PREVIEW: Luton Town v Watford

Town at home to fierce rivals this weekend

By Mike Simmonds
Friday, 16th April 2021, 11:31 am
Updated Friday, 16th April 2021, 11:32 am
Hatters host rivals Watford at Kenilworth Road this weekend
Hatters host rivals Watford at Kenilworth Road this weekend

Watford s stellar form since the turn of the year has seen them give themselves a huge chance of winning promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt this season.

Under previous boss Vladimir Ivić the Hornets had not had the best of times in the Championship following their top flight relegation, as he left in December after just four months in charge, with nine wins from 20, the club only in the play-off places, as the Hornets' notoriously impatient board acted swiftly.

They brought in former Dinamo Tbilisi boss Xisco Munoz on December 21, as he engineered a 1-0 win over Norwich in his opening match, although it was followed up with a 2-1 defeat to Swansea on January 2, their third loss in seven, which had Watford sixth in the table, trailing second spot by six points.

A 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup to Manchester United loss was no real concern, as the Hornets then got their act together, with three successive victories.

Another mini blip of just two points from nine saw Watford still back in fifth, but a thumping 6-0 victory over Bristol City on February 13 was the incentive needed to their foot on the pedal from then on.

They won four in a row, with a defeat to Bournemouth quickly flushed out by six straight victories, as they go into Saturday's game on the back of seven wins from eight matches.

Although the title appears a bridge too far, eight points behind leaders Norwich City, they are seven ahead of third placed Swansea City with five games to go.

Promotion is by no means a dead cert though, as the run-in couldn't be any tougher for Watford, who still have to go to Norwich and Brentford, hosting Swansea as well.

Munoz did add to an already impressive squad in the recent transfer window, with Philip Zinckernagel joining from Bodo Glimt, plus Bournemouth's Dan Gosling and Achraf Lazaar from Newcastle United, along with Maurizio Pochettino from Tottenham.

Hornets keeper Ben Foster, who is the only surviving member of both squads from the last meeting at Kenilworth Road back in 2006, is ready for another derby clash at Kenilworth Road though, as he told the Watford official website: “This one has a little bit more significance attached to it.

“If we go and get three points and carry on the good run we have been on, then it's a huge game for us.

“It's a derby and we want to do it for ourselves but for the fans mainly. It's another chance to get three points and it will put us that little bit closer to where we need to be.

“I don't think there needs to be any extra importance on any game.

“We've got experienced players and I'm sure Troy (Deeney) and Clevs (Tom Cleverley) will be in the dressing room with us on Saturday.

“They are the kind of lads you need around the place: the British core and then they get behind the other lads and let them know what this actually means not only as a club, but to the fanbase in general.

"We've got more to play for than Luton and while we'll look at them, it needs to be about us and we know what we have got, our strengths and our capabilities.”

Team news: Luton still have doubts over defender Dan Potts for the clash after he picked up a thigh injury in training.

On-loan Stoke attacker Tom Ince is out though and will miss the rest of the season following ankle ligament damage, along with defender Tom Lockyer.

For the Hornets, Nathaniel Chalobah and William Troost-Ekong are hoping to be involved, as is Tom Cleverley following his knee injury.

Troy Deeney misses out with an Achilles tear, while Tom Dele-Bashiru will also be absent, as are Daryl Janmaat (knee), Isaac Success (Achilles) and Adam Masina.

Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (11). Hornets: Ismaila Sarr (12).

Milestones: Martin Cranie made his 50th appearance for the Hatters in the 2-1 defeat to Barnsley on Easter Monday, the defender scoring twice since arriving in the summer of 2019.

Man in the middle: Gavin Ward - has taken 29 games so far this season, showing 98 yellow cards and three reds.

This will be his fourth Luton match of the campaign, officiating the 2-1 home win over Bristol City and 1-0 victory at Birmingham, plus the 1-1 draw with Blackburn.

Last term he had five Town fixturss, with Luton beating Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn Rovers, drawing at Wigan Athletic and losing to Nottingham Forest and Preston.

Vastly experienced official has taken Luton a further 16 times in his career, with six wins, three draws and seven defeats, including the 8-2 triumph over Yeovil Town and 5-0 victory at Swindon Town.

The referee assistants are Michael George and Bhupinder Gill, with fourth official Sam Allison.

In charge: Xisco Munoz – 40-year-old Spaniard who had a playing career that saw him feature for the likes of Valencia, Betis and Levante in his early days, winning the 2004 UEFA Cup with Valencia.

Also played for his country at U17, U18 and U21 level as he went to FC Dinamo Tblisi in Georgia, winning the Erovnuli Liga, returning to his homeland in December 2014 to play for Gimnàstic de Tarragona.

Retired in June 2016 and became assistant boss at Gimnastic, before heading back to Dinamo Tbilisi to take a role on the coaching staff, leaving at the end of the year, only to return in August 2020 as head coach, leading them to the league title.

Was appointed as manager of Watford in December 2020 after the dismissal of Vladimir Ivić and won the Championship Manager of the Month award for March.

Manager record: Nathan Jones has never come up against opposite number Xisco Munoz before, while his only previous game against Watford ended in a 1-0 defeat for the Hatters.

View from the opposition: Xisco Munoz: "We know the mentality of our fans and we can give one per cent more for them on Saturday.

"We know how they feel when we play these games.

"This derby is a special game and I wish our players and fans all the best for this game.

"These games are a special week in the city.

“You have to stay out the city as everybody is talking about the game.

"The derbies are special, you need to understand how fans live these situations and the history, they are totally different games.

"You need to understand it's a special game for everyone, for our fans.

"We will give our best and we know who and what we have behind us.

"We know about this derby, what moment it is in the season and we try to give our perfect performance."

One to watch: Ismaila Sarr – 23-year-old Senegalese international winger came through the ranks in his home country with Génération Foot before signing a first pro deal with French side Metz.

Scored five goals in 31 league games as he went to Rennes for a fee of around 20m Euros in 2017, bagging 18 in 71 matches.

Joined Watford for a £25m fee on a five year contract in August 2019, managing five goals in 28 Premier League games last season, including a double against Liverpool.

Had a slow start to the current campaign with five goals in his opening 25 matches, before a double in the 6-0 win over Bristol City in February saw him really catch fire.

Notched in both his last two games, the 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough and added a brace in the 2-0 win over Reading, as he has seven in 12 outings and a tally of 12 in 37 for the Hornets this term.

Friendly faces: Watford striker Andre Gray began his career with Wolves, but moved to Shrewsbury in 2004, before being released and then dropping down to non-league Hinckley United.

Impressed when facing Luton in the FA Trophy, snapped up by the Hatters for the sum of £30,000 in March 2012.

Had a superb time at Kenilworth Road, scoring 57 goals in 111 games, including 30 in the campaign when Town regained their Football League status.

Joined to Brentford for £500,000 in June 2014, scoring 20 goals, leading to a move to Burnley for £9m a year later, as he managed 33 goals in 78 matches for the Clarets.

Headed to Watford in August 2017 for a club record fee of £11.5m and has managed 20 goals in 120 appearances since heading to Vicarage Road, with four goals this term.

Also made his international debut for Jamaica last month, starting the 4-1 defeat to USA.

Young Luton forward Dion Pereira came through the ranks at Vicarage Road, playing twice for the Hornets in the Premier League.

Went to MLS side Atlanta United in 2019, before moving to Luton in November last year, but although has impressed for the U21s and is training with the first team squad, has yet to make a senior appearance.

Played for both: Paul Furlong - Striker started out with Enfield, before earning a £130,000 move to Coventry in 1991.

Joined Watford a year later for £250,000 and went on to score 41 goals in 92 games for the Hornets which saw Chelsea pay a then club record fee of £2.3m in 1994, as he managed 18 goals in 86 games for the Blues.

Snapped up by Birmingham, who also shelled out a club record fee at the time of £1.5m in July 1996, going on to find the net 56 times in 156 outings while at St Andrew's.

Headed to QPR in 2002, going on to score over 50 goals at Loftus Road, before moving to Luton when aged 38 in August 2007, bagging 12 in 39 for the Hatters.

Released at the end of the season, going to Southend and then Barnet, before featuring for Kettering and St Albans until his retirement, when he went back to Rangers to work with the U18s.

We've got form: The Hatters had an excellent start to life against their main rivals when matches began with an FA Cup third round qualifying game in October 29, 1898 with a 2-2 draw.

A first win followed, again in the FA Cup, 3-2 in 1899, before Town went on a 16-game unbeaten run until a 2-0 Southern League defeat in April 1915.

When the teams met in the Football League, Luton had a 1-0 Division Three victory in March 1921, Allan Mathieson bagging the only goal, before a mini blip with one win from eight.

However, Town then kicked off a marvellous sequence of just one defeat in 14 games with a 5-0 Division Three South success, and they went on to make it four losses in 33 games.

It's only in recent seasons when Luton have struggled, currently on a run of five games without a victory, their last triumph coming back in 1993.

In total, the Hatters have enjoyed a fine record, with 36 wins, 15 draws and 10 defeats, scoring 103 goals and conceding 63.

Last time out: Luton were beaten 2-1 by Watford during their last contest at Kenilworth Road, a Championship clash in January 2006.

The visitors led 2-0 through Darius Henderson (9) and Malky Mackay (30), before Carlos Edwards pulled one back just after the break.

Ashley Young was then sent off on 67 minutes for the Hornets, but Town couldn't find an equaliser.

Hatters: Marlon Beresford, Kevin Foley, Leon Barnett, Paul Underwood, Kevin Nicholls, Markus Heikkinen, Steve Robinson, Carlos Edwards, Ahmet Brkovic (Enoch Showunmi 76), Steve Howard, Rowan Vine (Warren Feeney 76).

Subs not used: Dean Brill, Russell Perrett, Dean Morgan.

Referee: Iain Williamson.

Attendance: 10,248.