PREVIEW: Luton Town v Sheffield Wednesday
The Hatters are back in Championship action at Kenilworth Road this evening.
The hit and miss nature of Sheffield Wednesday's season has come to the fore once more in recent weeks.
The Owls have proved they are capable of beating anyone in the Championship, with a stunning 4-0 success at Nottingham Forest back in December, plus running out 2-0 victors at Leeds, while also knocking Premier League Brighton out of the FA Cup at the Amex too.
However, on the flip side, Wednesday have gone four without a win on home soil, losing to Hull, and then hammered 5-0 by Blackburn Rovers in front of their own fans, albeit when down to 10 men for over an hour.
They also lost on the road at struggling Wigan, meaning Garry Monk's team are on a run of four league games without a win, and have picked up just one victory in their last eight league outings.
Although Wednesday are 12th, still just six points off the top six, Monk, who took over once Steve Bruce left for Newcastle United in September, never realistically expected to be featuring in a promotion race this term.
He told the Sheffield Star on hopes of a play-off finish: “I don’t think that was ever really the number one aim.
"Of course that’s the ambition and we all want to fight for it, we’re going to fight for it.
“But if I’m honest at the start of the season it wasn’t an ambition for anyone, realistically. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be fighting for that, we are.
“But you can see how much work needs to be done, I’ve said that from the start.”
Monk has started to shape the squad as he sees fit, dropping hints on the future of certain players, with senior figures Keiren Westwood and Sam Hutchinson left out of the side.
He was busy in the transfer window as well, bringing in Crystal Palace striker Connor Wickham, Wigan forward Josh Windass and Parma's Dutch forward Alessio Da Cruz on a loan deals until the end of the season.
Team news: Luton once more have a virtually fully fit squad to choose from, with only Brendan Galloway missing out due to his serious knee injury, while Eunan O'Kane isn't available either.
The Owls are without top scorer Steven Fletcher until March with a knee injury.
Wingers Jacob Murphy and Kadeem Harris are pushing for recalls, but Moses Odubajo (hamstring), Adam Reach (toe), Massimo Luongo (groin) and Morgan Fox (ankle) remain major injury doubts.
Top scorers: Hatters - James Collins (9). Owls – Steven Fletcher (12).
Milestones: Andrew Shinnie is just one game away from completing his century for the Hatters.
The midfielder has had two spells at Kenilworth Road, on loan and then signed permanently from Birmingham City in July 2018, scoring 10 goals in that time.
Man in the middle: Gavin Ward - becoming a regular for Hatters this season, having already taken three matches, the 2-1 win at Blackburn, plus 2-1 defeats to both Nottingham Forest and Preston.
Refereed 24 games so far, with 80 yellows and three reds, while took Town twice last term, dismissing Andrew Shinnie in the 3-1 defeat at Charlton.
Assistant referees are Nick Greenhalgh and Nigel Lugg, with the fourth official Darren Blunden.
In charge: Garry Monk – 40-year-old, who was born in Bedford, and went on to have a lengthy playing career, the main highlights coming at Swansea City, where he played in all four divisions from 2004 to 2014, and was part of the side who won the 2013 League Cup.
Started life at Torquay United, before heading to Southampton, with a number of loan spells while at the Saints, heading to Barnsley and then Swansea in June 2004.
After a decade with the Swans, was appointed interim player-manager following the sacking of Michael Laudrup in February 2014.
After surviving relegation from the Premier League, Monk became permanent manager in May 2014, sacked in December 2015 after a run of one win in 11.
Named head coach of Championship club Leeds United in June 2016, resigning a year later after the takeover by Andrea Radrizzani.
Quickly back in work though, becoming Middlesbrough manager, only to leave within six months, and named Birmingham City chief in March 2018.
Was sacked in June 2019 after reports that his relationship with chief executive Xuandong Ren had broken down, but was in employment again swiftly, unveiled as Sheffield Wednesday manager in September.
View from the opposition: Garry Monk talking to the Sheffield Star: “It will be a similar game to Barnsley in the sense that it will be a battle.
“We know they are scrapping for their lives and we are going to have to match that.
“We competed against Barnsley but we need to show more composure and that's what we need to improve for Wednesday.
“It is even harder when you are playing against these teams (at the bottom) because we are the stage of the season where they are fighting for their lives.
"We need to fight for our lives. We have to keep pushing the players to show that confidence and belief in themselves."
Friendly faces: Hatter winger Callum McManaman signed for Sheffield Wednesday on loan from West Bromwich Albion in January 2017.
He made 12 appearances, although just two were from the start, returning to Hawthorns in the summer.
Midfielder Jacob Butterfield joined the Owls on loan from Derby for the 2017-18 season, playing 23 times while at Hillsborough.
Played for both: Drew Talbot - started his career at Sheffield Wednesday in 2004, playing 33 times for the club, before Luton signed him for £250,000 in January 2007.
Netted on his home Town league debut against the Owls in a 3-2 win, and went on to play 63 times, scoring five goals.
Went to Chesterfield on loan and then permanently in July 2009, staying for seven years and playing over 200 times.
Headed to Portsmouth, but was back with the Spireites in January 2018 and spent another 18 months with the club before retiring last summer.
One to watch: Connor Wickham - striker who started his career at Ipswich, before an £8m move to Sunderland in June 2011.
Had two loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday during his time with the Black Cats, his second leading to a purple patch of eight goals in 11 games.
Left the Stadium of Light in August 2015 after 15 goals in 91 games, snapped up by Crystal Palace.
Only netted 11 times in 50 appearances for the Eagles after a serious knee injury kept him out for almost two year, loaned to the Owls on deadline day, and made his debut in the 1-1 draw at Barnsley.
We've got form: Town have a fairly mixed record against the Owls at Kenilworth Road since games began with a 1-0 Division One defeat back April 1900.
It took Luton four games and 46 years to triumph, thrashed 5-1 in November 1938, as Mel Daniel scored hat-trick in a 4-1 victory.
That started a seven match unbeaten sequence, including a thrilling 5-3 success in 1951, before Wednesday ran out 1-0 winners in February 1960.
Since then Luton have just about had the upper hand, as although losing the last encounter in the FA Cup, the most recent league meeting saw Town triumph 3-2 in the Championship during February 2007.
The Hatters are actually unbeaten on home soil in the league against their opponents since August 1989, a six game run, starting when Danny Wilson and Kingsley Black netted in a 2-0 Division One success.
In total, Luton have won 12, drawn 10 and lost seven of their 29 meetings, scoring 46 and conceding 37 goals.
Last time out: Town were knocked out of the FA Cup by the Owls last season as the visitors won their third round replay at Kenilworth Road 1-0, courtesy of Atdhe Nuhiu's 46th minute strike.
Hatters: James Shea, Jack Stacey, James Justin, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley, Luke Berry (Dan Potts 69), Andrew Shinnie, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Elliot Lee (Aaron Jarvis 88), Kazenga LuaLua, James Collins.
Subs not used: Harry Isted, Lloyd Jones, Alan Sheehan, Alan McCormack, Josh Neufville.
Referee: Tim Robinson.