Luton have found it tough going so far in their first season in the Championship since 2006/07.
They will arrive for their last league game at Griffin Park one point and one place above the relegation zone, but boosted by their first win in six games against Charlton on Tuesday.
That 2-1 victory, their fifth of the season in 18 league matches, was their third at Kenilworth Road after wins over Bristol City (3-0) last month and Huddersfield (2-1) at the end of August.
They had the honour of opening the new Championship season – and marked the occasion with a 3-3 draw against Middlesbrough, while they have drawn one other home game and lost the other four.
On their travels they have won twice – at Barnsley (3-1) and Blackburn (2-1) – but have lost seven times.
They did reach the third round of the Carabao Cup after wins over Ipswich (3-1) and at Cardiff (3-0), but lost 4-0 at home to Leicester in round three.
Luton have had a troubled time since they were last in the Championship.
They suffered three successive relegations to plunge from the second tier into non-league football, although they were deducted 30 points for financial irregularities at the start of their League Two season – making survival almost impossible.
The Hatters spent five years in the National League – losing in one play-off semi-final and two finals – before finally returning to the Football League by winning the title with 101 points in 2013/14.
They then spent four seasons in League Two – losing in the play-offs in the third, before clinching promotion in second place in 2017/18.
The Hatters made it back-to-back promotions last season by winning the League One title.
Luton have had some cup success in the not too distant past – winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in their relegation season from the league, and famously the Littlewoods Cup in 1987/88 with a 3-2 win over Arsenal in the final.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Graeme Jones took charge at the end of last season, replacing Mick Harford, who in turn had taken over from Nathan Jones, when he left for Stoke, during last season.
It is his first managerial job, having been assistant to Roberto Martinez for 11 years at Swansea, Wigan, Everton and then with the Belgium national team, who he helped guide to third place in last year’s World Cup.
He then became Darren Moore’s assistant at West Brom, before the pair were sacked in March.
In a 16-year playing career as a striker, he played for North Shields, Bridlington, Doncaster, Wigan, St Johnstone, Southend, Boston, Bury, Clyde and Hamilton
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Having been regular opponents in the last two decades, Luton’s visit on Saturday will be our first meeting for 10 and a half years.
The last time here was the final game of the 2008/09 season, when we were celebrating winning the League Two title and they had already been relegated – after being deducted 30 points before the start of the campaign.
Goals in the final 18 minutes from Karleigh Osborne, his fourth of the season, and Adam Newton, his first for the club in what proved to be his final Bees appearance, gave us a 2-0 win and kicked off the title celebrations in style in front of more than 10,000 fans.
It completed the double over the Hatters, following our midweek 1-0 win at Kenilworth Road the previous November, which was settled by a first half Nathan Elder goal. Luton had Keith Keane sent off late on.
However, the previous month, Luton had knocked us out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in the second round – beating us 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw in Bedfordshire. Glenn Poole and Marvin Williams had put us 2-0 up after 37 minutes, but Asa Hall quickly replied and Chris Martin equalised 10 minutes after the break.
We also went out of a cup competition to Luton the previous season, when they ended our FA Cup hopes in the first round. The original tie ended 1-1 at Kenilworth Road, with Calvin Andrew levelling 20 minutes from the end after Charlie Ide had put us ahead 20 minutes into the match.
The Hatters won the Griffin Park replay 2-0 with a goal in each half from Chris Coyne and Jaroslaw Fojut and went on to beat Nottingham Forest 1-0 and draw 1-1 with Liverpool, before losing the replay 5-0 at Anfield.
Luton started the perfect cup hat-trick in 2006/07 when they won 3-0 at Griffin Park in a lively second round Carling Cup tie. Dean Morgan put them ahead early on and Warren Feeney doubled the lead early in the second half. The Bees’ Chris Moore was sent off in the 80th minute and the Hatters’ Leon Barnett followed him down the tunnel late on, before ex-Bee Rowan Vine completed an emphatic Hatters success.
We have highlights of two other Griffin Park meetings below.
The first was a Tuesday night League One match in December 2004 when, after Luton’s Steve Howard was sent off early on, Deon Burton and Ben May struck either side of half-time to give the Bees a 2-0 win.
The other one goes back to August 1996 and saw the Bees earn a 3-2 win in a thriller. A Tony Thorpe penalty on the stroke of half-time put Luton on top, but Carl Asaba equalised midway through the second half. Ceri Hughes quickly restored the Hatters’ lead, but goals from Jamie Bates and Robert Taylor in the closing 11 minutes wrapped up a superb victory for us.
BBC Three Counties Radio’s sports editor Geoff Doyle, writing before the midweek win over Charlton, tells us how Luton have adjusted to the Championship so far, updates us on Luton’s plans to move grounds and recalls memories of many visits to Griffin Park.
Q – How would you assess Luton’s season so far?
A – They started pretty well knowing the step up in class would be huge. For the first couple of months they were collecting enough points to be slightly above target, but five defeats in a row reversed that and now I think most will concede this is going to be a right relegation battle.
Q – What were the expectations at the start of the season – promotion push, mid-table or relegation battle?
A – Most realistic fans would settle for fourth from bottom and the club would privately take that as well. The standard between League One and the Championship is getting bigger and bigger, and when you compare budgets in the league Luton are bottom four, miles off some of the big boys.
Q – How has Graeme Jones done and how different is he to Nathan Jones as a manager?
A – This was always going to be tough for Graeme. He took over after a sustained period of success at the club. Back-to-back promotions and winning something of a habit, the fans and players were bracing themselves for a reverse in that and it’s come.
Nathan was a passionate boss who wore his heart on his sleeve. Graeme is more considered and not one to overreact. He understands how difficult this situation is and is doing his best to get on with it. His coaching skills can’t be criticised, although like all mangers he will tactically get things wrong from time to time (Reading recently).
Q – What transfer business – in and out – did the Hatters do over the summer?
A – They lost their two best players! And that hasn’t helped the cause this season. The full-backs James Justin (now Leicester) and Jack Stacey (Bournemouth) were a young English full-back partnership last season – possibly the best outside of the Premier League. They went for over £10m. It couldn’t be turned down and they deserved their moves. But of course it’s handicapped Luton.
Seasoned Championship campaigners have been bought in Martin Cranie, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Jacob Butterfield, but the squad is still light in terms of Championship quality. Record signing (£1.5m) goalkeeper Simon Sluga has struggled to adapt and was dropped last month.
Q – It’s Luton’s first visit to Griffin Park for a while, but also their last-ever visit to Griffin Park, barring a cup tie or play-off. What are your memories of previous games in TW8?
A – I love Griffin Park. Brings back fond memories when I was a kid in the 80s and we would go regularly as it wasn’t too far from home. Gary Phillips in goal, the Joseph brothers, a young Andy Sinton. I’ll miss the old ground. It’s an old school one like Luton.
The Hatters don’t have a great record at Griffin Park in the league! I think the first one I remember covering was in 2001. It finished 2-2. Luton had goalkeeper Mark Ovendale sent off really early but the sub keeper saved the pen and then Luton went on to take a 2-0 lead (Steve Howard scored a cracker) but couldn’t hang on. It was a great game. Scott Partridge I think scored one of the Bees goals.
Q – What is the latest on Luton’s ground move?
A – It’s as close to happening as it’s ever been. Planning permission has been granted for the stadium which will be right in the heart of the town centre. Planning permission has also been given to a development on the edge of town which will pay for the stadium.
However, the owners of the town centre mall have objected to the edge of town development and have applied for a Judicial Review. We are awaiting the verdict. If the judge says no, bricks can be laid. If there’s a review, the wait goes on.
Q – What style of football should Brentford fans expect to see from the Hatters?
A – Pragmatic. Brentford will have more possession but Luton are well-organised. The Hatters will try and defend well and then take their chances. Striker James Collins is playing quite deep this season and when Luton attack, the midfield need to go and support the forwards.
Q – Which players should we watch out for?
A – Izzy Brown is on loan from Chelsea and has the most ability. When he’s firing he’s top-class but probably needs to work on his defensive game. Collins has a fine goals-per-chance ratio and will score the majority of goals this season.
Q – Finally can you give me a possible Luton starting line-up and formation?
A – Writing before Tuesday’s Charlton game, I say it will be something like:
Bree, Bradley, Pearson, Potts
Tunnicliffe, Ruddock, Shinnie
Brown, Collins, Cornick
Jones tends to play 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 which with three forwards in it, which I sometimes think is too attacking.
BEESOTTED SCORE PREDICTIONS
Some of the Beesotted crew have given me their score predictions for Saturday’s game.
2-0 home win. Clever squad rotation means a fresh Bees team have too much for Luton. Greville Waterman
3-1 Bees. A disappointing midweek loss will be a learning curve for some of the fringe players that got minutes on Wednesday, and against a struggling team it will be a tough game. I expect them to try and park the bus but our attacking players to be too good for them. Cue a Watkins brace and a Said special. Robin Hood
Bees 3-1 Luton. A tough loss on the road in which the lads will feel like they deserved something from the game will have them pumped up for Luton. I expect them to come out flying and put it fully on one of the most porous sides in the division. XG Dave
PUBS IN BRENTFORD AND TRAVEL NEWS
For Luton fans coming to Griffin Park for the final time, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be). As you are probably well aware, Brentford is well known for its four pubs – one on each corner of the ground. The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal and the newly-opened and renamed The Brook pub – which has jumped on the craft beer bandwagon – are the other options.
Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other …. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’. The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields.
The ‘Northfields run’ makes a much better pub crawl route than South Ealing – getting off at Northfields station, turning left and stopping off at The Plough (2 min walk), The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before ending up at The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) by the away turnstiles. There’s also a relatively new tiny microbrewery pub in Northfields called The Owl and The Pussycat (Northfields Ave) – right turn out of the station away from the ground as opposed to left.
If you decide to get off at South Ealing station, we’ve heard a few people pop into Roddy’s Bar. Whereas The Ealing Park Tavern (back in the day, the infamous Penny Flyer) is fairly busy now that they seem to have lifted their “no football fan” policy.
If you like your craft beer, another fairly new pub worth checking out is The Black Dog Beer House, formerly The Albany, on Albany Road, which is fairly busy before and after the match. There is a pub right by Brentford mainline station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For real ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman (Ealing Road) can probably hold 15 of you at a push. The Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super-adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit One Over the Ait (Kew Bridge Road) – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge, and across from the site of the Bees’ new stadium at Lionel Road. This pub is situated on the location of the now-demolished Oxford & Cambridge pub where Brentford Football Club was founded in 1889.
There is also The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel. If you sit in the garden, you can see Brentford’s new stadium towering over you. There are a load more pubs in the river in Kew if that takes your fancy – just take a walk down Strand On The Green. A quick Google search and you’ll find them all.
There are many, many more too if you have a look around. Parking near the stadium is a no-no but is pretty easy in the streets north of Griffin Park on the other side of the A4 Great West Rd via Ealing Road or Windmill Road. Make sure you look our for the parking signs which change from area to area.
Getting to Brentford from town – many fans get the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) then take the Overground train to Brentford.
The reality is the tube is easier and quicker (and cheaper). It’s 35 minutes to South Ealing or Northfields stations from King’s Cross or Euston (even less from Paddington) on the Piccadilly Line and then 15 minutes walk to Griffin Park from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford
If you’re feeling lazy you could take the E2 bus from outside Northfields station (turn LEFT outside the station) to either outside The Globe pub (3 stops – serves The Lord Nelson too) or Brentford FC (4 stops – 5 minutes).
If you get off at South Ealing, you can get the 65 from the bus stop across the road – right outside the station.
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.