Match Preview: Luton Town vs. Preston North End

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This has been a long time coming and at one point during the postponement of football, it felt like it might never have come but, here we are, finally looking ahead to the game against Luton Town. There’s no doubt that this will be one of the most bizarre match previews I’ve written so I hope you enjoy.

There’s no denying that our form heading into the game away at Luton prior to the season being paused was pretty poor with just two wins in six or two wins and one draw in eight if you want to look a bit further back. As has been said numerous times by myself, Oli and Jimmy on the podcast, probably many others elsewhere and even the gaffer himself in an interview with the club website, I feel that the break probably came at the right time for us.

We’ve had a long time away to recuperate and from what I’ve seen in the media and in official interviews with the club website, the players, the manager and the staff all seem focussed on making the most of this huge opportunity we have ahead of us. The gaffer even said as much in his virtual press conference.

Of course, all of this will only prove true if we do actually get off to a good start when football resumes on Saturday and I’m not going to beat around the bush and say that it’s not as easy a start as some might think.

Yes, Luton are sitting second bottom of the Championship but prior to the lockdown and forced postponement of football, their form had improved significantly. Their last eight games saw three wins, three defeats and two draws compared to one win and one draw from their previous eight. Their home form had also improved too.

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They have had four home games in their last eight games and they have only lost once in those four compared to one win from four in their previous eight games.

The other significant change for Luton is their new old manager. When Nathan Jones left for Stoke City in January 2019, I don’t think many Hatters fans would have envisioned him returning to the club almost 18-months later. He might have struggled in his time at Stoke but make no mistake, he will have this Luton side ready to go and it will be a tough game.

Potential Dangers

In terms of Luton’s potential dangers, I’ll honour Oli here and note that he’d probably put Nathan Jones down as their biggest danger but this is about players.

It’s as much a prediction as to which players will do well but looking at their numbers prior to the lockdown, two lads stand out and they are Harry Cornick and Izzy Brown, one of many players out on loan from Chelsea.

Between the two of them, they’ve contributed over 41% of Luton’s goals scored this season with nine goals and nine assists. Harry Cornick has eight goals and one assist and Izzy Brown has one goal and six assists, the most assists of a Luton player this season.

Cornick is an energetic forward who I’m reliably informed like to play on the shoulder and has a lot of pace. Depending on who starts the game at the centre of defence, this could prove to be an issue.

Izzy Brown is a creative player who could potentially do very well at the tip of a diamond midfield, depending on how Nathan Jones decides to set up his side.

It’d be remiss of me not to mention their leading goalscorer, too. 29-year old James Collins has 11 goals this season for Luton, not a bad return for a struggling side. Chuck 3 assists onto that total and he’s contributed over 32% of Luton’s goals this season. Let’s not forget, he scored Luton’s equalising goal from the spot at Deepdale back in December, too.

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For someone in his first season in the Championship, that’s something to be pleased with if you’re a Luton fan. Compare that to our two fit strikers in Jayden Stockley and David Nugent having only scored four goals between them all season, he’s not doing too bad.

You might ask why Seani Maguire wasn’t listed. I think it would have been harsh to list him as a striker seeing as he’s played the majority of this season on the left. In fact, according to WhoScored.com, he’s featured on the left twenty times this season, compared to just eight times as a striker.

Something else to look out for will be conceding set-pieces. Luton have scored fourteen goals from set-pieces this season with eight of those coming at home.

Opposition View

For this first opposition view of the restart, we’ve got Luton Town fan Billy on board. He gives his thoughts on the usual that you’ve probably all come to expect from an opposition view section at this point.

If you want to follow Billy on twitter, you can do so here – @billymulley11. Now that’s all out of the way, over to Billy.

The strange times we find ourselves in at present will only be amplified by the return of ‘fan-less football’ come Saturday.

Like the majority of football league clubs, this pandemic has already tested us financially, with the players agreeing to take a salary deferral last month and prior to his departure, so did manager Graeme Jones.

But as one Jones exits, another one re-enters. The return of Nathan Jones has certainly split opinions amongst the Luton faithful, but something that all our fans will agree on is that Nathan needs to hit the ground running if we are to escape relegation.

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I think that I speak for most Luton fans when I say I am delighted to see the season resume and relieved not to experience the same fate of League’s 1 and 2. This opportunity gives us the chance to earn survival and see out the season in a fairer manner.

Our return to the Championship sees us hold some of the more unwanted records including the most defeats (22) and the heaviest defeat (7-0 to Brentford) in the league. However, the most frustrating stat for me is the number of goals we have conceded. The combination of our persistence to play out from the back and the numerous goalkeeping errors from our record signing, Simon Sluga, have both largely contributed to the 71 goals we have conceded.

Despite our seemingly unimpressive season, the 6 games before Covid-19 put the season on hold, saw us gain 11 points. Exceptional performances away to Middlesbrough and at home to Brentford, followed by a gritty 0-0 draw at Wigan sparked hope and breathed a bit of confidence into the fans and, I for one started to believe we could escape relegation.

Nathan Jones will have a near-full squad to choose from, with only long-term absentees in Brendan Galloway and Eunan O’Kane out of contention come Saturday. It would also be no surprise to see Nathan revert back to his trusted diamond formation that brought us so much success in League 1.

Although Jones does not have the high flying full-backs in James Justin and Jack Stacey anymore, he will be eager to get the best out of both, Izzy Brown and Cameron Carter-Vickers.

The former has been an excellent addition to the squad since his loan signing in January, with his composure and ability on the ball being something that has been missing from our defence. On the opposite end of the pitch, Izzy Brown’s attacking intelligence has created countless goal-scoring opportunities this season.

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On his day, Izzy is one of the best players in the Championship and if Jones can keep him fit, we will have an excellent chance in the upcoming games.

Looking ahead to Saturday and I would have been a lot more confident going into the game on March 14th, as everything seemed to be falling into place and we had picked up some valuable points. Now we are at a point where form almost completely goes out of the window and as we have seen from the Bundesliga, home advantage is almost non-existent.

I expect Preston to be as hard-working and as resilient as ever and judging by the reverse fixture at Deepdale, they will not give us much space to play and they’ll look to force us into mistakes.

This must be the most difficult starting XI prediction to date, but as I stated before I believe Nathan Jones will go back to the diamond formation. So here we go: Sluga; Bree, Carter-Vickers, Bradley, Potts; Rea, Pelly Ruddock, Tunnicliffe, Brown; Collins, Cornick.

As for the score, I would love to be optimistic and be confident that the managerial change and long break has revitalised the team, in that case, I would have gone 2-0 to us. However, I think a 1-1 draw is a more realistic result, even though both clubs could do with winning at this point in time.

Finally, I would just like to say that I hope that all Preston fans are safe and well and to wish you all good luck for the rest of the season.

Predictions

Now for probably the toughest prediction section I’ve ever done. I think it’s going to be a tough game for both sides and with the now permitted drinks breaks halfway through each half and the 5 substitutes that are now allowed in a game, it could potentially be a stop-start game.

Chuck the fact that there’ll be no fans in the stadium and I’ve no doubt it might feel a bit like a training game to some but, I’m feeling a bit more positive since we recorded the latest episode of the From the Finney podcast where I predicted a 2-2 draw.

Luton have conceded the most goals in the league with 71 so I’m hoping we might bag a couple of goals for the first time away from home since the 2-0 win away at Stoke City in February.

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I’m going to go with a 2-1 win for Alex Neil and his boys to get us off to a good start before back-to-back home games. Let’s just hope if we do concede any set pieces that Patrick Bauer, the man who tops the ‘aerial duels won’ chart on WhoScored.com for central defenders, carries on where he left off before the lockdown in heading away anything and everything that came toward him.

As for our starting XI, I agree with what Jimmy said in his piece giving his thoughts on the season restart about the manager going with pace, only I don’t think he’ll specifically look to utilise our pace just at home. I’ll go with a 4-2-3-1 as follows: Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Hughes; Pearson, Browne; Barkhuizen, Johnson, Sinclair; Nugent.

Nuge might seem a bit of a surprise to some but with the time off we’ve had, he’s our most mobile out and out striker and should have plenty of running in his rested legs. It also gives the manager the option to mix things up off the bench later on in the game with perhaps Maguire, Stockley, Bodin or maybe even young Ethan Walker coming on somewhere in the front three.

How do you think we will do on Saturday? How do you think the manager will line up? Let us know what you think on social media. We’re on twitter here – @fromthefinney, Facebook here – From the Finney and Instagram here – @fromthefinney.

Finally, if you haven’t yet listened to this week’s podcast with Mark Lawrenson, press the play button on the player below and enjoy the dulcet tones of myself, Oli, Jimmy and Lawro as we discuss the season restart, the Luton game and much more.