No Christmas joy for Hatters as U's strike late on to win

Johnny Mullins looks for a way forward against Colchester
Johnny Mullins looks for a way forward against Colchester

League Two: Luton Town 0 Colchester United 1

Luton Town's stuttering attempts to win automatic promotion were hit by yet another roadblock this afternoon as they were undone late on by a fine Craig Slater strike at Kenilworth Road.

With a season's highest attendance of 9,164 inside the ground for what they had hoped was a Christmas cracker, by full time, many would have regretted not trudging round the Boxing Day sales, such was the paucity of entertainment on offer.

Manager Nathan Jones stated he didn't want any talk of the play-offs after last week's 2-0 win at Blackpool, but he may have to readjust his view now, with Luton's step forward at Bloomfield Road quickly turned into two paces back, as results went against them once more.

Doncaster and Portsmouth both won, while Carlisle and Plymouth were held to put the Hatters eight points away from the top three, with table-toppers Rovers some 10 points clear now too.

For the Hatters, it extended their poor form on home soil to just one win in six league games as well, meaning they have taken just five points from a possible 18, scoring only five goals in the process.

Keeping faith with the same side who had won so handsomely at Blackpool last week, the home fans settled in, expecting to witness another entertaining showing, but alas, they got little of any festive spirit left over from Christmas Day.

Neither James Justin of Stephen O'Donnell could ever enjoy the kind of influence they had at the Seasiders, with precious little creativity from either flank, while too often, Luton kept the ball at the back, and once over the half way line, retreated into their shells once more.

It was Colchester who settled quicker, Tom Lapslie's deflected shot forced a quick change in direction from Christian Walton, with the keeper then scrambling across his goal when Owen Garven juggled the ball before unleashing a superb left-footed volley that flew only inches wide.

Luton replied with an effort of their own on 10 minutes, Danny Hylton's low shot claimed by Sam Walker, the only real time United's custodian was forced to muddy his jersey in the first period.

The match finally came to life after a opening 20 minutes that can be described as pedestrian at best, with Hylton and Frankie Kent tangling after contesting a high ball.

United's centre half threw himself to the ground as if Hylton had kicked out at him, with his theatrics enough to earn Town's talisman his ninth booking of the season.

George Elokobi talked his way into Gavin Ward's notebook during the aftermath too, but the little boost it gave Hatters' supporters, soon evaporated into the grey skies.

The U's should have led on the half hour, Denny Johnstone scuffing a glorious chance straight at Walton, as Luton's only serious efforts remained from range, McGeehan's pot shot simple for Walker.

In the second period, Luton finally upped their game for a time, as a stumbling Kent was unable to deal with a long hopeful punt forward but Hylton couldn't get enough on his connection, when he should have given Walker no chance.

Colchester then fashioned a fantastic opportunity when Garvan was left all alone at the back post from a three on one break, only to completely miss his kick allowing Luton to hack clear.

Finally the game showed brief signs of opening up, Alex Gilliead's 55th minute strike into Walker's grateful gloves, with Johnstone flashing over Walton's bar too, while Gilliead's dangerous free kick was just cleared away from under the uprights.

Town had a wonderful chance on 69 minutes as a corner broke to Johnny Mullins in glaring isolation, only for the centre half to fail in his aim at replicating his striker against Solihull, blazing wildly into the stands.

Late on, Luton huffed and puffed, although never seriously looked like picking up the three points, and in the end, they didn't even leave with one, Slater half-volleying into the bottom corner from 18 yards when a corner was cleared in his vicinity.

Hylton almost grabbed a stoppage time leveller, as he appeared to have been hauled down in the act of shooting, but Ward waved away the protests, with sub Isaac Vassell acting as peacemaker to prevent Town's striker seeing a needless red for his complaints.

Hatters: Christian Walton, Glen Rea, Johnny Mullins, Scott Cuthbert (C), Stephen O'Donnell, Olly Lee (Jordan Cook 87), Cameron McGeehan, James Justin, Alex Gilliead (Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu 81), Danny Hylton, Jack Marriott (Isaac Vassell 66).

Subs not used: Liam Gooch, Jonathan Smith, Jack Senior, Jake Gray.

Colchester: Sam Walker, Richard Brindley (Kane Vincent-Young 90), Tom Lapslie (C), Frankie Kent, Brennan Dickenson, George Elokobi, Denny Johnstone (Chris Porter 81) Tom Eastman, Owen Garvan, Craig Slater (Drey Wright 88), Kurtis Guthrie.

Subs not used: Alex Wynter, Dillon Barnes, Lloyd Doyley, Tarique Fosu.

Attendance: 9,164 (490 away).

Booked: Hylton 23, Elokobi 23, Eastman 60, Garvan 69, Justin 80.

Referee: Gavin Ward.