PREVIEW: Stevenage v Luton Town

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It’s been a case of all or nothing for Stevenage at home so far this season after their return to League Two following relegation the previous campaign.

Of the five games played at the Lamex to date, Boro have won three and lost two, taking nine points from a possible 15.

Graham Westley’s side started well enough with a 1-0 opening day triumph over Hartlepool, before reverses against both Wycombe Wanderers and York City.

They have hit some sort of form in front of their own fans though, recording back to back victories without conceding a goal against highly-rated Shrewsbury (1-0) and Mansfield (3-0) last time out.

That has seen the Hertfordshire club climb up to 13th place, to sit just a point behind Luton.

After falling back into League Two, Westley initiated a mass clear out of his squad, with no less than nine players being released, including the likes of Oumare Tounkara, Francois Zoko, Dani Lopez and Craig Reid, although the biggest loss was winger Luke Freeman, who had been the main star for Boro, but was snapped up by Bristol City.

The boss was quick to bring in some experienced Football League players in Chris Whelpdale, Ronnie Henry, Charlie Lee and Simon Walton, along with a resource utilised by Hatters chief John Still too, the non-league market.

The likes of Adam Marriott, Tom Pett, Connor Calcutt and Jerome Okimo all joined amongst others and the newlook squad has led Westley to state he could have put together his best ever side, even better than the team he took into League One.

Speaking to the local press last month, he said: “People say to me ‘could this be the best Stevenage team ever?’

“I would never say it lightly, because I’ve got too much respect for the teams that have gone before to say ‘yes it could’ lightly, but it could be the best team ever because there are some fantastic qualities in there.

“It’s a question of merging them, getting them to understand each other and creating that collective ambition that we’ve always had.”

Team news: Paul Connolly, Luke Rooney, Fraser Franks and Andy Parry are definitely out, while Paul Benson and Alex Lawless could both feature after playing in the reserves on Tuesday.

For Boro, Simon Walton is out for six weeks, while despite keeper Sam Beasant on his way back to full fitness, Chris Day is expected to remain in goal this weekend.

Harry Worley remains out for the long term after injuring his anterior cruciate ligament, while Dean Parrett is a major doubt too.

Top scorers: Boro: Chris Whelpdale (4). Hatters: Mark Cullen (3).

Average League Two crowds: Boro: 2,921. Hatters: 8,350.

Man in the middle: Tony Harrington - has taken eight games so far this season, showing 21 yellows but yet to brandish a red.

Officiated the Leeds v Reading Championship clash on Wednesday, while last season he produced 72 cautions and sent off six players in 27 games.

First Luton game since March 2012, a 2-0 defeat at Wrexham where he sent off John Paul Kissock in the closing stages.

Town have never won with Harrington in charge either as they also lost to York 3-0 in that season and drew against Southport (3-3) and Cambridge (1-1).

In charge: Graham Westley, 46-year-old who started his playing days at QPR, while had spells at Gillingham, Barnet, Wycombe and a host of non-league clubs until injury cut short his career at just 28.

Turned his hand to management immediately, spending five months in charge of Kingstonian, before moving to Enfield and then Farnborough Town in 1999.

Led Farnborough to the Conference but joined Stevenage in 2003, remaining until his contract expired in 2006.

Had a brief spell with Rushden & Diamonds, and was then caretaker manager at Kettering Town as he took a year out of the game only to return to Stevenage in May 2008 where won the FA Trophy in 2009 and secured promotion to the Football League, seeing off the challenge of Luton in 2010.

Enjoyed back to back promotions via the play-offs as he took Boro into League One, before he took the Preston North End job at the start of 2012.

Didn’t enjoy the best of times at Deepdale and was sacked in Februaru 2013. Rejoined Stevenage in March, but couldn’t keep them in League One last season as they were relegated.

From the dug out: Graham Westley - “I don’t really look to any derby and say ‘I hope we keep getting that one’ because you don’t want to pitch yourselves against clubs lower down, you want to pitch yourself up against clubs higher up, so I hope it doesn’t build.

“While it is there, they are the local rival and I’m sure it’s going to be a contest that will be fiercely contested.

“Both sets of fans will be passionate, the Luton fans are awesome in the support of their team, you just need to look at their penalty record this season to see they get a lot more than they concede, that tells you the amount of pressure their fans can put on a game and when you’ve got that sort of backing it can make a difference.”

One to watch: Chris Whelpdale - winger who joined in the summer has impressed in front of goal so far, scoring four in his first 10 games, twice in his last match, which is already better than his tally of one from the whole of last season.

Started life at Peterborough where he almost 150 appearances in four years and then spent three years with Gillingham racking up over 100 games at Priestfield.

Was released in the summer though and moved to Stevenage on a free transfer.

Friendly faces: Ronnie Henry, Luton’s club captain last year, opted to return to Stevenage in the summer after he couldn’t agree on a new deal at Kenilworth Road.

Made 87 appearances in total for the Hatters on his way to lifting the Conference title.

Boro defender Harry Worley had a loan spell with Luton from Leicester in the 2008-09 season, making 10 appearances for the club during his two months.

Stevenage also have two former Town youth players at the club as Michael Richens came through the ranks at Luton before joining Peterborough in January 2012.

He is at the Lamex on loan until January having played twice for his new side so far.

Also, Stevenage’s youth team keeper is Tyler Reading, who started his career with Luton before joining Norwich City in March 2013.

For Hatters, midfielder Andy Drury is well known to Stevenage fans as he had a fine spell at the club between July 2008 and May 2010, making over 50 appearances.

He played in the FA Trophy final win in 2009, before moving to Luton for his first spell in May 2010.

We’ve got form: Hatters have never lost in their visits to Stevenage, with three wins from three.

They enjoyed a 4-3 triumph back in 2002 in the Football League Trophy when Ahmet Brkovic netted a hat-trick, while Tony Torpe also scored.

They then won in the same competition the following season, thanks to Matthew Judge’s 90th minute winner, his only goal for the club.

Town were also 1-0 winners in their only ever league visit, back in 2010.

Last time out: Luton managed a 1-0 triumph over Stevenage in their last visit to the Lamex back in the 2009-10 season.

Striker Matthew Barnes-Homer scored the winner just minutes after coming off the bench in the second half, but the Hatters ultimately fell short in their quest to overhaul Stevenage’s charge to promotion.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, George Pilkington, Jake Howells (Adam Newton 87), Claude Gnakpa, Freddie Murray, Keith Keane, Shane Blackett, Simon Heslop, Tom Craddock (Matthew Barnes-Homer 54), Kevin Gallen (Liam Hatch 46).

Subs not used: Shane Gore, Janos Kovacs.