PREVIEW: Blackburn Rovers v Luton Town

Hatters head to Ewood Park this weekend

By Mike Simmonds
Friday, 10th September 2021, 2:51 pm
Updated Friday, 10th September 2021, 5:46 pm
Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray

Blackburn Rovers are having to make do without leading frontman Adam Armstrong this season as the prolific forward was finally tempted away to the bright lights of the Premier League during the transfer window.

After joining in January 2018 on loan from Newcastle and then making the move permanent six months later for £1.75m, he spent three seasons at Ewood Park, notching eight goals in his first term.

Armstrong improved steadily, with 17 goals the following campaign, while he had a real stand-out season last year, with a stunning 29 strikes in 43 appearances, including a hat-trick in his last outing for the club, his third treble.

Still aged just 24, that kind of output was always going to lead to interest from top flight clubs, Southampton eventually parting with £15m for his services last month after losing their own talisman Danny Ings to Aston Villa.

He has hit the ground running too, scoring on his debut at Everton, but the forward's departure left Rovers boss Tony Mowbray with the job of replacing him, something he couldn't manage to do ahead of the deadline passing on August 31.

Speaking about his inability to do so, he told Lancs Live: “I don’t feel let down, I understand the process.

“Football is very difficult when you’re juggling four, five, six different options.

"Option four, five and six could be done now, but number one and two is what you want in your mind so you hold off and then four and five sign for someone else, but six is still there, but you still want one and two.

“Those things can happen. You wait for one or two and then six disappears and then you have one, two or three.

“For reasons other than financial, these deals didn’t happen.

"It was a frustrating day, a frustrating night, because I felt we were going in the right direction and the team was going to be so much stronger."

To replace Armstong's goals, Blackburn will look to Ben Brereton, now becoming a cult figure after his exploits with Chile, while Sam Gallagher is tasked with increasing his productivity as well.

It wasn't just Armstrong's departure that Mowbray had to address but on-loan Liverpool teenager Harvey Elliot, who bagged seven goals and 11 assists last term to earn a nomination for the EFL Young Player of the Season award, with the youngster returning to Anfield and making his mark in the Reds side.

Although unable to bolster the striking department, it wasn't a barren transfer window, Mowbray using the loan market to strengthen the supply-line, bringing in German winger Reda Khedra from Brighton, plus Liverpool midfielder Leigh Clarkson, a boyhood Rovers fan.

England U20 international Ian Poveda has also arrived from Leeds, while Mowbray went to Brighton once more for defender Jan Paul van Hecke, as he splashed some cash on deadline day to acquire the talented and highly rated Tayo Edun from Lincoln City.

Mowbray did move some out of his squad, with Stewart Downing retiring, while Lewis Holtby was released, the long-serving Elliot Bennett moving on, as did Charlie Mulgrew, Corry Evans and Lewis Thompson.

Despite the changes, Rovers started the campaign positively, with a 2-1 win over Swansea, but then saw their Carabao Cup dreams over when defeated by Morecambe, before drawing 1-1 at Millwall.

A 2-1 triumph at Nottingham Forest saw Rovers make it seven points from nine, before they suffered a first league loss, going down at home to promotion favourites West Bromwich Albion.

Rovers did get another point in their 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough ahead of the international break, as they sit in 10th, with home games against Luton and Hull this week to try and improve on that standing.

Team news: The Hatters are almost fully fit for the clash, with Sonny Bradley and Luke Berry both getting their first minutes this season for the Development squad on Tuesday afternoon.

Jordan Clark, Henri Lansbury and Cameron Jerome are all looking to be involved, with Dan Potts back in training as well too, while Danny Hylton is getting closer to returning as well.

For Rovers, Ryan Nyambe is fit after a hamstring injury, but Bradley Johnson won't make it back yet following his own hamstring problem and Joe Rankin-Costello is still absent with a broken metatarsal.

Tayo Edun is out with medial ligament damage suffered at his previous club Lincoln, while FIFA sanctions are anticipated to keep striker Ben Brereton out.

Long term absentee Bradley Dack is looking at January for his comeback from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, with Scott Wharton missing too.

Top scorers - Hatters: Harry Cornick (2). Rovers: Ben Brereton (3).

Milestones: Midfielder Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu will draw level with Fred White on 304 games if he plays on Saturday and become joint 22nd on the club's most appearances list.

Man in the middle: Oliver Langford - Taken six games this term, showing 16 yellow cards and no reds, including the Hatters' 1-0 win at Barnsley.

Refereed Town twice last season, the 3-1 win at Wycombe where he sent off the hosts' Josh Knight on 57 minutes as Luton hit back to triumph, plus the 1-1 draw at Huddersfield.

Also officiated the Hatters twice in their opening season back in the Championship, the 3-3 opening night draw against Middlesbrough and 3-0 reverse at Bristol City.

Has had the whistle for five other Luton matches, in charge of two wins, two defeats and one draw.

Paul Hodskinson and Richard Wild are the referee's assistants, with the fourth official Andy Haines.

In charge: Tony Mowbray – 57-year-old had a fine career with Middlesbrough, heading to Celtic in 1991 for £1m after making almost 350 appearances.

Joined Ipswich Town in 1995, playing 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, returning to England as West Bromwich Albion boss in October 2006, winning promotion to the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup semi-final too.

Mowbray departed for Scottish giants Celtic in June 2009, sacked after a poor run of results after less than 12 months later.

Headed back to the Riverside to take over at Boro in October 2010, spending three years in charge, while then appointed Coventry City chief in March 2015.

Resigned 18 months later and was named Blackburn head coach in February 2017, the club going down to League One, only for Mowbray to lead them straight back up, as he is now the longest serving manager in the Championship.

Managerial records: Nathan Jones has gone up against Tony Mowbray four times, winning once when Stoke City chief and then once as Luton's, the 3-2 win on the final day of the 2019-20 season to keep Luton up, before drawing and losing last term.

Mowbray has taken on Luton five times, the three already mentioned, plus Rovers' 2-1 defeat to Town in their first season back with James Collins and Matty Pearson on target at Ewood Park.

He was in charge for a 3-2 Championship victory at the Hawthorns as West Bromwich Albion manager back in January 2007.

Friendly faces: Amari'i Bell - Full back came through the ranks at Birmingham, with loan spells at Nuneaton, Kidderminster, Mansfield, Swindon, Gillingham and then heading to Fleetwood in May 2015.

Following three years and over 100 appearances for the Cod Army, he went to Blackburn Rovers in January 2018.

There, Bell played 99 times, scoring three goals, helping Rovers win promotion back to the Championship, before being released in the summer.

The Jamaican international then joined Luton in the summer and has made five appearances, scoring once.

Played for both: Ray Harford - Centre half by trade who made over 350 appearances for Charlton Athletic, Exeter City, Mansfield Town, Port Vale and Colchester United in a 11-year playing career.

Moved to non-league with Romford in 1975, before retiring due to a knee injury, and was assistant to former Luton striker Malcolm MacDonald at Fulham in 1982, appointed Cottagers manager in April 1984, resigning in June 1986 following relegation from Division Two.

Named John Moore's number two at Luton in the summer of 1986, taking over once Moore resigned at the end of the season, leading the club to one of their most famous ever days, the 1988 League Cup Final victory over Arsenal.

Also made the FA Cup semi-final that season, while returned to Wembley the following year as Luton were beaten by Nottingham Forest in the League Cup Final, as he was sacked in January 1990 with the club battling against relegation.

Quickly joined Wimbledon as assistant, appointed manager in July, resigning in October 1991, moving to Blackburn, where he spent four years as Kenny Dalglish's right hand man, Rovers winning the Premier League in 1995.

Promoted to manager in June 1995, though he quit October 1996 following the sale of star striker Alan Shearer.

Appointed WBA boss in February 1997, he then went to QPR 10 months later, sacked in September 1998,

Became a coach at Millwall in 1999 and was still on the Lions coaching staff at the time of his death in 2003 aged just 58 following a lengthy battle with cancer.

We've got form: The Hatters have a fairly shocking record at Ewood Park since their first visit in March 1938 when they drew a Division Two contest 2-2.

It took the Luton some 10 matches and 22 years to enjoy their first victory, triumphing 2-0 in a Division One clash in April 1960, with Joe McBride and Billy Bingham scoring.

That led to a six game winless run, Town failing to score in any of the matches, a sequence spanning 21 years, as their only positive result was a goalless draw in October 1978.

However, they stopped the rot with a 1-0 Division Two win in 1981 through David Moss's penalty, following that up with a 2-1 victory in the first season back in the Championship, James Collins and Matty Pearson on target, before defeated 1-0 last term.

In total, Luton have won three, with five draws and 12 defeats from their 20 trips, scoring 11 goals and conceding 29, failing to score in 12 of the fixtures.

Last time out: Luton looked to be on their way to a well deserved point at Ewood Park last year only to concede with five minutes to go when they switched off from a quickly taken free kick allowing Adam Armstrong to score from close range.

The Hatters thought they had rescued a point in stoppage time, only for Harry Cornick's goal to be disallowed for offside.

Hatters: Simon Sluga, Matty Pearson (Martin Cranie 72), Dan Potts, Tom Lockyer, Sonny Bradley, Glen Rea (Kal Naismith 88), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jordan Clark (Sam Nombe 88), Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Harry Cornick, James Colins (Danny Hylton 64).

Subs not used: James Shea, Luke Berry, George Moncur, Kazenga LuaLua, Joe Morrell.

Referee: Jeremy Simpson.