PREVIEW: Luton Town v Bournemouth
Hatters entertain table-toppers at Kenilworth Road
After their first real sticky spell of the season, Bournemouth appear to be back on track again as they look to justify their favourites tag with a place in the Premier League once more next term.
It had looked like the Cherries were on the cusp of running away with things at the end of October, as 11 wins from their first 15 league encounters with four draws saw them at the summit, five points clear of Fulham and nine in front of then third placed West Bromwich Albion.
A 2-1 home defeat to Preston at the start of November was forgotten with a 4-0 victory against Swansea, but Scott Parker' s side then lost 3-2 at Derby County, setting off a few alarm bells.
They were definitely beginning to run after three successive draws against Millwall, Coventry and fellow title candidates Fulham, before the Cherries lost 2-0 to in-form Blackburn Rovers and were also beaten at Middlesbrough.
That made it six games without a success, taking just three points, as they were knocked off their perch at the top by Fulham, with just a one point advantage over third, now Blackburn.
However, as favourites do, Bournemouth bounced back and showed their title credentials, returning to winning ways with a crucial 1-0 success at QPR and then defeating Cardiff City 3-0 to make the most of being one of the sides not to have their Christmas period decimated by Covid postponements.
It means that Parker's men are now back on top of the pile, only just though, one point ahead of Blackburn, having played a game more than Tony Mowbray's team, and three in front of Fulham.
An FA Cup win at National League side Yeovil last weekend ensured the Cherries have won their last three matches, as they host Boreham Wood in round four.
Looking to move early in the January transfer window and bolster their squad, Parker has done just that, signing defender James Hill from Fleetwood Town for a reported £1m fee.
Also arriving is Manchester United full-back Ethan Laird on loan until the end of the season after he had been at Swansea for the start of the campaign.
The Cherries did see a stalwart depart the Vitality Stadium though, defender Steve Cook, who had made over 400 appearances for the club, moving to Nottingham Forest.
Team news: Luton's only real doubt is former Bournemouth forward Harry Cornick as he has a calf injury, with both Danny Hylton and Tom Lockyer are believed to be in contention.
Forward Admiral Muskwe remains absent as he is in the Africa Cup of Nations with Zimbabwe.
For Bournemouth, the game comes too early for new signings James Hill and Ethan Laird, while Adam Smith and Junior Stanislas are out.
They are also without Jordan Zemura, who is with Muskwe and Zimbabwe at AFCON.
Top scorers - Hatters: Elijah Adebayo (11). Cherries: Dominic Solanke (19).
Milestones: Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu's brief outing against Harrogate on Sunday was his 318th for the Hatters and now puts him 18th in the club's all-time appearance list, overtaking Alan Slough.
Man in the middle: Leigh Doughty – has taken 15 games so far this season, showing 63 yellows and two reds, including Luton's goalless draw against Huddersfield back in October.
Officiated the Hatters twice the previous season, the 1-1 draw against Huddersfield, sending off the Terriers' Harry Toffolo, while also dismissed Matty Pearson in the 2-0 defeat at Swansea.
Referee's assistants are George Byrne and Steven Meredith, with the fourth official David Rock.
In charge: Scott Parker – began his playing career with Charlton Athletic as a trainee, heading to Chelsea for £10m in January 2004.
Sold to Newcastle United for £6.5m in July 2005, as he then joined West Ham for £7m in 2007.
Another big money move to Spurs followed in August 2011, as he was snapped up for £5.5m, heading to Fulham in August 2013, hanging his boots up in June 2017 after almost 500 games, winning 18 England caps too.
Returned to Spurs to coach their U18s, leaving in July 2018 to become first-team coach at Fulham for Slaviša Jokanović and then Claudio Ranieri.
Took over as caretaker boss at Craven Cottage once Ranieri was dismissed in February 2019, as the Cottagers were relegated to the Championship, but was appointed on a two year deal and led the team back to the top flight via the play-offs.
Couldn't keep the Cherries up though, leaving on June 28, 2021, swiftly appointed head coach at Bournemouth on a three year deal on the same day.
Managerial record: Nathan Jones has one win and one draw against Scott Parker, a 2-0 success over Fulham when Stoke manager in October 2019, losing the game at the Vitality earlier this season.
When taking on Bournemouth, he has one win, one draw and one defeat under his belt, the victory coming last term when Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall netted the only goal to seal a 1-0 away success.
Meanwhile, Parker has not lost against Luton during his three matches, with a 3-2 win and 3-3 draw as Fulham boss in the 2019-20 season, plus the 2-1 home win back in September.
View from the opposition: Scott Parker talking to the Bournemouth Echo: “I think they are a dangerous animal. They are a difficult team to play against. There is energy in their side.
“I think what brings them right into play is their stadium, their home stadium is a tight ground – it can be intimidating.
“We need to show our quality and stamp our authority on the game, play our way.
"We also need to stand up and match whatever may come at us – which I’m sure we will do.
“If we do that, I’m sure we will give ourselves a very good chance of getting a result against them. If not, it will be a difficult game.
“They are a very good side. An aggressive team, very aggressive physically but also in the way they play.
“We need to be ready for the fight which we are going to face. We will also be aware of their threats and they have them all over the pitch.”
One to watch: Philip Billing - 25-year-old Danish midfielder who was with Esbjerg to begin with, moving to England and signing a youth contract with Huddersfield in 2014.
Played almost 100 games for the Terriers before Bournemouth shelled out £15m for him in July 2019.
Is a regular goal threat from midfield, having scored in his opening three games of the season, and also netted against Luton, his third in matches with the Hatters already.
Up to eight for the season so far, although has had a tendency to see yellow recently, with six bookings in his last eight appearances, taking him up to eight for the season.
Has reached a century of appearances for Bournemouth, finding the net 19 times too.
Friendly faces: Town attacker Harry Cornick began his career with Bournemouth after joining from Wessex League side Christchurch in 2013, but only made one FA Cup sub appearance for the Cherries during his four years with loans at Welling, Aldershot, Havant & Waterlooville, Yeovil, Leyton Orient and Gillingham.
Moved to Luton for an undisclosed fee in August 2017 and has gone on to play 190 times for the Hatters, scoring 30 goals.
Defender Jack Stacey made 95 appearances and scored nine goals for Luton after joining from Reading, playing a crucial role in promotion to the second tier.
Snapped up by Bournemouth in the summer of 2019, for a fee of around £4m and has made 74 appearances for the Cherries since, scoring once.
Ex-Luton striker Stuart Douglas is also the physiotherapist at Bournemouth.
The 43-year-old came through the ranks at Kenilworth Road, playing 172 times and scoring 23 goals between 1995-2002.
He then went to Boston United, Finland side Rovaniemen Palloseura, Dagenham & Redbridge, Crawley Town, Bath City, Newport County, Dorchester Town, finishing his career with Poole Town in 2010.
First physio role came up at Woking, moving to AFC Wimbledon in July 2013, joining Bournemouth seven years later.
Played for both: Richard Cooke – winger started out at Tottenham Hotspur, scoring on his debut in a 4-2 success at Kenilworth Road in November 1983.
Was an unused substitute in the 1984 UEFA Cup Final first leg against Anderlecht, Spurs lifting the trophy on penalties, before moving to Bournemouth in 1987.
Played 72 times for the Cherries as he then went to Luton in 1989, Ray Harford agreeing to pay £75,000 for him, making 19 appearances and scoring once in the top flight for Luton, ia 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest, during his two years.
Moved back to Dean Court, but saw his career ended by a knee injury and became a taxi driver.
We've got form: Luton began impressively against their opponents from the south coast, with a 6-2 Division Three South victory in December 1923, Andy Kerr netting four times.
They lost their next home outing, but had the upper hand for large chunks of the games in the 1960s.
Recent times have seen the points shared, with Town triumphing just twice in the last nine matches, beaten on three occasions, with four draws.
They haven't enjoyed a victory in 17 years now either, since Kevin Nicholls scored the only goal in a 1-0 League One win during August 2004.
Overall, Luton still have the upper hand, with 15 wins, nine draws and seven defeats from their 31 matches, scoring 53 and conceding 33.
Last time out: Luton played out a 0-0 draw against Bournemouth at Kenilworth Road last season, with the Hatters coming closest to nicking all three points.
They had a great chance late on when Sam Nombe went through but although he was hauled back by Steve Cook for what looked a penalty, referee Dean Whitestone gave nothing.
Hatters: James Shea, Martin Cranie, Dan Potts (Matty Pearson 89), Sonny Bradley, Tom Lockyer, Rhys Norrington-Davies, Luke Berry, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Danny Hylton (Harry Cornick 71), James Collins (Sam Nombe 89)
Subs not used: Simon Sluga, Brendan Galloway, Ryan Tunnicliffe, George Moncur, Jordan Clark.,
Referee: Dean Whitestone.