Skrill Premier: Luton Town 3 (2) Dartford 0 (0)
Returning midfielder Alex Lawless inspired Hatters to a morale-boosting victory over Dartford tonight, writes Mike Simmonds.
The Welshman was handed his first start of the season after recovering from injury and was in superb form all evening, capping his display with a richly deserved goal in the second half.
Town boss John Still made two changes to the side who had been beaten 2-0 at Wrexham on Friday night as Jim Stevenson came in for his full debut, alongside Lawless, with Shaun Whalley dropping to the bench and Mark Cullen missing out completely.
Hatters thought they had finally broken their first half hoodoo when Paul Benson slid Jake Howells’ cross home on nine minutes, but the winger had been flagged offside.
Luton once again failed to create any major chances of note in the opening 20 minutes, bar pot shots from Howells and Lawless that flew off target.
The hosts had one scare at the back as Tyrone Sterling volleyed wide when well placed, but Hatters were quickly on the front foot once more.
After one glorious Lawless low delivery was just cleared, the midfielder engineered another crossing position. This time, his delightful dink was met by Benson, who nodded in his first goal for Town via the post, as Luton finally scored in the opening half for the first time this season.
Darts should have been level on the half hour when the completely unmarked Elliot Bradbrook headed Lee Noble’s corner wide from a matter of yards.
That miss was to instantly prove costly as Town broke away and, after a scything Howells run, Luke Guttridge tried his luck from 20 yards, the ball taking a huge deflection to beat the wrong-footed Alan Julian.
Dartford weren’t without their moments though as Adam Birchall headed over Mark Tyler’s bar from Noble’s penetrating cross.
Luton almost had a third in the dying embers when Stevenson, who displayed plenty of endeavour, volleyed narrowly off target.
In the second period, Benson’s looping header was cleared, while Stevenson once again came within a whisker of his maiden Town goal, curling narrowly wide.
The Darts to their credit still tried to go forward, Birchall’s turn and shot easy for Tyler, while Hatters almost notched again as Guttridge’s low blast was cleared off the line by the retreating Noble.
Just as Darts looked to have upped their game, the third arrived as Jonathan Smith advanced and clipped a lovely ball through that Benson flicked on for Lawless, who rounded Julian and fired into the net from an acute angle.
Hatters had two shouts for a penalty as the game rather petered out in the latter stages, with Guttridge and Benson brought down in the area within seconds of each other, but nothing was given.
Town rang the changes towards the end, Lawless getting a deserved standing ovation on his comeback, while importantly the hosts warmed up for the visit of Lincoln on Saturday with yet another shutout, their sixth in nine games this season.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Jonathan Smith, Steve McNulty, Alex Lawless (Shaun Whalley 85), Jake Howells (David Martin 79), Scott Griffiths, Andy Parry, Luke Guttridge, Ronnie Henry (C), Paul Benson, Jim Stevenson (Solomon Taiwo 88). Substitutes not used: Elliot Justham, Andre Gray.
Darts: Alan Julian, Tyrone Sterling (Jason Prior 64), Kenny Clark, Ryan Hayes (Alex Woodyard 73), Lee Noble, Elliot Bradbrook (C), Danny Harris (James Rogers 74), Nathan Collier, Adam Birchall, Matt Fry, Lee Burns. Substitutes not used: Uche Ibemere, Deren Ibrahim.
Booking: Guttridge 39, Fry 69.
Referee: R Whitton.
Assistant referees: A Neil and N West.
Fourth official: C Francis.
Attendance: 5,433 (142 away).
Star Hatter: Alex Lawless. Superb return.