PREVIEW: Luton Town v Stevenage

Stevenage have endured a pretty rotten 2015-16 campaign, as but for the even worse form of Dagenham & Redbridge and York, they could have found themselves in even worse danger of sliding back into non-league once more.

Friday, 1st April 2016, 12:04 pm
Updated Saturday, 2nd April 2016, 6:05 am

Boro had appointed former England international Teddy Sheringham in the summer, but the high profile move never really worked out as he left the club in January, after winning just six of his 29 games in charge.

The club then looked within, with first team coach Darren Sarll taking the role on a caretaker basis, starting with a 1-0 defeat at home to Crawley, before back-to-back wins with a fine 2-1 success at Hartlepool and then beating Cambridge 2-0 at home.

But five straight defeats followed as Stevenage have now been sucked into a relegation scrap, although they do have the luxury of a seven point buffer over second bottom York City.

Boro did end their losing run with an unexpected 1-1 draw at Oxford last weekend, while chairman Phil Wallace has called on former West Ham and Newcastle boss Glenn Roeder to help out Sarll for the last few games, as he was appointed managerial advisor until the end of the campaign.

The pair were onlookers as Luton lost 2-1 at Barnet on Monday and Sarll was happy for an extra pair of hands, saying: “He will be a massive help with his advice and support from now and until the end of the season.

“I am not naive to think I am not a young or inexperienced manager. To work with someone with experience who has been through the same sort of things I am going through at the moment - sleepless night, lots and lots of thinking around the team, lots and lots of work away from the training pitch, lots of work on the training pitch - to be able to look to someone who has been there, seen that and has had to go through that is of great support to me.

Stevenage used the loan market once more before the window closed, signing Leyton Orient midfielder Bradley Pritchard on a one-month deal, taking it up to a mind boggling 45 players they have used in League Two this term.

Team news: Craig Mackail-Smith is likely to be out until the end of the season after injuring his ankle against Plymouth, but Dan Potts could be back in contention.

Josh McQuoid returned to the bench on Monday, although Scott Griffiths (knee), Ryan Hall (foot) and Jake Howells (knee) all remain out.

Top scorers: Hatters: Jack Marriott, Cameron McGeehan (13). Boro: Chris Whelpdale (9).

Milestones: Glen Rea is in line for his home debut for Luton after making both of his two appearances in away games at Plymouth and Barnet.

Man in the middle: Darren Handley - Referee has proven fairly card happy this term, with 102 yellows and five reds from his 28 games, including sending off Mansfield’s Jamie McGuire against Northampton in his last match.

Has taken one Luton game this season, the 1-1 draw against York City, while before that, took Hatters six times while they were in the Conference.

Refereed the 7-0 win over Hereford in February 2014, while Handley was also in charge for the 1-1 draw at Chester and the 2-0 defeat at Wrexham, sending off Alex Wall.

Before that, had the 2-1 win at Hyde, plus the defeats to Gateshead (5-1) and Forest Green Rovers (3-0).

Assistant referees are Matt Foley and Paul Kelly, with fourth official Nigel Lugg.

In charge: Darren Sarll - 33-year-old who played as a midfielder in the non-league scene after coming through the ranks at Hitchin, representing the likes of Dunstable Town, Bedford Town and Biggleswade United amongst others.

Began his coaching career at Stevenage, in a variety of roles, before moving to Brentford as youth team manager prior to the beginning of the 2008–09 season.

Was promoted to first team coach at Griffin Court and became the Bees’ reserve team boss in 2009, leaving at the end of the 2010–11 season.

Followed former Brentford manager Andy Scott to Rotherham United in August 2011, named Head of Player Development, but left at the end of the campaign.

Returned to Stevenage in June 2012 as Head of Youth before being promoted to first team coach after the appointment of Teddy Sheringham as manager.

Named caretaker manager when Sheringham left in February until the end of the season.

View from the opposition: Darren Sarll- “There are a few lads that are going back to Kenilworth Road and understand what it is like to be a player there and what it is like to be an opponent there.

“It is a real source of experience and advice to call upon and use.

“As a supporter myself, this is the best game. I love this game. This is what really gets you fired up and pumping and you want to go and play against your rivals.

“I have massive respect for Nathan, as a man and a coach that he is. I have massive respect for the football club but as a Stevenage Football Club fan I have that pride and rivalry with the Lutons and Cambridges.

“I really enjoy these games; I think they have that edge to it.

“Let’s get as close to the line as you can emotionally without crossing it.”

One to watch: Byron Harrison - 28-year-old striker who returned to Stevenage on loan from Chesterfield after playing just three times for for the Spireites this year.

Enjoyed a decent spell at Boro between 2010-12, before heading to AFC Wimbledon and then Cheltenham, as he bagged both goals on his second Stevenage debut in the 2-0 win over Cambridge and scored the leveller at Oxford last time out making it three in six so far.

Friendly faces: Centre half Luke Wilkinson moved to Stevenage from Luton back in January after playing 72 times for the Hatters, scoring seven times.

Has played 11 times for Boro, netting two goals in the recent 3-2 defeat to runaway leaders Northampton.

Popular midfielder Keith Keane is also back at Stevenage for his second spell this term, joining on loan from Cambridge.

The 29-year-old made 285 appearances for Luton after coming through the ranks, but has only played 11 games in total this term.

Former Town skipper Ronnie Henry is well known to Hatters fans having led the club to the Conference title during 2013-14.

He featured 87 times for the Hatters before moving to Stevenage at the start of last season, and has now played 64 matches.

Centre half Fraser Franks is also at Boro, having joined in the summer after playing 34 times for Luton, and has now played 34 games for Boro, scoring three goals.

Striker Aaron O’Connor completes the ex-Hatters connections amongst the playing staff, scoring nine in 39 games for Town after spending the 2011-12 season at Kenilworth Road.

Went to Newport and then Forest Green, before a loan move to Stevenage this January, making the deal permanent a month later, as he has played eight times for his new club, although is yet to score.

Meanwhile, Terry Harris is assistant to Sarll at Boro, a position he had at Luton to John Still, helping the club back into the Football League with the Conference title win.

Played for both: John Dreyer - centre half who joined Luton Town from Oxford United in 1988 for a fee of £140,000 going on to play 250 games for the Hatters, scoring 15 goals.

Left Kenilworth Road in 1994 as he moved to Stoke City, before spells at Bolton, Bradford City and then finished his career in the Conference with Stevenage in 2001, staying for two years, becoming caretaker boss for a short time, before leaving in 2003.

We’ve got form: Hatters have only played Stevenage twice at home in their history, winning 2-0 last season, while suffering a 1-0 defeat back in the Conference during the 2009-10 campaign.

Last time out: Luton enjoyed a 2-0 win over Stevenage at Kenilworth Road last season. In a game they had to win heavily to engineer an unlikely eight goal swing if they had any chance of the play-offs, Hatters led through Mark Cullen’s early strike, while Michael Harriman’s wonderful half volley before half time was all they could manage.

Hatters: Elliot Justham, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths (Lewis Kinsella 79), Steve McNulty, Luke Wilkinson, Cameron McGeehan, Jonathan Smith, Nathan Doyle (Ryan Hall 73), Jake Howells (Luke Guttridge 75), Mark Cullen, Elliot Lee.

Subs not used: Craig King, Alex Lacey, Nathan Oduwa, Alex Wall.

Attendance: 10,054.

Referee: Nigel Miller.