PREVIEW: Middlesbrough v Luton Town

On-loan keeper Alex Palmer made his debut as Luton were beaten 2-1 at Middlesbrough last season - pic: Gareth OwenOn-loan keeper Alex Palmer made his debut as Luton were beaten 2-1 at Middlesbrough last season - pic: Gareth Owen
On-loan keeper Alex Palmer made his debut as Luton were beaten 2-1 at Middlesbrough last season - pic: Gareth Owen
Hatters head to the Riverside on Saturday

Like almost half of the teams in the Championship this term, Middlesbrough made the decision to change their manager after a start that wasn't deemed good enough for those running the club, and so far it appears to be working.

Beginning the campaign under Chris Wilder, Boro only picked up two wins in their opening 11 games, as he was eventually sacked after a 1-0 defeat at then bottom side Coventry City, which left them sitting 22nd in the table.

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It was the final straw and cost Wilder, who had received a host of plaudits for the manner in which he led Sheffield United to the Premier League in his previous managerial role, keeping them in the top flight for a season, his job.

The change at the helm also saw a change in fortunes on the the pitch, Boro winning 4-1 at Wigan Athletic, before a goalless draw against Huddersfield as former Manchester United Michael Carrick was appointed.

Although he lost his opening fixture 2-1 to a last minute goal at Preston, he appears to have made a smooth transition to life as a number one, a 3-1 victory at Hull and 1-1 draw with Bristol City followed up with impressive back-to-back triumphs at Blackpool and Norwich City.

That saw Carrick and forward Chuba Akpom been nominated for the Sky Bet Championship Manager and Player of the Month awards for November, as although they were pipped by Coventry City duo Mark Robins and Viktor Gyokeres, the new boss told the club’s official website: “It’s not about me.

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"It’s about the staff and the players and everyone together.

"I’m sitting here as the one talking to you, but I don’t get those nominations if not for good results and to get those it’s a collective with the support from the staff and the performances from the players.

"It’s nice because it shows we’ve had a good time, but at the same time, it’s just the start.

"We’ll judge at the end of the season how well we’ve done.

"The aim right now is to just keep improving as the games go on and the weeks go by and we’ll see where that takes us.”

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Like all Championship sides, Saturday will be the first game back for almost a month due to the season being postponed for the World Cup in Qatar, as on getting time to work with what is still a relatively new squad to him, Carrick added: “The break has been good.

"The boys had a week off to refresh, more mentally than physically to be honest.

“We’ve then had three weeks of good training, working hard and playing some games.

“It’s been a good mix of freshening things up and also preparing the lads for the run-in from now until the end of the season.

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“It feels like a big run-in from now, but nevertheless, it’s one we’re really looking forward to and chomping at the bit for."

Team news: Luton still have a lengthy injury list for Rob Edwards’ first game in charge, as Dan Potts is back in light training after fracturing his back, with Sonny Bradley (knee) out until the New Year.

Cauley Woodrow is unlikely to feature despite his return to training following a calf problem, but Fred Onyedinma (groin) is out for six weeks.

There are doubts over Henri Lansbury and Reece Burke still, with James Shea and Glen Rea both out for the long term.

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For Boro, defenders Marc Bola (knee) and Matt Clarke (back) aren't available, with Darnell Fisher not ready to return from over a year out with his knee problem.

Attacker Duncan Watmore should return to the squad after he suffered a head injury before Carrick took over.

Top scorers - Hatters: Carlton Morris (8). Boro: Chuba Akpom (8).

Man in the middle: Gavin Ward - has taken 17 matches so far this term, showing 64 yellow cards but no reds, as he is yet to officiate a Hatters game.

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Refereed Luton just once last term, the 2-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion, one of his 37 matches, as he cautioned 152 players, dismissing four others.

Had four Town fixtures in the 2020-21 season, the 1-0 victory over Watford, plus victories over Bristol City and Birmingham, including the 1-1 draw with Blackburn.

In Luton's first campaign back in the second tier, Ward had the Hatters on five occasions, triumphs against Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn Rovers, a draw at Wigan Athletic and defeats to Nottingham Forest and Preston.

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

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The assistant referees are Robert Merchant and James Wilson, with the fourth official Leigh Doughty.

In charge: Michael Carrick – had a wonderful career after coming through at West Ham United where he won the FA Youth Cup.

Moved to Spurs for £3.5m in 2004, then headed to Manchester United in 2006 for £14 million, where he won every single domestic honour in the English game, also lifting the Champions League, Europa League and Club World Cup too.

Won 34 caps for England as well, retiring at the end of the 2017-18 season as he became coach at Old Trafford, working under Jose Mourinho and then Ole Gunnar Solskjær.

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Named caretaker manager in November 2021 after Solskjær departed, with wo wins and one draw from his three games in charge.

Took his first steps into management on October 24 when named head coach of Middlesbrough.

Managerial record: Hatters boss Rob Edwards has come up against Middlesbrough once so far in his managerial career, that a 2-1 victory for Watford when in charge of the Hornets earlier in the season.

The two managers have never faced each other, with Michael Carrick yet to come up against the Hatters.

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View from the opposition: Michael Carrick talking to the Boro official website – “That’s the story when a new manager goes in somewhere and not knowing what to expect.

“Rob’s gone in there to lead a team that has been very tough to play against, from what we’ve seen, what we’ve looked at, and speaking to the boys playing against them in the past.

"They are a good team, a tough team and they make you work for it.

“So we have to be ready for that.

"Of course, there is that element of what they're going they look like under a new manager after plenty of time to work and prepare on the training ground.

“We have to be ready for whatever they throw at us.

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"But a lot of our focus has to be on us and what we’ve been doing well, what we can improve on, and then looking to take that into the game.”

Friendly faces: Cameron Jerome - Experienced striker had started out at Middlesbrough, but didn't feature for Boro before moving to Cardiff in July 2004 when he really kickstarted his career.

Headed to Kenilworth Road in the summer of 2021, as he has played 54 matches for Luton in that time, scoring six goals so far.

Played for both: Jacob Butterfield – 32-year-old midfielder started his career at Barnsley, as he went to Norwich and had two loan moves at Bolton and Crystal Palace before heading to Middlesbrough in September 2013 for an undisclosed fee.

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Played 32 times while at the Riverside, scoring three goals, heading to Huddersfield just a year later as part of a swap deal that included Adam Clayton moving the other way.

On the move again 12 months later, joining Derby County and was signed by Luton following his exit from Pride Park in July 2019.

Didn’t feature too much under Graeme Jones, with 17 outings and one goal, released at the end of the season when Nathan Jones had kept Luton up.

Went to Australian team Melbourne Victory as he had a spell for Scottish Premier League side St Johnstone but is now back in English football with National League strugglers Scunthorpe United, playing 22 times this term, scoring three goals.

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One to watch: Chuba Akpom – 27-year-old began his career with Arsenal, making 12 appearances in his six seasons at the Emirates, including four Premier League sub outings, although didn't score for the Gunners.

Had loan moves to Brentford, Coventry and Nottingham Forest without a goal, as it took him until a move to Hull in August 2015 for a first senior strike.

Managed seven goals in 41 matches for the Tigers, as he was then borrowed by Brighton and Belgian side St Truiden, before a £900,000 move to Greek team PAOK Salonika in August 2018.

Bagged 15 goals in two seasons before Boro shelled out £2.75m for his services in September 2020, scoring just five goals in 42 matches,

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Went back to Salonika on loan last term, managing nine goals, before getting his chance at the Riverside this season.

Scored a double in the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United in August and has hit a rich vein of form since, with eight goals including netting in four successive matches recently.

We've got form: Luton first headed to Middlesbrough back in 1899, drawing a Division Two clash in front of 7,000 people.

They then won 2-0 50 years later, as Town's first five trips led to three victories, one draw and just the one loss.

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Striker Barry Butlin found the net in three consecutive fixtures during the 1970s, with one win, one draw and a defeat, before Luton went almost half a century without winning until Ryan Tunnicliffe scored in a 1-0 victory in February 2020 under Graeme Jones.

Since then they have reverted to type though, losing their last two matches, including 1-0 in the Covid season when, against 10 men for 25 minutes, James Collins’ penalty was ruled out after he was adjudged to have touched the ball twice.

Overall, Luton have won five, drawn four and lost seven from their 16 visits, scoring 17 and conceding 16, keeping seven clean sheets in that time.

Last time out: Luton fell to a 2-1 defeat at the Riverside last season, a game in which the Hatters handed a debut to one of their six goalkeepers used in West Brom loanee Alex Palmer.

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He was beaten on 17 minutes by Patrick McNair's penalty after Reece Burke tripped Folarin Balogun, before Duncan Watmore made it 2-0 with three minutes left.

Substitute Harry Cornick then pulled one back in stoppage time, but Town couldn't find an even later equaliser.

Hatters: Alex Palmer, James Bree, Tom Lockyer, Reece Burke, Gabe Osho (Henri Lansbury 39), Amari'i Bell, Kal Naismith (Jordan Clark 65), Allan Campbell (Harry Cornick 73), Danny Hylton, Elijah Adebayo, Caameron Jerome.

Subs not used: Harry Isted, Peter Kioso, Luke Berry, Robert Snodgrass.

Referee: Jeremy Simpson.

Attendance: 23,817.