Skrill Premier: Luton Town 0 (0) Woking 1 (0)
Supersub Giuseppe Sole netted a late Woking winner with his first touch as Town’s record 27-game unbeaten league run came to a crashing end at Kenilworth Road this evening, writes Mark Wood.
Impressive Cards outplayed lacklustre Luton for long periods on the night as Town’s worrying dip in form following Luke Guttridge’s metatarsal injury continued.
Town’s goal led a charmed life at times with ex-Hatter Scott Rendell having a goal ruled out for offside on his first return to Kenilworth Road since joining Woking during the transfer window.
Luton were not without their chances as they hit the woodwork three times and saw a good penalty shout for a foul on Andre Gray turned down as Town sufferd a first home league defeat of the season, their first since September 13 at Wrexham and only their third all campaign.
The result means that Cambridge trail the Hatters by just 14 points now and with a game in hand.
Town made one change from the team that drew 1-1 at Cambridge United on Tuesday as Matt Robinson started in place of Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, who had been struggling with an ankle injury and dropped to the bench.
In front of the BT Sports cameras it was the Cards who threatened first as the ball broke to Josh Payne and his low 20-yarder was uncomfortably turned round the post by Mark Tyler.
Woking had made the far better start as Jack Marriott fed John Goddard on eight minutes and Ronnie Henry did well to block his effort.
And they went even closer seconds later when Payne let fly with another stunning effort from 20 yards that smashed against the bar and out with Tyler beaten.
Luton finally exerted some pressure, but two corners came to nothing, as Woking continued to look the more likely to break the deadlock.
Some sloppy defending by Fraser Franks allowed Goddard to tee Marriott up on 15 minutes, but he blazed over.
At the other end, Cameron McGeehan’s pass found Gray who turned and saw his effort blocked by Joe McNerney.
The Cards were playing with plenty of pace as Kevin Betsy broke, but his daisycutter, which was heading wide, was gathered by Tyler.
Town were struggling to get into the game as a corner broke to Payne once more who lashed over the bar from range.
The visitors continually unpicked Town’s defence and went close again on 24 minutes when Keiron Murtagh’s low drive from a half-cleared corner went through a crowd of players and Tyler saved an effort that could easily have deceived him.
Cards were almost in again moments later when Franks and Tyler hesitated under pressure from Marriott and in the confusion Franks touched past Tyler who just recovered in time before Woking could capitalise.
Another good break by the visitors saw Murtagh slip Betsy through who forced Tyler into a full-stretch stop, while Town finally threatend after half-an-hour when Gray was just able to latch on to Robinson’s pass but poked over with Aaron Howe coming out quickly.
The ever-dangerous Payne was at it again as his effort from the edge of the area flew inches wide of the top right hand corner.
Lacklustre Luton were at sixes-and-sevens as the home crowd did their best to get behind their team.
Shoot-on-sight Payne drilled wide again before Cards thought they had taken the lead on 42 minutes when Payne curled in a free-kick for unmarked ex-Hatter Rendell to head past the hapless Tyler, only to have his celebration curtailed by the linesman’s flag.
Despite an uninspiring first half show Town’s players were clapped in and urged on by their fans, just as boss John Still had urged of ‘Team Luton’.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first as Goddard volleyed Adam Newton’s cross into the floor as Tyler saved seven minutes in.
Paul Benson’s cross found Gray moments later, but his sharp effort was blocked and looped easily to Howe.
Luton looked to change it up as Mpanzu replaced McGeehan on 56 minutes, before Goddard got the better of Steve McNulty and his pull-back across the six-yard box found no takers.
Scott Griffiths became the first name in the book just before the hour for a late challenge on Betsy before Town twice hit the woodwork in a matter of seconds on the hour.
Jake Howells’ cross deceived Howe as it rebounded off the far post and Newton could only turn it goalwards as it came off a post and Woking somehow cleared their lines.
Andy Parry then replaced Howells as Town had good shouts for a penalty turned down on 64 minutes when Gray skipped into the box and was tripped by Payne only for referee C Kavanagh to be unmoved.
Suddenly Luton were playing better as Gray just couldn’t get Robinson’s cleverly chipped pass out of his feet in the box as John Nutter cleared behind.
Marriott and Murtagh threatened again on 71 minutes, but eventually made a mess of it as few decisions went Luton’s way.
Town finally got the ball down and a fluid passing move ended in Mpanzu’s brilliant swerving 35-yarder being spectacularly turned over the bar by the keeper.
The hosts made their last change as Mark Cullen replaced Robinson with 16 minutes to go, before he and Payne received treatment following a clash of heads on the halfway line.
The woodwork denied Luton again on 84 minutes when Benson glanced Lawless’s cross goalwards, but it bounced off the far post and as Benson looked to cross in shouts of handball against Nutter went unanswered.
Town went close with a header from a corner that ran just wide before sub Sole grabbed the winner with his first touch with just three minutes to go after a foul on Mpanzu was again overlooked.
Murtagh’s improvised effort slammed down off the bar and out and the onrushing Sole was on hand to head into the empty net.
Payne was booked as he caught Mpanzu with a high boot and the chances kept coming in stoppage-time. Payne’s long-ranger was straight at Tyler as Gray almost put Benson in, but his shot was blocked.
McNulty then had a shot from a corner deflected over only for a goal-kick to be given and, although Town searched for an equaliser, they were unable to find a response.
Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Fraser Franks, Steve McNulty, Alex Lawless, Jake Howells (Andy Parry 61), Scott Griffiths, Cameron McGeehan (Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu 56), Matt Robinson (Mark Cullen 74), Ronnie Henry (C), Paul Benson, Andre Gray. Substitutes not used: Jon Shaw, Elliot Justham.
Cards (4-4-2): Aaron Howe, Adam Newton, John Nutter, Mark Ricketts (C), Joe McNerney, Kevin Betsy, Josh Payne, Scott Rendell, John Goddard (Joseph Jones 89), Jack Marriott (Giuseppe Sole 85), Keiron Murtagh. Substitutes not used: Mike Cestor, Sam Beasant, Reece Beckles.
Referee: C Kavanagh.
Assistant Referees: A Neil and R Cox.
Fourth Official: R Atkin.
Booked: Griffiths 59; Payne 89.
Attendance: 6,683 (Woking 97).
Star Hatter: Steve McNulty. Did his best to fend off wave-after-wave of Woking attacks.