Imps v Luton: Preview

On Saturday we welcome Luton Town to Sincil Bank for the first Football League meeting between the two teams since the time of Peter Jackson. It’s a proper football match between two teams with a rich history and talented squads. This is the sort of clash we’ve waited six years for, and it promises to be a cracker.

Luton have sold 1,000 tickets meaning the gate is likely to pass the 9,000 mark, and with the league’s leading scorer James Collins in their side, they’ll be hoping to push themselves further up the fledgling League Two table. They’re pre-season favourites, a status they did no harm at all by thumping Yeovil 8-2 on the opening day. Since then they’ve won one, lost one and drawn one leaving them two points and seven places above Lincoln. What do league tables matter though at this stage?

The last league game between the two at Sincil Bank ended 0-0, a month before Luton were relegated to the Conference, and the last meeting between the two ended the same, this time five months before they won promotion back to the Football League. Odds on a 0-0 this weekend are 10/1 (Bet 365), but you’d be foolish to take it. Luton have kept just one clean sheet in four and scored 15 in total, City have failed to keep a clean sheet this season but have hit seven in two games. There will be goals in the game, possible a few.

We’ve met Luton on 38 occasions, during the mid-eighties whilst we languished in the lower reaches of the League they enjoyed a purple patch. In 1988 they finished seventh in Division One (now the Premier League) as well as winning the Littlewoods Cup. It was an iconic Luton Town side, with Bedford emblazoned on their shirts they upset a few of the bigger teams on their Kenilworth Road plastic pitch. Even now their fans look back fondly on names such as David Preece, Ricky Hill, Mick Harford and the Stein bothers. Their decline was sudden, we did play them in between 1968 and 1998, hence the low number of fixtures.

I’ve already spoken of the 8-1 win in which Billy Cobb got a hat trick, but a classic game that sticks in my mind occurred in the FA Cup. November 19th 1999 was my 21st birthday, and the featured game live on Sky was the Imps against Luton at Kenilworth Road. We had snatched a memorable 1-0 win there the year before, Lee Thorpe bagging a winner as we battled unsuccessfully against relegation. The FA Cup Second Round draw was seen as tricky, almost unwinnable by an average Lincoln City team.

The Imps scored first looking to cause an upset, Gavin Gordon with the strike. I was stuck to the TV screen in an upstairs room of the Adam and Eve in Wragby. Downstairs my family and friends celebrated my 21st birthday, but there was only one event I wanted to celebrate: a City win. On 63 minutes Gary Doherty equalised for a strong Luton side that contained Efe Sodje, Matt Spring and Lim George. George was a real handful, and the Imps didn’t have their regular centre halves out either. Our pairing that evening was Anthony Henry and Dave Barnett. Classic.

In the 81st minute, delirium. Dave Barnett headed home to give the Imps a 2-1 lead with less than ten minutes on the clock. A third round tie loomed, ultimately against Fulham, but we didn’t know that at the time. It was a good job too, because minutes later Doherty ended a thrilling game by drawing the scores back to 2-2, which is how it ended.

Sincil Bank during our 2-1 defeat against the Hatters in 2012.

A week later we lost the replay 1-0 at Sincil Bank, future Boston man Stuart Douglas grabbing an 85th minute winner. The only comfort was their resounding 3-0 thumping at the hands of Fulham and Barry Hayles in the Third Round.

That Lee Thorpe inspired winner the season before was the least time we beat Luton, despite coming close. Alan Power and Ben Tomlinson gave us a 2-1 lead going into the last fifteen minutes of our 2013 trip to Kenilworth Road, but our old adversary Luke Gutteridge equalised before Mark Cullen snatched them a late win. In 2008 we also lost 3-2 there, although they led 3-1 for much of the game before Adrian Patulea restored some dignity to the scoreline.

As we know though, history means nothing, and we stand the best chance of ending the 18-year wait for a win as at any time before. Luton have only won once in their last five league and cup games, and their draw against Mansfield was snatched with two late goals after being 2-0 down for much of the game. Their main threat comes from that awful human being Danny Hylton (pictured top), a man booked more often than not, but who scores more often than not. I’m reserving a special little slice of anger just for him, the image of him celebrating his penalty against us as we were relegated in 2011 has never gone away. Obviously, James Collins will be a constant thorn in our defenders side too, and if Luke Berry gets his first start since his move from Cambridge he too could cause significant problems. They’ve got class all over the field, and in big Marek Stech they’ve got a keeper as big as a bear.

You know what they don’t have though? Matt Green, Billy Knott and Alex Woodyard. It won’t be a walk over, it will be an engrossing competitive match between two very able and skilled teams. If we come out of it with a point and a goal or two to show for our endeavours, it will be a sure sign that we’re adjusting to the rigours of League Two.

Head to Head

Luton Wins                 20

Draws                         12          

Lincoln Wins               6