PREVIEW: Watford v Luton Town

Hatters head to Vicarage Road on Sunday
Ahmet Brkovic celebrates scoring for Luton in their 1-1 draw at Watford in April 2006Ahmet Brkovic celebrates scoring for Luton in their 1-1 draw at Watford in April 2006
Ahmet Brkovic celebrates scoring for Luton in their 1-1 draw at Watford in April 2006

Silly season started even earlier this year at Watford, just ask former manager Rob Edwards.

The ex-Welsh international was enticed away from Forest Green Rovers having led the club to League One in the summer, signing a two year deal and told he was given the full backing by the notoriously trigger happy Hornets board.

In fact chief executive Scott Duxbury even went as far to state the club would be supporting their new man 'come hell or high water' as they desperately looked for something resembling stability following a season in which they had three managers at the helm, none able to stop the slide down from the Premier League.

Things weren't going too bad for the new man early on, his charges beating Sheffield United and Burnley, also drawing at West Bromwich Albion to take seven points from nine.

Back-to-back draws on the road at Birmingham and Preston was then followed by a Carabao Cup home loss to MK Dons and 3-2 reverse to QPR though.

Edwards saw his side respond by beating Middlesbrough 2-1, but then came a run of two points from nine, draws with Rotherham and Sunderland sandwiching a defeat to Blackburn.

However, the Hornets were still 10th in the table, six points off top spot with only 10 games gone, and with the board's support of him still ringing in his ears, surely Edwards had time on his side?


He was given his marching orders after just 105 days in the post, short even for the Vicarage Road side's standard with owner Gino Pozzo stating: "We felt Rob had enough time to show us the identity of his team, however, performances haven't reflected our hopes and ambitions.”

Hornets fans didn't have to wait to find out who would replace him either, as on the same day that Edwards was given his marching orders, under an hour later actually, former Croatia, West Ham and West Bromwich Albion manager Slaven Bilic was appointed.

The new manager bounce worked instantly, getting off to a winning start in style, triumphing 4-0 at Stoke City.

That initial optimism was halted just one game later though, losing at home to Swansea, as although signing an 18-month deal, which seems pretty pointless when a Watford boss, he too could be deemed to be in trouble, with three defeats in his last four now.

They impressed while winning 2-1 against Norwich at the weekend, but then on Wednesday night, a first half Tom Bradshaw hat-trick saw Millwall ease to a 3-0 success at the New Den, giving the Hornets the worst possible preparation for their derby clash.

Trying to put his finger on such a poor performance having beaten the Canaries, Bilic told the Watford Mercury: “We showed the spirit and character just three days ago.

“It’s not like we’re asking the team to play like some other team, we did it ourselves three days ago.

“Maybe we are not physically or mentally fit enough to do it every three days.

“Because so far – and I can only talk about from when I came here – we’ve twice had time to rest before a game, and that was before we played Stoke and Norwich.

"Both games, energy wise and mentally, we were there.

“But when we have a game after two or three days, we are struggling a bit.

“I will have to find reasons for this inconsistency. The couple of wins we’ve had came after we had a clear week with no midweek game. That gave us a week to train.

“When we have a game two or three days after another game we are not on the same level of intensity. We are not at the level that is required. We have to fix that as soon as possible.”

To show just how quick they are to change things when it comes to managers, Bilic is now the eighth to be appointed at Watford since Nathan Jones returned for his second spell as Luton manager, just under two and a half years ago.

He still inherited a more than decent squad for the level, although relegation to the second tier saw a whole host of outgoings, including Emmanuel Dennis to Nottingham Forest for £20m as no less than 25 players were either released or sold on.

Ex-Spurs midfielder Moussa Sissoko went to Nantes as well, Kiko Femenia and Josh King departing too, as there weren't too many incomings, Edwards spending £5m on Vakoun Issouf Bayo, while a trio of loans arrived, Aston Villa duo Kortney Hause and Keinan Davis, plus Leicester's Hamza Choudhury.

They still have talent though, Ismaila Sarr remaining on the books during the transfer window, the Senegal international already up to four goals for the season.

Team news: Luton could be without Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu as he has been rested for the last two games due to a precaution after returning from his knee injury recently.

Cauley Woodrow (calf) and Reece Burke (hamstring) are out, but Sonny Bradley, Elijah Adebayo and Henri Lansbury are all available after dropping to the bench at Norwich.

James Shea and Glen Rea remain long-term absentees.

For the Hornets, they are without Imrân Louza for the next few months after the Moroccan midfielder broke his fibular against Millwall on Wednesday evening.

Craig Cathcart is expected to be back, but Francisco Sierralta, Christian Kabasele and Kortney Hause are all missing.

Top scorers - Hatters: Carlton Morris (7). Hornets: Ismaila Sarr (4).

Cups won: Luton (2) - Littlewoods Cup 1988; Johnstone's Paint Trophy 2009. Watford: None.

Man in the middle: Bobby Madley – first ever Luton game for the official, who has had 12 matches this season, showing 52 yellows, including eight in Middlesbrough's 2-1 victory over Swansea, with three reds too.

Has had Watford twice already, the Hornets drawing with Sunderland and losing at Blackpool.

Last season he had 40 fixtures, with 134 yellows and six reds, as the official was a Premier League referee for a number of years before leaving his role in August 2018, returning for the 2020-21 campaign.

Referees assistants are Jonathan Hunt and George Byrne, with the fourth official Dean Whitestone.

In charge (at the moment): Slaven Bilic – Centre half in his playing days, the Croatian started at Hajduk Split, with loan spells at NK Primorac and HNK Šibenik, before moving to West Ham in January 1996, the Hammers paying £1.3m.

Joined Everton for £4.5m in August 1997, spending two years at Goodison Park before heading back to Hajduk Split, leading the club to the Croatian Cup before retiring.

Won 44 caps for his country too and part of the squad that finished third in the 1998 World Cup.

Became manager of Hajduk Split briefly before appointed head coach of Croatia in July 2006, reaching the quarter-finals at Euro 2008, leaving after six years when he didn't make it out of the group stages at Euro 2012.

Returned to club management with Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow in May of that year, sacked just 12 months later, as he went to Turkish side Beşiktaş, leaving after two years.

Appointed manager of former club West Ham in June 2015, spearheading the Hammers to three successive Premier League away wins for the first time in eight years, as they finished seventh with their then highest points tally in the top flight.

A poor run of results the following season cost Bilic his job, sacked in November 2017, as he went to Al-Ittihad of the Saudi Professional League over a year later, but exited after just five months.

Back in England again in June 2019, taking over at West Bromwich Albion, leading the Baggies back to the Premier League by finishing runners-up in the Championship.

Was dismissed with his side 19th in the Premier League, despite a 1-1 draw against Manchester City, as he then went to Chinese Super League club Beijing in January 2021, staying for just one year.

Made his third return to English football just over a month ago named Watford boss on an 18-month deal.

View from the opposition: Defender William Troost-Ekong speaking to Watford FC website: “I think the key thing is to not put too much pressure on it.

“It’s one of those games that everyone is really up for so I think preparations will be the same as usual, and if anything it’s just more going to be trying to steady the ship.

“It was my number one pick for games to look forward to in the calendar. I think this is a great way to face everything head on, and give it everything we’ve got.

“Of course we want the fans to get behind us to spur us on, but at the same time they want to see something from us to get behind.

"We know how much of a difference it can make when you are flying and feel like the fans are behind you - that can give you that extra momentum - but at the same time we are going to have to start by giving them something to bite into.

“That’s the only thing we can control, and I think the rest of it will hopefully be a domino effect.”

Managerial record: Luton boss Nathan Jones has taken on Watford twice in his managerial career so far, both matches in the Covid season as Luton were beaten 1-0 at Vicarage Road and then triumphed 1-0 on home soil thanks to James Collins' late penalty.

Bilic has a 100 per cent record having gone up against Luton twice when in charge of West Bromwich Albion in the 2019-20 campaign, triumphing 2-1 at Kenilworth Road and enjoying a 2-0 success at the Hawthorns.

One to watch: Keinan Davies - imposing striker who started out at Biggleswade U18s and then moved to Aston Villa in July 2015, making 86 appearances for the club so far, with six goals to his name.

Went to Nottingham Forest on loan in January 2022, and helped the Reds reach the Premier League as he bagged five goals in 15 league outings.

Signed by Watford on a season-long loan in August and after was off the mark after three games, netting in the 2-2 draw against Sunderland.

On target in the next game too, the 4-0 win at Stoke, plus when Watford beat Norwich at the weekend to make it three in nine games.

Friendly faces: Henri Lansbury - while at Arsenal, the midfielder joined Watford on loan when the Hornets were a second tier side in August 2009.

Spent the season there as he played 39 times, scoring five goals before returning to the Emirates.

Been at Norwich, West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Bristol City since, heading to Luton in June 2021 and has played 43 times with one goal so far.

Attacker Dion Pereira came through the ranks with Watford, named Young Player of the Season in 2016-17 as he made two substitute appearances in the Premier League for the Hornets.

Went to Major League Soccer side Atlanta United in January 2019, later joining their affiliate team Atlanta United 2, whom he played for in the USL Championship.

Released before the 2020 season and joined Luton in November 2020, starting at the Development squad and then quickly moved into first team reckoning.

Has played three times for the Hatters so far, including once this term in the Carabao Cup, with a loan spell at Yeovil and is currently in his second stint with League Two Bradford City.

Played for both: Alec Chamberlain - goalkeeper started out with Ramsey Town, as he joined Ipswich and then went to Colchester United in 1982, playing well over 140 games.

Joined Everton, but couldn't displace Neville Southall and moved to Luton in 1988, going on to become first choice for four seasons, playing 159 times.

Had a brief spell at Chelsea on loan, but didn't play for the Blues, leaving for Sunderland in 1993 as he featured over 100 times on Wearside, moving to Liverpool on loan as understudy to David James, before going to Watford in the summer of 1996 for £40,000.

Made almost 300 appearances as the Hornets reached the Premier League, becoming goalkeeper coach in 2004.

Retired in May 2007, as he continued in his role on the backroom staff, leaving the club in 2017 after 21 years at Vicarage Road.

We've got form: Luton have had a long history at their main rivals over the years, starting with an FA Cup replay back in November 2, 1898, a 1-0 victory that saw Hugh Galbraith net the winner.

They then began Southern League meetings, losing the first game, although another FA Cup victory followed, as Luton played Southern League and United League clashes up to 1921 with Football League games starting in 1921, a Division Three encounter that saw the visitors beaten 1-0.

That was part of a 10-game winless run for the Hatters, as it took them until 1929 for a first league victory, a handsome one at that, Andy Rennie netting a treble in a 4-0 triumph.

Luton had a mixed run afterwards, but in the 1970s, Town started to get some real form under their belts in Hertfordshire, with four wins and a draw from seven games, 1-0 wins thanks to goals from Mike Keen, Kirk Stephens and Steve White, while Brian Stein and Frankie Bunn notched in a 2-1 victory in 1983.

Town kept on picking up good results on their travels, winning 4-2 in 1994 thanks to Paul Telfer’s double, while who can forget Matthew Spring’s stunner in a 2-1 League Cup victory in September 2002.

The Hatters had been on top in recent times, a seven match unbeaten run with two wins and five draws, until they fell to a 1-0 reverse two seasons ago.

Overall, the Hornets have the edge though, Luton winning 19, losing 28 and having 15 draws, scoring 74 goals and conceding 92.

Last time out: The Hatters were beaten without really putting up that much of a fight in their last trip to Vicarage Road, that coming in a game played in September 2020 without any fans in attendance during the Covid season.

After James Collins missed a glorious chance, firing against the bar from a matter of yards after being picked out by Harry Cornick, the Hornets scored through Joao Pedro on 35 minutes, his shot deflecting off Sonny Bradley to beat Simon Sluga, which was enough to take all three points.

Hatters: Simon Sluga, Martin Cranie, Rhys Norrington-Davies, Sonny Bradley, Matty Pearson, Ryan Tunnicliffe (Kazenge LuaLua 78), Luke Berry, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Harry Cornick, Elliot Lee (Jordan Clark 58), James Collins (Danny Hylton 71).

Subs not used: James Shea, Tom Lockyer, Peter Kioso, George Moncur.

Referee: John Brooks.

Attendance: None.