PREVIEW: Luton Town v QPR

Hatters entertain fellow play-off hopefuls at Kenilworth Road

By Mike Simmonds
Saturday, 12th March 2022, 6:45 am
Sonny Bradley in action against QPR last season
Sonny Bradley in action against QPR last season

After looking like they could sneak into the battle for the automatic promotion places recently, a poor run of form has seen QPR's play-off hopes now become a doubt.

Back in October, a 2-1 defeat to Peterborough followed by a 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest had Rangers in eighth place and 10 points away from West Bromwich Albion in second place.

Mark Warburton's side then went on a fine run, gaining nine wins from their next 13 matches including four in a row at one stage following the turn of the year, to really lift them into contention for the top two.

They hammered Reading 4-0 on January 29 to sit in fourth place, just two points behind Blackburn, who were second, but a 2-0 FA Cup reverse at Peterborough was the start of a downward trend.

Rangers' 2-2 at home to Middlesbrough wasn't the end of the world, but successive away reverses against Barnsley and Millwall, followed by a 1-1 draw with Hull, meant it was two points from a possible 12.

Warburton's men recovered to see off Blackpool 2-1, to move up to third spot, but then back-to-back losses against Blackburn and Cardiff means they have now lost four from six and are sitting seventh.

In fact they even dropped out of the play-off places for the first time since January 2, to sit one point below Luton having played the same amount of games.

Normally one to keep a very level head, even Warburton couldn't hide his disappointment with the efforts of his side when beaten 2-1 on home soil by Cardiff last time out.

He told the BBC: “I don’t lose my rag often but that was not us in the second half. We can’t be that. We can’t accept that.

“We just dropped to testimonial pace and that’s not acceptable. There’s no excuses.

"We were dominant in the first half, got the goal, should have got the second and all we had to do was maintain our tempo.

"That's ruined the weekend and days beyond that. If it doesn't hurt, you shouldn't be in the camp."

Warburton did a bit of business in the January transfer window to bolster his side for the run-in, bringing in experienced keeper David Marshall from Derby.

He also signed Newcastle midfielder Jeff Hendrick and Wolves youngster Dion Sanderson on loan.

Team news: Luton will be without Sonny Bradley (groin) and Gabe Osho (hamstring), while Kal Naismith remains a doubt having missed Tuesday night's trip to Coventry.

For QPR, goalkeeper Seny Dieng is out with a thigh problem, but skipper Stefan Johansen and experienced striker Charlie Austin are set to return to the squad, with Scottish international Lydon Dykes potentially available too.

Top scorers - Hatters: Elijah Adebayo (14). Rangers: Lyndon Dykes (9).

Milestones: Harry Cornick reached his 200th appearance for the club during Tuesday night's 1-0 win at Coventry, the attacker scoring 33 goals since signing from Bournemouth back in August 2017.

Striker Elijah Adebayo also marked his 50th outing as a Hatter with his 14th goal of the season and 19th in total.

Man in the middle: Josh Smith - taken just one Luton game so far this season, the recent 3-0 FA Cup second round win at Cambridge United.

Has officiated 32 matches in total, showing 124 yellows and four reds, with just one other Hatters fixture previously, the 4-0 defeat at Cardiff City last term.

Assistant referees are Ian Cooper and Jonathan Hunt, with the fourth official James Linington.

In charge: Mark Warburton – 59-year-old who turned out for Enfield and Boreham Wood during his playing days, also having spells at Scottish non-league side Stoneyburn Juniors and playing in the Charlotte and Chicago men's leagues while living in America.

After cruciate injuries forced him to call it a day, he took on a part-time role as a coach at St Clement Danes School in Chorleywood while working as a trader, beginning his path at Watford's academy in 2006.

Warburton was then named first team coach at Brentford in February 2011, moving to sporting director, becoming the Bees boss in December 2013, winning promotion to the Championship.

He left Griffin Park in the summer of 2015, quickly appointed Glasgow Rangers manager, lifting the Scottish Championship title and Challenge Cup during his time at Ibrox.

Departed in February 2017, he was named Nottingham Forest chief in March, but was sacked on New Year's Eve, starting a period 18 months out of work.

However, Warburton was installed as QPR boss in May 2019 and closing in on his three year anniversary as manager, is now the third longest serving manager in the Championship.

View from the opposition: Boss Mark Warbuton speaking to West London Sport - “We have had a good week of training, got a lot of good work done and are really looking forward to two big games coming up.

“We talk about the demand of the schedule but this has been the opportunity to do some proper work – Tuesday and Wednesday were two very hard days.

“We had some good pitch work time and got some good strength work into them.

“It is a massive boost to be able to do that.”

Manager record: Luton boss Nathan Jones has never come out as a winner against QPR manager Mark Warburton during their five previous encounters, with four defeats and just the one draw.

He has also never enjoyed a victory against Rangers either, with a 0-0 draw against the side when at Stoke in March 2019.

Friendly faces: Luton first team coach Paul Hart had a brief spell in charge of QPR when taking over in December 2009, only lasting five games though, with one win, two draws and two defeats, leaving in January 2010.

Assistant boss Mick Harford was assistant manager and then caretaker twice at Loftus Road.

He was number two to John Gregory in June 2007, taking charge when Gregory left, leading them to two wins, two draws and one defeat.

Was back with Rangers in December 2009, second in command to Hart, and moved into the hot-seat when Hart resigned, as he won one, drew one and lost six of his eight matches, replaced by Neil Warnock.

For Rangers, striker Andre Gray signed for Luton from Hinckley in 2012 as he spent two years at Kenilworth Road, scoring 57 goals in 111 games for the Hatters, a major reason they won promotion back to the Football League.

He was sold to Brentford in the summer of 2014 for a fee of around £500,000, then going to Burnley for £9m, before Watford shelled out £11.5m for him in August 2017.

Loaned to QPR this season, Gray scored on his debut in a 3-3 draw at Reading and has managed six in 22 appearances for the club, on target in the recent 2-1 defeat at to Cardiff.

Played for both: Paul Walsh - after signing for Luton in 1982 from Charlton Athletic for £400,000 the forward spent two years at Kenilworth Road scoring 28 goals in 89 appearances for the Hatters, winning a handful of caps for England in the process.

Joined Liverpool for £700,000 in 1984 and when to Spurs for £500,000 four years after, as he had a brief loan spell with QPR in 1991, playing twice for the club, who couldn't take him permanently, unable to afford his transfer fee.

Went to Portsmouth in 1992 and then Manchester City for a year, returning to Fratton Park as he retired in 1996 and now works in the media.

One to watch: Chris Willock - 24-year-old attacking midfielder who began his career at Arsenal, but then went to Benfica in 2017, becoming a regular for the Portuguese club's reserve side.

Had loan spells at West Bromwich Albion and Huddersfield, until QPR parted with £750,000 for him in October 2020.

Has become an important part of the team, the England youth international making 36 appearances this season, scoring seven times, including against Luton in the 2-0 win back in November.

In total, Willock has played 74 times for Rangers, with 10 goals.

We've got form: Town's first meeting with QPR on home soil came back in December 1899, a 1-1 draw with Tom McInnes scoring, Luton going on to lose the replay 4-1.

Another cup clash followed in 1900, the Hatters winning 3-0, before they began their Southern League matches with a 2-2 draw in 1901, triumphing the following season.

Hatter racked up an 8-1 Western League victory in 1908 as they were unbeaten in their first 14 matches against their west London opponents.

When Division Three South matches started in 1922, Luton went on a seven game winning run only conceding twice in that time.

Another lengthy unbeaten sequence followed in 1930s, while after a rare loss in 1952, Town weren't on the losing side for 18 fixtures and almost 40 years, finally ended with a 2-1 reverse in 1991.

Since then the visitors have had the upper hand though, as from the last nine encounters at Kenilworth Road, the Hatters have only managed two wins, and have won just once in the last 21 league encounters either home or away.

In total, Luton have entertained Rangers 68 times, with 34 wins, 22 draws and 12 defeats, scoring 188 goals and conceding 66.

Last time out: The Hatters couldn't end their winless run on home soil against Rangers as the returning Charlie Austin was left unmarked to nod home from a corner on 38 minutes.

Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu clipped the bar, but the visitors sealed a 2-0 victory in the final minute when a mistake by Glen Rea was pounced upon, Macauley Bonne free to slot home.

Hatters: Simon Sluga, James Bree, Dan Potts (Sam Nombe 77), Sonny Bradley, Tom Lockyer, Glen Rea, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Kazenga LuaLua (George Moncur 83), Harry Cornick, James Collins (Danny Hylton 83).

Subs not used: James Shea, Peter Kioso, Brendan Galloway, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jordan Clark.

Referee: Andy Woolmer.

Attendance: None.