PREVIEW: Luton Town v Exeter City
It's been a quite remarkable turnaround for Exeter this season as back in November, they looked certain candidates for the drop rather than potential play-off material.
With just five wins from their opening 17 League Two games, and none at home, manager Paul Tisdale was under increasing pressure, with the Grecians bottom of the pile midway through the month.
However, a win at Leyton Orient on November 22, heralded a drastic change in fortunes for the Devon club, as they went on a 12-game unbeaten run, winning seven in a row, including a first, long overdue, victory at St James Park too, propelling themselves dramatically up the table.
That superb sequence was ended by rivals Plymouth Argyle in February and it hasn’t been quite as plain sailing since, as City drew the next three, while after winning at Crawley, endured back-to-back defeats.
The mini slump ended in style once more though on Tuesday night, with a 3-0 home win over Cheltenham, their eighth league win by three or more goals this season, a record for any club in the top four tiers of English football.
That has seen Exeter climb to seventh in the table, just a single point behind Luton, with one of the key factors the form of Ollie Watkins, who is now on 14 goals for the season, alerting plenty of other clubs to his services.
However, January saw the Grecians turn down several bids for the 21-year-old as a thankful Tisdale told BBC Radio Devon: “The board has backed my request that we keep this team together.
“That shows some real intent and real bravery when there are clubs offering really good money.”
Saturday will be the third meeting between the two sides already this term too, with Luton comfortable 3-1 winners in the FA Cup before a goalless draw in the league but Tisdale knows his side are in a far, far better place now.
Speaking to the club’s official website, he said: “We are in a very different place then than what we are now.
“We feel a different team. We have a lot of the same players, but we have got some continuity now – which we didn’t have then – and some good form. So, I think we are viewing the game differently.
“Albeit they (Luton) are a good team, who are playing at an interesting stadium with noise and an atmosphere and a team that wants to win. So it is going to be tough game for us.”
Team news: Luton will be without captain Scott Cuthbert with a tweaked hamstring, while Dan Potts will be assessed after his head injury against Carlisle.
Johnny Mullins is expected to be fit, while Akin Famewo was included on the bench in midweek, meaning just Cameron McGeehan (leg) and Danny Green (leg) are missing.
For Exeter, Christy Pym, Lee Holmes, Robbie Simpson and Tom McCready are all expected to miss out.
Milestones: Alan Sheehan made his 50th appearance in a Luton shirt during Tuesday night’s 0-0 draw with Exeter.
The 30-year-old Irishman has scored four goals in that time too.
Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton (22). Grecians: David Wheeler (15).
Man in the middle: Trevor Kettle - official has taken 28 games so far this season, showing 122 yellows and five reds, including three in three games recently.
Refereed two Luton games this term, the 1-1 draw at Cheltenham and was a late stand-in for the 2-1 win at Leyton Orient as well.
Had the whistle for two Hatters matches last campaign, with Town winning 3-2 at Oxford United and losing 1-0 at home to Bristol Rovers.
Previously had Luton’s 3-3 draw with Bradford in League Two during January 2009, sending off Chris Martin in the 90th minute.
Took Luton’s 3-0 victory over Sunderland in the Carling Cup in August 2007, dismissing the visitors’ Greg Halford, plus a 1-0 League One win over Tranmere in December.
Sent off Sol Davis in Town’s Championship 0-0 draw at Stoke City in February 2007 for that tackle, also showing Ricardo Fuller a red in the same game, while he had the 1-0 defeat at Plymouth earlier in the campaign.
Has refereed three more Hatters games too, a 3-1 win at Leyton Orient and 3-2 home defeat to Stoke during the 2005-06 campaign, plus a 3-2 win over Wrexham in November 2003.
Referees assistants are Anthony Da Costa and Michael Webb, with Adrian Waters the fourth official.
In charge: Paul Tisdale, 44-year-old, who, despite being born in Malta, came through the ranks at Southampton in 1991, although only made 16 appearances for the Saints, with loan spells at Northampton Town and Huddersfield Town.
Spent time with Bristol City, Exeter, FinnPa (Finland) and Panionios (Greece) before returning to have a year at Yeovil Town, where injury forced him to end his career early.
Took a coaching role with Team Bath in 2000, leaving in 2006, to become Exeter boss, leading the Grecians back into the Football League.
Having completed over 10 years in charge, is currently the second longest-serving manager in English football, only behind Arsenal supremo Arsene Wenger.
View from the opposition: Reuben Reid talking to the club’s official website: “We can go above them, so it’s massively important. Luton’s a real big game for both sides and we will be targeting it as a must win.
“They’ve got a good squad and a good side which is proved and backed up by their performances in the league thus far. I know they’re set up well and they’ve got solid players and obviously they’ve got threats going forward.
“But we’ve got to be concentrating on ourselves really. I mean if our game comes out then we’ve got to be confident we can get a positive result.”
One to watch: David Wheeler - attacking midfielder who recently broke an 80-year old club record after scoring for seven consecutive games.
The 26-year-old joined Exeter back in 2013 after spells with Lewes and Staines and has gone on to impress ever since, netting over 30 goals in his 150-plus appearances.
Friendly faces: Luton midfielder Lawson D’Ath spent a month on loan at Exeter in the 2012-13 season. as he played eight times scoring once in a 4-1 win over Bradford.
Meanwhile, Hatters boss Nathan Jones spent time at Exeter on loan in the 1997-98 season, making six appearances, scoring once.
Played for both: Striker Craig McAllister joined Exeter in July 2008 from Oxford and played 37 times, scoring seven goals for the Grecians in his two years, which also saw loan moves to Barnet and Rotherham.
Left for Crawley and then Newport, heading to Luton on loan in January 2012, where he scored once in 17 games.
After his short Town stint, McAllister signed for Eastleigh and now 36, returned in Feburary of this year, as he has scored once in six games so far.
We’ve got form: Luton have an excellent record against Exeter City at Kenilworth Road since games began in the Southern League back in 1909.
Hatters have triumphed 21 times in total from their 31 matches, drawing five and losing five, scoring 79 goals and conceding just 35.
Luton’s best win was a 6-0 thrashing back in 1923, although the Grecians did exact a modicum of revenge six years later, humbling their hosts 4-0.
Last time out: Hatters were 4-1 winners over Exeter in their final game of the season last year.
Cameron McGeehan’s deflected free kick saw Luton in front, before Jack Marriott (33) and then Joe Pigott (34), who netted from 40 yards, saw Luton 3-0 ahead by the break.
Ex-Luton striker Jayden Stockley pulled one back moments after half time, but Marriott’s goal in the 63rd minute completed the scoring.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Stephen O’Donnell (James Justin 83), Dan Potts, Glen Rea, Alan Sheehan, Alex Lawless, Cameron McGeehan, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu (Tyreeq Bakinson 76), Jake Howells (Frankie Musonda 89), Jack Marriott, Joe Pigott.
Subs not used: Craig King, Jonathan Smith, Josh McQuoid, Zane Banton.
Referee: Carl Boyeson.