League Two: Cambridge United 0 Luton Town 1
Hatters striker Mark Cullen proved to be the bane of Cambridge United for the second season running as Town recorded a 1-0 win this afternoon.
The forward, who scored Luton’s dramatic late leveller during last campaign’s 1-1 draw, popped up with the winner on 80 minutes this time around.
There was an element of fortune involved as after Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu won a penalty, Cullen saw his tame effort saved by Chris Dunn, before slotting the rebound into an empty net.
Victory was just about deserved for the visitors for their second half display, as they took advantage of Tom Naylor’s red card just before the hour mark.
Hatters boss John Still had made three changes, with Alex Wall in for his first start of the season, while captain Steve McNulty returned after his partner gave birth to a baby girl during the week.
Midfielder Jim Stevenson was back, as Andy Drury dropped to the bench, while Jonathan Smith, Paul Connolly, Jake Howells and Luke Rooney were all injured.
McNulty looked slightly off the pace to begin with as one sloppy ball across his area was pounced upon by Ryan Donaldson, but from the corner, Tom Elliott directed a header wide.
United fashioned the first real chance on 18 minutes as Kwesi Appiah got the better of Luke Wilkinson and saw his cross volleyed narrowly wide by Ryan Donaldson.
Cambridge then came close after Wall tried a frankly ridiculous acrobatic volley from 25 yards, only to end up losing possession to Donaldson.
The U’s winger ran half the length of the pitch, before teeing up Elliott, whose drive cannoned off the outside of post and bar with Tyler screaming for offside.
Curtley Williams, who had been a doubt going into the game with his ankle injury, then came off after 28 minute, as he was clearly struggling, with Drury on.
Tyler had to bravely come out at to save at the feet of Elliott, as Luton couldn’t put any meaningful moves of an attacking nature together, with home keeper Chris Dunn barely called into action.
Wall then summed up the instantly forgettable first half when he dragged a free kick disappointingly wide from a good position.
After the break, the game livened up immediately, as Cambridge almost broke the deadlock within seconds, Appiah twisting in the area and Tyler palming his effort away.
Cambridge were then reduced to 10 men after a shocking two-footed challenge by debutant Naylor on Stevenson, leaving referee Graham Salisbury with little option but to show a red card.
United tried to even up the numbers immediately, Richard Tait throwing himself to the floor after Wall’s tackle, with the Hatters man cautioned.
Wall almost forced an error from Dunn, whose clearance rebounded off a defender and flashed just wide before he made way for Ross Lafayette.
The sub almost made an immediate impact, beaten to the ball by Dunn and picking up a harsh booking for his efforts.
With an extra man, Town now had the bit between their teeth as Guttridge shot over, while Drury’s effort was deflected into the side-netting.
From the corner, Hatters were incredibly unlucky not to take the lead as the ball reached Ruddock Mpanzu and his thunderous blockbuster smashed against the bar.
Town threatened again as Guttridge dinked a cross over and Wilkinson rose highest, only to nod narrowly wide.
Cambridge barely functioned as an attacking force after the red card, but did go close when Elliot’s header was punched away by Tyler.
From the breakaway though, Drury found Ruddock Mpanzu and the midfielder burst powerfully into the box where he was felled by Tait, with the linesman eventually giving the penalty.
Cullen stepped up and although Dunn made a comfortable save from his tame spotkick, the rebound fortunately dropped straight at his feet, to net his third of the campaign.
Lafayette should have had a second spot kick moments later when he was clipped in the area, while Ruddock Mpanzu was at the fore for Town.
The midfielder showed stunning reserves of energy to lead Town’s attacks with a number of lung-bursting runs, while also getting back to make an excellent covering tackle at full stretch as the U’s looked for a leveller.
Cambridge almost nicked a point late on when former Town man Greg Taylor volleyed wide, but it was Hatters who were left celebrating as they made it three games unbeaten, plus a third successive clean sheet.
United: Chris Dunn, Richard Tait, Greg Taylor, Josh Coulson, Ryan Donaldson, Tom Elliott, Harrison Dunk (Issaga Diallo 73), Robbie Simpson (Liam Hurst 77), Michael Nelson (C), Kwesi Appiah, Tom Naylor.
Subs not used: Will Norris, Matteo Lanzoni, Harry Lennon, Bobby-Joe Taylor, Ryan Bird.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Alex Lacey, Steve McNulty, Luke Wilkinson, Curtley Williams (Andy Drury 28), Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Jim Stevenson, Luke Guttridge (Matt Robinson 82), Scott Griffiths, Mark Cullen, Alex Wall (Ross Lafayette 60).
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Shaun Whalley, Nathan Doyle, Charlie Walker.
Referee: Graham Salisbury.
Booked: Simpson 37, Stevenson 47, Lafayette 60, Donaldson 64.
Sent off: Naylor 55.
Attendance: 6,533 (Luton 2,050).
Hatters MOM: Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu - United couldn’t deal with his power in the second period.