PREVIEW: Luton Town v Cambridge United
Cambridge United have been making giant strides up the League Two table in recent weeks after what can only be described as a terrible start to the season.
The U’s couldn’t buy a league victory in the early stages, as they failed to win any of their opening eight games, including being beaten 3-0 on home soil by Luton, with their only slither of joy, a 1-0 victory at Shrewsbury in the Checkatrade Trophy.
It wasn’t until September 24 that Shaun Derry’s side could finally celebrate a three point haul, at the ninth time of asking, with a 2-1 triumph at Newport County.
As soon as the monkey was off their back though, United swiftly made it three league successes in a row, plus defeating Middlesbrough in the Trophy as it looked like the tide was finally turning.
Another sticky period led to just saw a further two league wins from six, however, after winning 1-0 at Notts County on November 22, Cambridge hit top gear, picking up seven wins from nine, including a 5-0 hammering of Hartlepool to shoot up the division.
An FA Cup run helped momentum too as U’s saw off Dover, hammered Coventry and then only narrowly went out at home to Championship side Leeds United after taking a first half lead.
That exit has led to the slightest of hangovers, with Cambridge dropping points at home recently, held 0-0 by Blackpool and then losing 3-1 to Mansfield last weekend, a first league reverse in nine games.
However, the United boss wasn’t getting too down by the recent return, as he told the Cambridge Evening News: “I’m not sure you can label the last couple of games a wobble. This is League Two, this is exactly what goes off around the top 12 all the time.
“If we could guarantee wins every week, we’d be doing the Lottery but you can’t and it’s such a tough division.
“You take your hits when they come, we took one last Saturday and the difficulty for us was the manner of the goals we conceded.”
Derry has been active in the transfer window recently too, paying an undisclosed fee for both 22-year-old Macclesfield midfielder Paul Lewis and also Hartlepool full back Jake Carroll.
There have been two loan deals as well, 18-year-old Nottingham Forest striker Gerry McDonagh joining until the end of the season, after a spell in the National League where he netted five in 21 for Wrexham, plus teenage Blackburn defender Scott Wharton.
Meanwhile, Hull City defender Max Clark, who has made 32 appearances this season, has seen his stay extended until May as well.
The form of free transfer signing Uche Ikpeazu has been a boost for the U’s too, with the former Watford forward netting eight goals since arriving in August, including a streak of five in nine games recently.
Team news: Luton will have Alan Sheehan available after he sat out Town’s 1-1 draw with Wycombe last week due to suspension.
However, Johnny Mullins and Danny Hylton are banned for four and two matches respectively, while Dan Potts (knee), Cameron McGeehan (broken leg), Akin Famewo (tendinitis), Danny Green (leg) and Nathan Doyle (Achilles) are all missing.
For the U’s, Josh Coulson is out for the rest of the season, but Harrison Dunk has been training this week.
Brad Halliday remains a doubt, while Medy Elito and Barry Corr are making progress in their bid to return from injury.
Top scorers: Hatters - Danny Hylton (14). United - Luke Berry (15).
Man in the middle: Seb Stockbridge - has taken Luton once this term, the 1-1 draw at Hartlepool in which he showed a red card to the home side’s Nicky Featherstone.
Officiated 26 games so far, with 105 yellows and four reds, as he was most recently in charge of Bury’s 5-1 win over Peterborough in League One.
Has refereed Luton four times previously, the 1-0 win at Wycombe last year, plus a 2-2 draw at Accrington in the 2014-15 campaign
Also took the 1-1 home draw with Grimsby during the 2012-13 season and Hatters’ 1-0 victory at the Mariners in October 2011.
Referee’s assistants are Ashvin Degnarain and Kevin Morris with the fourth official Andrew Laver.
In charge: Shaun Derry - 39-year-old, who enjoyed a lengthy playing career, making over 550 first team appearances during spells with Notts County, Sheffield United, Portsmouth, Crystal Palace and QPR, before hanging his boots up in 2013.
Appointed Notts County boss in November 2013 and saved the Magpies from relegation, but was sacked in March 2015.
Was named Cambridge United manager in November 2015 on a two-and-a-half year contract, replacing former Luton chief Richard Money and led the club to a ninth placed finish last season.
View from the opposition: United boss Shaun Derry speaking to the Cambridge Evening News: “Obviously, the 3-0 (defeat) earlier on this season was a tough pill to swallow and after 60 minutes we felt we were the better team and Nathan’s team came out on top in the end.
“That hurt, but for us, we have to take one game at a time and it’s an important one.
“We’ll be taking a large number of travelling fans, as we always do, and it’s something to look forward to.
“I think both clubs are in good positions, I think Nathan will be happy with his season so far and I’m content with our season as well.
“Throw into the equation the recent history of these games, it does set us up for an interesting afternoon.
“You just hope both teams can go out there and do themselves justice.
“I want us to go there and take a game plan that allows us to play at full maximum on the day and more often than not the players have been able to do that.”
Friendly faces: Joe Pigott, 23-year-old striker spent the latter half of last season on loan with Luton, scoring four goals in 15 games.
Penned a one year deal with Cambridge in the summer, but has struggled to command a first team place, making just five league starts and only netting once in 17 appearances as he could well leave the club during the transfer window.
Defender Greg Taylor who played 43 games for Luton, scoring once, is at United too after signing in June 2013 and recently passed 150 games for the club, scoring three goals in that time.
For the Hatters, midfielder Cameron McGeehan had an excellent loan spell with Cambridge in the 2014-15 season, netting three goals in six games, before returning to Kenilworth Road.
Town’s goalkeeper coach Kevin Dearden was with Cambridge on loan from Spurs for two months in 1989, playing 15 games.
Played for both: Luke Guttridge - 34-year-old midfielder signed for Cambridge after coming through the ranks at Torquay, playing over 150 times for the U’s in five years, scoring 20 goals.
Had spells at a host of clubs including Southend, Northampton and Aldershot, before joining Luton in July 2013.
Was a huge part of Town’s Conference title success, as he had a impressed greatly during his time at Kenilworth Road, scoring 19 goals in 74 appearances.
Was released by boss Nathan Jones in January 2016 and linked up with former Luton chief John Still at Dagenham & Redbridge, where he has netted seven times in 22 games so far.
One to watch: Luke Berry - 24-year-old who came through the ranks at Cambridge, playing over 100 times before joining Barnsley in 2014.
Spent a season at the Tykes but then returned to United for an undisclosed fee and this season is enjoying a superb return in front of goal.
Has netted 15 times in all competitions, including all four in the 4-0 win over Coventry in the FA Cup, to top the club’s scoring charts.
We’ve got form: Hatters have the upper hand over Cambridge at Kenilworth Road with seven wins, seven draws and four defeats in their 18 meetings, scoring 28 goals and conceding 16.
Luton began in magnificent style, thumping the U’s 9-1 win in their first meeting, that an FA Cup quarter-final tie back in 1910, which started a six game unbeaten run.
However, Cambridge have improved over the years, with the four victories, although their only one from their last five visits was an FA Trophy replay success against a fledgling Luton side in January 2014.
The U’s are still yet to enjoy a Football League triumph in Bedfordshire though in nine attempts so far.
Last time out: Luton were held to a 0-0 draw by Cambridge at Kenilworth Road last season in what was Nathan Jones’ first game in charge.
The Hatters saw keeper Mark Tyler go off injured early on, along with Danny Green, as they had Jack Marriott’s goal ruled out for offside in the first half.
Hatters: Mark Tyler (Elliot Justham 8), Stephen O’Donnell, Scott Cuthbert, Magnus Okuonghae, Jonathan Smith, Alex Lawless, Ryan Hall, Danny Green (Josh McQuoid 23), Jake Howells, Paul Benson, Jack Marriott.
Subs not used: Dan Potts, Luke Wilkinson, Paddy McCourt, Olly Lee, Craig Mackail-Smith.
Referee: Andy Madley.