PREVIEW: Stevenage v Luton Town
Stevenage boss Darren Sarll celebrated a superb February by being named as the League Two manager of the month this morning.
The Boro chief was clearly the stand out candidate of a quartet including Hatters supremo Nathan Jones as his side enjoyed an absolutely tremendous month, winning five of their six matches, the only other one a creditable draw at Exeter City.
They beat play-off chasers Wycombe, while triumphing at both Crawley and Crewe, and then convincingly seeing off Leyton Orient and Notts County on their own soil too as on being named top boss, Sarll said: “I am very pleased to receive this award which I will collect on behalf of the players and staff.
“Without either, February would not have been as rewarding as it was. We have positioned ourselves nicely and this award goes to recognise the excellent form we are currently in individually and collectively.
“March must now reflect the foundations laid as we have now set standards far higher than ever before.”
Much of their upturn has been down to the goals of striker Matt Godden, who made it a double for the club, winning the League Two player of the month after netting six goals, scoring in all but one of his games.
On the award, the forward said: “It is a big honour and something I am very proud of.
“It has been a great month and I am in the form of my life. As a team we have been doing fantastic recently and it has been a perfect storm.
“It is nice to get individual accolades but I couldn’t do it without my team-mates.”
There had been little sign of such a run coming as despite beating Grimsby at the end of January, to make the run sevens wins from eight games in total, Stevenage had been in terrible form prior, with five defeats from six, including home defeats to Cambridge and Colchester.
However, that is now a distant memory it would appear as Boro’s red hot form has not just made them play-off hopefuls but given them every chance of going up automatically too, as a win at Kenilworth Road would move them above Luton.
Midfielder Steven Schumacher is certainly relishing the clash too, telling the club’s official website: “It is going to be a massive game. Any derby game is always exciting, I love playing in them.
“For us to go into the game with it hanging in the balance like it is, it just adds that extra bit of excitement.
“I am sure the fans will enjoy it and hopefully we can go there and put in another big performance.”
Team news: Luton have Luke Gambin back after he missed the 4-0 win at Yeovil with a tight hamstring, meaning just Danny Green (leg) and Cameron McGeehan (broken leg) missing.
For Boro, ex-Hatters captain Ronnie Henry is a slight doubt.
Top scorers: Hatters - Danny Hylton (22). Boro - Matt Godden (20).
Man in the middle: Brendan Malone - official has taken 24 games this campaign, showing 94 yellows and three reds so far.
First Luton match this term, although he did referee the Hatters twice last season, the 3-2 win at Exeter City, plus a 2-0 victory over AFC Wimbledon at Kenilworth Road, where he sent off Karleigh Osbourne after 35 minutes.
Only other Town match was a 1-0 defeat at Newport County in March 2015, with Aaron O’Connor scoring the only goal for the Exiles.
The assistant referees are Ashvin Degnarain and Neil Radford, with Dean Treleaven the fourth official.
In charge: Darren Sarll - 34-year-old who spent his playing days in the non-league scene, where as a midfielder, he had spells at the likes of Hitchin Town, Dunstable Town, Bedford Town and Biggleswade United.
Began his coaching career at Stevenage, in a variety of roles, including managing the youth team, before moving to Brentford as youth team bsoss at the beginning of the 2008–09 season.
Was promoted to first team coach and also became the reserve team manager in 2009, leaving at the end of the 2010–11 season, heading to Rotherham United in August 2011, named head of player development.
Left at the end of the 2011-12 campaign and returned to Stevenage as head of youth in June 2012 before being promoted to first team coach after the appointment of Teddy Sheringham as manager in June 2015.
Named in caretaker charge when Sheringham was sacked in February of last year and guided Stevenage to 18th in the division, before being appointed as the permanent manager in May.
View from the opposition: Darren Sarll talking to the Hertfordshire Mercury: “Luton is a huge fixture for the mere reason it’s Luton, and it’s even bigger now due to the fact that both teams are tucked into the play-offs.
“When you go to Luton, you’ve got to have a little bit of character and strong men with strong personalities. If they cannot go to Luton full of belief and confidence then they never will, as we are in fine form.
“It has come at a serious time. Whenever you play a derby you have to dedicate your focus to the supporters.
“The rivalry was hot even last season when we were 20th and Luton were 12th. You want to do your club proud and give it everything you’ve got.
“It’s so important we do Stevenage proud and do the town justice. We need to continue being as resolute, tenacious, solid, creative and hard working as we have been, and hopefully we will come out on top.”
Friendly faces: Boro skipper Ronnie Henry is a familiar face to Luton fans having skippered Town to the 2013-14 Conference title, making 87 appearances in total for the club.
Moved back to his former team in the summer of 2014 and has gone on to make 106 appearances since.
Centre half Luke Wilkinson was somewhat surprisingly allowed to move to Stevenage from Luton in January 2016 by boss Nathan Jones.
Had made 72 appearances for Town, scoring seven goals and has since played 53 times for Boro, netting five times, including three in his last 13 appearances.
Fellow defender Fraser Franks played 34 times for Luton, before joining Stevenage in the summer of 2015 and has gone on to figure 81 times for Boro, scoring seven goals.
Striker Josh McQuoid is currently on loan at Stevenage too having joined in January and has made eight appearances, with four starts, although is yet get off the mark for his new side.
Played for both: Left winger David Martin joined Luton on loan from Southend in January 2013, eventually making the move permanent and played 25 times, scoring three goals in his time at Kenilworth Road.
Had loan spells at Dartford and Bristol Rovers before being released in February 2015 and joined Stevange where he made 11 appearances, scoring once.
Left Boro for Whitehawk and then joined National League side Bromley where he has made 29 league appearances this season, scoring once.
One to watch: Matt Godden - can’t be anyone else really as the striker is in red hot form, having scored 20 goals for the club this term.
Started his career at Scunthorpe, but left never scored for the Iron and hade loan spells with Ebbsfleet, Dartford, Tamworth before returning to Ebbsfleet on a permanent basis.
Prolific spell alerted Stevenage and he joined a one year deal in the summer, scoring his first goal against Luton in Boro’s 2-1 win.
After netting just twice in his first 12 matches, has gone on to add another 18 in his next 23 games, including a hat-trick against Newport and seven in his last seven games.
We’ve got form: Luton have found Stevenage tough opponents on home soil, winning one and losing two of their previous three games.
They were beaten 1-0 during their Conference days in the 2009-10 campaign, before a 2-0 triumph thanks to Mark Cullen and Michael Harriman in May 2015 plus last year’s defeat too.
Last time out: Luton were beaten 1-0 at Kenilworth Road by Stevenage last season courtesy of a controversial late penalty.
Olly Lee was harshly adjudged to have fouled Ben Kennedy in the box with six minutes remaining and Michael Tonge stepped up to beat Jonathan Mitchell from the spot.
Hatters: Jonathan Mitchell, Stephen O’Donnell, Alan Sheehan, Glen Rea, Scott Cuthbert (Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu 66), Jonathan Smith, Cameron McGeehan, Olly Lee, Paddy McCourt (Danny Green 62), Jack Marriott, Joe Pigott (Josh McQuoid 62).
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Alex Lawless, Paul Benson, Zane Banton.
Referee: Darren Handley.