PREVIEW: Luton Town v Bristol Rovers
Pirates chief Darrell Clarke believes his side should be much better off than the lowly position they occupy in the early League One table.
The Rovers supremo has seen his team pick up just one win this term, as four defeats from their opening seven matches means they currently sit fourth from bottom.
However, speaking to the press this week, Clarke insists it is something of a false position, saying: “It is a tough division. Certainly, I’d like to be on more points than we’re on now and certainly the performances, should have been a lot better than where we are now.
“Now we’re getting one or two back, lads are starting to gel together a little bit more, the results and performances will come on a more consistent basis.”
On the pitch, Rovers’ away form was one of the main reasons they couldn’t sustain a challenge for the play-offs last season, but this time around, it’s at home they have struggled.
At the Memorial, they were a real force to be reckoned with in the 2017-18 campaign, winning 11 of their 23 matches, drawing six and losing six.
On their travels just five wins were recorded, although this term, playing in front of their own fans has been the issue, one draw and three defeats thus far.
Despite losing at Peterborough on the opening day, they ended a run of six games on the road without success, winning 2-1 at Wycombe and despite losing at QPR in the Carabao Cup, picked up a point by drawing 1-1 at Shrewsbury.
Clarke saw some big players depart in the summer, none more so than striker Ellis Harrison, who Ipswich snapped up for a fee of around £750,000, while Lee Brown went to Portsmouth.
They did bring in replacements though, Ed Upson from MK Dons and Shrewsbury duo Alex Rodman and Stefan Payne, paying an undisclosed fee for Huddersfield’s Tariq Holmes-Dennis.
The loan market was utilised ahead of last month’s deadline as well, Stevenage’s Joe Martin, Brentford keeper Jack Bonham and Watford stopper Alex Jakubiak all joining.
Meanwhile, one of the more bizarre stories this week, saw rumours circulate that vacuum cleaner billionaire Sir James Dyson was launching a bid to buy the club.
However, the Bristol Post soon quashed that speculation after contacting an official spokesman, with no suggestion that current owners Wael Al Qadi, Dwane Sports and his family are even looking to sell.
Team news: Striker Danny Hylton remains a doubt for the Hatters, with Marek Stech expected to miss out due to his upcoming hernia operation.
Luke Berry faces some time on the sidelines as well, after undergoing minor surgery on a knee problem.
For Rovers, Liam Sercombe is out for a few weeks, but Joe Partington, Stuart Sinclair and Rollin Menayesse all featured for the development squad last week.
Top scorers: Hatters: Elliot Lee (3). Rovers: Stefan Payne (2).
Man in the middle: Rob Lewis – experienced official has taken six games so far this term, showing 20 yellows and one red.
Had just one match for the Hatters last season, the 2-2 draw at Cheltenham Town in November.
Refereed two Luton games in the 2015-16 campaign, a 1-0 home win over Mansfield and 0-0 draw at Stevenage, sending off Paul Benson.
Officiated the Hatters on four other occasions, a 3-2 home defeat to Exeter in April 2015, 1-0 Conference win over Forest Green in August 2009, plus a 2-1 win over Hartlepool and 2-0 defeat at Southend during the 2007-08 League Two season.
In charge: Darrell Clarke. 40-year-old who had a lengthy playing career, making over 400 appearances for Mansfield Town, Hartlepool United, Stockport County, Port Vale and Rochdale.
Appointed Salisbury City manager in 2010, leading the club into the Conference Premier from the Southern League with two play-off final victories in three seasons.
Became Bristol Rovers assistant in June 2013 but when manager John Ward was moved upstairs, he took sole charge in March 2014.
Couldn’t prevent the club from dropping out of the Football League, although guided them back at the first attempt with a 5-3 penalty shoot-out win over Grimsby Town at Wembley.
Masterminded promotion to League One after finishing third in the 2015-16 campaign, signing a five year deal in June 2017, and at four years, 168 days is the seventh longest serving manager in English football.
View from the opposition: Darrell Clarke, speaking to the Bristol Post: “Luton were the massive hitters in League Two last couple of years. They’ve got a new stadium coming up and they’ve massive infrastructures coming and being built so they’re a bigger club than ourselves.
“Maybe not as well supported as ourselves but they’re a bigger club than ourselves. It’ll be a tough test, they’ve got fantastic home form but we’re looking forward to it.
“It’s a good challenges, you want to play the better teams in the division, certainly going to be no tougher than Kenilworth Road.
“I think it’s a really passionate crowd, the crowd’s right on top of you. We’re going to need some players with some big gonads on Saturday to make sure we can deal with that and handle that and try and win the game.”
Friendly faces: Bristol Rovers midfielder Stuart Sinclair came through the ranks at Kenilworth Road, but left without making a first team appearance.
Played for Cambridge City, Bedford Town, Dunstable Town and Arlesey Town before moving to Salisbury City in 2014, featuring almost 100 times.
Headed to the Memorial Stadium in 2014 and has racked up over 100 games for the Pirates, scoring eight goals.
Played for both: Alex Wall – 27-year-old striker joined Luton from Maidenhead United in March 2013 as he was then boss John Still’s first signing.
Made 35 appearances, scoring seven goals for the Hatters, while was loaned out to Dartford and then Bristol Rovers in November 2014.
Featured five times, not scoring for the Pirates, before released by Luton in June 2015 and went to Bromley, Hungerford and Dartford, although suffered badly with a persistent injury.
Recovered now and joined Concord Rangers in the summer, making an impressive start, already bagging seven strikes.
One to watch: Stefan Payne. 27-year-old striker began his career at Fulham, then having stints at Gillingham, Aldershot, Sutton, Macclesfield and then Dover where he made his name, with 33 goals in 84 league matches.
Headed to Barsley, but didn’t take off at Oakwell, joining Shrewsbury in January 217, making the move permanent in August of that year.
Netted 14 goals last term for Shrews and headed to Bristol Rovers in August, scoring twice so far.
We’ve got form: Luton’s overall record against Rovers at Kenilworth Road is pretty impressive, with 35 wins, 14 draws and 13 defeats in their 62 matches, scoring 125 goals and conceding 61.
One match sticks out like a sore thumb, as back on April 13, 1936 in the Old Division Three South, striker Joe Payne wrote his name into the record books, scoring 10 times in a 12-0 win.
In recent years, Rovers have finished on top, as they have won their last two matches, with Town not triumphing since a 3-0 Division Three success in 2002, with goals from Steve Howard, Chris Coyne and Kevin Nicholls.
Last time out: Luton were beaten 1-0 by Bristol Rovers in the last meeting at Kenilworth Road, a League Two clash back in August 2015.
Ex-Town youngster Stuart Sinclair netted with virtually the last kick of a poor game to secure the points for the visitors.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Stephen O’Donnell, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty, Scott Cuthbert, Luke Wilkinson, Cameron McGeehan (Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu 70), Nathan Doyle (Jonathan Smith 65), Paul Benson, Paddy McCourt, Craig Mackail-Smith (Jack Marriott 75).
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Dan Potts, Alex Lawless, Josh McQuoid.
Referee: Trevor Kettle