PREVIEW: Luton Town v Rochdale
A pretty terrible 2019 has seen Rochdale plummet down the league and now face a real battle on their hands yet again to avoid relegation.
Keith Hill’s side’s Boxing Day win over Blackpool followed up a 2-1 triumph against Southend to see them into 16th place and although not quite sitting pretty, in relative safety, some nine point above the drop zone.
However, they were then thumped 4-0 at home by Bradford which started a fairly shocking run of form, hammered 5-0 at Doncaster and beaten 4-0 once more in front of their fans by Burton making it 13 goals shipped in three games, with none scored.
They couldnt really turn it around either, losing at Peterborough, going six games without a win, with five defeats and a draw against Fleetwood making it one point from possible 18.
Although it looked like they had turned a corner winning 2-1 at Walsall on February 2, another three defeats have followed, with goals against a major concern, shipping four at home to AFC Wimbledon in a 4-3 reverse and then hammered 5-1 at Plymouth last weekend, to concede 29 times n their last 10 league fixtures.
It means Dale have the worst goal difference in the league, currently on minus 30, five worse than bottom side Wimbledon.
They have let in 39 on their travels this term from 17 matches, also the worst record, although they have scored 25, the same amount as Sunderland and Charlton, with their only blanks at Wycombe in October and Doncaster on New Year’s Day.
The poor form has seen them drop into the bottom four, as they are now third bottom, and two points adrift of safety.
They have been here before though, looking certs for relegation last term, before just three defeats in their final 16 matches saw them out of trouble on the final day, beating Charlton 1-0 to stay up by a point.
Hero of that day, Joe Thompson, opted to retire from football last month after bravely batting back from cancer twice.
The club are remaining confident of another successful fight against survival though as chief executive David Bottomley said to the club website: “Yes, we find ourselves in the relegation zone in League One. Are we at ease with being in there? Absolutely not.
“The manager, and we as a club and board of directors, do not take our past successes for granted. It hurts that we’re in the bottom four.
“We have 12 games and 36 points left to play for this season and we still have a real opportunity to secure our League One status.
”Last season showed that when we all stick together it is possible to achieve what can, at times, look like the impossible.
“The dressing room is united and will fight to the last. We, as a board, are united behind the manager and the players, and we hope that you will unite behind this squad of players over the next nine weeks.”
Dale were busy in the transfer window with a number of signings to try and ensure they retained their League One status.
In came Cork City midfielder Jimmy Keohane on a free transfer while Nottingham Forest attacker Zach Clough’s loan deal was renewed until May, with former defender Joe Bunney returning from Northampton Town on a similar deal.
Forward Rekeil Pyke arrived from Premier League side Huddersfield Town on loan, Dale also signing right-back Ryan McLaughlin from Blackpool for an undisclosed fee.
However, they did lose full back Joe Rafferty to the Championship as Preston snapped him on on a three-and-a-half-year deal for an undisclosed fee.
Team news: Hatters are only without Glen Rea for the clash, as he is out for the season, with Marek Stech, Luke Berry and Harry Cornick all back in training and available.
For Dale, keeper Andy Lonergan’s emergency loan deal has been renewed as the 35-year-old Middlesbrough keeper continues to provide cover for the injured Josh Lillis.
Defender Ethan Ebanks-Landell is suspended after his red card last week, while there are doubts over Kgosi Ntlhe and Ollie Rathbone.
Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (19). Dale: Ian Henderson (17).
Milestones: Town goalkeeper James Shea will make his 50th appearance for the club if selected this weekend.
The 27-year-old signed in the summer of 2017 after being released by AFC Wimbledon, with 36 of his games coming this season after getting the nod over Marek Stech.
Man in the middle: Lee Swabey – has taken 21 games this season, showing 70 yellows and two red cards.
First Luton match since the 2-0 win at Forest Green Rovers in December 2017, when he sent off Jack Stacey for a high foot.
Had Hatters twice in the 2015-16 season, when Town lost 4-3 at home to Carlisle and then 2-0 at Bristol Rovers.
Also refereed Luton twice in the Conference title winning season, as Luton won 4-0 at Woking, but lost 3-2 at home to Braintree, despite Swabey sending off visiting keeper Nick Hamann with just 30 minutes gone.
Also had the same game the previous season, Braintree again triumphing 3-2, dismissing home forward Stuart Fleetwood on 28 minutes.
Assistant referees are Stuart Butler and Ollie Williams, with the fourth official Tom Reeves.
In charge: Keith Hill – 49-year-old, who had a lengthy playing career as a defender after starting out at Blackburn Rovers in 1987, where he spent five years.
Made over 100 appearances for Plymouth Argyle and then Rochdale, with stints following at Cheltenham Town, Wrexham and Morecambe, retiring in 2003, having completed over 400 games.
Joined Rochdale’s coaching staff as director of youth in December 2006 and was appointed caretaker manager following the sacking of Steve Parkin.
Was named in charge permanently in January 2007, taking the club to League One in the 2009-10 campaign, before heading to Barnsley in June 2011.
Sacked by the Tykes 18 months later, returning to Rochdale in January 2013, taking the side back up to League One the next season.
View from the dug out: Keith Hill - “We know where we are – we’re struggling in League One. We’re trying our best to keep our heads above water but it looks as though, on evidence, that we’re resigned to relegation.
“So don’t fear it, embrace it, accept it, challenge it in the 12 games that we’ve got and go against it.
“ealise that it (relegation) is more than a possibility and take it on.
“I know I can rattle people’s cages – I’m only ambitious. League One is getting the better of us financially and player wise.
“You can’t keep selling your players to the devil and expect to be dancing with God. Once you sell your players to the devil you dance to his tune.
“I’m not blaming anybody – that’s the economics of football and it has been for that last 113 years at the club. It’s a hard fight at this moment in time.”
One to watch: Ethan Hamilton – 20-year-old Manchester United midfielder joined Dale on loan in January.
Netted on his professional debut in the 2-1 defeat at Peterborough and has gone on to score two more, making it three in seven games for an impressive start to life at Spotland.
Friendly faces: Town defender Matty Pearson was signed by Rochdale on a free transfer in July 2012, making 13 appearances before leaving to sign for Halifax the following June.
Luton goalkeeping coach Kevin Dearden played twice for Dale when on loan at Spotland from Spurs in the 1991-92 season.
For Dale, striker Calvin Andrew began his career at Kenilworth Road, making 67 appearances and scoring six times during his four year spell.
Left for Crystal Plalace in July 2008 and has since had spells with Brighton, Millwall, Swindon, Leyton Orient, Port Vale, Mansfield and York, joining Rochdale in July 2014.
He is approaching 200 appearances, scoring 28 goals, notching four so far this term.
Forward Ian Henderson signed for Luton from Northampton in January 2009, scoring once in 18 games.
Went to Ankaragucu in Turkey from Kenilworth Road, then heading to Colchester and Rochdale in March 2013.
Spent the last five years at Spotland, and has now scored 100 goals for the club in that time, including 17 this season.
Played for both: Midfielder Keith Keane came through the ranks at Kenilworth Road going on to play 285 times, scoring eight goals for the Hatters, becoming a firm fans favourite.
Headed to Preston in June 2012, before spells with Crawley, Stevenage and Cambridge, joining Rochdale on loan in August 2016.
Made the move permanent at the start of the following season, going on to play 37 times in total for Dale until his release in July 2018.
We’ve got form: Luton haven’t beaten Rochdale on home soil since November 1969, when they won an Old Division Three clash 2-0 thanks to goals from John Collins and Keith Allen.
The last three matches have seen Dale unbeaten though, triumphing 1-0 in 2001, plus a 1-1 draw in the 2008-09 campaign and then hold Luton 3-3 the following season.
Prior to that, Town had been 100 per cent against their opponents with five wins, while they have scored 20 goals in total, conceding 10.
Last time out: Luton let a 3-0 lead slip to draw 3-3 with Rochdale at Kenilworth Road during an FA Cup first round tie in November 2009 under new manager Richard Money.
Steve Basham’s double and Adam Newton’s wonderful effort put Luton in the driving sea with just 29 minutes gone.
However, Craig Dawson pulled one back on 58 minutes and then Joe Thompson’s double on 87 and 89 forced a replay, that Luton won 2-0.
Hatters: Shane Gore, Alan White, George Pilkington, Adam Newton, Claude Gnakpa, Freddie Murray, Keith Keane (Jake Howells 46), Andy Burgess, Shane Blackett, Steve Basham (Tom Craddock 75), Kevin Gallen.
Subs not used: Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Callum Reynolds, Asa Hall, Rossi Jarvis, Ryan Charles.
Referee: Danny McDermid.