PREVIEW: Luton Town v Blackpool
Blackpool will be hoping they are that team who time their run of form perfectly to fire them through the play-offs this campaign.
The Tangerines stuttered badly during the early parts of the season after coming down from League One last season.
A really ropy patch of form around the turn of the year saw Blackpool look like they would be condemned to a year of mediocrity as after a 1-0 win at Hartlepool on Boxing Day, Gary Bowyer’s side became the division’s draw specialists.
They were held eight times in their next 11 games, with two defeats and just the one win, that a mightily impressive 4-1 triumph at Carlisle.
It meant they were stuck in 14th place, some seven points off the play-offs, with time beginning to run out.
However, a 3-1 triumph over Morecambe at Bloomfield on March 4 kickstarted Bowyer’s side into life as they then thumped Plymouth 3-0 at Home Park.
Although drawing 0-0 at Wycombe, Pools have won their last three matches, to make it five victories from six, and nine games unbeaten in the league since a Valentines Day defeat at Portsmouth, leapfrogging Luton into fifth place last week.
Speaking to the Blackpool Gazette, Bowyer wasn’t getting ahead of himself though, saying: “Every game that we play in this league is a tough game. Luton came and beat us at Bloomfield Road and they were good on the day.
“But we’ve got to try and focus on us being as good as we possibly can at their place, it’s as simple as that.
“There are no easy games in this league and if you look at the league, there are so many changes in terms of positions and teams being in the play-offs and then not being in the play-offs and teams coming with late runs.”
Off the field things are not quite as bright though, with the club announcing a loss £1.8m in the season they were relegated from League One to the bottom tier of the Football League, a huge drop from 2015, where the club made an operating profit of £7.5m during its relegation from the Championship.
The report, which covers the financial year up to May 31, 2016, also shows the Blackpool’s turnover was £4.4m, down from £18m in 2015, and a world away from the figure of £52m made as recently as 2011 when the Tangerines were in the Premier League.
Team news: Luton have doubts over leading scorer Danny Hylton and Jordan Cook who both have tight hamstrings, while Dan Potts (head) and Jack Senior (foot) are out.
Johnny Mullins (leg) might be back in contention, while Luke Gambin is back from international duty, leaving both Danny Green and Cameron McGeehan still missing.
Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton (24). Blackpool: Kyle Vassell (13).
Milestones: Glen Rea made his 50th appearance for the Hatters during last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Colchester United. The 22-year-old joined on loan last season and turned his move into a permanent one during the summer, scoring three goals in that time too.
Man in the middle: Christopher Kavanagh - has taken one Luton game so far this term the 0-0 draw at Exeter in November.
Last five games have all been in the Championship, as he has shown 109 yellows and two reds so far.
Took Luton in the 2014-15 season, a 2-0 win over Southend, with Alex Lawless and Mark Cullen on target.
Also refereed the Hatters three times in the Conference, a 1-0 defeat at home to Woking and 1-0 defeat to Southport in the 2013-14 campaign, controversially sending off Steve McNulty at Haig Avenue on the opening day.
Had the whistle for Town’s 1-1 draw at Macclesfield the year before, when he sent off home keeper Rhys Taylor on 22 minutes.
The assistant referees are John Flynn and Daniel Leach, with the fourth official James Mainwaring.
In charge: Gary Bowyer, 45-year-old, who began his playing career in non-league, before moving to Hereford in 1989-90 and then joined Nottingham Forest.
Didn’t make a first team appearance at the City Ground, as he left for Rotherham United, having to retire through injury in 1997.
Started his coaching career working part-time at Ilkeston and managed Carshalton between 1998-2000, until appointed U17s coach at Derby County, spending six years with the Rams until a move to coach the U18s at Blackburn Rovers in 2004.
Became reserve team manager at Ewood Park in 2008, and was appointed as caretaker manager following the dismissal of Henning Berg in December 2012, keeping the position until the end of January.
Had another stint as caretaker boss in March 2013, after the sacking of Michael Appleton, appointed to the position permanently in May 2013.
Spent two years in charge of Rovers, being sacked in November 2015, and agreed a rolling one-year contract at Blackpool on June 1, 2016.
View from the opposition: Colin Daniel talking to the club’s official website: “Everyone is happy and just looking forward to the next game.
“We’re taking it game-by-game and seeing where it takes us at the end of the season.
“Last time we played them (Luton) they played very well and it will be a tough place to go, but we’re confident of getting the three points as long as we put in a good performance.
“We’re capable of beating anyone at this level with the attacking players that we’ve got and we’re also defending as a team.”
Friendly faces: Striker Mark Cullen was snapped up by the Tangerines from Luton for £180,000 in July 2015 after playing 83 times for the Hatters, scoring 24 goals, his most important strike, the last-minute equaliser at Cambridge United during Town’s Conference-winning season.
Finished as Blackpool’s top scorer in League One last term, with nine goals, and has found form of late as after just three strikes in his opening 25 games, has netted four in six to take him to seven for the campaign.
Hatters assistant boss Paul Hart spent five years at Blackpool between 1973 and 1978 as a player, making almost 150 appearances for the club after joining from Stockport County, before being sold to Leeds United for £300,000.
Played for both: Steve Davis, popular centre back who began his career at Southampton, before joining Burnley in 1991 and then headed to Kenilworth Road in 1995 for a fee of £750,000.
Spent three seasons with Luton, playing 173 times, scoring 27 goals, heading back to Turf Moor in 1998 for £800,00 and then to Blackpool in 2003 for a season, where he made 29 appearances, netting once.
Ended his career at York, before two spells in charge of the Clarets as caretaker, in 2007 and 2010 and is now head of recruitment at League One Fleetwood Town
One to watch: Brad Potts - hugely impressive season so far for the midfielder who joined the club in June 2015 from Carlisle.
Already doubled his goal tally of six from last term, scoring 12 times this termn, including netting four in his previous 10 appearances.
We’ve got form: Luton have an excellent record against Blackpool at Kenilworth Road since their first clash in Division Two, back in 1897.
In total, Hatters have won 15 of their 24 matches, drawing five and losing just four, scoring 46 goals and conceding 26, as the Tangerines have only scored in four of their previous 12 visits.
Town had won six in a row between 1973 and 1999, while they have enjoyed the winning feeling in nine of their last 12 games, their only defeat since 1972, a 3-1 home reverse in 2003.
Last time out: Luton were 1-0 winners over Blackpool the last time the two sides met at Kenilworth Road, a League One clash in April 2005.
Steve Howard’s goal on 15 minutes was enough for a Hatters team containing the likes of Curtis Davies and Kevin Foley.
Hatters: Marlon Beresford, Russell Perrett, Curtis Davies, Sol Davis, Kevin Foley, Paul Underwood (Enoch Showunmi 80), Ahmet Brkovic (Michael Leary 89), Kevin Nicholls, Peter Holmes, Rowan Vine (Warren Feeney 74), Steve Howard.
Subs not used: Dino Seremet, Chris Coyne.
Referee: P Armstrong.