THE RIVALRY is one of football’s more unexpected but no less fierce for that.
Almost 150 miles separate Luton from York and yet tussles between these two clubs since an infamous play-off semi-final tie at Kenilworth Road have been more akin to ‘Old Firm’ games in terms of ill-feeling and hostility.
Red cards, mass confrontations, a tunnel bust-up that led to a court appearance for then Luton manager Gary Brabin and even an abandonment that sparked a war of words – clashes between the Minstermen and the Hatters have rarely been dull of late.
That is without even mentioning the 2012 Conference play-off final at Wembley that brought to an end York’s eight-year absence from the Football League.
With such an eventful recent past, today’s fixture could be another spicy affair but for Russ Wilcox, the York manager, his focus is solely on claiming a first league win in five weeks.
“We have a chance to build on what was an excellent midweek performance and result,” said the City manager, fresh from knocking out League One Doncaster Rovers in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy second round thanks to a double from Vadaine Oliver.
“Doncaster were more or less at full strength and yet we fully deserved to win. What we have to do now is build on that, and the first 70 minutes against Cambridge last week when I thought we were excellent.”
York’s fraught relations with Luton in the two clubs’ Conference days can be traced back to the 2010 play-off semi-final second leg tie.
Leading 1-0 from the first leg, the Minstermen finished the job in the return with another one-goal victory.
That, however, provoked a pitch invasion by home fans that culminated in the celebrating City players having to leap into the Oak Road Stand and then run a gauntlet of missiles as police struggled to keep control.
The following season yielded two games and three red cards – all for York players – before 2011-12 brought five further meetings plus an abandonment at a snowy Kenilworth Road that left York irate that the home club had not followed the lead of Chelsea and Arsenal in postponing the fixture amid a weather warning.
Last season, the clubs met for the first time since York’s play-off win at Wembley and both sides ended February’s 2-2 draw with 10 men.
Wilcox added: “Those two red cards for Jake Hyde and (Luton’s Steve) McNulty show the importance of keeping your discipline in these type of games. That will be the message to the players.”
York’s midweek victory over Doncaster came as a welcome fillip after a difficult few weeks.
In each of the previous two home games against Oxford United and Cambridge, Wilcox had faced calls for his dismissal from a section of the club’s supporters.
City lost the first of those two games thanks to a freak goal, while against the U’s a week ago they led 2-0 only to be pegged back.
Wilcox said: “We need to push up the league and a victory at Luton would be a great way to start that.”
Tuesday night’s victory over Doncaster earned a place in today’s draw for the Trophy northern quarter-finals, which will be made live on Sky Sports show Soccer AM.
Wilcox added: “It is the first time we have been through to this stage of the competition for some time so everyone is eagerly looking forward to discovering who we will face in the next round.
“There are some big clubs left in our section of the draw. Sheffield United and Wigan Athletic are both through, while one from Bradford City and Barnsley will be in the next round once their rearranged tie is played.
“From our point of view, a home tie would be ideal and if we can get through that, the excitement really could start building.”
Rhys Turner returns to the squad after being ineligible for the Trophy.
Last six games: Luton Town LWWWWL, York City DDLLDW.
Referee: D Handley (Lancashire).
Last time: Luton Town 2 York City 2; February 10, 2015; League Two.