CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: Blackburn Rovers v Luton Town
After consolidating in the Championship on their first season back in the second tier of English football last term, Blackburn are showing early signs they could be on the verge of mounting a promotion challenge this term.
Premier League winners back in 1995, it's been a tough few years at Ewood Park, relegated out of the top flight in 2012 and then dropping down to League One in 2017.
They bounced back at the first attempt under Tony Mowbray though and in their first season back, to finishing a creditable 15th, closer in points to the play-offs than the bottom three.
Rovers began this season with an opening day defeat at home to newly-promoted Charlton Athletic and then lost at Fulham.
They got underway with a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough then went to Hull, coming away 1-0 victors, held 0-0 at home by Cardiff, before going down 3-2 at West Bromwich Albion.
However, they have followed that with two wins, beating Millwall and Reading, proving difficult to break down, with four clean sheets in their last six league outings, to sit in 10th place
On what his targets are this term, Mowbray told the Lancashire Telegraph: “The idea is to progress from last season, middle of the table with 60 points.
“Where are we aiming this year? Definitely in the 70 points, hopefully further, but let’s wait and see.
“We’re looking for progression and a mentality that we believe we’re going to be stronger this year and as the windows come, as I’ve said you judge if off transfer windows, we can try and strengthen again.”
Keeping hold of their stars from last year was going to be crucial to just how well Rovers could realistically do this time around, and they had an good summer in terms of departures, losing just first choice goalkeeper David Raya to Brentford.
Top goalscorers Bradley Dack and Danny Graham stayed put, while experienced midfielder Elliott Bennett penned a new contract as well.
Mowbray strengthened his squad impressively too, bringing in Sam Gallagher on an undisclosed fee from Southampton, plus midfielder Bradley Johnson from Derby.
He added real Premier League experience in Stewart Downing from Middlesbrough, while utilised the loan market too, bringing in Brighton keeper Christian Walton, Greg Cunningham from Cardiff, the Irish international heading to Wales for £4m in June 2018, plus youngster Tosin Adarabioyo from Manchester City.
The Rovers boss also managed to get former Everton and Man City midfielder Jack Rodwell off the wage bill too, releasing him and winger Craig Conway.
Just last week, Mowbray made what on paper looks like another terrific addition, bringing in former Spurs midfielder Lewis Holtby on a two year deal.
The 29-year-old made 42 appearances at White Hart Lane, and had a loan spell with Fulham, winning three caps for Germany, as he had been a free agent since leaving Hamburg in the summer.
Team news: Martin Cranie is still making good progress after his knee injury, but along with Danny Hylton and Glen Rea, will miss the game.
Brendan Galloway should be back in contention despite missing the last two matches.
For Rovers, Ben Brereton (knee) and Dan Butterworth (back) are out, while Joe Rothwell is a doubt after illness, although Tosin Adarabioyo should be available once more.
Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (4). Rovers: Bradley Dack (4).
Milestones: James Collins will make it 50 goals for the Hatters if he finds the net in just his 102nd game for the club if he is on target at Ewood Park.
Should James Shea get the nod in goal, then it will be his 50th league appearance for the club.
Man in the middle: Gavin Ward - has taken six games this season, already showing 21 yellow cards and three reds in that time, with two in the Bristol Rovers v Tranmere match.
Had 39 matches last term, with 132 yellows and eight dismissals, including that of Town midfielder Andrew Shinnie in the 3-1 defeat at Charlton, his last Luton game, while also took the opening day game at Portsmouth as well.
A regular at Luton matches over the years, he had Town's 8-2 win over Yeovil, 5-0 triumph at Swindon 2-1 win at AFC Wimbledon in the Checkatrade Trophy during the 2017-18 campaign.
Rob Smith and Robert Merchant are the assistant referees, with Simon Mather the fourth official.
In charge: Tony Mowbray – had a fine playing career with Middlesbrough, leading them back into the top flight, before heading to Celtic in 1991 for £1m after making almost 350 appearances.
Headed to Ipswich Town and played for another five years, moving into coaching at Portman Road once he retired, with a brief spell as caretaker manager.
Named Hibernian manager in May 2004, winning the Scottish Football Writers' Association manager of the year award in his first season, before heading down south to take over at West Bromwich Albion in October 2006.
Signed Leon Barnett from Luton during his time with the Baggies, winning promotion to the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup semi-final too.
Couldn't keep them in the top flight, as they were relegated in the 2008-09 season, leaving for Celtic in June 2009, but was sacked after a poor run of results in March 2010.
Named manager of former club Middlesbrough in October 2010, leaving the Riverside three years later and after a spell out of the game, took over at Coventry in March 2015, keeping the Sky Blues in League One.
Resigned in September 2016 and was named Blackburn head coach in February 2017, although couldn't keep the club in the Championship.
Won promotion at the first attempt though and finished 15th in the second tier last season as he is now the fourth longest serving manager at this level.
View from the opposition: Boss Tony Mowbray - “We’ll have to be respectful to them because they score a lot of goals and have a coach who has coached at a very high level.
“They have decent possession of the football and we need to be mindful of them, like we are with every opponent in this league.
"We’ll have to be at our very best to get the victory.
“I think that we go into the game in confident mood at home and believe that we can win.
"We’ll look to play the way we play and ask questions of the opposition.”
One to watch: Bradley Dack - attacker has been a quite superb signing since joining from Gillingham in 2017.
Started his career with Charlton, before being released and headed to Priestfield, netting 36 goals in his five years with the Gills, a feat he has replicated in the league alone at Ewood Park, taking just 92 appearances to do so.
Also bagged a further four in the cup too and is up and running this season, with three in his last three games to make it four already.
Friendly faces: Matty Pearson came through the ranks at Ewood Park, but never got the chance to make a first team appearance for Rovers.
Had a loan spell with Lincoln and then moved to Rochdale in July 2012.
Ryan Tunnicliffe joined Blackburn on loan from Manchester United back in September 2014, spending three months at Ewood Park.
Made 17 Championship appearances in total, scoring once in the 2-2 draw against Watford.
Blackburn keeper Christian Walton, 23, spent the first half of the 2016-17 campaign on loan at Luton from Brighton, playing 33 times and becoming a firm favourite with the Hatters fans.
His departure due to injury at the Seagulls saw Town never really recover and eventually miss out on promotion via the play-offs.
Spent the last two seasons on loan at Wigan and then joined Blackburn in the summer for the campaign, playing all eight league games so far.
Played for both: Mike Newell - Came through the ranks at Liverpool and headed to Luton for £100k in January 1986 after spells with Crewe and Wigan.
Scored 19 goals in 68 games for the Hatters, earning a £350k move to Leicester in September 1987.
Snapped up by Everton for £1.1m in July 1989 and after two seasons with the Toffees, Blackburn also splashed out £1.1m to take him to Ewood Park in November 1991.
On target 48 times in his five years with the club, as they won the Premier League during his final season, moving to to Birmingham for £775k in July 1996.
From there played for West Ham, Bradford, Aberdeen, Crewe, Doncaster and Blackpool before retiring in May 2001.
Returned to Luton in June 2003 as manager and spent four years in charge, leading the club to the Championship in 2005 before being sacked in March 2007.
Most recently at Wrexham, appointed assistant to Graham Barrow, leaving in February 2019.
We've got form: The Hatters have a pretty terrible record at Ewood Park since the fixtures began in March 1938 with a Division Two contest that finished 2-2.
It took Luton 10 games and 22 years to get a first win, as they triumphed 2-0 in a Division One clash during April 1960, Joe McBride and Billy Bingham on target.
That then led to a six game winless run, Town not scoring in any of the fixture, a sequence spanning 21 years, as their only positive result was a 0-0 draw in 1978.
However, their last trip did see Luton emerge triumphant, 1-0 victors, David Moss settling a Division Two contest from the penalty spot.
In total, Luton have won wins, five draws and 11 defeats from their 18 trips, scoring just nine goals and conceding 27.
Last time out: As mentioned, the Hatters were 1-0 winners in their last match at Ewood Park, courtesy of David Moss's spotkick, one of his 15 goals that season, in a Division Two trip in November 1981
Hatters: Milija Aleksic, Kirk Stephens, Clive Goodyear, Brian Horton, Mark Aizlewood, Mal Donaghy, Ricky Hill, Brian Stein, Steve White, Lil Fuccillo, David Moss.