Grimsby Town were dealt a massive blow on transfer deadline day with the news that star striker Omar Bogle had left the club to join Championship side Wigan Athletic for an undisclosed fee.
The 23-year-old had been in absolutely stellar form for the Mariners this term, netting a superb 19 goals in 27 appearances, including two against Luton back in September, to sit at the top of the division’s scoring charts.
He had achieved hero status too at Blundell Park by netting the winner in the 2-1 aggregate victory against Braintree Town in the National League play-off semi-final last season, before going on to score twice in two minutes at in the 3-1 final win over Forest Green Rovers at Wembley.
But with speculation surrounding Bogle’s departure rife, he became one of eight players to head to the Latics on Tuesday, as they attempt to avoid relegation back to League One, depriving Grimsby of their most potent attacking force by far.
On his decision to leave, Bogle said: “I shared the best moment of my life on getting promoted with the club and wish nothing else but more success for GTFC - because it’s well deserved throughout.
“I’ve taken a great opportunity in this new chapter in my career, but my love for yous will never change.”
Speaking to the Grimsby Telegraph, boss Marcus Bignot knows that replacing a player who bagged 19 of the club’s 35 goals in League Two this term will be a big ask, saying: “Relying on Omar was risky – very risky. Everything about this season said that, more often than not, when Omar didn’t score or play particularly well, we struggled to get a result.
“That’s dangerous and so we wanted to build a team that isn’t as reliant on one player. ‘Team’ is going to be the big thing for us going forward – and that’s not to say Omar wasn’t a team player.
“Instead of replacing player for player, it’s now about getting a good partnership up there.
“There are opportunities for us to get goals from different areas and that’s how we have to evolve from here.”
Grimsby did have plenty of incoming business of their own before the window shut though, with Gateshead attacking midfielder Sam Jones signing for an undisclosed fee and 20-year-old Everton striker Calum Dyson joining on loan until the end of the season.
It had been a busy month for new boss Marcus Bignot, as he also added midfield duo Luke Maxwell from Birmingham on loan and Mansfield’s Chris Clements for an undisclosed fee on an 18-month deal.
Keeper Dean Henderson extended his stay from Manchester United until May too, while Brandon Comley re-signed from QPR for the remainder as well.
Meanwhile, Bignot, who was appointed back in November from National League side Solihull Moors, returned to his former club to bring in striker Akwasi Asante and midfielder Jamey Osborne, who scored twice against the Hatters at Kenilworth Road in Luton’s 6-2 FA Cup win back in December.
On the pitch, Grimsby have enjoyed a decent enough spell of form in recent weeks, with four wins from seven matches, including a terrific 3-1 win at Carlisle, although that was achieved with a double from that man Bogle.
They were beaten 3-0 by Exeter on home soil, but recovered to see off Notts County 2-0 in their last fixture at Blundell Park, before a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Stevenage last week.
Town’s home form has, like Luton, been patchy, with five wins from 14 games, six defeats too, scoring 17 and conceding 18. However, they remain well positioned to make a push for the play-offs this term, sitting just four points behind seventh spot.
Team news: Luton have striker Danny Hylton available from suspension, while new signings Ollie Palmer and Matt Macey come into consideration for the trip too.
Jonathan Smith is a doubt with a gash to the foot, but Dan Potts (knee), Cameron McGeehan (broken leg), Akin Famewo (tendinitis) and Danny Green (leg) all remain out.
For Grimsby, recent loan signing Luke Maxwell has a groin injury and misses out, while James Berrett (hip) isn’t available either.
Top scorers: Hatters - Danny Hylton (14). Mariners - Omar Bogle (19).
Man in the middle: Mark Haywood. Thankfully, it’s an A, not an E, for Haywood, after namesake Mark Heywood’s recent dealings with the Hatters.
Haywood, however, has taken 25 games this term, showing 86 yellows and five reds, refereeing Luton once, the 3-1 home win over Barnet on New Year’s Eve.
His only other previous game involving Town was a 2-0 win over Oxford at Kenilworth Road in September 2014.
Assistant referees are Declan Ford and Simon Clayton, with Simon Mather the fourth official.
In charge: Marcus Bignot - 42-year-old who had a lengthy playing career spanning nearly 20 years at the likes of Telford United, Kidderminster Harriers, Crewe Alexandra, Bristol Rovers, Queens Park Rangers, Rushden & Diamonds, Millwall, Oldham Athletic and Solihull Moors where he hung up his boots in 2012.
Enjoyed a successful start to management, taking over at Birmingham City Ladies in 1998, winning the Midland Combination League, AXA Northern Premier League and finished runners-up of the FA Women’s Premier League Cup.
Was then appointed Solihull Moors assistant boss in 2010-11 and became boss in his own following the the resignation of Micky Moore the season after as he won the Birmingham Senior Cup and promotion to the National League too.
Announced as Grimsby Town boss in November following Paul Hurst’s departure to Shrewsbury and has enjoyed a decent enough start to his first Football League managerial role, winning five, drawing three and losing six of his opening 14 matches.
View from the opposition: Mariners boss Marcus Bignot speaking to the club’s official website: “We are a team in transition, to go to that next level, takes some doing. That’s what we are trying to do.
“This group will be fine. We will be fine in this league. We won’t have to look over our shoulder, I can pretty much guarantee that.
“But for us to be successful and go where we want to be, you’ve got to change the mentality, you’ve got to change the environment. We are in the process of that.”
Friendly faces: New Hatters signing Ollie Palmer spent four months on loan at Grimsby after signing from Mansfield in January 2015.
Netted on his debut against Barnet and went on to score eight times in 16 games, including a brace in the play-off semi-final second leg against Eastleigh, before returning to the Stags in the summer and then headed to Leyton Orient.
Played for both: Graham Rodger - Scottish-born defender who started his career at Wolves, heading to Coventry in 1985, picking up an FA Cup winners medal for the Sky Blues two years later.
Joined Luton for £150,000 in 1989 and made 33 appearances, scoring twice, before moving to Grimsby Town for £135,000 in 1992, staying at Blundell Park for the rest of his career, until retiring in 1998.
Joined the coaching staff at Grimsby and became assistant manager, having a brief spell as caretaker boss but was relieved of his duties in 2006.
Returned to the club though as he now works as a community coach and scout for the Mariners.
We’ve got form: Town have not found Blundell Park the best of grounds to visit over the years.
A record of seven wins, seven draws and 12 defeats doesn’t sound too bad since their first trip in 1898, but there have been some real thumpings, losing 5-0 in 1899, 6-1 in 1949, 5-0 again in February 1995 and then the worst of the lot, a 7-1 FA Cup defeat in January 1996.
In total, Luton have scored 26 times, but let in a whopping 54 goals, while a run of over 30 years without a victory was ended by Rory Allen’s single goal in a 1-0 triumph in 1998.
Although winning on their most recent visit, Hatters’ recent record doesn’t make for the best reading, returning with that triumphant feeling on just four occasions from their last 16 trips.
Last time out: Luton emerged 2-1 winners over Grimsby on their last visit to Blundell Park, a Conference clash in March 2014.
The hosts went ahead through former Hatter Scott Neilson (18), before Matt Robinson swiftly equalised on 21 as the hosts’ defence didn’t ‘get it away’.
Striker Paul Benson then won it for Town as he found the net on 61 minutes, netting after Scott Griffiths’ effort hit the post.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Ronnie Henry, Scott Griffiths, Fraser Franks, Steve McNulty, Alex Lawless, Cameron McGeehan, Matt Robinson, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Paul Benson, Andre Gray.
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Anthony Charles, Luke Rooney, Jon Shaw, Mark Cullen.
Referee: Ross Joyce.