PREVIEW: Luton Town v Cardiff City
Hatters host Bluebirds this weekend
Cardiff are finding their third season back in the Championship a real struggle to date, far, far too close to a different kind of dotted line they had expected to be at this stage of the campaign.
After relegation from the Premier League in 2019, the Bluebirds had finishes of fifth and eighth as the play-offs looked their best bet to recover a place in the top flight.
Hopes were high under Mick McCarthy that they would feature in a battle for the top six once more, and things started that way, a 1-1 draw with Barnsley, then a 2-0 win at Blackpool, followed by a 2-2 draw with Peterborough and a 3-1 triumph against Millwall.
Even going down 2-1 at to Bristol City was swiftly forgotten with a 2-1 success at Nottingham Forest as after five games, the Bluebirds were sitting comfortably in ninth,
However, things then started to go wrong, and quite spectacularly so, with a 1-0 loss at Coventry, as the Bluebirds were unable to buy a point after that.
In fact they suffered eight straight defeats in a row, setting an unwanted club record, failing to score in seven of them, as the board's patience finally running out, McCarthy losing his job following the 2-0 home reverse to Middlesbrough which saw City slump to third bottom.
U23s head coach Steve Morison took over and despite looking like nothing had changed, City 3-0 down at Stoke City with just 25 minutes to go, they somehow produced a miraculous comeback to score three times in quick succession and snatch a first point in nine.
Home form continued to be a struggle though, Cardiff losing to QPR, but then a last minute Kieffer Moore strike saw the Bluebirds finally register a first victory at the Cardiff City Stadium by defeating Huddersfield 2-1.
Ex-Hatter James Collins scored the winner as City triumphed 2-1 at Preston to show signs of life, before on Wednesday night, old habits returned as they lost 2-1 at home to fellow strugglers Hull.
It's been in front of their own fans where the Bluebirds have really struggled this term, suffering seven of their 11 defeats there as their away form isn't too bad, three wins and two from their nine fixtures.
The home support let the players know their feelings after the full time whistle against the Tigers in midweek, as Morison told Wales Online that the club needs their support if they are to pull clear of a drop zone they are just three points away from, saying: “It’s a reality check.
“I don't really understand it (booing) if I'm honest.
“It must be down to the fact of where we are in the league, because we had back-to-back wins.
"All I ask is, if we are going to get out of this, it is going to take absolutely everybody.
"Everyone who works at the football club and every fan who comes through the door and watches.
“You see the difference in performance when the fans get up and get right behind us and try and suck the ball towards the goal with their energy and their noise.
"Unfortunately when it goes the other way and we get the negative reaction, it has the opposite effect.
"So, I'd ask, if we are going to get out of this, we need them to be right behind us.
"Like the Huddersfield game, we were losing and they were with us all the way and it was arguably not too dissimilar a performance.
“It might be frustrating for people watching at times, especially when we’re behind because they want us to get it forward, but they have to understand that often when there’s that moment of frustration we come out the other side.”
Team news: Luton can welcome back goalkeeper Simon Sluga to the squad after he missed Tuesday night's goalless draw with Nottingham Forest having to isolate after coming into contact with someone with Covid-19 when on international duty.
Midfielder Luke Berry remains out though with his knee injury.
For Cardiff, Kieffer Moore and Joe Ralls were both fit enough to start in midweek, but Isaac Vassell, Lee Tomlin and Sam Bowen all remain absent.
Top scorers: Hatters – Elijah Adebayo (8). Bluebirds – Aden Flint, Kieffer Moore (4).
Milestones: Nathan Jones completed his 250th match in charge of the Hatters last time out, Town held to a 0-0 draw at Nottingham Forest.
He is now the fourth longest serving manager in the club's history and has overseen 117 wins, 69 draws and 64 defeats.
Man in the middle: Oliver Langford - Has taken two Luton games so far this term, the 2-2 draw at Blackburn Rovers, where he failed to send off home captain Darragh Lenihan for his shocking challenge on Allan Campbell, and Town's 1-0 win at Barnsley.
Has officiated 14 matches so far this term, showing 51 yellow cards and one red, that in the last match between Bristol City and Stoke City, dismissing Potters midfielder Joe Allen late on.
Refereed Luton twice last season, the 3-1 win at Wycombe Wanderers and 1-1 draw at Huddersfield.
Also had the Hatters twice in their opening season back in the Championship, the 3-3 opening night draw against Middlesbrough and 3-0 reverse at Bristol City.
Taken the whistle for five other Luton fixtures, in charge of two wins, two defeats and one draw.
Referee's assistants are George Byrne and Richard Wild with the fourth official Gavin Ward.
In charge: Steve Morison – 38-year-old, who started his playing career at Northampton Town in 2002, before moving to Bishop's Stortford for an undisclosed fee in 2004.
He went to Stevenage Borough in August 2006 and scored almost 100 goals in three years for the club, including the winner in the 2007 FA Trophy Final, the first competitive cup final to be held at the new Wembley Stadium.
Morison then joined Millwall for £130,000 in 2009, heading to Premier League side Norwich City in June 2011, where he scored 12 goals in 59 games.
The striker went to Leeds in January 2013, rejoining Millwall on a season-long loan after just five months, heading to the Lions on a permanent basis in August 2015 and scored the play-off final winner to help the club reach the Championship in 2017.
He then finished his career at Shrewsbury Town, retiring in October 2019, also scoring once in 20 caps for Wales, appointed Northampton Town's U18 coach, before later joining Cardiff City as the lead coach of the U23 team.
Following Mick McCarthy's departure last month, he was appointed caretaker and then given the job until the end of the season.
Managerial record: Nathan Jones has come up against Cardiff twice in his career so far, last season, with the Hatters losing 2-0 at home and then 4-0 on the road.
View from the opposition: Steve Morison talking to Wales Online: "We need to get as high as possible in the table.
"We have got to believe we won’t get relegated and everything will be OK.
"We are frustrated, annoyed, gutted we’ve not got the result. We will go on the grass in the minute and work on what we’ve got to do.
"We will go to Luton and give it our all. If we keep producing our numbers, there is no doubt in my mind we will get more positive results."
Friendly faces: Experienced striker Cameron Jerome moved to Cardiff in July 2004 after being part of the youth set-up with Middlesbrough, signing his first professional contract.
He scored 27 goals in 79 outings for the Bluebirds before a £3m move to Birmingham City in May 2006.
Arrived at Luton after leaving MK Dons in the summer, netting once in his 15 appearances so far.
Defender Tom Lockyer came through at hometown club Cardiff, but was released and signed for Bristol Rovers without playing a first team game.
For City, striker James Collins joined Luton in June 2017 having a prolific four years at Kenilworth Road, helping the club win two promotions, scoring an impressive 72 goals in 183 matches.
Left in the summer when his contract ran out and moved to the Bluebirds although has found life tough, taking 17 games to open his account, scoring just once in 18 appearances so far.
Striker Isaac Vassell is also still at Cardiff, the forward joining Luton in July 2016 after being snapped up from Truro City.
Scored 16 goals in 55 games for the Hatters, before Birmingham reportedly shelled out over £1m to take him to St Andrews a year later,
Moved to Cardiff in August 2019, netting on his City debut, with the winner in a 2-1 success over the Hatters, but a succession of injuries have restricted him to just three appearances for the Bluebirds, not playing a first team game since the 3-0 Carabao Cup defeat to Town later that month.
Goalkeeper coach Andy Dibble started his playing career at Cardiff, as he played over 50 games, moving to Luton for £125,000 in July 1984.
Had possibly the finest moment of his career when saving Nigel Winterburn's penalty as Luton won the 1988 League Cup by beating Arsenal 3-2 at Wembley.
Moved to Manchester City in 1988, although did return to Kenilworth Road on loan in 1997, playing once, as he made 39 appearances overall for the Hatters.
On retiring, coached at Accrington Stanley, Coventry, Peterborough, Rotherham and then headed to Cardiff in January 2017 for a role he has done since.
Played for both: Solomon Taiwo – midfielder had an extensive career in non-league, joining former Town boss John Still at Dagenham & Redbridge in 2007.
A string of fine displays alerted then Cardiff manager David Jones in August 2009 who shelled out £250,000 for the player, but he only made 12 appearances, heading back to Daggers and Leyton Orient on loan and then going to Mansfield Town in 2012.
Signed by Still again on a free in March 2013 when in charge of Luton, as Taiwo played 16 times, scoring twice, with loans at Aldershot and Dover Athletic.
Left Town in 2015 and played for Dover, Margate, Cray Wanderers, Bishop's Stortford and Faversham Town, now a UEFA B Licensed coach, working in Millwall's Community Trust.
One to watch: Rubin Colwill - teenage midfielder joined the youth academy of Cardiff when aged eight, making his professional debut last season.
Has featured more regularly this term, scoring his first goals in the 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest, featuring 19 times, also netting in the 3-3 draw with Stoke.
Colwill has represented Wales at U17s and U21s level, named in the recent Euro Championships squad.
Made his senior debut in June 2021, replacing former Hatters midfielder Joe Morrell and has now won three caps.
We've got form: Luton had been utterly dominant over Cardiff in their early matches at Kenilworth Road since the first meeting, a 2-0 home Southern League victory in December 1912.
The Hatters went on a magnificent 18-game unbeaten run, including two Division Three South 8-1 triumphs in 1932.
They were finally beaten in April 1963, when a Division Two contest finished 3-2 to City, but went seven without defeat once more, picking up a 7-1 Division Two triumph in September 1978.
Cardiff did then win two out of three, and have had the upper hand since losing 2-0 in December 2006, unbeaten in the last four matches with two victories and two draws, winning the last two encounters.
Overall though, Luton have won 19, drawn 11 and lost just five of their 35 meetings, scoring 81 goals and conceding 35.
However, Town are now seven without a win anywhere against the Bluebirds in the league, without a triumph since a 2-1 Championship success in Wales in October 2005.
Hatters haven't scored in their last three matches either, managing to find the net just once in their previous five meetings.
Last time out: The Hatters were beaten 2-0 at home by Cardiff City last term.
After a goalless first half, the Bluebirds hit Town with two goals in four second half minutes, Harry Wilson curling past Simon Sluga range on 53 minutes and then Will Vaulks' effort deflecting in soon afterwards.
Town: Simon Sluga, Matty Pearson (Luke Berry 46), Dan Potts, Tom Lockyer (Martin Cranie 30), Sonny Bradley, Glen Rea, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Kal Naismith (Tom Ince 64), Danny Hylton (Harry Cornick 64), James Collins (Elijah Adebayo 73).
Subs not used: James Shea, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jordan Clark, Sam Nombe.
Referee: Tim Robinson.