PREVIEW: Forest Green Rovers v Luton Town

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Forest Green started the season in stunning form, breezing to the top of the Conference with five wins from their opening seven games, writes Mike Simmonds.

Despite a 1-0 loss at Grimsby, they then went on another fine run, making it eight wins from their first 12 games, drawing three of them.

They recently hit their first major dip of the campaign, losing their last three league games at Wrexham and Mansfield, plus home to Tamworth, while they drew at home to Dartford in the FA Cup as well.

They rectified their mini-slump in fine fashion, winning 4-1 in the replay on Tuesday night to boost confidence at just the right time to face Luton.

Rovers made some excellent signings in the summer, with the most eye-catching enticing Magno Vieira to the club from Fleetwood, while former Town defender Ed Asafu-Adjaye put pen to paper, as did Paul Green from Lincoln.

The likes of James Bittner, Luke Graham, Tommy Wright and Chris Todd all moved on, while they also brought in Ben Wright from Braintree too.

Recently, Rovers have continued to improve their squad, signing midfielder Steven Brogan on loan from Guiseley until the end of the campaign and also made defender Aarran Racine’s deal a permanent one.

Rovers have been well backed again this season, as chairman Dale Vince OBE is owner of Green electricity company Ecotricity and he has introduced a number of original ideas to the club.

Last year, the players were banned from eating red meat for health reasons, and a few weeks later the sale of all red meat products was banned at the ground.

Vince has also introduced a number of different eco-friendly developments at the club including the installation of solar panels on its New Lawn home ground, the use of an solar powered robot grass mower plus the creation of the world’s first organic football pitch.

Town assistant Alan Neilson said this week that people inside the game found it no surprise that Rovers had made such a fine start this season, but it appears that those with no links to the Conference are also tipping them for promotion.

Former England defender, now coach Gary Neville, who was a guest of honour at a pre-season friendly between Forest Green and a Manchester United XI, said: “It’s the most pristine location I’ve ever seen for a football ground, it’s absolutely magnificent.

“I’m used to going to grounds all over the country and the world and usually they are concrete jungles, but this place is just wonderful.

“People should be very proud of the set-up here and I’m sure the club is going places. They’ve got some good players, so everything is in place for them to challenge for promotion and take the club to another level.”

Team news: Hatters have Simon Ainge, Connor Essam and Yaser Kasim all available for selection, while Scott Rendell is back, with Alex Lawless being given every chance to make the game.

Garry Richards, James Dance and Alasan Ann are all out, while Danny Spiller suffered a recurrence of his achilles injury in the week.

After recovering from recent injuries, Chris Stokes and Al Bangura returned to the starting 11 on Tuesday and are in contention for Rovers, though Jamie Collins is still ruled out as he recovers from knee surgery.

Fitness concerns remain over Jared Hodgkiss and Stephen Brogan – both sat out the game in midweek but could be ready for selection at the weekend.

Man in the middle: Kevin Johnson – has already shown 26 yellow cards in just seven games this season, plus two reds.

Took charge of Luton’s 2-0 win at Kidderminster in August, while last year he officiated Hatters 1-0 home win over Stockport County.

Top BSBP scorer: Rovers – Matty Taylor (6). Hatters - Stuart Fleetwood (9).

In charge: David Hockaday. The 54-year-old played for Blackpool as a defender, making almost 200 appearances and then joined Swindon Town where he played over 300 games before spells with Hull City, Stoke City and Shrewsbury Town.

In all, his Football League career spanned 20 years where he won three league title and gained two further promotions via the play-offs.

Started coaching at Cirencester Town where he established the club’s first football academy, before joining Watford as U18 coach, and then became first team coach, before moving to MK Dons, Leicester City, Southampton, Cheltenham Town and Wycombe Wanderers, before becoming boss at Rovers in September 2009.

Relegated from the Conference in his first season, Forest Green were reinstated following Salisbury City’s failing in their appeal against demotion for financial irregularities, while they only survived on the last day in his second campaign too.

View from the opposition: Manager David Hockaday - “Whatever happens on Saturday we’ll go out there and we’ll try and play the right way.

“Paul Buckle has the biggest squad and, supposedly, the best individual players.

“It’s two teams who have started the season quite well and we both have aspirations to stay there or get higher.

“It will be a good match but it won’t be a make or break fixture.”

One to watch: Yan Klukowski – midfielder who Paul Buckle tried to sign in the summer, but saw his bids turned down.

The 24-year-old has spent all his career with the club, and scored four goals in his opening six appearance this season.

Friendly faces: Forward Stuart Fleetwood had a prolific spell at Rovers, netting 32 times in 44 games, before a move to Charlton Athletic.

Midfielder Alex Lawless spent just under three years with the club, playing over 100 times, while striker Scott Rendell played for Rovers in the 2005-06 season, netting twice in 16 appearances.

For Rovers, defender Ed Asafu-Adjaye made 82 appearances in five years at Kenilworth Road, but was released by boss Paul Buckle in the summer.

Striker Ben Wright had a loan spell with Hatters in the 2009-10 season, scoring once in his five appearances.

We’ve got form: Town had never lost at Forest Green up until last year when they were hammered 3-0.

Before then, they hadn’t even conceded a goal, winning 1-0 on both occasions thanks to goals from Tommy Craddock and Lloyd Owusu.

Last time out: Last season, Town turned in quite possibly their worst performance of the campaign as they were defeated 3-0, in what was one of then manager Gary Brabin’s last games in charge.

Yan Klukowski put the hosts ahead on 35 minutes, before Matty Taylor added a late double.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, George Pilkington, Jake Howells, Curtis Osano, Janos Kovacs, Keith Keane, Alex Lawless (Charlie Henry 70), Robbie Willmott, Stuart Fleetwood, Aaron O’Connor (Craig McAllister 61), Adam Watkins (Andre Boucaud 46).

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