PREVIEW: Luton Town v Stoke City

Hatters host the Potters at Kenilworth Road

By Mike Simmonds
Friday, 5th November 2021, 2:38 pm
Updated Friday, 5th November 2021, 2:46 pm
Luke Berry gets stuck in against Stoke last season
Luke Berry gets stuck in against Stoke last season

Stoke began this season looking like they were going to finally make a concerted push to get back into the Premier League under boss Michael O'Neil.

Following their relegation to the second tier in 2018, the Potters almost fell further down the leagues, as under as first Gary Rowett and Nathan Jones, they managed 16th place in 2018-19.

A poor start saw Jones sacked and O'Neill appointed in November 2019, as the former Northern Ireland boss ensured they pulled clear of safety to finish 15th, but could only improve that by a single place last term.

Hopes were higher this year though as having inherited an inflated squad on big wages, many from the top flight days, O'Neill set about finally trimming the numbers at the Bet 365 Stadium.

Out went Moritz Bauer, Jordan Cousins, Badou Ndiaye, Bruno Martins Indi, Lasse Sorenson, Sam Vokes, Lee Gregory and James McClean, with a number moving out on loan too, including Benik Afobe and Peter Etebo.

Young defender Nathan Collins also departed in a reported £12m move to the Premier League, with Burnley splashing the cash, while Ryan Woods headed to Birmingham, John Obi Mikel, Kevin Wimmer and Liam Lindsay all find new employers.

That freed up some room for Stoke to do a few bits of business of their own, Mario Vrancic arriving on a free from Norwich, as did Huddersfield's Demeaco Duhaney, the Potters also paying an undisclosed fee to Bournemouth for Sam Surridge.

Watford defender Ben Wilmot was snapped up along with Gillingham keeper Jack Bonham, while O'Neill used the loan market, raiding the Premier League for Brighton duo Leo Skiri Ostigard and Abdallah Sima, with Romaine Sawyers joining from second tier rivals West Bromwich Albion as well.

The Potters started as if they meant business, winning three from four matches, with a draw making it 10 points from 12.

A 3-0 defeat at Fulham was quickly forgotten thanks to another victory, while despite losing at Derby in September, the Potters followed that up with another two wins from three in the Championship, including beating West Bromwich Albion at the start of October to sit fourth, just a point off second spot.

They even put together a good Carabao Cup run as well, seeing off Fleetwood and Doncaster, while a 3-1 win at Premier League side Watford would have even had Luton fans smiling.

It then start to go slightly wrong as Sheffield United ran out 2-1 winners at Bramall Lane, before a first sticky patch of the season as Stoke lost four in a row, including going out of the cup at home to Brentford, but looked like they had rectified that against Cardiff last weekend, leading 3-0 with 24 minutes to play.

Five minutes later it was 3-3 though, as the Bluebirds left with a point, but O'Neill's side did get back to winning ways against in-form Blackpool on Wednesday night, Steven Fletcher's fortuitous strike ending the Tangerines' three game victorious streak.

The boss was happy to see another component to his players at Bloomfield Road, telling the Stoke Sentinel: “It was a different side to the team and they had to show it, there’s no doubt about that.

“I said to them that the worst thing is to have your character questioned. We will play better than that, there’s no doubt, although we did play some good football in the game.

“Ultimately we showed the side of our character which we need to see again on Saturday.”

Team news: Luton are without midfielder Luke Berry who will be missing until after the international break with a knee injury, while Henri Lansbury is suspended following his fifth booking of the season on Tuesday night.

For Stoke, top scorer Nick Powell is out with a cracked fibula, while Sam Clucas (quad), Alfie Doughty (hip), Abdallah Sima (groin) and Morgan Fox (hamstring) are all expected to miss out.

Top scorers - Hatters: Elijah Adebayo (8). Potters: Nick Powell (6).

Milestones: Town midfielder Jordan Clark will make his 50th appearance for the club if selected on Saturday.

The 28-year-old joined from Accrington Stanley in the summer of 2020 and has scored three times so far.

Man in the middle: Jonathan Moss - Premier League referee has taken nine games this season, seven of them in the top flight, showing 15 yellows and one red, as he had Burnley's 3-1 win over Brentford last weekend, plus Watford's 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool earlier in the campaign.

First Luton match he has taken for some time, that a 5-1 League Two defeat at Darlington in January 2009.

Also had the 1-0 home defeat to Brentford that term, sending off Keith Keane with four minutes to go.

Did also officiate a 4-1 League One win over Northampton in October 2007, plus two more matches when Town were in the Championship during the 2006-07 season, the 3-2 home win over Birmingham and 3-2 loss at WBA.

Has also been in charge of the 2015 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Aston Villa.

Referee's assistants are Timothy Wood and Bhupinder Gill, with the fourth official Robert Madley.

In charge: Michael O'Neill, 52-year-old, who made over 400 appearances during his career for Newcastle United, Wigan Athletic, Hibernian, Coleraine and American side Portland Timbers.

Was capped 31 times by Northern Ireland, scoring four times, as he retired in 2004, initially beginning a career in financial services.

Returned to football a year later, named assistant manager at Cowdenbeath, while he was then appointed manager of Brechin City in April 2006.

Headed to Shamrock Rovers in December 2008, winning the League of Ireland title in 2010, going on to reach the group stages of the Europa League in 2011–12.

Unveiled as Northern Ireland manager in December 2011, qualifying for the European Championships in 2016, where he reached the second round.

Turned down an offer to become Scotland manager in January 2018, but couldn't reject the advances of Stoke in November 2019, eventually resigning from his role with Northern Ireland in April 2020 to concentrate on his job with the Potters.

Manager records: Town boss Nathan Jones has come up against Michael O'Neill and Stoke just twice in his career, both times last season, losing the pair of them.

O'Neill has a good record against Luton, with a 3-0 win at the Bet 365 in Town's first season back in the Championship, plus a 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road, making it 10 points gathered from a possible 12.

View from the opposition: Michael O'Neill talking to the Stoke Sentinel after beating Blackpool 1-0 on Wednesday: “Our away form we know we need to build on.

"That’s two away wins and we’ve thrown away leads away from home, which is always disappointing.

"We can build on this again, going into Luton, a tough game against a team who has had a good start. We’ll be ready for that.

“We felt a little bit hard done by at times but we had to react to that.

"We shot ourselves in the foot last Saturday from a commanding position, a very commanding position, but we went to Blackpool and won and I think we’re turning the corner on that now.

“We’ve ended certainly a blip. It was good for us to get a win away from home.

"We’ve been in front away and lost so it was important that when we went in front we made sure we kept a clean sheet to win the game.”

One to watch: Steven Fletcher – experienced striker is just getting back into form following a tough start to the season.

Had gone 12 games without scoring, but then grabbed a brace in the 3-3 draw with Cardiff and nabbed the winner at Blackpool on Wednesday night.

Now 34, the Scottish international began his career with Hibernian in March 2004, staying north of the border for five years, joining Burnley for £3m in June 2009.

Went to Wolves for £6.5m after one season, before his biggest transfer to Sunderland for £12m in August 20120.

Scored 23 goals in 94 league games for the Black Cats, with a loan at Marseille, while went to Sheffield Wednesday in July 2016, scoring 38 times in 136 outings.

Joining Stoke in August 2020 and has 12 goals in 56 appearances for the Potters, scoring in his last two games against the Hatters as well.

Also reached double figures for his country, netting 10 goals in his 33 caps.

Friendly faces: Town boss Nathan Jones controversially left Luton for Stoke City in January 2019, leaving the Hatters in the middle of a League One promotion battle.

Struggled at the Bet 365 Stadium, winning just six times, and with the Potters struggling against relegation, was sacked in November after just nine months in charge, returning to Luton in May 2020.

Town first team coach Paul Hart also joined Jones at Stoke in January 2019, after leaving his role with Notts County, exiting once Jones had left.

Luton striker Cameron Jerome joined Stoke for £4m from Birmingham in July 2011, as he had three years with the Potters, then a Premier League side, scoring 12 goals in 67 appearances.

Left for Norwich City in August 2014 and went on to play for Derby, Goztepe, MK Dons, moving to Luton in the summer, where he has one goal from 14 outings.

Town's head of scouting operations Phil Chapple was head of recruitment at Stoke, appointed in September 2019, leaving in February 2020.

Meanwhile, keeper Harry Isted joined Stoke in January 2016 from Southampton and made one first team appearance, that a 1-0 defeat to Bradford City in the Checkatrade Trophy.

Was a regular in the U23s, before signing for Luton in 2017.

Stoke forward Tim Ince was signed by the Potters for £10m from Derby County in July 2018, but struggled to find the form that made him such a feared threat at the Rams.

Joined Luton on loan last season, playing seven times, but injury struck and he went back to Bet 365 Stadium.

Has played five times for the Potters this term, scoring twice, and was on the bench for the recent 1-0 win at Blackpool.

Played for both: Dean Crowe - Striker started his career at Stoke, scoring 13 goals in 65 games over five years, with loans at Northampton, Bury, Plymouth and then Luton in September 2001, netting five in six appearances.

Joined Town permanently at the end of his month with the Hatters, going on to net 17 goals in 79 appearances, and was virtually ever present as the Hatters won promotion from Division Three.

Had a loan spell at York in that time too, leaving in 2004 for Oldham, while going on to feature for Leek Town, Stockport County and New Mills before his retirement.

We've got form: After doing well in the early meetings between the sides at Kenilworth Road, Town have found it much harder going in recent years.

The first clash, a Southern League one in 1911, ended all square at 1-1, as Luton then won in 1914, but both sides had to wait until 40 years to meet again, City winning a Division Two clash 1-0.

Luton's first Football League success came in September 1954, while Gordon Turner bagged all four in a 4-1 triumph in February 1961.

The goals dried up for Hatters, with five of their next six meetings ending in stalemates, Town not winning for six matches until a 2-0 Division One victory in August 1984, ending a lengthy year wait.

Luton then went four games unbeaten, including 4-1 Simod Cup triumph in March 1988, Mick Harford scoring two, delivering a 6-2 thumping in 1993, Kerry Dixon grabbing a hat-trick.

Since then, Town have found it very tough going, with their last 11 meetings seeing the hosts win once, that in February 2000, drawing three and losing seven.

In total, Hatters have won seven out of the 26 clashes, with 10 draws and nine defeats, scoring 37 goals and conceding 31.

Last time out: Luton were beaten 2-0 at home by Stoke in their last meeting at Kenilworth Road back in October 2020.

The visitors took the lead moments after half time with Steven Fletcher on target, while Nick Power then added a second just nine minutes later.

The pair were also then on target in a 3-0 win over Luton at the Bet 365 Stadium in February as well.

Hatters: Simon Sluga, Martin Cranie (Joe Morrell 67), Sonny Bradley, Matty Pearson, Glen Rea, Rhys Norrington-Davies, Luke Berry (George Moncur 75), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Harry Cornick, Danny Hylton, Elliot Lee (Jordan Clark 67).

Subs not used: James Shea, Tom Lockyer, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Kazenga LuaLua.

Referee: Jeremy Simpson

Attendance: None.