PREVIEW: Reading v Luton Town
Reading are the latest club to enjoy the bounce effect that comes with changing managers, enjoying an unbeaten start to Mark Bowen's reign in charge.
The former Wales and Stoke City assistant had previously been sporting director at the Madejski Stadium but was given the top job once Reading dispensed with Jose Gomes after just 10 months in charge on October 9.
The Portuguese had managed to navigate the Royals clear of relegation last season by seven points, but was struggling this term, with his side third from bottom and winless in six games.
In fact, Reading had won won just eight of 34 Championship fixtures with Gomes at the helm, despite being backed in the the transfer market last summer by the club's Chinese owners.
Seven new players were brought in, including the high-profile signings of Romania striker George Puscas from Inter Milan and Lucas Joao from Sheffield Wednesday.
There were returns for centre-back Matt Miazga and midfielder Ovie Ejaria on season-long loans from Chelsea and Liverpool respectively, while former Stoke midfielder Charlie Adam arrived too.
With the new faces, meant Reading had to move some on as Joey van den Berg (NEC Nijmegen), Liam Kelly (Feyenoord), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Millwall) and Andrija Novakovich (Frosinone) all departed, with experienced keeper Vito Mannone loaned to Minnesota.
The Royals started poorly though with back-to-back losses against Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City, before a glimmer of hope, going three unbeaten, seeing off Cardiff and Huddersfield with a very creditable draw at West Bromwich Albion too.
A 4-2 win at Plymouth Argyle in the EFL Cup was the final high point for Gomes, as Reading lost five of the next six Championship contests, beaten at home by Charlton, Blackburn and then Fulham (4-1), getting just one point from a 1-1 draw at Swansea.
That signalled the end of the road for Gomes, with Bowen replacing him and on giving the job to the one time Norwich full back, Royals chief executive Nigel Howe said: “In the relatively short period of time that Mark has already spent at Reading, he has commanded respect and admiration from all who have worked alongside him.
“He came in at a critical period last season to help us retain our Championship status and had an immediate impact."
Bowen himself insists there is far too much at the club to be worrying about relegation this term, saying: “Myself and team and my staff all have ambitions not just to be OK and we will push up this league, I am telling you because we are too good not to be.
“If we get things right with our off the ball stuff, that's what we need to work on.
“Our ability is not in question. We can climb this league, I have no doubt about that."
His confidence has proven right so far, as his charges started with a 1-0 win over Preston North End and then earned a decent point at QPR.
Millwall were defeated 2-1 last weekend as the Royals have taken seven points from nine, to move out of the relegation zone, above the Hatters to 19th place.
Team news: Luton boss Graeme Jones will leave it late before making a decision on midfielder Izzy Brown who suffered a hamstring injury last weekend.
However, striker Danny Hylton is still recovering from his knee operation.
For Reading, Rafael and Liam Moore have had calf and shoulder problems in the past week but should be fit for Saturday.
Forwards Lucas Boye and Lucas Joao are both likely to miss out.
Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins, Harry Cornick (5). Royals: George Puscas, Yakou Meite (4).
Man in the middle: Andy Woolmer – second Town game of the season for the official, who had Luton's 2-1 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion in August.
One of his 13 matches so far this term, showing 35 yellows and two reds in that time.
Last season, he took Luton twice, the 2-1 defeat at Peterborough United in the Checkatrade Trophy and 2-0 home win over Walsall in League One
Has previously refereed Hatters a further seven times in his career, with one win, four draws and two defeats.
Assistant referees are Andrew Fox and Akil Howson, with the fourth official Matt Foley.
In charge: Mark Bowen – 55-year-old who started his career with Tottenham Hotspur, going on to play for Norwich City, West Ham United, Shimizu S-Pulse, Charlton Athletic, Wigan Athletic and Reading before retiring, also winning 41 caps for Wales.
Began his coaching career as part of the backroom staff for the Welsh national side under Mark Hughes, a working relationship that went on to blossom.
Linked up with former Norwich team-mate Steve Bruce when he was manager first at Crystal Palace and then Birmingham City, as the Blues won promotion to the Premier League in 2002.
Left in 2004 after returning to the Wales national team set-up and was appointed assistant boss at Blackburn in September under Hughes once more.
Followed the ex-Manchester and Barcelona striker to Manchester City as number two in June 2008, leaving in December 2009, before the pair went to Fulham in August 2010.
Once Hughes departed in June 2011, Bowen stayed to work with the academy, but then headed to QPR to join up with the Welshman once more for a year, until Hughes was sacked in November 2012.
Bowen then joined Hughes at Stoke City in June 2013, staying with the Potters until January 2018, as he headed to Southampton to take up a position with Hughes again in March, the pair leaving in December.
Became technical consultant for Reading in March of this year, announced as the club's sporting director in August and then took over as manager on October 14 once José Gomes had departed.
View from the opposition: Boss Mark Bowen - “It’s easy to think we’re playing Luton and we’ll get three points, but we have to make sure it’s another cup final for us.
“No disrespect to Luton but we’re even more favourites compared to last week. It’s easy to think the job’s done.
“I’ve told the players they have the ability but it’s nothing without the steely eyed side.
“Luton will be a difficult test and they have ammunition which can hurt us.
“They do concede though so we have to be careful it’s not a basketball game!
“They will have a game plan. There is an expectancy on us though so we have to manage that.
“We have to give ourselves a platform which gives our game changers to go and hurt teams. “
One to watch: Sam Baldock – experienced striker is back in the side now after falling out of favour with previous manager Jose Gomes.
Has scored two in his last two appearances, during the 2-2 draw at QPR and a wonder strike when beating Millwall 2-1 on Saturday.
Started out at MK Dons where he scored over 40 goals in six years, earning a £2.2m move to West Ham in August 2011.
Only stayed for a season, netting five in 24 games at Upton Park, as Bristol City shelled out £1.1m for his services.
Managed 36 goals in 92 matches for the Robins, Brighton paying £2m to acquire him in August 2014.
Hit the target 20 times in four years at the Amex, before Reading forked out £3m for him in July 2018.
Has had a stop-start career at the Madejski Stadium, scoring just five in 23 matches for the Royals last term.
Played for both: Sean Evers – midfielder came through the ranks at Luton in 1994 as he made 69 appearances, scoring seven goals for the Hatters.
Reading then paid £500k for him in March 1999, but his time wit the Royals wasn't a successful one, featuring just 27 times, loaned out to St Johnstone for a period.
Released two years later as he went to Plymouth, Stevenage and Woking, before hanging up his boots.
We've got form: The Royals have the upper hand in clashes taking place in Berkshire over the years.
Town did start well, winning their FA Cup qualifier 3-2 back in October 1888, also triumphing on their second visit, before a 6-0 defeat in the Southern League in 1899.
They did have some big losses back in those days, going down 5-3 and 7-2, and also suffered seven straight reverses between 1924 and 1935.
However, a 2-2 Division Three South draw started a run of 10 games and 60 years without defeat on their travels, until a 3-1 Division One setback in 1995
That has seen the Royals enjoy the better of things recently, particularly at the Madjeski Stadium, winning six of the seven encounters there, as Luton haven't triumphed since Liam George's winner back in a 2-1 victory during August 1999, losing the last five trips.
In total. Town have managed 12 wins, 11 draws, but lost 23 times, scoring 50 goals, conceding exactly 100 times.
Last time out: Luton were thrashed 5-1 on their last visit to Reading, a second Carling Cup round tie in August 2008.
They were up against it after just 15 minutes, when Noel Hunt (11) and Stephen Hunt (15) scored.
It got worst after the break as Alex Pearce (54) Jem Karacan (55) and James Henry (76) netted, before Ryan Charles pulled one back with 10 to go.
Hatters: Conrad Logan, Claude Gnakpa, George Pilkington, S Davis (Rossi Jarvis 46), Lewis Emanuel, Kevin Nicholls, Keith Keane, Kevin Watson, Tristan Plummer, Chris Martin (Asa Hall 82), Sam Parkin (Ryan Charles 64).
Subs not used: Dean Brill, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Michael Spillane, Ian Roper
Referee: Dean Whitestone.