the summer.
Town assistant Paul Hart spent time at Notts County between 1987-88, as a player coach, making 23 appearances, while in October 2014, he was appointed as acting academy manager at Meadow Lane, following the suspension of academy manager Mick Leonard.
He later became caretaker boss in March 2015, guiding the club to three draws in three games, before Ricardo Moniz was placed in charge, which led to Hart’s departure in April.
Played for both: Jesse Pye - Prolific forward who played for Sheffield United prior to the war, where he served in North Africa and Italy, before moving to Notts County for the 1945-46 season.
Joined Wolves in the First Division for £10,000, scoring twice in the 1949 FA Cup final as Wanderers beat Leicester City 3-1.
Made one England appearance, but then moved to Luton in 1952 for £5,000 - where he netted 36 goals in 65 games, then moving to Derby County in October 1954.
Left the Baseball Ground in 1957 and was player manager of Wisbech Town until resigning in April 1967, passing away in Blackpool in 1984 aged 64.
One to watch: Shola Ameobi, 35-year-old striker joined County on a free transfer in February and took seven games to get off the mark until scoring in the 2-1 win over Hartlepool.
Has now bagged four in his 14 matches after a career that saw him make over 350 appearances for Newcastle, scoring 79 goals in a 14-year stint at St James’ Park.
Had a loan spell with Stoke during his timew with the Magpies and on leaving, played for Crystal Palace, Bolton and Fleetwood until his move to Meadow Lane.
We’ve got form: Luton have an excellent record against Notts County at Kenilworth Road since games began with an FA Cup tie back in 1912.
The Hatters have won 21 of their 36 encounters, drawing eight and losing seven times, scoring a hefty 81 goals in that time, conceding 40.
Town have enjoyed no less than three 6-0 wins, with Hugh Billington scoring five in an FA Cup triumph in 1947, plus other victories in 1951 and 1978 as well.
However, defeat last season, means Luton have now gone 13 years without beating their opponents from Nottingham.
Last time out: Luton were beaten 2-0 at home by Notts County last season in Nathan Jones’ second home game in charge.
Alan Sheehan put through his own goal on 58 minutes and then Jon Stead added the second 12 minutes later to ensure the Magpies triumphed.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Stephen O’Donnell, Jake Howells, Alan Sheehan, Scott Cuthbert, Jonathan Smith (Olly Lee 62), Alex Lawless, Cameron McGeehan (Joe Pigott 62), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Paddy McCourt, Craig Mackail-Smith (Paul Benson 85).
Subs not used: Mark Tyler, Magnus Okuonghae, Jack Marriott, Zane Banton.
Referee: Keith Hill.