Crowd trouble mars Hatters’ stalemate at Boro

Paul Benson was sent off against Stevenage this afternoon
Paul Benson was sent off against Stevenage this afternoon

League Two: Stevenage 0 Luton Town 0

Luton Town were held to a goalless draw by Stevenage this afternoon in a match which will now be dominated by stupid and needless scenes off the pitch.

Inside the final five minutes, and with Luton looking the more likely to triumph, experienced striker Paul Benson saw red for a rash lunging challenge on Ben Kennedy.

The decision incensed a handful of travelling fans among the 1,892-strong away following, who took it upon themselves to jump the advertising hoardings, sprint over to a section of home supporters, with a flurry of punches thrown in a mindless display of thuggery.

Police moved in to diffuse the situation, but the scenes were reminiscent of the bygone hooligan days which just have no place in a football stadium.

It detracted from a decent second half performance from the visitors too, as they hit the bar twice through Danny Green and Josh McQuoid, while Olly Lee saw his wonderful strike saved as well.

Earlier, Hatters boss John Still picked an unchanged side for the match, but the hosts had the better of things early on, striker Armand Gnanduillet racing away on the right with Scott Griffiths out of position.

As Jonathan Smith committed himself far too easily, the imposing forward cut into the box, but with team-mates well placed, could only drag disappointingly wide.

It took Luton a full 20 minutes to even mount anything worthy of an attack as the visitors broke with speed through Green.

The winger eventually fashioned a shooting opportunity that was blocked and when Lee recycled possession to him, his inviting cross was just missed by Cameron McGeehan.

Steven Schumacher’s free kick was straight at Tyler, before the ‘needle’ that Still had spoken about previously became apparent when Green caught Ben Kennedy with a flailing arm, the home winger eventually going to ground bemoaning he had been elbowed.

Both players were rightly just given a talking to, but it gave the crowd, who had been lacking any real excitement, something to get their teeth into.

Chris Whelpdale was also wayward from a good position, while Hatters were starting to grow into the game, as it was they who finished the stronger.

Smith was close from distance, with Green wanting a penalty after twisting his man in the area but nothing was given.

Luton were then a whisker away from an opening goal on the stroke of half time as McQuoid surged forward, unleashing a shot that was half stopped by Day, defender Dean Wells clearing as it threatened to trickle over the line.

Green picked up the loose ball and let fly with a deflected effort that drew a superb reaction stop from Day who stuck out a glove to parry.

After the break, Hatters were clearly the better side in possession, as McQuoid sent an early chance wide, with Smith, who appears to have been told to shoot on sight these days, firing at Day from range.

The hosts’ tactics were quite clear from the off. Hit the towering Gnanduillet with deep crosses as although he was well shackled by Scott Cuthberth and Luke Wilkinson for the majority, one such attempt saw the striker fire into the side-netting.

Hatters were clearly the better side in possession though as they shifted the ball to Green whenever possible, as the winger started running the game, delivering a number of inviting crosses.

Luton had a huge opportunity on 66 minutes as Benson, clearly offside, but not interfering with play, anticipated Wells’ back header to go one on one with Day, a poor first touch allowing the keeper to save.

The hosts then almost had the lead as former Town defender Fraser Franks of all people was free in the area to reach a rebound and shoot left footed, but Tyler hung on low down.

Gnanduillet was inches away from the opener as he combined well with debutant Jamille Matt and his right footer from 20 yards whistled beyond the far post.

Then came the controversy as with 15 minutes to go, Wells was yellow carded for handling the ball with Marriott chasing him down.

As the last man, then red was the only outcome possible, but referee Rob Lewis brandished yellow as the defender, although appearing to have been nudged in the back by Town’s rampaging striker, somehow stayed on.

Green took the free kick and unleashed an absolute corker that smacked against the bar with Day a mere spectator.

Lee then produced a moment of sheer genius, beating two Boro players with a stunning, spinning piece of skill, worthy of its own adjective, and then with an audacious outside of the foot shot, forced Day to palm away.

However, Benson saw red for his challenge on Wells, with the disgraceful scenes that followed, but even with 10 men, Luton might have won it, McQuoid nodding against the bar from close range.

With Hatters climbing a place to 10th in the table, although falling three points away from the play-offs, it now remains to be seen whether they will face any consequences from the FA for the actions of one or two ‘supporters’.

Boro: Chris Day, Fraser Franks, Chris Whelpdale (Jamille Matt 62) Steven Schumacher, Tom Pett, Dean Wells, Charlie Lee (Tom Conlon 67), Ronnie Henry (C), Connor Ogilvie, Armand Gnanduillet, Ben Kennedy.

Subs not used: Harry Voss, Jamie McCombe, Mark Hughes, Adam Marriott, Dale Gorman.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Alex Lawless, Scott Griffiths, Scott Cuthbert (C), Luke Wilkinson, Jonathan Smith, Olly Lee (Mark O’Brien 88), Danny Green (Sean Long 87), Cameron McGeehan (Jack Marriott 67) Josh McQuoid, Paul Benson.

Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Craig Mackail-Smith, Lee Guttridge, Paddy McCourt.

Attendance: 4,782

Booked: Lee 56, Wells 75, Conlon 89.

Sent off: Benson 86.

Referee: Rob Lewis.

Hatters MOM: Danny Green, winger had a 20-minute spell in the second half where he simply ran the show.