PREVIEW: Luton Town v Accrington Stanley
A truly remarkable season for Accrington Stanley is showing little signs of slowing down as they approach the final six games.
The Reds’ early form of just one win from six league games gave no indications of a campaign when Stanley would consistently and deservedly flirt with the idea of automatic promotion, a notion that still remains a definite possibility.
John Coleman’s side have won 20 of their 40 games this term, a record bettered only by Northampton, Bristol Rovers and Plymouth, as they sit in fifth place, pretty much assured of the play-offs, but with eyes firmly on going up without needing them.
Although Stanley haven’t managed to break into the top three just yet, should they do so by May 7, then Coleman believes it’s an achievement that will pip leaders Northampton’s soon to be confirmed coronation.
Speaking to the club’s official website, he said: “We have still not got into the automatic spots this season. I think we are the only team in the top 10 who have not been in the top three so if we get into it at this stage, it might bode well for us. We might hit it at the right time and stay there.
“I think if we do get promoted this season, it will be a far greater achievement that if Northampton, Oxford or Plymouth get promoted, just because of the resources we have compared to them.”
Stanley are level points with both Bristol Rovers (third) and Plymouth (fourth) and will bring a formidable away record to Kenilworth Road this weekend.
On their travels, Coleman has made his side a force to be reckoned with, claiming 10 victories in total, including wins at Newport and Dagenham last time out, plus beating Oxford United on their own soil recently.
Stanley have also had a huge boost with the return of influential midfielder Josh Windass from a double hernia injury last month and he was straight back on the scoring trail, bagging a 12th of an impressive season in the 2-0 win over Newport.
Accrington added to their squad prior to the loan window shutting as well, bringing in Preston striker Andy Little and Reading winger Tarique Fosu on loan until the end of the season, while there was further good news with leading scorer Billy Kee signing a new two-year deal.
Off the pitch, the club is looking to move forward with plans to build a new 1,500 all-seater stand at the Wham Stadium submitted to the council this week.
Team news: Hatters have a doubt over captain Scott Cuthbert after he went off with a muscle injury against Stevenage last week.
Magnus Okuonghae is out after having a knee operation, but Dan Potts should be fit, while Nathan Doyle is back in training, leaving just Scott Griffiths (knee), Ryan Hall (foot) and Jake Howells (knee) as missing.
For Stanley, defender Joe Wright remains ruled out with foot injury, while Matt Crooks has stepped up his recovery from an ankle problem but is not yet ready to feature.
Top scorers: Hatters: Jack Marriott, Cameron McGeehan (13). Stanley: Billy Kee (17).
Man in the middle: Peter Bankes - official is not afraid to show a caution this season, with 136 yellows in 34 games, including four reds so far, two of those coming in his last four games.
Taken one Luton game this term, the 2-1 defeat at home to Portsmouth back in August.
Last year, Bankes refereed 27 games, with 98 yellows and seven reds, one which came in Luton’s 2-0 defeat at Shrewsbury, dismissing Matt Robinson with seven minutes remaining.
Has had five other Hatters game in his career, with Town winning just one, 3-0 over Alfreton in March 2014, with two draws (Grimsby and Bath City), plus two defeats (Grimsby and Hereford).
Assistant referees are Andrew Newbold and Mark Jones, with Adrian Waters the fourth official.
In charge: John Coleman - 53-year-old who had a long playing career spanning almost two decades, mainly in non-league football for the likes of Kirkby Town, Burscough, Marine, Southport and Macclesfield Town to name a few, plus a spell in Wales.
One of the most prolific non-league goalscorers in history, with over 500 goals to his name, he became Ashton United player boss in 1997, before a move to Accrington two years later.
Spent over 12 years in charge with Stanley, leading them to three promotions, including to the Football League in 2006 and was the third longest serving boss at the time, before leaving to join Rochdale in January 2012.
Had his contract terminated just before completing a year in charge at Spotland, and returned to management as Southport boss in December 2013, but left in April and then became Sligo Rovers boss for a short period in June 2014.
When ex-Southampton striker James Beattie left Accrington in September 2014, Coleman was confirmed as manager in his second spell.
One to watch: Billy Kee - Striker is enjoying a superb season at Accrington, netting 17 goals in League Two so far, recently declared as the ‘best in the division’ by boss John Coleman.
Had started at Leicester, before a loan spell at Accrington in 2009, and then enjoyed spells with Torquay, an impressive time at Burton, Scunthorpe and Mansfield, before returning to Stanley in the summer.
Took eight games to get off the mark, but has been in fine form ever since, and has scored three times in his last six matches.
Played for both: Shaun Whalley. Pacy winger who joined Accrington from Chester in August 2006, spending two years and making over 50 appearances for the club before moving to Wrexham.
From there, he went to Southport and was snapped up by former Luton boss John Still in June 2013, staying for two seasons, as he played 42 times, netting five goals until his release in the summer.
Joined League One Shrewsbury and has impressed this term, scoring seven goals in 26 games.
We’ve got form: Hatters have won once and lost once when hosting Accrington Stanley at Kenilworth Road in their history.
After a 2-0 win last season, Luton’s only other previous clash was a 2-1 defeat in League Two back in October 2008.
The visitors were ahead through Paul Mullin’s 16th minute strike, before Asa Hall levelled for Town, but Accrington won it when Terry Gornell bagged the winner in the 54th minute.
Last time out: Luton were comfortable 2-0 winners over Accrington last season.
On-loan striker Jayden Stockley put the hosts ahead on 41 minutes, heading home from a corner, while Luke Guttridge’s strike from Elliot Lee’s pass just after the hour sealed victory.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths, Fraser Franks, Luke Wilkinson, Jonathan Smith, Luke Guttridge, Cameron McGeehan, Jake Howells, Jayden Stockley (Mark Cullen 82), Elliot Lee (Alex Lawless 72).
Subs not used: Craig King, Andy Drury, Andy Parry, Shaun Whalley, Nathan Oduwa.
Referee: Lee Collins.