PREVIEW: Rochdale v Luton Town
Home form is proving something of an issue for Rochdale as they aim to avoid a repeat of last season's constant battle against relegation, which saw them heroically survive on the final day.
Dale spent large chunks of the 2017-18 campaign anchored to the bottom of the table and appeared certainties for the drop as a superb FA Cup run which saw they take Premier League Spurs to a replay, had them cut adrift with games piling up.
Importantly they took advantage of those fixtures, as boss Keith Hill masterminded a brilliant escape to safety, with Joe Thompson’s goal enough to beat Charlton Athletic in their last game, staying up at the expense of Oldham Athletic, as they finished one point above the dreaded dotted line.
They looked to have carried that resurgence into this year, winning 2-1 at Burton Albion on the opening day, but then went down 4-1 at home to Peterborough.
A 2-0 Carabao Cup win at Grimsby followed, before a battling 2-2 draw at Fleetwood represented a respectable start to the season.
However, they they shipped four goals again at Spotland to Barnsley, also losing to Walsall 2-1, and went out of the cup at Middlesborough to somewhat puncture their early optimism.
A 1-0 win at Coventy raised spirits once more, as Dale put a mini unbeaten run together, finally winning at home at the fourth time of asking in the league as well, defeating Gillingham, 3-0.
Two heavy defeats followed at Sunderland and Portsmouth, but Hill’s side picked up two draws, although couldn’t shift that home form, losing to Doncaster.
On their travels, they kept producing results, with a 2-0 win at Bradford, although they went down 3-0 to Wycombe, but had some rare joy at Spotland last time out, seeing off Charlton 1-0.
That took them to seven points garnered from a potential 24 though, still nothing to shout about, but Hill hopes that will lead to an upturn in performances in front of their own fans, saying: “It has always been mantra that you can have bad talent days at work but you should never have bad work day, so I’m pleased for the players and pleased that we’ve secured the victory that puts us on 19 points from 16 games.
“It’ll give us confidence. We’ve played some very talented sides at home and we’ve had one or two good performances where we haven’t had the results but you need to make the most of your home form and hopefully that’s the start of things to come.”
Team news: Hatters are almost back at full strength for the trip to Rochdale, as both Marek Stech and Lloyd Jones played in the development side’s 3-3 draw with Southend.
Dan Potts (groin) and Luke Berry (knee) are still not ready to feature though.
Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton, Elliot Lee (5). Dale: Ian Henderson (10).
Man in the middle: Ollie Yates – new referee for the Hatters, as he has been fast-tracked up the leagues, his first season in the Conference in 2015-16.
Has taken 13 games this season, showing 44 yellows and one red, while only had seven games last term, with 24 cautions.
In the 2016-17 campaign, brandished four reds in 12 matches, all four coming in three games.
Assistant referees are David Avent and Mark Griffiths, with the fourth official Daniel Middleton.
In charge: Keith Hill – 49-year-old had a lengthy playing career after starting out at Blackburn Rovers in 1987, moving on to Plymouth Argyle where he made over 100 appearances and then signing for Rochdale in 1996.
Had five years at Spotland, racking up more than 150 games, while had stints with Cheltenham Town, Wrexham and Morecambe until hanging his boots up in 2003 with over 400 first team outings to his name.
Joined Rochdale’s coaching staff as director of youth in December 2006 and was appointed caretaker manager following the sacking of Steve Parkin in December 2006.
Took the role on permanently in January 2007, leading the club to the League Two play-off final in his first full season, beaten by Stockport.
A top seven place followed the next term, losing to Gillingham this time, before he took Dale straight up in the 2009-10 campaign, enjoying a ninth placed finish in League One, their best in 40 years the following term.
Named Barnsley boss in June 2011, but was sacked 18 months later and following the dismissal of John Coleman at Spotland, returned to take charge at Rochdale once more in January 2013, leading the side back up to League One the next season, meaning he has spent over a decade at the helm in total.
View from the dug out: Keith Hill - “One quality we should always have over any opposition is our energy, our work rate and our honesty.
“We want players who want to retain the shirts and retain their place on the substitutes bench, rather than me having to think and work extra hard, which is what I’m doing at this moment in time to select a side that represents our values and the opponents’ values.
“It has taken a lot of energy out of me to try and select a side - it would be nice to pick the same 11 consistently.”
Friendly faces: Town defender Matty Pearson joined Rochdale on a free transfer in July 2012, as he made 13 appearances before leaving to sign for Halifax the following June.
Luton goalkeeping coach Kevin Dearden played twice for Rochdale when on loan at Spotland from Spurs in the 1991-92 campaign.
For Dale, striker Calvin Andrew started his career at Luton, making 67 appearances and scoring six times during his four year spell.
Left for Crystal Plalace in July 2008 and has since had spells with Brighton, Millwall, Swindon, Leyton Orient, Port Vale, Mansfield, York, joining Rochdale in July 2014.
He has made over 170 appearances, scoring 26 goals for Dale, notching twice so far this term.
Forward Ian Henderson signed for Luton from Northampton in January 2009, scoring once in 18 games, that the 2-1 defeat at Dagenham & Redbridge in League Two in February 2009.
Went to Ankaragucu in Turkey from Kenilworth Road, then heading to Colchester and Rochdale in March 2013.
Spent the last five years at Spotland, and is just two goals away from his century in Dale colours, playing 272 times.
Played for both: Striker Steve Elliot began his career with Nottingham Forest, and then had a lengthy stint at Preston North End, scoring 70 goals in just over 200 games between 1979-84.
That form persuaded then Luton boss David Pleat to shell out £95,000 for his services, joining Kenilworth Road in the summer of 1984.
Netted six goals in 15 games and was used as part of the deal to bring club legend David Preece to Luton from Walsall in December 1985.
Found his scoring touch at the Saddlers and then had spells at Bolton and Bury, joining Rochdale in 1989, where he bagged nine goals in 52 games, before ending his career in non-league with Guiseley in 1991.
One to watch: Ian Henderson – former Luton striker is already way out ahead in the scoring charts for Dale, netting 10 goals in 16 games this season.
Scored four in his first four games, then went five without scoring, ending that in style by bagging a treble in the 3-0 win over Gillingham.
Another four matches followed without a goal, but goes into this contest bang in form, notching four in four once more, including both in the 2-0 away triumph win at Bradford recently.
Now 33, is a constant menace to League One defenders, with 20 strikes to his name last season, and 19 the year before.
We’ve got form: Luton’s first visit to Rochdale was an FA Cup qualifying tie back in 1910, the two sides drawing 1-1, Town claiming the replay 3-2.
They didn’t make the trek again for over half a century, heading back in September 1965 for a 2-1 Division Four win.
Town were beaten 3-0 on their following clash in 1966 but edge the overall record against Dale, with four wins, three defeats and two draws from their nine trips in total.
In that time, Luton have scored 13 goals and conceded 12, keeping just the one clean sheet.
Last time out: A double from striker Kevin Gallen saw Luton run out 2-0 winners in their last visit to Rochdale an FA Cup first round tie in November 2009.
The forward notched on the hour mark and then again with 16 minutes to go, as Town went through to face Southend away, losing 3-1.
Hatters: Shane Gore, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Alan White, George Pilkington, Kevin Nicholls, Andy Burgess, Asa Hall (Ryan Charles 68), Jake Howells, Rossi Jarvis, Tom Craddock (Claude Gnakpa 76), Kevin Gallen (Adam Newton 83).
Subs not used: Callum Reynolds, Shane Blackett.
Referee: Anthony Bates.