PREVIEW: Luton Town v Bristol Rovers
Bristol Rovers come into tonight’s clash at Kenilworth Road boasting a superb record on their travels.
The Pirates finished their successful Conference season, where they ensured it was just a single term in the non-league after relegation out of the Football League, on the back of a 15 game unbeaten run.
In that time, they won at the likes of Grimsby and Gateshead, which is always no mean feat, and the sequence was even more impressive since they began the campaign with three defeats from four away from the Memorial Ground.
A victory at Lincoln changed all that though and their last defeat in all competitions was way back on November 8, 2014, beaten 1-0 at Tranmere Rovers.
Jones warns Town squad livelihoods will be at stake if they don't improve soon
Hatters boss knows star Town striker Adebayo and a few other Luton players are 'off it'
HATTERS RATED: Bristol City 2 Luton Town 0
Tight hamstring forces Mendes Gomes off on Fleetwood debut after agreeing season-long loan with the Cod Army
Jones knows something needs to change for Luton after Town draw yet another blank at Ashton Gate
They finished with six wins and nine draws in total, and Darrell Clarke’s side have carried that form into the League Two campaign, with a 1-0 victory at Yeovil Town on the weekend.
The result was a boost for Rovers as they had lost their opening game of the season, 1-0 against Northampton at home, while also slipping out of the Capital One Cup, beaten 2-1 by Birmingham City.
Strengthening their team for the season, Clarke moved to bring in Chesterfield keeper Aaron Chapman on loan recently, with Kieran Preston and Will Puddy, while Brighton midfielder Jeffrey Monakana has been borrowed for month too.
Joining permanently though were Chris Lines, Cristian Montano, Ryan Clarke and Billy Bodin, but the majority of the play-off winning side have remained in place.
Young striker Jamie Lucas headed to Boreham Wood on a one-month loan, while Andy Monkhouse, Angelo Balanta and Abdulai Bell-Baggie all found pastures new too.
Clarke confirmed this week he is looking to bring in three more experienced players before the transfer window closes, and on the season itself, the boss isn’t happy on just consolidating in the higher division too, as he told BBC Points West: “I want to kick on, move the club forward and keep building success.
“As a player I wanted to play at the highest level and as a manager I want to manage at the highest level.”
“For me, there is unfinished business here and I want to get Bristol Rovers into the top half of League One and then I will feel as if I’ve achieved.
“I don’t want to hide behind the fact we’ve got promoted, so let’s consolidate.
“I want my players to show they can perform in the top seven of League Two and we’ll see how we go.”
Off the pitch, Rovers have also discovered they can appeal against a High Court ruling that allowed Sainsbury’s to pull out of a deal to buy the club’s Memorial Stadium.
In July the club lost a court battle over the £30m deal, which is seen as a key part of plans to build a larger stadium in the city.
The £30m contract to buy the club’s 12,000-capacity stadium was signed in December 2011.
The agreed plan was for Sainsbury’s to buy the site for a new supermarket, but lease it back to the club while Rovers built a new 21,700-seat stadium in Stoke Gifford.
Planning permission for a new supermarket on the site was not granted until January 2013 and was further delayed by judicial review.
Then Sainsbury’s pulled out, arguing conditions had not been met before the “cut off date” in the agreement, but Rovers says a new stadium is needed to secure its future.
Team news: Luton boss John Still doesn’t have any new injury concerns ahead of the match, with Magnus Okuonghae the only absentee he continues to get back to match fitness.
Rovers also have no new worries since the 1-0 win at Yeovil, with midfielder Ollie Clarke expected to retain his place.
Top scorers - Hatters: Jack Marriott (2). Rovers: Ellis Harrison (2).
Man in the middle: Trevor Kettle - experienced official from Berkshire has taken two games so far this season, but more than happy to dish out the cards though, with 10 yellows already.
Last season, had 22 matches and brandished 63 cautions, with only one red, that coming in his penultimate game of the campaign.
First time he has been to Kenilworth Road since the 2008-09 season when he officiated the 3-3 League Two draw with Bradford, dismissing the hosts’ Chris Martin in the 90th minute.
The previous season, he had the whistle for Luton’s 3-0 victory over Sunderland in the Carling Cup, sending off the visitors’ Greg Halford on the hour mark, plus Town’s 1-0 League One triumph over Tranmere, courtesy of David Edwards’ winner.
Kettle has also reffed Town five other times, with Luton winning twice, losing twice and drawing one.
His most notable incident was in the 2006-07 season when Hatters drew 0-0 at Stoke City, as he sent off Ricardo Fuller and Sol Davis for that now infamous tackle on Mamady Sidibe.
The assistant referees are John Law and Paul Howard, with Alan Dale, hopefully not the actor best known for playing Jim Robinson in Neighbours, the fourth official.
In charge: Darrell Clarke. 37-year-old who enjoyed a long playing career, making over 400 appearances as a midfielder for the likes of Mansfield Town, Hartlepool United, Stockport County, Port Vale, and Rochdale.
Was appointed Salisbury City manager in 2010, leading the club into the Conference Premier from the Southern League with two play-off final victories in three seasons.
Became Bristol Rovers assistant in June 2013 but when manager John Ward was moved upstairs, he took sole charge in March 2014.
Couldn’t prevent the club from dropping out of the Football League, although guided them back at the first attempt with a 5-3 penalty shoot out win over Grimsby Town at Wembley.
Signed a new and improved one year rolling contract earlier this July, saying: “There was never any question of me not agreeing to sign a new contract, we just needed a little bit of time to iron out all of the details.”
View from the opposition: Darrell Clarke, speaking to the Bristol Post: “We know we have a very difficult task ahead of us at Luton.
“They are having a really good go at trying to achieve promotion and they have a big squad with a lot of quality running all the way through it.
“They finished just outside the play-off places last season and, after strengthening over the summer, I fully expect them to be one of the top seven sides this time.
“I have a lot of respect for their manager John Still because he has been around the block and he is one of those who is always on the end of a phone if you’re looking for advice as a younger manager.”
One to watch: Elliot Harrison - 21-year-old striker is the only player to have scored for Rovers so far this season, netting both of their goals to date.
Enjoyed a mixed season last year as after scoring just two goals in his first 19 games, went on to net 12 in his last 19 matches, with a run of 10 goals in his final 12 games, including Rovers’ goal at Wembley in the play-off final clash with Grimsby.
Friendly faces: Hatters boss John Still spent time at Rovers as he was named assistant manager to Ray Graydon in May 2002, but left the club in December 2003 as the club entered financial difficulties.
In Rovers’ squad is Lee Mansell, who came through the ranks at Kenilworth Road, making 62 appearances and scoring 10 goals before moving to Nuneaton on loan and then Oxford on a free.
Played 48 games last season, scoring the decisive penalty in his side’s Conference play-off final win, but injury has seen him yet to feature this term.
Midfielder Stuart Sinclair started his career at Luton too, but left without making an appearance. Signed for Rovers in July 2014 and has featured in all their games so far this term.
We’ve got form: When talking about matches against Bristol Rovers, one sticks out like a sore thumb, the clash back on Monday, April 13, 1936 in the Old Division Three South.
On that day, strike Joe Payne wrote his name into the record books, scoring 10 times in a 12-0 win with Frederick Roberts and George Martin also on target.
Luton’s overall record against Rovers is superb too, with 27 wins, 10 draws and eight defeats from their 45 games, scoring 103 goals and conceding only 44.
However, recent years have seen Rovers on top, with four of their eight victories coming in the last seven outings, meaning the previous four successes took over 60 years to accrue.
Defeated last time out, Luton’s most recent win was in Division Three in 2002, with goals from Steve Howard, Chris Coyne and Kevin Nicholls securing a 3-0 triumph.
Last time out: Luton suffered a 2-1 defeat against Rovers in their last meeting at Kenilworth Road, a League One clash back in September 2007.
The visitors were ahead through the prolific Rickie Lambert on two minutes, before Matthew Spring levelled from the penalty spot.
With eight minutes to go, Lambert netted what turned out to be the winner though for Rovers.
Hatters: David Forde, Alan Goodall (Don Hutchison 89), Chris Perry, Richard Jackson, Chris Coyne, David Bell, Matthew Sprint, Steve Robinson, Darren Currie (Dean Morgan 78), Drew Talbot (Paul Peschisolido 67), Paul Furlong.
Subs not used: Jaroslaw Fojut, Paul Furlong, Calvin Andrews