PREVIEW: Luton Town v Blackpool

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Hatters host Tangerines at Kenilworth Road this weekend

It's definitely a case of a job well done for Blackpool this season as they secured their status in the Championship some time ago now, which for the majority of newly-promoted teams, is the aim back in August.

An excellent home record has been the main reason behind their position just below mid-table, but some 22 points clear of the bottom three, with 11 wins at Bloomfield Road, the joint third highest tally in the division, only bettered by Fulham, Nottingham Forest, Millwall, Blackburn and Middlesbrough.

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They continued to show their form in front of their own fans, hammering Birmingham 6-1 on Monday, to end a run of five games without a win that was threatening to take some of the gloss off an excellent first season back in the second tier since 2015.

Away from home, it has been a slightly different story though, Blackpool managing just four victories, the fourth lowest in the division, with only Barnsley, Derby and Peterborough having managed less.

Three of those were registered before October had finished as well, with triumphs at Middlesbrough, Reading and Sheffield United.

Since that victory at the Blades though, Critchley's men have won just one of their next 12 on the road, although they haven't been pushovers either, with five draws, including holding Swansea, Fulham and Blackburn.

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However, after beating Stoke in March, they have taken just one point from their last nine, to sit 16th in the table.

Jason Cummings scores Luton's late leveller against Blackpool in April 2019Jason Cummings scores Luton's late leveller against Blackpool in April 2019
Jason Cummings scores Luton's late leveller against Blackpool in April 2019

Boss Neil Critchley is looking to now end the season strongly as with four matches still to play, the Tangerines could still finish in a top 12 position.

He told the club's official website: “We're coming into it on the back of a good victory, but we're well aware of the task that's up against us.

“We want a good end to the season and finish as high as we can in the table.

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“We've got four games to go which is 12 points to fight for, and we'll be doing everything we can to put in a good performance and get a pleasing result."

Off the pitch, Critchley is already starting to put plans in place for the new season with defender Marvin Ekpiteta and striker Gary Madine agreeing new contracts to stay with the club.

Team news: Where does you start for the Hatters?

Keeper James Shea is being assessed after suffering a knee injury against Cardiff on Monday, as Town haven't yet brought in an emergency loan signing, despite only having Harry Isted and youth teamer Jameson Horlick available.

Defender James Bree is another who is being monitored after his ankle injury in Wales, while midfielder Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu is definitely out, along with Gabe Osho and Glen Rea.

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Sonny Bradley is available after suspension, while there will be late decisions made over the quartet of Jordan Clark, Luke Berry, Cameron Jerome and Fred Onyedinma.

Blackpool can welcome back Luke Garbutt having recovered from a bout of illness, but Jordan Gabriel, Dujon Sterling and Kevin Stewart are all out, as is Sonny Carey after he fractured a metatarsal on Boxing Day.

Dan Grimshaw is unlikely to be risked, with Grant Ward (Achilles) sidelined as well.

Top scorers: Hatters: Elijah Adebayo (16). Tangerines: Shayne Lavery (10).

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Man in the middle: John Brooks – has taken 16 games this season, including three Premier League clashes, with 55 yellows and one red, that coming in his last match between Bristol City and Peterborough.

Took one Town game last term, the 1-0 defeat at fierce rivals Watford in September, while had four Luton fixtures the season before, 1-1 draws with both Preston and Leeds, plus the 3-2 defeat at Fulham and 2-1 home reverse against Leeds.

Also officiated Luton's 1-1 League Two draw at Cambridge in March 2018, sending off James Collins for two bookings and the 3-0 win over Hartlepool in February 2017.

Assistants referees are Nick Hopton and Matthew Jones, with the fourth official Trevor Kettle

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In charge: Neil Critchley – 43-year-old, who had a brief playing career with Crewe Alexandra in 1999 and then went to Leigh RMI, but retired aged just 24 as he went into coaching.

Started at his former side Crewe, going on to be appointed joint academy director in 2007, before joining Liverpool as U18s coach in 2013.

Also served as U23s manager at Anfield, while took over as Reds boss for two first team cup fixtures with Jurgen Klopp and the senior squad away to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.

Became a head coach in his own right in March 2020, taking over at Blackpool on a three-and-a-half-year contract, leading the Tangerines to the Championship via the play-offs in his first full season, earning a four year extension in November.

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View from the opposition: Neil Critchley talking to the club's official website: "Luton have had an unbelievable season and are deservedly where they are in the table.

"Nathan Jones has done a wonderful job with his team.

“You get a really tough and certain type of game when you come up against Luton.

“They're very good at what they do and are a very humble team that gives everything.

“They're on a fantastic run of form and are aiming to finish in the play-offs.

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“Luton beat us at our place 3-0 earlier in the season, but I didn't think that was a reflection of the game on the day.

“It's up to us to try and go there and avenge the defeat.

“The game is live on Sky, and our record in front of the cameras hasn't been brilliant this season, so it would be nice to try and change that. “

Managerial record: Nathan Jones has taken on Blackpool six times in his career so far, all when in charge of Luton, winning three, drawing two and losing one, that being the League Two play-off semi-final first leg at Bloomfield Road.

He has also triumphed the only time the two managers have met, Luton 3-0 victors on the road in December, the only time opposite number Neil Critchley has faced the Hatters.

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Friendly faces: Town's new academy director Paul Hart moved to Blackpool as player from Stockport County in 1973, as he played almost 150 times for the club, joining Leeds United in 1978 for a fee of £300,000, going on spend the next five years at Elland Road.

Town's head of coaching and professional player development Adrian Forbes was signed by Blackpool in July 2006 from Swansea City, as he went on to play in the 2007 League One play-off final 2-0 victory over a Yeovil side containing Nathan Jones at Wembley.

He then left Bloomfield Road in January 2008 for Millwall having played 46 times, scoring once.

Town striker Elliot Lee, currently on loan at Charlton Athletic, had a brief loan spell at Blackpool from West Ham in November 2015, playing four times.

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For the Tangerines, keeper Stuart Moore had a difficult loan spell at Luton from Reading in the 2017-18 season, making eight appearances, but was at fault for two goals as Blackpool drew 3-3 at Kenilworth Road in the League Two play-off semi-final to go through 6-5 on aggregate.

He went to Barrow and then signed for Swindon, MK Dons and Wealdstone, moving to Bloomfield Road in February 2021, but has played just twice, including once this season, as a second half substitute in a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers.

Played for both: Donervon Daniels - Defender was on loan at Blackpool between August 2014 to January 2015 from West Bromwich Albion, as he played 19 times, scoring once.

Headed to Wigan and then went to Bloomfield Road on a free when his time at the Latics was up in 2018, making another 30 appearances, signed by Luton in September 2019.

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Loaned to Doncaster, but returned to play four times for the Hatters, scoring once in the 3-2 win over Derby County, although didn't feature again following his own goal in the 2-0 defeat to former club West Brom.

Released in August 2020, he join Crewe, and was then signed by Walsall in the recent January transfer window for an undisclosed fee, as he has played 15 times, scoring once for the Saddlers.

One to watch: Gary Madine - 31-year-old striker began life at Carlisle in July 2007 and scored 22 goals during his three and a half years with the Cumbrians, also having loans at Rochdale, Coventry and Chesterfield.

Joined Sheffield Wednesday in January 2011, netting 28 goals in 113 matches for the Owls, also having stints at Carlisle, Coventry and a first experience of life at Blackpool, borrowed by the Tangerines for two months from February 2015 to April 2015, scoring three goals in 15 matches.

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Moved to Bolton in July 2015 and managed 26 goals in 107 outings, as that saw Cardiff pay an undisclosed fee for his services in January 2018, although the transfer didn't work out as he would have liked, no goals during his 28 games.

Joined Sheffield United on loan in January 2019 until the end of the season, as made his return to Bloomfield Road on a permanent basis in January 2020.

Has gone on to score 18 goals in his 72 appearances so far, including eight this season.

We've got form: Luton have a decent record on home soil against Blackpool since they triumphed 3-1 in a Division Two clash back in 1897.

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Town went five matches and 60 years without losing, until beaten 2-0 in 1957, with a mixed bag of results following until a six match winning run between 1978 and 1999, as they also kept seven sheets out of eight matches in total.

A 3-1 defeat halted that sequence in 2003, but since then, Town have remained unbeaten in their last five meetings at Kenilworth Road.

In total, Luton have won 16, drawn seven and lost just four, scoring 52 goals and conceding 31.

Last time out: A late Jason Cummings goal saw the Hatters claim a crucial 2-2 draw against Blackpool back in April 2019 as Town went on to win the League One title.

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The hosts had moved in front though James Collins' sixth minute goal, only for Nya Kirby to level on the half hour.

Collins saw red for his second booking just after the hour mark, with Matthew Virtue immediately putting the visitors ahead, only for Cummings to strike with four minutes to go.

Hatters: James Shea, Jack Stacey, James Justin, Sonny Bradley, Matty Pearson, Luke Berry (Harry Cornick 74), Andrew Shinnie, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Elliot Lee (Jason 82), James Collins, Kazenga LuaLua (George Moncur 59).

Subs not used: Harry Isted, Alex Baptiste, Alan Sheehan, George Thorne.

Attendance: 10,028.

Referee: Lee Collins.