PREVIEW: Luton Town v QPR

Hatters host Rangers at Kenilworth Road
Luton celebrate Cameron Jerome's opener against QPR last seasonLuton celebrate Cameron Jerome's opener against QPR last season
Luton celebrate Cameron Jerome's opener against QPR last season

As they seem to do at the start of most seasons, QPR are showing all the signs of being able to challenge for a place back at the top table of English football for the first time since 2015 once more.

At the same stage last term, Rangers were sitting fifth, just five points off the top six, but saw all that hard work unravel due to a wretched run at the end of the campaign, eventually ending up well short of the play-offs.

It wasn't quite the same in the season affected by Covid, as QPR struggled to really get going, but during Luton's first year back in the second tier, a Rangers side with Eberechi Eze on fire were once more fifth with 13 matches completed.

Despite looking like world-beaters at times, particularly for 30 minutes of their 3-2 win over the Hatters, they yet again dropped down the standings post Christmas, ending up in 14th position.

All three of those campaigns were under the tutelage of Mark Warburton, but he left his position at Loftus Road in the summer, ending his three year stint, with QPR going for the untested, as a manager at least, giving Aston Villa assistant manager Michael Beale his first job as number one.

Beale didn't do too much to alter the squad he inherited with permanent signings, bringing in Chelsea's Jake Clark-Salter, PSV Eindhoven's Kenneth Paal and Leon Balogun from his former side Rangers.

He did also strengthen further this week, free agent Elijah Dixon-Bonner agreeing terms after leaving Liverpool in the summer, where had worked with Beale in the academy.

The new boy was certainly quick to praise his new manager, telling West London Sport: “He is a football guru, he is into every little detail.

“I played up a level at Liverpool and I remember being scared of him!

"I was a young kid and he was the big, bad boss of the 23s but, both being from the south, we could relate and we clicked straight away.”

The loan market was something Beale was quick to utilise for top flight additions to bolster his squad, as Ethan Laird (Manchester United), Taylor Richards (Brighton), Tim Iroegbunam (Aston Villa) and Tyler Roberts (Leeds) all joined.

There were some big name departures too, Charlie Austin and Jordy de Wijs moving abroad, as did Moses Odubajo too, as when the action kicked off, Beale got off to a slow start in August, Rangers losing to Blackburn on the opening day, as although they hit back to beat Middlesbrough 3-2, three games without a win saw the R's sitting down in 17th.

Beating Watford 3-2 at Vicarage Road changed all that though, setting the club on a terrific run of six wins from eight, including three in a row, with away successes at Bristol City and Sheffield United, plus a 2-1 victory over Reading last time out, shooting them up to the table, now sitting in third.

Although he is delighted at the start, Beale knows it is where they are in the latter stages of the season, where QPR have let themselves down in recent times, that really matter, saying: "It's certainly been a positive start.

"We're in a really nice place as a football club. The Championship is so up and down, but I am pleased with where we are.

"I've got points targets for certain stages of the season, which I won't share, but it's important that we get to where we were in March last year and use the experiences of last season as a strength.

"I want us to get to March in touching distance, then I think it will be really exciting."

"I think we can get better. We're nowhere near where I think we can get to. We've only had 14 games and not everyone has been available.

"I want us to peak at the right time. The Championship is a tough league with real variety, and it's important we find the answers."

Team news: Luton will be without injured duo Reece Burke (hamstring) and Cauley Woodrow (calf), but Gabe Osho and Cameron Jerome could both be fit. James Shea and Glen Rea remain long-term absentees.

QPR top scorer Chris Willock is out with a hamstring problem, while there are doubts over full-back Ethan Laird who limped off against Reading last Friday, but duo Taylor Richards and Sinclair Armstrong have both returned to training.

Top scorers: Hatters: Carlton Morris (6). Rangers: Chris Willock (6).

Man in the middle: Tony Harrington - has taken six games so far this season, four of them in the Premier League, including Brighton's defeat to Spurs on Saturday, showing 20 yellow cards so far.

Had the Hatters twice last year, the 3-1 win at Hull and 3-3 draw with Swansea, as he officiated 24 games in total, with 72 cautions and one red.

Prior to that, he refereed Town twice in the 2020-21 season, with defeats at Millwall and QPR, and three times the campaign before, losses to Nottingham Forest and Brentford, although did have the 3-0 EFL Cup win at Cardiff.

Looking back further, he has had a further seven Luton matches, the Hatters winning twice, drawing twice and losing three games, sending John-Paul Kissock off against Wrexham in March 2012.

Assistant referees are Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett, with the fourth official Josh Smith,

In charge: Michael Beale – 42-year-old started his playing career at Charlton Athletic, but after being released, had trials at FC Twente and clubs in the USA, before retiring aged just 21.

Set up a futsal club in South London, as he then joined Chelsea's academy in 2002 as a part-time youth coach, going on to work with the club's U7s and U9s.

Moved to Liverpool's Academy, named coach of the U16s, moving up the U23s, where he worked with U18s coach Steven Gerrard, leaving Anfield in January 2017 to become assistant manager to Rogério Ceni at Brazilian club São Paulo.

Headed back to Liverpool six months later after being sacked, before he went to Rangers as Gerrard's assistant, helping the Ibrox side win their first Scottish Premiership in 10 years.

Moved with Gerrard to Aston Villa in November 2021, named QPR manager in June of this year, and is already the 11th longest serving manager in the division.

View from the opposition: Boss Michael Beale speaking to West London Sport - “Nathan Jones has done a great job on a small budget.

"I thought he recruited well in the summer.

"They are in a good place with an energetic coach who will have his team riled up.

"I'm looking forward to the game. Our away form is good and we want to maintain it.

“Our positivity in trying to play head-on for the three points has proved wise.

"Hopefully being positive and on the front foot will lead to us winning more points on the road."

Managerial record: Luton boss Nathan Jones has never come out as a winner against QPR in his time as a manager.

He has suffered four defeats from five while in charge of Luton, while his two matches when Stoke chief saw him held to a goalless draw and suffer a 2-1 defeat.

Friendly faces: Luke Freeman - Town midfielder signed for QPR in January 2017 after the R's paid an undisclosed fee to Bristol City for his services.

He had a fine time at Loftus Road, managing eight goals in the 2018-19 season, his most prolific to date, named QPR Player of the Year, which earned him a move to Premier League side Sheffield United.

In total, he played 112 times and netted 15 goals for the R's, as once he was released by the Blades in the summer, moved to Luton, where he has played 10 games, scoring once so far.

Town first team coach Paul Hart had a brief spell in charge of QPR, taking over in December 2009, but was only in charge for five games, with one win, two draws and two defeats, leaving in January 2010.

Luton's head of recruitment Mick Harford has been assistant manager at Rangers 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.

Returned to Rangers in December 2009, as he was second in command to Hart, taking over for eight matches when he resigned, replaced by Neil Warnock.

Played for both: Keith Rowland - Northern Ireland defender had come through the ranks at Bournemouth, heading to West Ham in 1993 for £110,000 and then QPR in 1998, a deal that saw ex-Hatter Iain Dowie join him and Trevor Sinclair switch to Upton Park.,

It was at Rangers that he had a loan move to Luton in 2001, playing 12 times for the Hatters, scoring twice, with goals in the 5-3 win over Swansea and 3-1 win at Swindon.

Eventually left Loftus Road later that year after playing 59 times, scoring three goals, as he then had spells at Chesterfield, Barnet, Hornurch, Dublin City, Redbridge and Welling United

Won 19 caps for his country as well, while since retiring, has managed Wingate & Finchley, Aveley and Tilbury, leaving the latter in February of this year.

One to watch: Lyndon Dykes – born in Australia, the striker had spells at Mudgeeraba, Merrimac, Redlands United, Gold Coast City and Surfers Paradise Apollo, moving to Scottish side Queen of the South in 2016.

Scored 22 goals in 136 matches, as he went to Livingston in January 2019, with 14 goals in 36 outings, which earned him a move to QPR in August 2020.

Having qualified to play for Scotland, he bagged 31 goals for club and country in the last two seasons, up and running this term in the 3-2 win over Middlesbrough.

A lengthy drought then followed, but netted twice for Scotland in their 3-0 win over Ukraine in the Nations League last month, his seventh and eighth goals in 25 caps, as buoyed by that, bagged a double in the 2-1 win over Reading last time out.

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

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

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 in Bedfordshire.

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

Another lengthy unbeaten sequence followed in the 1930s, while after a rare loss in 1952, Luton went on an unbeaten run of 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 13 encounters at Kenilworth Road, the Hatters have only managed two wins, QPR with five, as Town are on a run of just one league win in their last 22 matches anywhere.

In total, Luton have entertained Rangers 68 times, with 34 wins, 22 draws and 13 defeats, scoring 189 goals and conceding 68.

Last time out: Luton looked to be on their way to victory against QPR last season, Cameron Jerome opening the scoring on 37 minutes.

However, Kal Naismith then gave away a penalty 10 minutes into the second half, which was converted by former Luton attacker Andre Gray, as Rob Dickie's 83rd minute header won it.

Hatters: James Shea, James Bree, Tom Lockyer, Reece Burke, Kal Naismith, Amari'i Bell, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu (Henri Lansbury 15), Jordan Clark (Robert Snodgrass 81), Allan Campbell, Elijah Adebayo, Cameron Jerome (Harry Cornick 74).

Subs not used: Harry Isted, Dan Potts, Luke Berry, Fred Onyedinma.

Referee: Josh Smith.

Attendance: 10,073.