PREVIEW: Hatters hold the edge over Forest Green Rovers
Hatters finally start their Blue Square Bet Premier League campaign at home to Forest Green Rovers tonight after the opening day trip to AFC Telford United was postponed on Saturday, writes Mike Simmonds.
Opponents Rovers have made steps to improve their squad during the summer, bringing in a host of players with Football League experience as they bid to improve on a 20th place finish last term.
Striker Charlie Griffin has signed from Stevenage, while former West Brom trainee Jared Hodgkiss put pen the paper as did one time Exeter forward James Norwood, after a spell on loan at the club.
Former Hatters defender Luke Graham joined, along with midfielder James Rowe from Reading as manager Dave Hockaday aims for a blend of youth and experience.
Keeping hold of possible Town target Reece Styche was probably the most important bit of business as the England C striker was top scorer at the New Lawn last year, netting 16 goals.
He opened his account for the current campaign in the 1-1 draw with highly fancied Stockport County in the season opener on Saturday too.
Team news: Hatters have a host of defensive players out with George Pilkington, Freddie Murray, Shane Blackett and Dan Gleeson all absent. Charlie Henry is still missing, but Dan Walker has stepped up his recovery, playing in a recent friendly match.
Forest Green on the other hand have defence issues of their own as new signing Chris Todd sustained a hamstring injury in the second half on Friday. Centre back Jamie Turley and full back Chris Stokes are available after suspension though, while Jeffrey Imudia is also on contention. Curtis McDonald is not expected to be risked, while Al Bangura also misses out.
Fact attack: Rovers have begun spreading cow manure at its ground to create what it believes will be the first organic pitch.
The move is part of the club’s plans to become more eco-friendly after they also banned the sale of burgers and sausages to supporters last season. Manager Dave Hockaday said the smell was “a little bit lively, but the pitch is looking magnificent”
Familiar faces: Defender Luke Graham penned a two year deal with Forest Green in the summer after joining from Kettering for an undisclosed fee. The 25-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at Kenilworth Road, making 14 appearances and scoring one goal.
In charge: Dave Hockaday. Started his career at Blackpool before moving to Swindon Town where he made over 200 appearances, Spells at Hull City, Stoke City and Shrewsbury Town followed and on hanging his boots up he joined Watford as U18 coach where he developed the likes of Ashley Young.
Left Vicarage Road in 2007 and spent time coaching at MK Dons, Leicester City and Southampton, before taking the top job at Forest Green in September 2009.
From the dug out: Hockaday: “Two seasons ago we went there and lost 2-1 when we were the better team and deserved something,
“Last year we gave them two really poor goals but were still in at 3-1 at half-time.
“They were better than us in the second half, although the scoreline flattered them, but that’s history.
“We’ll go there with a new team, a new philosophy and better momentum, so we’ll respect them but we won’t fear them.
“We want to put on a performance and try to get a win, and if we play like we did in the first half against Stockport for longer we’ll certainly give them a game.”
One to watch: Striker Reece Styche. Top scorer with the club last season, netting 16 times to earn an England C call up where he played against Portugal.
The 22-year-old joined Forest Green in January 2010 from Chasetown where he had managed to score 13 goals in his opening 15 games for the Scholars. Styche previously had spells with Hednesford Town and Shepshed Dynamo before making an instant impact on his Rovers debut, scoring two goals as a substitute against Hayes & Yeading.
We’ve met before: Luton Town have the perfect record against Forest Green Rovers, winning all four of their previous encounters.
The goal record is by far in Hatters favour too, with 10 to Green’s two. Last time out, Hatters romped to a 6-1 victory at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday, October 19, 2010 with Andy Drury, Amari Morgan-Smith and Danny Crow on target in the first half.
Reece Styche pulled one back after an awful Mark Tyler error, but further goals from Crow, Matthew Barnes Homer and Dan Walker, later voted goal of the season, were enough.
Team: Mark Tyler, Dan Gleeson, Freddie Murray, George Pilkington, Zdenek Kroca, Jake Howells (Godfrey Poku 59), Keith Keane, Andy Drury (Claude Gnakpa 46), Amari Morgan-Smith, Matthew Barnes-Homer, Danny Crow (Dan Walker 67).
Odds: William Hill - Luton win 4/9, Forest Green win 11/2, Draw 3/1.