Gambin stars but Hatters fall to defeat against Canaries
Luton Town 1 Norwich City 3
Repeat after me: It’s only a friendly. And this defeat came with caveats.
On the one hand, getting outgunned by Norwich in the first half showed that the majority of Luton’s starting line-up for the Portsmouth League One opener will likely be drawn from Saturday’s pre-season run-out against Notts County.
On the other hand, the Hatters were much-improved after the break and Luke Gambin’s goal capped off the standout home performance, even if it was a simple tap into an empty net.
Tidy and clever in possession, the Malta international’s performance requested attention from manager Nathan Jones.
Whether it will be enough with the embarrassment of riches left unused on the bench, remains to be seen, but the City players had to resort to fouling the diminutive playmaker, just to interrupt his love affair with a ball that seemed stuck to his boot.
James Justin also made a case for a call-up in the second half, which was more than could be said for the first period.
From impressive beginnings, with Gambin leading an early five-minute gegenpressing approach to harassing City’s defenders, the visitors took the lead from their first attack and then doubled their lead from the spot in the 13th minute.
First Grant Hanley punished poor defending from their first corner before Jack Senior was dubiously judged to have scythed down Ben Marshall just inside the box, when it looked comfortably outside.
Jordan Rhodes converted the penalty, but departed soon after as a result of a robust challenge from Senior.
But, aside from cheeky Danny Hylton turn and an Andrew Shinnie shot, beaten away by Tim Krul, there was little to get excited about.
Instead, the Canaries applied some pressure in the last knockings of the first half. James Shea had to block a Kenny McLean shot at his near post but then Ben Godfrey’s cross-field pass found Marshall who flashed the ball across the six-yard area to Teemu Pukki to tuck in.
Town improved markedly after the break and though Jake Jervis missed a sitter - blasting over with the goal at his mercy after Shinnie had laid the ball on a plate - they got on the scoreboard moments later.
Hylton’s header was parried into the air by Krul but only to a waiting Gambin, who touched in on the line.
Buoyed by that, Hylton went close with a header he had no right to reach, Justin fired at Krul from the edge of the area before the keeper acrobatically fisted away a Gambin cross-cum-shot.
So, a first pre-season defeat shouldn’t be too much of concern, except for those Town players that passed up a chance to fully imprint themselves into the first team mould.
The main contenders will enter the Kenilworth Road fray once more at the weekend.
Luton: Shea, Justin, Senior, Rea, Jones, Bradley, Read, Shinnie, Hylton, Jervis, Gambin
Unused subs: Stech, James, Jarvis, Musonda, Pearson, Sheehan, Potts, McCormack, Mpanzu, Grant, Lee, Cornick, Collins, Stacey
Norwich: Krul, Rhodes (Stiepermann 22), Marshall (Husband, 70), Pukki (Srbeny, 70), Buendia (Leitner, 45), Godfrey, McLean (Passlack, 70), Hanley (Zimmerman 45), Thompson (Trybull, 70), Cantwell (Hernandez, 80), Aarons
Unused subs: McGovern
Referee: Alan Young
Attendance: 2,957 (433)
Star man: Luke Gambin