Luton Town v West Bromwich Albion; Kenilworth Road, Saturday 14th January 2023, 3pm
Albion return to league action on Saturday with a trip to Luton Town knowing that victory would see them leapfrog their opponents in the table for the third league game in succession. The Hatters sit just one point and two places above the Baggies in what remains a very tight Championship table in which the 4th and 15th-placed teams are separated by just five points.
Luton are enjoying another good season having secured a finish in the play-offs last season, their highest league finish since they were relegated from the top flight in 1992. That relegation makes them one of two clubs to have signed the Premier League breakaway agreement but never played in it. They have been in top half of the table since mid-September and managed to negotiate the loss of their manager, Nathan Jones, when he was poached by Southampton, without too much impact. The appointment of Rob Edwards, one of the names I had suggested for the Albion job before Corberán was chosen, was perhaps a surprise given his history with their arch rivals Watford, but he has settled quickly winning three of his four league games in charge.
Having been appointed at the start of the World Cup break, he had the advantage of getting to know the squad for a few weeks before his first game, a 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough. Since then, Luton secured a home win over Norwich City and victories on the road at QPR and Huddersfield Town. Like Albion, they face an FA Cup Third Round Replay in midweek having drawn 1-1 with Wigan Athletic last weekend.
Carlton Morris has become the Hatters’ key man registering ten goals and five assists this season, already well ahead of his total for the last campaign with Barnsley, including a brace in the impressive 3-0 win at Loftus Road at the end of last month. The 27-year-old spent most of his career going on loan away from his parent club, Norwich City, for whom he made just one appearance. A first permanent move to Barnsley in January 2021 seemed to have unleashed him somewhat and he has netted 26 goals in 82 appearances since he left Carrow Road, almost all of those in the Championship.
Morris is normally joined by Elijah Adebayo in a front two although Edwards seems to have preferred Harry Cornick in recent games, with Allan Campbell and Pelly Mpanzu as a pair of eights in an attacking 3-1-4-2 formation. Jordan Clark seems to have been rediscovered as a defensive midfielder despite having played as a winger for much of his career with the width coming from wing-backs, normally Amari’i Bell and Allfie Doughty.
It is a formation that will provide something different for Corberán and his coaching team to tackle with the tight Kenilworth Road ground capable of being an intimidating atmosphere. Having said that, Luton have only won three times at home all season with almost 60% of their points this season coming on the road.
Albion’s Spanish boss’s primary issue seems to be how to replace top scorer, Brandon Thomas-Asante, who will serve the first of a three match ban retrospectively applied following an incident with Chesterfield defender, Jeff King. The initial footage that I saw on Match of the Day was unclear, but I have subsequently seen a different angle which makes the decision difficult to argue against – I don’t believe there was any intent, nor was it violent, but it meets the FA’s criteria and the judgment was no real surprise.
While it would seem clear that Daryl Dike will start the game, he is yet to play 90 minutes since his return from injury and I would expect Corberán to continue to protect him. With Zohore apparently completely frozen out, Karlan Grant and Matt Phillips would seem to be the most likely options although I’m sure that CC sees them both as wide options primarily. There may be calls for Reyes Cleary to be given another chance, but he also tends to play wider and he hasn’t been near the squad since the Spaniard took over. The situation does highlight the lack of options at central striker, and it is something I feel the club should address this month.
The lack of impact from any of the fringe players who had an opportunity last weekend would suggest a return to the starting line-up we saw against Reading, although I wouldn’t be surprised or upset to see Semi Ajayi back in the team.
Corberán and Baggies’ ‘keeper were both nominated for Championship awards for December but neither were successful with Burnley’s Vincent Kompany and Middlesbrough’s Chuba Akpom announced as the winners on Friday. It is good recognition nonetheless with the Spaniard having been nominated for the second month in succession. Palmer, meanwhile, has been excellent since replacing David Button as the number one in October and he has only conceded two penalties in his last nine and a half games providing a level of confidence for his defenders that his predecessor could only dream about.
Rob Edwards’ team certainly represent a tough opponent for Albion but, ignoring last weekend’s match with an entirely changed eleven, Corberán’s players will be full of confidence having won eight of their last nine league games. The absence of BTA is a blow but five other players have three or more goals in this campaign and, if the Baggies can maintain their recent defensive solidity, one may be enough. The pressure may be on Daryl Dike, but he can take solace in the fact that on his last visit to Kenilworth Road in April 2021 with Barnsley, he scored a brace in a 2-1 win for the Tykes.
It should be a tight encounter, but as with every match under Carlos Corberán, I feel confident that the Baggies can come out on top.
Albion’s defeat at Kenilworth Road last season is their only defeat to the Hatters in the last ten meetings, a run dating back to the mid-nineties.
It was also their only defeat in Luton since May 1994 when David Pleat’s side beat Keith Burknshaw’s team. David Preece gave the hosts a half time lead before Bob Taylor equalised for the Baggies six minutes into the second period. Julian James and John Hartson both scored for the hosts before Lee Ashcroft pulled one back for Albion. The visitors pushed for an equaliser but it never arrived and deep into stoppage time, frustrations boiled over as Luton’s Mitchell Thomas and Albion’s Gary Strodder were both sent off for fighting. A few days later, Albion secured their survival in Division One with a 1-0 win at Portsmouth with Ashcroft the scorer.
While the Baggies have won almost as many games in Luton as they have lost, they have never won by more than two goals, nor scored more than two goals in a game at Luton. The first of their two 2-0 wins at Kenilworth Road came in Division One in September 1955 when a Ronnie Allen penalty and a strike from Frank Griffin secured the points for Vic Buckingham’s team. The other was in Division Two in December 1973 – Don Howe’s team took the points thanks to goals from David Shaw and Asa Hartford.
Two of Albion’s current senior ‘keepers, Alex Palmer and David Button, have both played for Luton, but the list of glovesmen to have represented both clubs is even longer with Andy Dibble, Tony Godden, Dean Kiely and Andy Petterson all having had that honour, although Petterson never actually made a senior appearance for the Baggies.
At the other end of the pitch, John Hartson, Paul Peschisolido, Derek Kevan and Imre Varadi have all been goalscorers for both clubs with Hartson the only one of those to have played for the Hatters first.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
8 Oct 2022 – League Championship
West Brom 0
Luton Town 0
Last meeting at Luton Town
19 Feb 2022 – League Championship
Luton Town 2 (Jerome, Campbell)
West Brom 0
14 Aug 2021 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Naismith (o.g.), Robinson, Grant)
Luton Town 2 (Cornick, Mpanzu)
Last win at Luton Town
17 Aug 2019 – League Championship
Luton Town 1 (Cornick)
West Brom 2 (Diangana (2))
Albion’s Record against Luton Town
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