PREVIEW: Luton Town v Preston North End

Hatters are back in action for the first time since early March on Saturday

By Mike Simmonds
Friday, 19th June 2020, 1:46 pm
Updated Friday, 19th June 2020, 1:48 pm
Luton are back at Kenilworth Road tomorrow afternoon
Luton are back at Kenilworth Road tomorrow afternoon

Ahead of the season being suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic back in March, Preston had seen their promotion hopes take a hit, with four defeats from five matches.

Alex Neil's side had previously put a six game unbeaten run together between January to February, with impressive away wins at Town's relegation strugglers Barnsley, Wigan and Stoke, but then fell to 1-0 home defeat to Millwall.

They bounced back to see off Hull, another good win for Luton, before their promotion bid stalled somewhat, with three straight defeats, as they lost to promotion rivals West Brom, Fulhan and then a 3-1 home reverse to QPR ahead of the season shutting down.

It dropped them down to sixth, so still in a promotion place, with not believing the timing of the break had any effect on his side, as he said: “I don’t think the break came at a bad time for us.

“This is the first time in over a decade since Preston North End were in and around the Championship Play-Off positions for the majority of the season and I think, as a squad, that took a lot out of us.

“We worked extremely hard to get there and we looked as if we were just tailing off a little bit towards the end, but this group has a real steely determination and it is quite strange that as we appear to be tailing off, they start to pick up.

“I am hopeful now that we are fresh.

"What it does do, is that it puts things into perspective; I think everyone has had a lot of time to think about where we are, what we have to do and how much it would mean and I think the players are ready and prepped for it.

“If you look at the start of the season and we attack these nine games like we did those, we will be in good shape.

"I have good real confidence that we will go and do as well as we can and I am a big believer that if we play as well as we can, that it will be enough.”

Since football was given the green light to restart, Preston have been one of the Championship sides affected by the virus, confirming two positives tests at Deepdale.

One was ex-Luton foward Jayden Stockley, while the club was understood to have another player as well, although his details weren't made public.

With nine games to go, Neil is hoping that there are no more further positives tests or injuries to his squad, saying: “The most important thing getting through this period, to get ready for the games, was trying to limit any injuries.

"Because the difficult thing is that if you pick up an innocuous knock that is only going to keep them out for ten days or so, they could potentially miss four games, so half the matches with just a knock that would normally cost you just one game.

"That is something we have to be conscious of.

“Also, the testing is a real concern, because anyone testing positive from this point onwards is going to miss matches and I am sure every club from up and down the country feels the same way.”

Away from playing matters, and looking to next season, Preston did award keeper Mathew Hudson a new two-year contract as he followed fellow stopper Declan Rudd in putting pen to paper.

Team news: Luton boss Nathan Jones won't have a fully fit squad to choose from for the clash, although wasn't giving away who might be missing during yesterday's press conference.

Definitely out are Brendan Galloway (knee) and Eunan O'Kane (leg), who aren't expected to feature this season.

For Preston, attacker Louis Moult is out for the rest of the campaign, but both Billy Bodin and Tom Bayliss are fit.

Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (11). Lilywhite: Daniel Johnson (11).

Man in the middle: John Brooks - will be refereeing his third Luton game of the season, having taken Town's 3-2 defeat at Fulham and 2-1 home reverse against Leeds earlier in the campaign.

Has taken 26 games in total this term, showing 92 yellows and just the one red, that coming in his last match, Derby's 3-0 win over Blackburn.

Last season, he had 40 matches, brandishing 156 yellows and five reds, having the whistle for the Hatters' 0-0 draw against Barnsley in League One.

Previously, he has taken Luton's 1-1 League Two draw at Cambridge, sending off James Collins for two bookings and Town's 3-0 win over Hartlepool in February 2017.

Assistant referees are Timothy Wood and Adam Crysell, with the fourth official Tom Nield.

In charge: Alex Neil - 39-year-old who began his playing career north of the border with Airdrie, before moving to Barnsley and having a spell with Mansfield, heading back to his home country to join Hamilton Academical in August 2005.

Made over 200 appearances and then became Hamilton's player-manager in 2013, leading them to promotion to the Scottish Premiership in 2014, returning to England in January 2015, appointed manager of Norwich City.

Guided the Canaries to the Premier League, although couldn't keep them up in the top flight and was sacked in March 2017.

Wasn't out of work for too long though, named Preston boss four months later, taking the Lilywhites to seventh in the Championship in his first season and 14th last term.

View from the opposition: Alex Neil talking to the Preston official website: “What is going to be really interesting is that I have been in Nathan’s (Jones) position when I left Norwich and what happens when you leave somewhere is that you do a lot of reflecting over the time that you were there.

"You look at the bits you did wrong, the bits you want to improve and you have a real clearer idea and picture of what you want to improve when you next go in somewhere.

“I don’t know what for Nathan those things might be, but I am sure for him, he will have resolved that, sorted it all out in his head and knows what he wants to focus on more and try and improve on.”

One to watch: Daniel Johnson – 27-year-old midfielder started out at Aston Villa, but after loan spells with Yeovil, Chesterfield and Oldham, left Villa Park without making a first team appearance, heading to Preston in January 2015.

Has featured over 200 times for North End since, closing in on a half century of goals too, while started the current campaign impressively, netting four times in his his first four outings.

Bagged a double against Barnsley in October, and is the club's top scorer with 11 goals, including during their 3-1 defeat to QPR in the last game before the season was suspended.

Friendly faces: Town striker Jake Jervis joined Preston on loan from Birmingham City in January 2012 for a month.

He managed two goals in five appearances, netting on his debut in a 1-1 League One draw at Rochdale and also the following 3-2 win over Wycombe.

For Preston, attacker Jayden Stockley headed to Kenilworth Road on loan from Bournemouth in January 2015 until the end of the season, scoring three times in 13 appearances.

Had further loan spells away from the Cherries before going to Exeter in August 2017 where he really made his name with 41 goals in 76 games.

That was enough to earn a £750,000 move to Preston in January of this year, as he has netted six goals in 43 games so far.

The striker has struggled this term, on target just twice in 26 outings, his last strike against Luton, as he got the winner at Deepdale back in December.

Played for both: Steve Basham - Forward who began his career with Southampton, heading to Wrexham on loan and then Preston in February 1999 until the end of the season.

Scored 10 goals in 17 games as the move was made permanent the following term, but he could only manage six goals in 61 appearances.

Rediscovered his scoring touch at Oxford in August 2002, netting almost 50 goals in three campaigns, before heading to Exeter for two years and then Luton at the start of the 2009-10 season.

Made just one start in the FA Cup, scoring twice in a 3-3 draw with Rochdale, plus five league substitute appearances as he was sent on loan to Hayes & Yeading by new Town boss Richard Money.

Left the Hatters for Oxford City in November 2011 and played his final three seasons there before retiring.

We've got form: Luton have found it tough going against their opponents from Deepdale over the years at Kenilworth Road.

They started with a 2-0 defeat in the FA Cup first round back in February 1895, with another defeat in the same competition following in 1921.

The opening league game ended 1-1, as Luton lost 2-1 in 1950, finally ending their 60-year wait for a first win, Mick Cullen and Peter MacEwan sealing a 2-1 Division One triumph in August 1955.

Since then results have been mixed, although the stand-out result for Town was a 5-1 Division Two thumping in February 1997, David Oldfield bagging a hat-trick.

Town have also been on top for the last two games, with two victories and clean sheets, meaning Preston haven't scored at Kenilworth Road since the turn of the century.

In total, Luton have won nine, drawn five and lost nine of their 23 clashes, scoring 41 and conceding 35.

Last time out: A fast start saw Luton emerge 2-0 winners in their last home match against Preston, that a Championship clash on December 2, 2006.

Rowan Vine had the Hatters ahead after just two minutes, with Carlos Edwards (19) putting the game beyond the Lilywhites.

Hatters: Dean Kiely, Kevin Foley, Leon Barnett, Lewis Emanuel, Markus Heikkinen, Steve Robinson, Carlos Edwards, Ahmet Brkovic, David Bell, Dean Morgan (Warren Feeney 56), Rowan Vine (Adam Boyd 89).

Subs not used: Marlon Beresford, Russell Perrett, Richard Langley.

Referee: Mike Jones.

Attendance: 7,665.