PREVIEW: Luton Town v Grimsby Town
After a fairly underwhelming season to date, Grimsby have hit a period of real resurgence in the last month, just in time to face the Hatters.
Russell Slade’s side had won just six out of their opening 18 league fixtures, as they were floating around the lower mid-table region, going six without a win in all competitions, after losing 1-0 at home to Carlisle.
However, a 3-2 triumph at Swindon in November saw the Mariners string three victories in a row together, beating Barnet and then Forest Green, before picking up a more than creditable point at second placed Notts County last weekend.
Now back for his second spell in charge, Slade felt there was every chance he could lead the Mariners to third tier of English football during his tenure, after reaching the League Two play-off final in his first stint at Blundell Park.
When appointed back in April, he said: “There’s no doubt that this club is big enough to be playing in the level above.
“It was a welcome return, I’m delighted to be back. Let’s hope this time we can improve on last time.”
To do that, Slade will be searching for reinforcements during the next month too, as he told the Grimsby Telegraph: “We’re looking to see if we can help the group a little bit in the window, for sure.
“But that is a process that goes on all the time anyway.
“We’ve got a list if you like of our targets, and there are certain areas where we are looking to help the group a bit.”
The Grimsby boss has made his side a threat on their travels too as they have won three, drawn two and lost just one of their last six league matches, triumphing at Port Vale, Cheltenham and Barnet, their only defeat a 2-0 reverse to Exeter.
Team news: Luton are still without Scott Cuthbert (groin) and Alan McCormack (calf), while Jack Stacey is suspended for three games following his red card against Forest Green.
For the Mariners, James Berrett will travel with the squad once more after making the bench at the weekend.
Top scorers: Hatters - Danny Hylton (14). Mariners - Sam Jones (6).
Man in the middle: Christopher Sarginson – has taken 23 games so far this season, showing 75 yellows and five reds, three of them in the League Two clash between Yeovil and Stevenage.
Officiated Luton once as well, the 3-0 win over Carlisle, while had the whistle for three Hatters’ games last term, Town’s 4-1 triumph at Accrington, the 6-2 FA Cup success over Solihull Moors, plus 2-1 home victory over Crawley.
Previously, Sarginson has refereed for six Luton games, with the Hatters winning four, drawing one and losing one.
Assistants are Stephen Brown and Andrew Hendley, with the fourth official Stuart Butler.
In charge: Russell Slade – 57-year-old who didn’t make a first team appearing during his playing days, as he started out as a PE teacher, before being named assistant manager at Notts County, taking charge for a brief period in 1994.
Appointed boss of Midland Alliance side Armitage, and had two separate spells as caretaker manager of Sheffield United as his first permanent position came with Scarborough in November 2001.
Excelled during his time in charge and named Grimsby boss at the end of the 2003–04 season.
His impressive stint at Blundell Park saw Yeovil Town, then in the Championship, come calling as he led them to the League One play-off final, leaving in February 2009.
Wasn’t out of work too long, named Brighton & Hove Albion manager in March, as he kept the Seagulls up, only to leave in November and headed to Leyton Orient in April 2010.
Took O’s to the League One play-offs and then was appointed Cardiff City chief in October 2014, lasting just under two years, as he went to Charlton in June 2016 on a three year deal, but was dismissed five months later, having won four out of 16 games.
Back in management at Coventry in December, leading them to the Checkatrade Trophy final, but left before they beat Oxford at Wembley, sacked in March 2017, with just three wins from 16 games.
A month later, he was at Grimsy for his second spell in charge after Marcus Bignot’s tenure was ended.
View from the opposition: Mariners boss Russell Slade talking to the club’s official website: “We probably need to find a new level to get to where Luton are, because they do it on a regular basis.
“It couldn’t be more difficult than Saturday – Luton away – they’re runaway leaders at this moment in time, and so they should be.
“They’re free-scoring, they’ve got a system that works for them with the diamond shape that they play, they break very quickly, support the front guys very quickly, and they create an awful lot of chances.
“They’ve put a big marker out, and they’re taking giant steps towards the next level now. But they’ve had time to do that – he’s had four windows to build a team.
“They came close last season, they’ve got a good manager, Nathan Jones, they’ve got a good budget, a good fan-base and they’re going to be the (top) level this season.
“And with the support, in terms of finances – that he’s got – they should be in and around it, and they’re going to be a difficult nut to crack.”
Friendly faces: Ben Killip, young keeper who was on trial with Luton last season after his time at Norwich was coming to an end, but wasn’t offered a deal by Town Nathan Jones.
Went to Grimsby in the summer and has played three times since, all his appearances coming in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Played for both: Mick Cullen – born in Glasgow in 1931, the Scottish winger signed for Luton as a 17-year-old in 1948.
In 1956, he was capped by Scotland, playing a friendly against Austria, and after making 126 appearances and scoring 19 goals, was sold to Grimsby Town in 1958.
After a successful spell at Blundell Pak, turning out over 150 times, moved on to Derby County and then finished his career at Wellington Town.
One to watch: Midfielder Sam Jones, 26, started his career with Leeds United as a youngster and is a former Welsh U19 international.
Played for Retford United and Heanor Town in the 2014/2015 season and moved to Alfreton Town where he was top goalscorer.
Earned a full-time move to National League side Gateshead, scoring nine in 26 games for the Tynesiders and joined Grimsby for an undisclosed free in January.
Made his debut in the 1-1 draw against Luton in February and went on to score seven times for the Mariners last term.
Started this season with a goal on the opening day of the campaign and netted five in his first 11 games.
Although went eight matches without scoring, he ended that drought in the recent 2-0 win over Barnet making it six for the season.
We’ve got form: Town have never found Grimsby the easiest of opponents at Kenilworth Road, winning nine, drawing nine and losing seven of their 25 encounters, scoring 46 times and conceding 36.
Hatters have enjoyed two 6-0 victories though, back in December 1897 and then October 1981 thanks to four goals from Steve White.
However, Town haven’t won any of their last four outings against the Mariners, with three draws and a defeat, the most recent success coming in January 2011 as Claude Gnakpa’s strike settled a Conference encounter.
Last time out: Luton were beaten 2-1 at Kenilworth Road by Grimsby last season after a late Omar Bogle strike.
The Mariners forward had put his side in front on 29 minutes, while Glen Rea levelled matters just before the hour mark.
However, with eight minutes to go, Bogle struck again to seal victory.
Hatters: Christian Walton, Stephen O’Donnell, Dan Potts, Johnny Mullins, Alan Sheehan, Cameron McGeehan, Jordan Cook, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu (Alex Gilliead 85), Olly Lee (Glen Rea 46), Danny Hylton (Isaac Vassell 46), Jack Marriott.
Subs not used: Craig King, Scott Cuthbert, Jonathan Smith, Jake Gray
Referee: Darren Deadman.