PREVIEW: Luton Town v Mansfield Town
After a mid-table finish last season, Mansfield are starting to show signs that they are capable of mounting the promotion challenge that boss Adam Murray is expecting this time around.
Beginning with a 3-2 win at Newport County on the opening day, they also beat Yeovil and Leyton Orient early on, suffering only one defeat in their opening five league games, that at leaders Plymouth.
A slightly sticky spell then followed, with the Stags going seven games without a win in all competitions, although four of those were draws as they ended it with a 1-0 win at Port Vale in the EFL Trophy.
They then picked up a hugely morale-boosting 3-1 win over local rivals Notts County at home before a draw with Wycombe last weekend made it five games unbeaten for Murray’s side.
That has seen them sitting in 11th place, but such is the nature of the division, they are just four points below Luton and one away from the top seven spots.
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For boss Murray it’s been all about team building this week too as he took his squad to the Nottingham’s Escape Rooms to help build team relations, after also banning the use of mobile phones by players in a bid to improve communication at Field Mill.
He believes this will only aid his side ahead of the trip to Kenilworth Road as he expects them to show they can be promotion contenders, telling the Mansfield and Ashwell Chad: “We have had a good week this week. It’s a big statement but we obviously feel we should be inside that top seven now.
“But we are probably a little behind schedule from where I wanted us to be. That’s for a number of reasons, but we will get back to where we believe we can be.
“After the first quarter, if someone had said to us we’d be three points off Portsmouth and four points off Luton, we would have taken that.
“We are in an okay position with a lot more to come.”
Team news: Luton welcome back Olly Lee from his ban, but will be missing suspended top scorer Danny Hylton, while James Justin is out for a few weeks with a calf injury, with Danny Green and Nathan Doyle still absent.
Stags saw defender Kyle Howkins and midfielder Jack Thomas return to action last weekend with West Brom loanee Howkins completing the full 90 minutes against Wycombe and Thomas playing 45.
Midfielder Jamie McGuire will almost certainly miss the trip to Luton with a knee injury, whilst defender George Taft is still out with his hamstring injury.
Top scorers: Hatters - Danny Hylton (8). Stags - Matt Green (7).
Man in the middle: Graham Salisbury - has taken 11 games so far, showing 30 yellows and one red card.
Officiated 35 games last term, with 120 yellows and eight reds, as he had the whistle for Luton’s 2-1 defeat at Barnet, awarding the hosts a penalty in stoppage time after Scott Cuthbert’s handball.
Also took the 3-1 win at Cambridge for the Hatters, dismissing the hosts’ Harrison Dunk for two yellows.
Has had Luton a further eight times in his career, with Town winning five, drawing two and losing just one, showing two more reds in that time, sending off Tom Naylor as Luton won 1-0 at Cambridge in September 2014 and Hatters’ Kevin Nicholls in a 1-1 draw against Plymouth in 2004.
Referees assistants are Sam Purkiss and Danny Gratton, with fourth official Anthony Da Costa.
In charge: Adam Murray - 35-year-old who began his career at Derby County, turning professional in August 1998.
Had spells at Mansfield, Kidderminster, Notts County, Carlisle United and Torquay United, before moving to Macclesfield in January 2007 for a fee of £17,500.
Headed to Oxford and then moved to Luton in June 2010 for a short time, but was loaned to Mansfield in October 2010, with the move turning permanent in January 2011.
Became assistant manager at Field Mill in June 2012 and was appointed caretaker boss after Paul Cox left, with the position made permanent in December 2014, as he became the youngest manager in the Premier League or the Football League at the time.
Signed a contract extension in October last year too.
View from the opposition: Adam Murray talking to the Mansfield and Ashwell Chad: “Obviously going to places like Luton, we know how tough it’s going to be as they are a very good team.
“Since they’ve come back into the league, it’s probably the best they’ve looked. I think Nathan (Jones) is doing a good job down there and they’ve established a very strong side.
“They are playing a good brand of football and I think he’s got the club as one – which is tough to do. He is doing a great job there and he has signed some excellent players.
“It is a club with a lot of history and the fans are passionate. It’s like any football club – the environment can go two ways.
“If the sun is shining and the roses are out, it’s brilliant. But if that changes it becomes a problem, a bit like our place. It’s something you take into consideration.
“It’s a tough game, a tough place to go, a good team, good manager; but we’re in the same boat.”
Friendly faces: Hatters defenders Alan Sheehan and Johnny Mullins both played for Mansfield earlier in their careers.
Mullins spent two years at with the Stags after signing from Reading in May 2006, playing just under 100 times, scoring five goals until moving to Stockport in June 2008.
Sheehan spent a two month loan spell at Field Mill in September 2006, playing 11 times for the club.
Stags boss Adam Murray played seven times for Luton after being signed by Richard Money in July 2010, before leaving to join Mansfield three months later.
On his time at Kenilworth Road, he said: “I played there for a short time – and if I am honest I was awful there. In fact I don’t think they will even remember me playing, I was that bad.
“I didn’t have the time there I was hoping to have.”
Played for both: Centre half George Pilkington joined Luton in July 2008 from Port Vale, spending four years with the club, playing 172 times and scoring 12 goals.
The defender signed for Mansfield in June 2012, but only played seven times in four years for the Stags, with loan spells at Forest Green and Macclesfield.
Eventually joined Macclesfield permanently in July 2014 and now 34, still going strong with the Silkmen, playing over 100 times for the club so far, signing a new contract in the summer.
One to watch: Matt Green - 29-year-old striker is relishing his role as a super sub at the moment according to boss Adam Murray.
The forward, who hit 16 goals last term, was dropped from the side after the 1-0 home defeat to Grimsby, but has now scored four times after coming off the bench in the five games since, including two in the 3-1 win over Notts Couny.
On his decision to drop the striker, Murray said: “After the Grimsby game he didn’t deserve to be in the team as he hadn’t scored any goals. So I took him out of the team.
“If it was any other player in the team you wouldn’t want to write a story about it. It’s only because it’s Matt Green you want to write a story about it.
“Unfortunately Stags fans, there is no story there. He wasn’t performing so he came out the team.
“The performances he has put in and his attitude since he’s not been in the team have been superb. And I think at the minute he’s enjoying being super sub. So we’ll just carry that on.”
We’ve got form: Luton have a fine record against Mansfield at Kenilworth Road, with eight wins, five draws and just three defeats in their previous 16 meetings, scoring 38 times and conceding 21.
The hosts have enjoyed some big victories over the years, the most impressive a 7-2 hammering handed out in the League Cup in October 1989 with a hat-trick by Lars Elstrup, plus goals for Roy Wegerle (2), David Preece and John Dreyer.
They also managed to put another five past the Stags in April 2002 thanks to strikes from Jean-Louis Valois, Dean Crowe, Kevin Nicholls and Steve Howard (2), with current Mansfield caretaker boss Adam Murray scoring for the visitors, while Town have managed four on two other occasions as well.
Last time out: Luton were 1-0 winners over Mansfield last season at Kenilworth Road, their first home league win of the campaign at the fourth attempt.
Striker Craig Mackail-Smith had a wonderful overhead kick ruled out for offside in the first half, before converting a penalty on the hour mark when he had been hauled down in the area by Ryan Tafazolli.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Stephen O’Donnell, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty, Luke Wilkinson, Jonathan Smith, Cameron McGeehan (Mark O’Brien 86), Paddy McCourt (Alex Lawless 89), Olly Lee, Craig Mackail-Smith, Josh McQuoid (Danny Green 81).
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Curtley Williams, Ryan Hall, Jack Marriott.
Referee: Robert Lewis.