Preston North End up against a Luton side whose revival is built upon solid defence
Luton Town are hitting form at the right time as they attempt to avoid relegation from the Championship.
The Hatters have spent much of the season in the drop zone but they have now lost just one of their last six games, beating high-flying Brentford in amongst them.
Town have kept three clean sheets in the last month – prior to February 12 they had kept just one all season.
Part of the upturn in defensive form has been that club-record signing Simon Sluga has begun to find his feet at Kenilworth Road.
The Croatian goalkeeper was brought in this summer but lost his place in the side shortly after the season started simply due to poor performances.
The Hatters also have Sonny Bradley back fit, their skipper having been out through injury for a month.
Luton drew 0-0 with fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic last time out, with Bradley making his return to the side.
Speaking after the clash with the Latics, he said: “I think in this division whether you play home or away, keeping a clean sheet is very difficult because of how much quality there is in this division,”
“We’ve had a few now in the last six or seven games and we need to get as many as we can.
“With nine games left, you feel like we’re probably going to need another four or five to give us a chance.”
“We’re happy with the clean sheet and yes it’s a point gained. We go away now and if we beat Preston then it’s four points in two games and they’re the sort of results we need from now until the end of the season.”
For Luton, the game against North End will not decide their fate, upcoming clashes against Barnsley and Hull City will go further in that regard.
But with the Lilywhites currently out of form, and back-to-back games with Swansea City and Leeds on the horizon away from home for Luton, it could certainly be a game that the hosts target to try and use home advantage.
James Collins will be key to Luton’s hopes of staying up, his goals providing them with a lifeline. The Irishman has 11 so far this season but should goals not come from their frontman, Harry Cornick is the next bet.
Cornick is the Hatters’ second-highest scorer on eight goals, but then the totals fall off to just three, meaning that if neither score, it’s unlikely Luton do at all.
Neutralising the pair, who have contributed to 25 goals this season, compared to 32 involvements of the rest of the squad combined, might be the idea for Alex Neil.
The PNE boss has shown proactivity in trying to neutralise opposition threats at source before, so taking out almost half Luton’s total goal threat could well be high on his agenda.
For Hatters boss Graeme Jones, every point is invaluable and in his first role in the top job, he will not want the black mark of relegation to League One.
PNE will be facing a side fighting for their life.