League Two: Crawley Town 2 Luton Town 1
Luton Town paid the price for a desperately poor second half as they saw their five game unbeaten red ended by Crawley Town this afternoon.
It had looked like the visitors would go on to comfortably extend their sequence to six after Cameron McGeehan’s seventh goal of the campaign put them ahead in a first half they were always in control of.
However, for reasons unknown, they just weren’t at the races in the second period as goals from Rhys Murphy and Matt Harrold saw the re-vitalised Red Devils secure a second successive home victory.
Luton boss John Still made three changes for the clash as loan signing Sean Long was handed an instant debut at right back after joining from Reading on Friday. Nathan Doyle was back in too, while Jack Marriott earned his full league debut for the Hatters.
Out went Steve McNulty due to family reasons, with Luke Guttridge not involved, while Josh McQuoid dropped to the bench and Danny Green missed out completely.
The visitors looked composed and threatening in the early stages with Olly Lee always trying to winkle out an opening and from one of his deliveries, both Jonathan Smith and Luke Wilkinson misdirected their efforts.
New signing Long appeared willing to get forward at every opportunity, sending over one dangerous cross that required clearing.
Mackail-Smith linked up well with Marriott soon afterwards as Luton looked the more likely, unleashing a rising drive from 20 yards that flew narrowly over.
It took the hosts 23 minutes to create anything of note, their stand-out player Gwion Edwards twisting and teasing Long before crossing for Murphy to glance his header over.
Mackail-Smith had another sighter, spinning in the box to shoot over, with an unmarked Lee screaming for the ball.
Hatters had the lead on 31 minute though when the ball was played out to Long by the touch-line and his deep cross was met by McGeehan whose header looped over Flahavan with captain Sonny Bradley unable to keep it out.
The advantage was almost instantly doubled as Jonathan Smith’s goalbound volley deflected behind off a defender and from the corner, McGeehan’s header was off target.
Smith tried his luck once more but having grabbed the lead, Luton came under some pressure prior to the break as Roarie Deacon’s effort drew an important block from Luke Wilkinson.
Long was then cautioned for an ill-advised sliding challenge on Edwards, who should have levelled the clash on 40 minutes, dragging wide after Bradley knocked down at the back post.
McGeehan was inches away from a second when Bradley headed a clearance straight into his path, sending a low skimmer just wide with Flahavan’s desperate dive in vain.
In the second half, Crawley had the better of proceedings early on, looking to attack down both flanks as Potts crucially diverted a free kick behind, with Josh Yerworth heading the resulting set-piece behind.
Referee Gavin Ward then appeared determined to take centre stage, needlessly breaking up the play, handing out three bookings in the space of as many minutes.
Crawley’s fans yelled for a penalty as Jimmy Smith’s header hit Jonathan Smith in the area, but such was the close proximity of the effort, nothing was given.
Hatters finally paid the price for being second best on for long periods on 67 minutes as a deep cross ran clear and with Potts not over quick enough to block the cross, Rhys Murphy had the freedom of the area to nod past Tyler.
The equaliser saw both sides make changes as Hatters brought Paddy McCourt on for Lee, with former Hatters Luke Rooney on too.
Marriott scooped an instinctive volley over the bar when he might have taken a tough, while Murphy, looking for his second, sent an effort over the stands.
A Red Devils’ winner always appeared the most likely outcome though and it was to prove the case with minute minute to go.
Once more, Luton’s centre halves, who were definitely lacking McNulty’s calming presence, failed to deal with a ball over the top.
It dropped nicely for Harrold and he took aim from 18 yards, slamming low beyond Tyler into the bottom corner.
Looking to salvage something from the game, Luton started to look ragged, particularly trying to get the ball forward, Wilkinson’s header from a corner that was easy for Flahavan the only time Hatters’ 1,412 away following sensed an equaliser.
The result saw Luton drop to 12th in the table, six points off a top three berth, although they do have an immediate chance to cut that gap, when out of form Leyton Orient visit Kenilworth Road on Tuesday night.
Red Devils: Darryl Flahavan, Simon Walton, Sonny Bradley (C), Gwion Edwards, Jimmy Smith, Lewis Young, Matt Harrold (Ross Jenkins 90), Roarie Deacon (Luke Rooney 68), Mitch Hancox, Josh Yerworth, Rhys Murphy.
Subs not used: Lee Barnard, Callum Preston, Shamir Fenelon, Jon Ashton, Liam Donnelly.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Sean Long, Dan Potts, Scott Cuthbert (C), Luke Wilkinson, Jonathan Smith, Olly Lee (Paddy McCourt 68), Nathan Doyle, Cameron McGeehan, Jack Marriott (Josh McQuoid 73), Craig Mackail-Smith.
Subs not used: Ryan Hall, Elliot Justham, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Alex Lawless, Mark O’Brien.
Attendance: 3,335 (1,412 Luton).
Booked: Long 40, Lee 54, Jimmy Smith 56, Doyle 56, McGeehan 90.
Referee: Gavin Ward.