Early Walsall strike consigns Luton to defeat in final friendly

Craig Mackail-Smith started against Walsall after signing for the club earlier in the day. Picture by cJordan Hampton
Craig Mackail-Smith started against Walsall after signing for the club earlier in the day. Picture by cJordan Hampton

Luton finished their pre-season campaign with defeat to Walsall but it hardly mattered as they announced the signing of top target Craig Mackail-Smith.

The Saddlers fired the winner in the sixth minute but the friendly began with an after the Lord Mayor’s Show feeling, once the striker had been confirmed as a Hatter before kick-off.

Mackail-Smith, 31, signed a two-year deal, ending a summer of speculation about his future and though it was widely expected, the announcement is a serious statement of promotion intent for the League Two season which begins next Saturday at Accrington.

Town named a 23-man squad with a first start in almost six months for keeper Mark Tyler as the starting 11 had the look of a potential line-up for that season curtain-raiser.

But Luton were not at the races early on and duly fell behind in the sixth minute when Tom Bradshaw exploited some lax penalty box marking to slide past the goalie.

Town improved from there and should have levelled quickly but Cameron McGeehan somehow fired over with the goal at his mercy from a Danny Green pull-back.

The wide man then delivered an inch-perfect cross for Paul Benson, which the striker despatched perfectly with his head only to see Saddlers stopper Neil Etheridge acrobatically punch to safety. That would be a feature of the match, though a more common occurrence in the second half.

First, Walsall went on the offensive after the interval. Adam Chambers slammed a long range effort at straight at Tyler as did Jason Demetriou, but with rather more venom. And the Luton keeper was kept busy for a third time in quick succession by a stinging Kieron Morris drive that he could only beat away. Jordan Cook did find the net for the visitors but he was adjudged to be offside.

Mackail-Smith nearly got the goal his performance deserved when he bullied Morris off the ball in the 18-yard area but Etheridge palmed away his shot on the turn.

Substitute Luke Wilkinson could then only head over the striker’s back post cross, while fellow second half introduction Ryan Hall – almost a forgotten man after he signed last term but only featured seven times – saw a 20-yard effort beaten away by the Saddlers goalie.

That was Etheridge’s final act of defiance to confirm defeat for Luton, but one they will not lose any sleep over it as they more than held their own against League One opposition. Friendlies out of the way, now the countdown begins for the real stuff.

Luton: Tyler, O’Donnell (Hall, 71), Potts (Griffiths, 61), McNulty (Okuonghae, 77), Cuthbert, McGeehan (Wilkinson, 61), Benson (Zola, 80), Green (McCourt, 61), Ruddock Mpanzu (Smith, 61), Mackail-Smith (Marriott, 80), Doyle (Lee, 61)

Unused subs: Lawless, Justham, Guttridge

Attendance: 2,180 (149)