PREVIEW: Luton Town v Reading

Hatters are at home to lowly Royals this weekend
Hatters are at home to Reading this weekendHatters are at home to Reading this weekend
Hatters are at home to Reading this weekend

Reading can go into the final game of the season knowing they are safe in the Championship for another term after securing their position in the second tier late last month.

It hadn’t looked like that would be the case for large parts of the season, the Royals in serious trouble of finishing below the dotted line at times, so much so that manager Veljko Paunovic was sacked back in February, despite residing over a 3-2 win at Preston North End.

It was his first victory in 12 games though, which included a run of seven straight defeats, as Reading had been just two points above the bottom three until their victory at Deepdale.

Former MK Dons and Blackburn boss Paul Ince was appointed as interim manager on the same day and managed to win his first game, seeing off Birmingham City 2-1 at home, for a first triumph in Berkshire since October, some four months previously.

Three straight defeats followed against Blackpool, Millwall and Nottingham Forest, but Ince finally got the response he wanted, with a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth to start a run one loss in seven as they beat Blackburn, Stoke and then won at Sheffield United in the final seconds, then hitting back from 4-1 down to draw 4-4 with Swansea on home soil and pull clear of the drop zone.

Defeat for Peterborough against Nottingham Forest saw Reading safe, as although they have lost their last two matches, attentions will swiftly turn to matters off the field, with a whole lot to sort out at the Select Car Leasing Stadium over the summer, starting with the future of Ince himself who penned a short term deal.

Speaking to Berkshire Live he admitted talks have taken place with owner Dai Yongge, saying: “We had a meeting and a good chat, and there will obviously be a follow-up meeting.

"Then it'll be decision time. It was a good chat, a productive chat, positive, however you want to say it.

"There are still some things we need to work out but overall it was good.

"I think we need to get moving somewhere - either me as manager or someone else - because pre-season starts in six and a half weeks.

"We know the situation with the players out of contract and needing to get new players into the club, so we need to do that very quickly.

"The quicker we can resolve this one way or another, the quicker we can start moving forward."

The playing squad could be altered quite significantly as well, with 14 out of contract at the Royals, including players' player of the season John Swift, plus Andy Rinomhota and youngster Terell Thomas to name just three,

The club are still under a transfer embargo from the EFL, meaning a number could leave for free, or be snapped up by other clubs, as Ince added: “When you look at what the players have achieved in the two months I've been here, you always want to keep a core nucleus of your team.

“You don't want to be bringing in 15 or 16 players because then you're starting all over again.

"These players are ones who have played under me, they know how I work and what my demands are.

"There will be six or seven from what I've seen who I'd like to retain if I am the manager, but it's whether we can keep them.

“When you've got good players out of contract, then vultures come circling.

"They have to make the final decision.

"They need to know what I am doing first because the quicker that happens, the quicker we can have conversations with these players to see if they want to stay or move on.”

Team news: Luton are still in the midst of an injury crisis, but might have midfielder Allan Campbell available after he withdrew in the warm-up ahead of the 7-0 defeat against Fulham on Monday night.

Fred Onyedinma was added to the list after going off in the game, while boss Nathan Jones was being tight-lipped on whether Elijah Adebayo would be fit following his hamstring injury.

It means that Town will definitely be without James Shea (knee), Gabe Osho (knee) and Glen Rea (hamstring), with James Bree (ankle), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu (knee) and Luke Berry unlikely to feature, as Sonny Bradley continues to nurse his ankle injury too.

Reading are in a similar position, with 10 players out, including John Swift, Andy Rinomhota, Tom Ince, Andy Yiadom and Scott Dann.

Alen Halilovic, Felipe Araruna, Femi Azeez and Tom Holmes are not expected to feature, with Yakou Meite not fit enough to start either, Chelsea loanee Danny Drinkwater a doubt too.

Top scorers – Hatters: Elijah Adebayo (17). Royals: Lucas Joao (10).

Man in the middle: Jeremy Simpson - Has taken Luton three times this season, the 1-1 draw at Bristol City back September, plus the goalless draw at Nottingham Forest, sending off the hosts' Jack Colback and Luton's 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough in March.

Overall, he has had 34 matches, showing 127 yellow cards and seven reds too.

Officiated Luton five times last term, with Town beating Nottingham Forest and Preston, drawing with Middlesbrough and losing to Blackburn and Stoke City.

The season before Simpson refereed the 3-2 defeat at QPR, which had been his first Luton encounter since the 3-2 League Two home victory over Cambridge United in January 2015.

Also took Town twice in the Blue Square Bet Premier 2011-12 season, including the 2-1 defeat to York City in the play-off final, controversially allowing Matty Blair's clearly offside goal to stand.

Assistant referees are Robert Hyde and Lee Venamore, with the fourth official Chris Pollard.

In charge: Paul Ince – known as a tough-tackling midfielder during his playing career, starting out at West Ham United, heading to Manchester United in 1989 when he won a host of honours including the Premier League twice, FA Cup twice and the European Cup Winners' Cup.

Was sold to Inter Milan for £7.5m in 1995, heading back to England to join Liverpool in 1997, going to Middlesbrough two years later and then heading to Wolves in 2002.

Joined Swindon Town as a player-coach in August 2006, while he took charge of Macclesfield in October 2006, keeping the club in the Football League, retiring as a player at the end of the season, having also played 53 times for England, scoring two goals too.

Unveiled as MK Dons boss in June 2007, winning the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final Trophy in 2008, but then moved to Premier League side Blackburn Rovers in June that year, although was sacked six months later.

Returned to MK Dons in July 2009, leaving again the following April, as he was appointed Notts County manager in October 2010, but departed in April 2011.

Ince was back in the game in February 2013 on a one year rolling contract at Blackpool, but left under 12 months later.

A long spell out of the game saw Ince move into punditry, but he was back in the game in February this year, taking over as interim boss of Reading and has guided the Royals to safety.

View from the opposition: Interim boss Paul Ince talking to the Royals' official website: “It’s still a big game on Saturday.

“Luton have got a lot to play for, and so have other teams. It’s important to stick to the standards, keep the focus.

“We’ll turn up. I’ve told the lads – there was nothing in the game against West Brom and it was just a mistake that cost us a result.

"But you don’t want to have a habit of losing games, even if it’s the last game of the season.

“Nathan Jones has done a fantastic job with Luton.

"He’s shown what a manager he is; when you think about that team and their budget, in the Championship, organisation is key.

“If you can’t afford the best players, there are other ways to get into the Premier League.

“Nathan Jones has shown that he can get his players organised, belief, put in a shift and meet demands.

"And they’ve got a chance of getting to the Premier League.”

Managerial record: Nathan Jones has gone up against Reading eight times in his career, the second team he has taken on the most, behind only Wycombe.

The Welshman has managed three wins so far, all with Luton, 2-0 this term, and then FA Cup and Carabao Cup wins last season.

He has had three draws, one with Luton and the other at Stoke in a goalless draw and 2-2 as caretaker boss at Brighton in December 2014.

His two defeats have come while at the Hatters, 2-1 on Boxing Day in December 2020 and the 5-0 hammering just after lockdown in July 2020.

One to watch: Lucas Joao – 28-year-old striker was born in Portugal and began his career with Nacional as he had three years there, before moving to Sheffield Wednesday in July 2015.

Had four years at Hillsborough, scoring 29 goals in 128 matches, also having a loan spell at Blackburn, netting three times in 13 appearances.

Joined Reading in August 2019 as he has managed 38 goals in 82 appearances since.

Missed a large part of the season with injury, but was back in January and has managed an impressive 10 goals in 21 matches since including doubles over Preston and Swansea.

Despite playing twice for the Portugal senior team, was recently called up by Angola for their international friendlies.

Friendly faces: Gabe Osho - came through the ranks at Reading as he spent four years as a pro at the Royals.

Had loan spells at Maidenhead, Aldershot, Bristol Rovers and Yeovil, before leaving the Select Car Leasing Stadium in 2020 after 14 appearances.

Signed by Luton in November 2020, with loans at Yeovil and Rochdale, before breaking in properly this term, playing 26 games, but has seen his season ended by a hamstring injury.

Development midfielder Conor Lawless also came through Reading academy, signing a pro deal in September 2017, playing in the FA Cup defeat at Luton in January 2021.

Left in the summer of 2021 and joined Luton in September, but hasn't made a first team appearance yet.

For Reading, Tom Ince, son of interim boss Paul, joined Luton on loan from Stoke last year, playing seven games for the Hatters.

Went back to Stoke and and figured 15 times for the Potters this year, before going to Reading on loan in January and has played 15 matches for the Royals, scoring twice, but is out for the season with an injury.

Young keeper James Holden was also at Luton in the academy earlier in his career.

Played for both: Jack Stacey - born in Bracknell and came through the ranks at Reading, making his debut in August 2014, playing seven times, scoring once.

Had loans to Barnet, Carlisle and Exeter, as his spell with the Grecians saw Luton make their move, signing him for an undisclosed fee in June 2017.

Went on to enjoy a superb time at Kenilworth Road, playing 95 games and scoring five goals as Town won the League One title, signed for £4m by Bournemouth in July 2019.

Gone on to play 84 times for the Cherries and scored once as he will be back in the Premier League again next term.

We've got form: Luton have often finished on the winning side at Kenilworth Road over the years since matches began with a 4-0 FA Cup first round qualifying clash way back in October 1888, the fourth match ever in the club's history.

They went on a six game unbeaten in the Southern and United League, going on to register 7-1 and 6-0 victories in the early days.

Luton did earn another thumping 6-1 triumph in 1932, while Malcolm Macdonald's hat-trick sealed a 5-0 win in March 1970.

Town were handed a 5-0 reverse when the season resumed following the coronavirus pandemic as they were thrashed in July 2020, but hit back to win 1-0 in the FA Cup third round the following year.

In total, Luton have played 47 times, winning 26 games, drawing 10 and losing 11, scoring 102 goals and conceding 54.

Last time out: Hatters were held to a goalless draw at Kenilworth Road by Reading last season.

Town had the majority of the chances, denied by an inspired display from visiting keeper Rafael Cabral, who saved impressively from Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, James Collins and George Moncur.

Hatters: Simon Sluga, James Bree, Kal Naismith, Sonny Bradley, Matty Pearson, Ryan Tunnicliffe (Glen Rea 72), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jordan Clark (Harry Cornick 64), Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Kazenga LuaLua (George Moncur 64), Elijah Adebayo (James Collins 83).

Subs not used: James Shea, Martin Cranie, Dan Potts, Joe Morrell, Sam Nombe.

Referee: Michael Salisbury.

Attendance: None.