PREVIEW: Wycombe Wanderers v Luton Town

Scott Cuthbert heads Luton into the lead at Wycombe last season
Scott Cuthbert heads Luton into the lead at Wycombe last season

After finishing last season agonisingly outside of the play-offs, falling just a single point adrift, Wycombe are determined to make sure that’s not the case this term.

They’ve started the campaign well too, as a 2-2 home draw with new boys Lincoln, was followed by 2-0 EFL Cup exit at the hands of Championship side Fulham, before they enjoyed a first win, triumphing 3-2 at Port Vale.

Gareth Ainsworth’s side briefly hit the buffers, when Notts County ran out 4-2 winners at the Causeway, but since then, the Chairboys are unbeaten in the league, winning 3-2 at Grimsby and defeating Forest Green 3-1 at home, before back-to-back goalless draws at Newport and Mansfield sees them sitting eighth, one place and one point above Luton.

As always, boss Ainsworth hasn’t drastically reshaped his squad during the summer, going once more for experience with the permanent additions of defender Adam El-Abd, along with strikers Nathan Tyson and former Hatter Craig Mackail-Smith.

He has used the loan market to add to the youth element of his side too, with Dan Scarr (Birmingham), Josh Umerah (Charlton) and Eberechi Eze (QPR) all coming in.

Wanders did lose some older heads, as Garry Thompson went to Morecambe, while Aaron Pierre headed to Northampton and most recently, Paul Hayes called time on his Wanderers career, departing by mutual consent.

Team news: Luton can welcome skipper Scott Cuthbert back after he completed his one match suspension against Port Vale on Tuesday night, ensuring that bar Lawson D’Ath, boss Nathan Jones has a fully fit squad to choose from.

Wycombe can call on influential trio Adebayo Akinfenwa, Sam Saunnders and Nathan Tyson once more, after they were all declared fit.

Akinfenwa has missed the last two games, with Saunders (calf) and Tyson (leg) both availabe too, leaving just Scott Kashet out.

Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (5). Wanderers: Adebayo Akinfenwa (4).

Man in the middle: James Linington - referee has taken nine games so far, with six in the Championship, showing 31 yellows and four reds, all of his dismissals in the last three games, including two in the 0-0 draw between Aston Villa and Middlesbrough on Tuesday evening.

Officiated 35 games last season, showing 146 yellows and four reds, the majority of his appointments once more in the second tier of English football.

Last refereed Luton back in August 2015 when he had the whistle for the 3-1 home victory over Bristol City in the Capital One Cup.

Prior to that, took the Hatters twice more, a 1-0 home win over Carlisle the season before, sending off Luke Wilkinson for a professional foul just after the hour mark, plus the 1-1 League Two draw with Rochdale back in April 2009.

Assistant referees are Steven Meredith and Mark Russell, with fourth official Nigel Lugg.

In charge: Gareth Ainsworth - 44-year-old, who started out at Blackburn Rovers and had spells with Northwich Victoria, Preston North End, Cambridge United, and Lincoln City, before Port Vale shelled out £500,000 for his services in 1997.

Headed to the Premier League when he joined Wimbledon for £2million a year later, before a switch to Cardiff in 2003 and then QPR where he spent seven years, twice serving as caretaker-manager.

Joined Wycombe in February 2010, following a short loan spell and was appointed player manager in November 2012 following the sacking of Gary Waddock.

With his five year anniversary in the next fortnight, he is now the fourth longest serving manager in English football, with only Arsene Wenger, Paul Tisdale and Jim Bentley ahead of him.

View from the dug out: Gareth Ainsworth: “We’re on a great run away from home, now let’s start winning our home games and see what we can achieve this year.

“I’m confident that we have got what it takes at home, we will get the players right and recovered.

“I have got a squad that I believe in so much, not that I haven’t had that before but there is something special about this group.

“We’ve got more players than we have ever had before, with more competition and a great deal of quality and nights like this make it all worth it.”

One to watch: Adebayo Akinfenwa. Can’t be anyone else really can it.

Affectionately known as ‘the beast’, Akinfenwa played in Lithuania, with spells at Barry Town, Boston United, Leyton Orient, Rushden, Doncaster before making his name at Torquay.

From there, he went to Swansea, Millwall, Northampton and Gillingham, gaining a cult following at all his clubs, which continued at AFC Wimbledon as he helped the club win promotion to League One.

Headed to Wycombe in July 2016 and showed no signs of letting up, with 18 goals in his first season and is already up and running this campaign with four goals to his name so far.

Played for both: Alfie Mawson – Centre half who had a brief loan spell at Luton from Brentford, playing 45 minutes in the 5-0 victory at Alfreton Town back in December 2013, before suffering an injury and couldn’t regain his place.

After returning to Griffin Park, we went to Wycombe, where he played 51 times, scoring seven goals, impressing enough to earn a permanent move to Barnsley before being snapped up Premier League side Swansea in August 2016.

Catching the eye in the top flight for the Swans and has made 31 appearances, on target four times, while also breaking into the England U21s side too.

Friendly faces: Luton keeper Marek Stech had a brief stint with Wycombe on loan from West Ham in the 2008-09 season, playing twice, a 3-3 draw at Brentford and 1-0 home defeat to Rochdale.

Wycombe defender Michael Harriman spent an impressive eight months at Kenilworth Road during the 2014-15 campaign, making 39 appearances, scoring twice.

Rejoined Wycombe for a second spell in July 2015 and has since gone on to play 104 times for the Chairboys, scoring eight goals.

Striker Craig Mackail-Smith penned a one year deal at Wycombe last month after being released by the Hatters in the summer. He featured in 40 games for Luton, scoring five goals and has made five appearances for his new side, but is yet to find the net.

We’ve got form: Luton have an unbeaten record at Wycombe Wanderers which is now stretching to an impressive 12 games, dating back to September 1996, when they first visited in a Division Two clash, David Oldfield’s goal sealing a 1-0 win.

In total, the Hatters have won six matches, drawing six, scoring 14 goals and conceding just six, keeping seven clean sheets in the process.

The best win was an FA Cup clash back in December 2004 when Steve Howard’s double and Kevin Nicholls’ strike saw them triumph 3-0.

Since returning to the Football League, they have won just once, Cameron McGeehan’s stunner sealing a 1-0 victory, the other two matches finishing 1-1.

Last time out: Luton were held to a 1-1 draw at Wycombe last season, in a game they should really have won.

Town led 1-0 through Scott Cuthbert’s first goal for the club from a corner on 56 minutes, before Johnny Mullins was sent off with a quarter of an hour to go.

Luton couldn’t hold on from there, as Adebayo Akinfenwa netted a leveller on 82 minutes to earn a point.

Hatters: Christian Walton, James Justin, Jack Senior, Johnny Mullins, Scott Cuthbert, Jonathan Smith, Jake Gray (Glen Rea 72), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Luke Gambin, Danny Hylton (Isaac Vassell 72), Jack Marriott (Stephen O’Donnell 88).

Subs not used: Craig King, Jordan Cook, Lawson D’Ath, Craig Mackail-Smith.

Attendance: 5,387.

Referee: Mark Heywood.