Blue Square Bet Premier: Luton Town 1 (0) Lincoln City 0 (0)
VALIANT Luton produced a massively gusty performance as they played more than 70 minutes with just 10 on their way to recording a hard-fought victory over Lincoln City at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
Dean Beckwith was sent off after just 23 minutes for an irresponsible off-the-ball elbow to the face of Kyle Perry, but was rescued by a phenomenal performance from his team-mates who produced a brilliant rearguard action to triumph.
And 10-man Town snatched victory with just six minutes to go when, after Stuart Fleetwood had gone close three times, substitute John Paul Kissock produced a moment of magic to set him up to crash home from just a few yards out.
It was no less than tenacious Town deserved as they stretched their unbeaten run to nine games and made it three wins on the trot and there was even more late drama as Mitchell Nelson was dismissed for a second booking deep into injury time.
Town were forced into two changes from the side that won 2-0 at AFC Telford on Tuesday night. With Ed Asafu-Adjaye suspended following his midweek sending off and Keith Keane ruled out by a hip injury, into the midfield came Jamie Hand, following his one-match ban, while sixth-choice right-back James Dance took his place in the starting XI.
In the absence of George Pilkington and Keane Alex Lawless took over the captain’s armband but, despite two clean sheets in their last two games, Luton started uncertainly at the back.
Yet it was the Hatters who created the first clear-cut chance as they should have taken the lead on five minutes. Lawless’ clever header eluded Adam Watts as Fleetwood was presented a clear run on goal but strangely he passed tamely into keeper Joe Anyon’s midriff.
A silly push by Beckwith gifted Lincoln a well-placed free-kick on the edge of Town’s box but having worked it to Gavin McCallum his effort was well blocked by Lawelss.
Some suicidal defending from Town then allowed McCallum to get in behind who went down under some heavy-handed defending from Beckwith as Luton were probably lucky not to concede a penalty.
The Hatters broke swiftly, winning a free-kick after a defender had used Danny Crow like a climbing frame, but the home faithful were angry at there being no advantage played as Fleetwood was left with a clear run on goal and Robbie Willmott belted the subsequent free-kick into the wall.
A never-say-die attitude saw Fleetwood keep the ball in well on 17 minutes and Willmott’s cross was flicked wide by the innovative Crow.
But the game swung in City’s favour on 23 minutes when a moment of madness off the ball saw Beckwith’s elbow connect with Perry and the City striker collapsed in a heap on the floor.
Referee S Martin was quickly on the scene and immediately brandished a red card much to the anger of the home crowd. Incensed Beckwith seemed to push the prostrate Perry in anger but it made no difference as he trudged off the field.
Yet it was Luton that pressed for the lead, Anyon clawing away Lawless’ 25-yarder and Willmott’s flashing effort from the rebound was deflected behind.
And another gilt-edged chance for the Hatters went begging on 35 minutes when a defender misjudged a long ball over the top and Fleetwood was quickly on to it but his drive from a narrow angle clipped the top of the bar on its way over.
Despite their reduced numbers tenacious Town continued to cause the Imps problems and, after Will Antwi had won a good midfield battle Crow slipped a clever ball through to Fleetwood. Having again beaten the offside trap, this time he drove to the byline and squared the ball into the congested six-yard box where under pressure Crow fired over.
Hand had looked assured dropping back into the centre of defence but McCallum did well to disrpt his backpass and raced through on goal but could only fire wide of the mark.
A long ball over the top then caused Hand to miss his clearance as McCallum again raced through but only succeeded in dragging his shot wide of the far post with a minute of the half left.
A forceful run saw Crow win a free-kick on the edge of the box in injury time, but Willmott could only fire into the wall as the half ended all square.
Luton started the second half brightly and after an early booking for Lincoln Lawless saw a header blocked before drawing another good save from Anyon.
Bradley Barraclough spurned a decent chance on 52 minutes, while Luton were being forced to play on the counter.
Fleetwood again got in behind but this time got crowded out while Mark Tyler got down well to palm Simon Russell’s deflected shot round the post.
With Town on the back foot a scrappy game ensued with the referee’s whistle a constant feature.
Perry planted a header well over while the stretching Antwi sent the deftest of flicks tamely at Anyon.
Some lovely play from substitutes Kissock and Adam Watkins almost slipped Fleewood through on 70 minutes but Nelson’s perfectly-timed tackled denied him.
Perry sent another good header just wide of the mark, while Perry finally thought he had broken Luton hearts when his close-range strike squirmed past Tyler and into the net, only for the linesman’s flag to rescue the Hatters.
At the other end the fleet-footed Fleetwood again got in behind yet again but once again his low drive drew a fine save from Anyon, before Antwi sent weak header straight at the keeper.
The referee’s inept performance took another turn when he booked Watkins for a dangerous tackle when he clearly got the ball first and then rubbed salt in the wound by showing a yellow card to Fleetwood for his protestations.
Lincoln again threatened with nine minutes to go but Hand did brilliantly to put his body in the way of substitute Nicky Nicolau’s blast that seemed destined for the net.
Determined Luton were playing with plenty of passion and energy and deservedly took the lead with a wonderfully inventive goal with six minutes to go.
A quickly-taken short corner saw Kissock jink his way along the byline before laying it on a plate for Fleetwood to stroke home from a matter of yards.
And it should have been two on 87 minutes when Watkins and Fleetwood combined brilliantly on the halfway line as Fleetwood raced clean through, but again Anyon came to the Imps’ rescue with another brilliant one-on-one save.
Still there was time for more drama as the referee added four minutes of injury time. Valiant Luton continued to work tirelessly and, as Fleetwood chased a lost cause towards the corner, Nelson came charging in and planted him into the hoardings. The referee was quickly across again and rightly handed the defender his second booking and a red card as Luton held on for a fabulous victory.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Dean Beckwith, Alex Lawless (C), Amari Morgan-Smith (John Paul Kissock 67), Danny Crow (Adam Watkins 46), Robbie Willmott (Aaron O’Connor 57), Stuart Fleetwood, Jake Howells, Will Antwi, James Dance, Jamie Hand. Substitutes not used: Collin Samuel, Kevin Pilkington.
Imps (4-4-2): Joe Anyon, John Nutter (C), Adam Watts, Alan Power, Kyle Perry, Ali Fuseini (Josh O’Keefe 86), Tony Sinclair, Simon Russell, Mitchell Nelson, Bradley Barraclough (Nicky Nicolau 68), Gavin McCallum (Sam Smith 71). Substitutes not used: Danny Hone, James Wilson.
Bookings: Lawless 31; Fuseni 45+2; Nelson 47; Watkins 78; Fleetwood 78; Perry 83; Nelson 90+3.
Sent Off: Beckwith 23; Nelson 90+3.
Referee: S Martin.
Assistant Referees: L Venamore and A Mead.
Fourth Official: S Phipps.
Attendance: 6,316 (Lincoln 206).
Star Hatter: Will Antwi. A colossal performance from the powerful centre-half.