First up for the Grecians in November will be last season’s Conference champions, Luton Town. Oliver Roderick takes a look at the Hatters, another of the Grecians’ opponents this term.
It was a season of success at Luton Town as the Hatters finally earned promotion back to the Football League as Conference Premier champions.
They were well worth the league title, breaking the 100-point barrier and scoring 102 goals. The highlight of the season (other than winning the league, of course) was the setting of a new club-record 27-game unbeaten run that saw them reach the league’s summit in December, a position they would not relinquish.
Town’s success was a large part down to the goalscoring prowess of Andre Gray, who got 30 goals in the league alone. He has now left for Brentford, so another Hatter will need to step up to fill in.
The summer so far
Luton will take to the Football League with a new captain after last season’s skipper Ronnie Henry rejected an offer of a new deal and left for Stevenage.
With last season’s top scorer Andre Gray having left for Championship Brentford, the man to replace him could be Ross Lafayette, who was signed from Welling United after scoring 17 goals last season.
Another contender is another new addition: Ricky Miller was the top-scorer in the Conference North last season, and joined the Hatters from Boston on a free.
Midfielder Andy Drury is the Hatters’ latest signing; he was bought from Crawley Town for £100,000.
John Still won promotion to the Football League for the second time with Luton’s Conference title last season. He had previously achieved the feat with Dagenham & Redbridge in 2007; three years later he would guide the Daggers to League 1 via the play-offs.
As a player, Still only played one Football League match, for Leyton Orient against Torquay United, and was injured. He has been more successful as a manager, overseeing Dagenham, Peterborough, Barnet, Bristol Rovers (as assistant) and now, Luton.
Still also has a track record for talent-spotting: the likes of Marlon King, Craig Mackail-Smith and Dwight Gayle were all developed under Still’s guidance.
Ones to watch
Luton could score a lot of goals this season with last season’s Conference North top-scorer Ricky Miller snapped up from Boston. Fellow new signing Ross Lafayette is another who could be a regular on scoresheets across League 2 this season.
Having conceded the joint-fewest number of goals in the Conference last season, goalkeeper Mark Tyler will be looking forward to the step up. He is no stranger to the Football League, however: He began his career at Peterborough, and has been on loan at Hull City, Yeovil, Watford and Bury.
Head to head
Luton may be the newly-promoted side, but historically it is they who have the better record in this fixture, which dates way back to 1921. Town would win five of the first six matches between the sides, and six in a row between 1934 and 1936.
The Grecians did win the most recent clash in 2009, a 2-1 victory at Kenilworth Road, but of course Paul Tisdale’s men will want to improve on their overall record against the Hatters over the two fixtures this season.
Exeter City wins: 10
Luton Town wins: 25
Striker Stuart Fleetwood had two loan spells at St James Park between 2009 and 2010, producing a combined total of seven goals in an Exeter City shirt. His two years at Luton Town between 2011 and 2013 were comparatively more successful, scoring 21 times in 67 appearances. Fleetwood, who began his career at Cardiff City, is perhaps most famous for his time at Forest Green Rovers, where his goalscoring prowess earned him a move to the Football League with Charlton Athletic.
Fellow striker Rowan Vine also had a brief loan spell as a Grecian, in 2011, four years after he made his name by scoring twenty-two times in fifty-seven outings for Luton Town.
Sam Parkin, Paul Buckle, Jason Rees, David Pleat, Steve Basham, Jim McNichol, Steve Williams, George Pilkington, Fred Murray, Vince Hilaire, Kofi Nyamah and Graeme Tomlinson have also played for both.
Luton Town 1-2 Exeter City, Kenilworth Road, Saturday 7th March 2009
Exeter City made it eight games unbeaten as goals from Adam Stansfield and Liam Sercombe earned a first win away at Luton since 1964.
Sercombe crossed for Stansfield to head in City’s first chance of the game on four minutes, before provider turned goalscorer on 29. Tom Craddock pulled one back for Luton and future Grecian Sam Parkin hit the bar late on, but Paul Tisdale’s side held on.
Luton are 8/1 with Sky Bet to make it two first-place finishes on the bounce by winning League 2 this season. The Hatters are 13/8 favourites for promotion, and 25/1 outsiders for relegation.
On opening day, John Still’s side will make the long trip north to Carlisle United. Back the Hatters at odds of 6/4 in that one with Sky Bet. The Cumbrians are also 6/4, and the draw is 23/10.