PREVIEW: Stevenage v Luton Town

Not many League Two sides were as active as Stevenage were when it came to the recently closed transfer window.

Olly Lee saw this shot hit the bar at Stevenage last season
Olly Lee saw this shot hit the bar at Stevenage last season

Like Luton, Boro added three players on deadline day, midfielder John Goddard signing on an undisclosed fee from Swindon, as did young Dagenham & Redbridge striker Joe White.

Former Ipswich and MK Dons attacker Dean Bowditch also joined on loan from Northampton Town, but that wasn’t it as far as manager Darren Sarll’s January shopping spree.

Prior to the window shutting, he also brought in Northampton striker Alex Revell on a free transfer, plus raiding the loan market too, snapping up Spurs midfielder Luke Amos, Arsenal defender Ben Sheaf and Millwall keeper Tom King, making it seven new additions in total.

They did lose winger Tom Pett to League Two rivals Lincoln City, but more importantly, held on to teenage duo Ben Wilmot and Mark McKee.

However chairman Phil Wallace knows his club’s resilience to offers from higher up the footballing echelon can’t last forever, as in a statement on the official website, said: “We know that ultimately if Ben, Mark, (Ben) Kennedy and (Matt) Godden retain the level they’ve been playing at over vast time periods, we’re going to lose them to a better level of football.

“Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Burnley, Watford, Brighton, Bournemouth and West Brom have all registered interest and I am told there is also a top Bundesliga club that wants to speak to me.

“To me, Exeter City set the bar for us all in League Two with the sale of 19-year-old Matt Grimes at £1.75m and they did it again with Ollie Watkins last season at £1.8m.”

On the pitch, it has been a difficult time for Boro, who now sit firmly in mid-table, 13 points away from the play-off places.

A tough end to 2017 saw them only win once since mid-October, as a 3-2 triumph over Accrington was followed by just one victory in 11 encounters, that in style though, hammering Chesterfield 5-1 at home on December 23.

They had enjoyed some impressive cup wins in that time, putting five past both Nantwich and Swindon Town in the FA Cup, defeating Brighton U21s in the Checkatrade Trophy as well.

The start of 2018 appeared to herald an upturn in results, as Boro defeated Cheltenham 4-1 on home soil.

They then went out of the FA Cup after a replay, beaten by Championship outfit Reading, before quickly completing the double over struggling Chesterfield.

However, Boro have lost their last two games, at home to Swindon and then away to Accrington 3-2 last weekend, after leading 2-0.

Home form had been good though, as until the Swindon reverse, Sarll’s side had gone 10 games without defeat in all competitions, although from their six league fixtures, four had ended all square.

Team news: Hatters midfielder Alan McCormack is available for selection once more, but there are doubts over Danny Hylton (hamstring) and Luke Gambin (leg).

Defenders Scott Cuthbert (groin) and Johnny Mullins (back ) are both out, while Elliot Lee (shoulder) could also be missing.

For Boro, Joe Martin, Ronnie Henry and Ben Kennedy are all rated as 50/50, while Alex Samuel and Chris Whelpdale are both out.

Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton (17). Boro: Matt Godden (14).

Man in the middle: Darren Handley – has taken 30 games in League One and Two this season, showing 91 yellows and six reds.

Refereed Luton once, the 0-0 draw at Morecambe in September, while he had the whistle for Town’s 4-0 win at Yeovil last season.

Had two Hatters games in the 2015-16 campaign, the 1-1 draw against York, plus the 1-0 defeat to Stevenage at Kenilworth Road, giving a controversial penalty to the visitors which was the winner.

Prior to that, took Luton’s 1-1 draw at Cheltenham in January 2015 and officiated Luton three times in their Conference winning season, a 7-0 hammering of Hereford, 1-1 draw at Chester and 2-0 defeat at Wrexham, sending off Alex Wall.

Also at the helf for the 5-1 defeat at Gateshead and 2-1 win over Hyde in the 2012-13 campaign, plus Luton’s 3-0 defeat to Forest Green Rovers in March 2012.

Referees assistants are Matthew Lee and Joe Clark with the fourth official Graham Kane.

In charge: Darren Sarll – At 35, is the youngest manager in the Football League, as he spent his playing days in non-league, representing Hitchin Town, Dunstable Town, Bedford Town and Biggleswade United.

Began his coaching career at Stevenage, where he undertook a variety of roles, before moving to Brentford as youth team boss at the beginning of the 2008–09 season.

Was promoted to first team coach and also became the reserve team chief boss, leaving at the end of the 2010–11 season, joining former Bees manager Andy Scott at Rotherham United in August 2011, named head of player development.

Left at the end of the 2011-12 campaign and returned to Stevenage as head of youth in June 2012 before being promoted to first team coach after the appointment of Teddy Sheringham as manager in June 2015.

Placed in caretaker charge when Sheringham was sacked in February 2016 and named permanent boss at the end of the season.

View from the opposition: Darren Sarll talking to the club’s official website: “In local derbies you are playing for more than just yourself, you are playing for your Monday to Friday banter at work and all of those things.

“You are playing for a little bit of justice in your local area so it is a big game and I really look forward to it.

“I’m hoping there is a really big crowd and Luton always come in numbers as well to be fair to them.”

One to watch: Matt Godden, 26-year-old striker who started his career with Scunthorpe before having a variety of loan spells in non-league eventually leaving United for Ebbsfleet in 2014.

After two prolific seasons at the Kent club, headed to Stevenage in the summer of 2016 and had an excellent debut campaign, scoring 21 goals.

Took seven games to get off the mark this year, and had only managed two in his first 15 games

However a brace over Accrington led to a purple patch of six in three, including a treble in the FA Cup win over Nantwich as Godden went on to bag 11 in 13.

Ended a run of six scoreless games by hitting the target against Accrington last weekend to make it 14 for the season.

Friendly faces: Stevenage have a whole host of ex-Luton players at their disposal, the most recent acquisition being Jonathan Smith who signed in August.

The midfielder played 176 times for the Hatters, scoring 11 goals and has made 35 appearances for his new side, finding the net four times.

Former captain Ronnie Henry, who lifted the Conference trophy and made 87 appearances in total for Town is also at Stevenage, recently becoming the club’s record appearance holder, with his 469th game.

Centre half Luke Wilkinson joined Stevenage from Luton in January 2016 after 72 games for the Hatters, scoring seven times.

Has played 24 times this term, making it 88 appearances in total, scoring six goals, while defender Fraser Franks played 34 times for Luton, before joining Stevenage in the summer of 2015 .

Recently completed his century at Boro, playing 114 games, scoring eight goals.

Played for both: Liam George - striker who came through the ranks at Kenilworth Road, making 124 appearances and scoring 25 goals, including 16 in the 1999-2000 campaign before being released by Joe Kinnear.

Had a brief spell with Stevenage at the end of the 2002 season, playing six times without finding the net, before spells at Bury, Boston United and York City, then heading out to America, joining USL First Division side Atlanta Silverbacks in March 2006.

Returned to England and turned out for a number of non-league sides including Chesham, Eastleigh, Hyde United, plus Hitchin, Arlesey, Barton and Dunstable, while he is now working as physiotherapist.

We’ve got form: Luton did possess an unbeaten record at Stevenage until last season’s League Two defeat, their only loss in six meetings.

The visitors kicked off proceedings with a 4-3 Football League Trophy victory in 2002, thanks to Ahmet Brkovic’s treble and a Tony Thorpe strike, while another victory in the same competition followed in 2003, courtesy of Matthew Judge’s last minute winner.

Hatters’ three league meetings saw Matthew Barnes-Homer on target during a 1-0 win in April 2010, while Alex Wall’s wonderful solo goal sealed a 2-1 triumph during the 2014-15 campaign.

They were then held to a 0-0 draw with striker Paul Benson seeing red late on, before last year’s reverse.

In total, Luton have won four, drawn one and lost won, scoring nine goals and conceding six.

Last time out: Luton were beaten 2-1 by a stoppage time winner on their visit to Stevenage last season.

The Hatters had led through Cameron McGeehan’s deflected long range strike on 15 minutes, before Connor Hunte levelled for Boro early in the second half.

However, Stevenage grabbed the points when Matt Godden raced away to curl past Christian Walton at the death.

Hatters: Christian Walton, Stephen O’Donnell, Dan Potts, Scott Cuthbert, Glen Rea, Jake Gray (Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu 60), Cameron McGeehan (Josh McQuoid 89), Jordan Cook, Olly Lee, Danny Hylton, Jack Marriott (Isaac Vassell 68).

Subs not used: Craig King, James Justin, Akin Famewo, Jonathan Smith.

Referee: Andy Haines.

Attendance: 3,517.