PREVIEW: Luton Town v Birmingham City
Birmingham City are having a desperately tough time of it both on and off the pitch at the start of 2020.
The club could potentially be hit by a second points deduction in two seasons after being charged with breaching financial rules by the EFL.
Blues were deducted nine points in March 2019 for breaking profitability and sustainability rules, while City have said the current charge relates to a breach of a business plan imposed by the league last season.
A statement on the official website said: “The club confirms that it has been charged with a breach of EFL Regulations in relation to a business plan imposed upon us in the 2018/19 season.
“The club denies the charge and we await the outcome of ongoing disciplinary proceedings.
“We shall be making no further comment at this time.”
Matters on the pitch make for similarly depressing reading for Blues' fans as they have gone downhill massively since seeing off the Hatters 2-1 at St Andrews back in late October.
That victory saw Pep Clotet's side sitting in 11th place, just three points off the play-offs, but they then went five without a win, ending that sequence with a 3-2 success at Reading.
It wasn't to herald a change in fortunes though as Birmingham went on to lose five of their next six, including their last four home matches in the league, a 3-2 reverse to Wigan last time out, particularly worrying.
Away from home, the Blue haven't been that bad, as they have only lost once in their last five trips, drawing three and winning one, but it still can't change the fact that since beating Luton, they have won just once out of 12, taking seven points from a possible 36, as they are now in severe danger of being drawn into the relegation battle.
The FA Cup gave City a brief moment of respite last weekend, as a 2-1 home win over Blackburn Rovers put Blues in the strange position of possibly being away on home soil in round four, as they could will go to tenants Coventry City should the Sky Blues see off Bristol Rovers in a replay.
Clotet is yet to make a move in the transfer window, although the club did agree a new contract with Spanish forward Miguel Fernandez, who has been with the U23s this season.
Team news: Luton have doubts over Martin Cranie, Callum McManaman and Kazenga LuaLua as all three missed last weekend's FA Cup defeat at Bournemouth.
Izzy Brown and Dan Potts are still expected to be out until the trip to Nottingham Forest next weekend, but Danny Hylton is fit again, although has yet to feature this season.
The Blues are without centre half Marc Roberts and fellow defender Jake Clarke-Salter, while midfielder Maikel Kieftenbeld (knee) is also out and Ivan Sunjic is suspended.
Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (8). Blues: Lukas Jutkiewicz (8).
Milestones: Town striker Elliot Lee is one short of his century of appearances for the Hatters, having played his 99th game against Bournemouth last weekend.
Man in the middle: Graham Scott - taken 16 games this season, 12 of them in the Premier League, with 53 yellows and four red cards, including sending off Roberto Pereyra during Watford's 3-3 draw with Tranmere last weekend, although that has since been rescinded.
Had the whistle for one Luton game, Town's 3-0 win over Bristol City back on October 19.
That was his first Hatters fixture since the 4-1 victory over Wycombe Wanderers in September 2016, while he also refereed the 2-1 defeat to Northampton in March 2015.
In charge for two more Luton games way back in the 2008-09 campaign as he had Town's 1-1 draw at home to Morecambe and 2-0 defeat at Brentford.
The referee's assistants are Neil Davies and Ian Cooper, with Darren Drysdale the fourth official.
In charge: Pep Clotet - only appeared for local amateurs CF Igualada as a player, as turned his attentions to coaching while still in his 20s, starting with UE Cornellà then RCD Espanyol's youth teams.
Took charge of UE Figueres in the 2006-07 season, returning to senior football in the 2009-10 campaign, with Espanyol's reserves.
Went to Sweden for two years, assistant at Malmö FF and then named head coach at Halmstads BK.
In September 2011, Clotet joined Norwegian club Viking FK as coach, heading back to Spain in July 2012, working with Málaga CF's reserves.
Made the move to England in November 2013, appointed academy consultant at Swansea City, then promoted to assistant manager under Garry Monk the following year.
Left in December 2015, as he went to Leeds United in June 2016 as part of Monk's backroom staff, departing 12 months later, when he was named Oxford United manager in July, although was sacked in January 2018.
Appointed assistant manager at Birmingham City in March 2018, when Monk took over as manager, becoming caretaker boss in June 2019 after Monk was sacked, given the permanent role last month.
View from the opposition: Boss Pep Clotet speaking to the club's official website: “Luton is a difficult place to go, they are a stronger team at home than they are away, they play an open game and have a lot of energy.
“I am expecting a tough match, but I am trusting our strengths to go there and get the right result.
“I thought the lads showed great character when we went down to 10-men at the weekend.
"We had to work a lot harder, we had to double up, we are getting our centre-backs with us again.
"We want to get back on track at Luton and we look forward to getting a good result against Luton.
"Our focus is to purely to build on our last performance, progressing as much as we can.
"We know the importance of Saturday’s game, we want to climb up the table."
One to watch: Jude Bellingham - 16-year-old starlet for the Blues, who made his debut against Portsmouth in the EFL Cup earlier in the campaign, his first league outing coming the following week at Swansea.
Scored on his third appearance for the club, netting the winner in the 2-1 victory over Stoke City, doing the same in the next game, as Charlton were beaten 1-0.
Despite his young age, has made 23 appearances in the Championship, with 17 of them starts and has been on target once more, in the thrilling 5-4 defeat to Leeds last month.
Friendly faces: Hatters midfielder Andrew Shinnie had five years with Birmingham after heading to the Midlands from Inverness Caledonian Thistle in July 2013.
Made 73 appearances for the Blues, scoring six times, with loan spells at Rotherham, Hibernian and also Luton during his time at St Andrews.
Joined the Hatters permanently in July 2018 and has played 98 times for Town, scoring 10 goals.
Striker Jake Jervis, currently on loan with Salford City, came through the youth ranks at Birmingham, making five substitute appearances, before leaving for Elazigspor in January 2013.
Town head of recruitment Mick Harford was signed by Birmingham from Bristol City in March 1982 for £100,000.
Scored 25 times in 92 games for the Blues, as Luton snapped him up for £250,000 in December 1984, going on to become a huge favourite at Kenilworth Road, with 92 goals in 217 matches over two stints.
He cemented that legendary status last season, leading the club to the League One title, before returning to his head of recruitment role in the summer.
Town goalkeeper coach Kevin Dearden had a loan spell at Birmingham from Spurs in March 1992, playing 12 times.
Played for both: Striker Isaac Vassell began his career with Plymouth Argyle, before being released by the Pilgrims and heading to Truro City.
He was snapped up by Luton in July 2016 and went on to score 16 goals in 55 games, as then Blues boss Harry Redknapp shelled out around £1m to take him to St Andrews in August 2017.
Had a tough time at St Andrews, with injury restricting him to just one goal in 24 appearances, as he was linked with a return to Kenilworth Road in the August transfer window.
Headed to Cardiff instead for an undisclosed fee and although he scored the winner on his debut against Luton, further injuries means he has played just three times, and not since August 27.
We've got form: Although Town's recent record against the Blues is a good one, they have struggled over the years whenever Birmingham visit Kenilworth Road.
The Hatters are currently undefeated in eight matches in front of their own fans, not losing in over 40 years, since a 3-2 Division Two reverse in November 1979.
Of those eight games, three have been victories for the Hatters, the other five ending all square.
Before then it was a different matter though, despite Luton winning the first meeting in Bedfordshire, an FA Cup first round clash in 1921, as goals from Ernie Simms and Louis Bookman saw the hosts progress 2-1.
They lost their first league match, 3-1, in 1946 and went five games without a win until a 2-0 triumph in 1953.
It has been very hit and miss for Town since their recent upturn in form, with the overall record standing at eight wins, 10 draws and nine defeats from their 27 fixtures, scoring 33 goals and conceding 32.
Last time out: A late David Bell goal secured Luton Town a 3-2 win over Birmingham in their last meeting with the Blues at Kenilworth Road, a Championship clash back in October 2006.
DJ Campbell (14) had put the visitors ahead, before Rowan Vine scored from the penalty spot and then netted again 60 seconds later to make it 2-1 to Luton just before the half hour.
Neil Danns scored spectacularly to draw City level on 66 minutes, but Bell, who had only been introduced shortly beforehand, won it nine minutes from time.
Hatters: Marlon Beresford, Kevin Foley, Leon Barnett, Sol Davis, Lewis Emanuel (Dean Moran 55), Markus Heikkinen, Steve Robinson, Steven O'Leary (David Bell 70), Carlos Edwards, Sam Parkin, Rowan Vine (Warren Feeney 86).
Subs not used: Dean Brill, Keith Keane.
Referee: Jonathan Moss