PREVIEW: Luton Town v Oxford United

Luton Town FC. Stock images.
Luton Town FC. Stock images.

It was quite a summer of upheaval at Oxford United after a season that had promised so much.

Leading the League Two table at times during the first half of the campaign, they faltered badly and ended up in eighth place, nine points off a play-off berth.

Manager Gary Waddock then had his contract terminated in July with the fixtures for the season ahead already having been released.

The ex-Luton midfielder had only been in charge since March, and left with an unenviable record of one win and seven defeats in his eight games, the worst of any Oxford boss.

The move came as part of a restructuring of the club in which ex-Marussia Formula 1 chairman Darryl Eales became joint-owner and also the new chairman.

Businessman Ian Lenagan, who has owned Oxford for eight years, stayed on, while former West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper and director Mark Ashton was named chief executive.

Former Blackburn and Portsmouth boss Michael Appleton was given a way back into management, as he took over, but despite despite knocking Bristol City out of the Capital One Cup and only losing on penalties at Premier League side West Brom, he couldn’t turnaround the league form, with the Yellows losing their opening four matches, making it eight defeats in a row for the club.

They finally stopped the rot with a 3-3 draw against Dagenham & Redbridge, and since then have gone make if five games unbeaten, winning their first game since April 12 too as they defeated Accrington 3-1 on September 16.

That remains their only victory of the season though as they sit in 22nd place, just one above the drop zone.

One of Waddock’s parting gifts was to sign Rotherham striker Danny Hylton, with the forward easily the stand out player so far, while Appleton has been gradually implemented his own changes to the squad.

He brought in Michael Collins, Junior Brown, Will Hoskins and most recently experienced midfielder Brian Howard, who once scored an FA Cup winner for Barnsley at Liverpool and was most recently with CSKA Sofia.

Appleton while also has been utilising the loan market to good effect too, with George Long, Joe Riley and Alex Jakubiak all joining.

On paper, what looks like a fine piece of business is the addition of Peterborough striker Tyrone Barnett on a 93-day emergency loan, who has moved for £1.2million earlier in his career.

It had looked like the forward was going to join permanently, but the deal fell through as as Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony said: “Oxford are a sleeping giant and the club could do very well so I’m a bit stunned he did not go there. But hey ho, when the window opens someone else will be in for him.”

Team news: Midfielder Alex Lawless is still out, as is Andy Parry and Paul Connolly, while there are doubts over Paul Benson, Luke Rooney, Jake Howells and Curtley Williams.

Jonathan Smith was back in training this week, as both Shaun Whalley and Nathan Doyle featured in a development match, so are in contention.

The U’s were boosted by Andy Whing and Ryan Clarke both playing in a development side win over Southend in midweek although Luton is likely to be slightly too early for the pair as they return from injury.

Striker Will Hoskins is the only other absentee as he misses out with a groin injury.

Top scorers: Hatters: Mark Cullen (3). Oxford: Danny Hylton (5)

Average League Two crowds: Hatters: 8,162. Oxford: 5,076.

Man in the middle: Mark Haywood, experienced referee who is taking charge of a Luton game for the first time.

Has officiated 10 games so far, showing 24 yellows and two reds in matches ranging from Championship to League Two.

Last season showed 74 yellows and five reds in his 35 games.

In charge: Michael Appleton, 38-year-old former midfielder who had his playing career cut short by injury.

Started life at Manchester United, making a handful of appearances for the Red Devils, while having loan spells with Lincoln City and Grimsby Town.

Left Old Trafford when Preston North End shelled out £500,00 and played over 100 games until joining West Brom for £750,000.

Suffered a serious injury in November 2001 and was eventually forced to retire in 2003, where he stayed with the Baggies on the coaching staff.

Had one game as caretaker boss, before taking charge of Portsmouth in November 2011.

Opted to move to Blackpool in November 2012, but after just 11 games and 65 days, decided to join Blackburn as manager in January 2013.

A poor run of results at Ewood Park saw Appleton leave his role two months later after just 15 games and 67 days.

Was given another chance during the summer, when he was appointed head coach at Oxford on July 4.

From the dug out: Michael Appleton: “It is going to be great, we will take about 1,000 fans and that will give our lads a boost.

“I am told there is a bit of needle in the game which will give it an edge and I don’t think we will see the free-flowing football that we played on Saturday.

“I think we will have to earn the right to play, but hopefully we win our battles and then when the game opens up later on we can play the sort of football that we have been playing recently.”

One to watch: Danny Hylton - 25-year-old forward who began his career at Aldershot, scoring 35 league goals in over 170 appearances.

Joined Rotherham last summer, but the move didn’t work out as he was loaned to Bury and then AFC Wimbledon.

Left the Millers in the summer and joined Oxford, scoring in his second game and has netted seven times so far, including a brace against Dagenham & Redbridge and also in the League Cup clash at West Bromwich Albion.

We’ve got form: Hatters’ matches with Oxford at Kenilworth Road usually end up with a result as Luton have won eight, drawing two and losing six, scoring 36 goals and conceding 24.

Town have turned it round after a poor early run too that saw them lose five of their first seven meetings but their recent record has seen them lose just once in their previous nine clashes, that a 1998 League Cup tie.

Recent years have seen Town remain unbeaten in their four previous meetings, with the latest reverse a 3-2 League Cup tie in 1998, while Town haven’t been beaten in the league since 1987, when they went down 3-2 in the old Division One.

Hatters have enjoyed some excellent victories against their opponents too, the most famous when they put seven past them during the old Division One season back in 1987-88 when Mark Stein (3), Mick Harford (2), Darren McDonough and Brian Stein netted.

The biggest win though was a 4-0 triumph in their first ever meeting when Matt Tees and Malcolm MacDonald both bagged braces during a Division Two fixture in the 1970-71 season.

Last time out: There was huge drama the last time Hatters entertained Oxford when both sides were in the Blue Square Bet Premier in 2009 as Town knocked their visitors off the top of the table in thrilling style.

The visitors had led through Matt Green’s 74th minute strike, but Luton levelled matters in the 90th minute thanks to George Pilkington’s deflected header.

Then, moments later, Kenilworth Road was in ecstasy as Keith Keane famously scored direct from a corner, before harshly receiving a red card for his ‘over-exuberant’ celebrations.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Janos Kovacs, George Pilkington, Asa Hall (Craig Nelthorpe 77), Freddie Murray, Keith Keane, Adam Newton, Kevin Nicholls (Claude Gnakpa 46), Liam Hatch (Matthew Barnes-Homer 59), Rossi Jarvis, Tom Craddock.

Subs not used: Shane Gore, Jake Howells.

Attendance: 8,860.