Luton sting the Bees to earn a much-needed home win
League Two: Luton Town 3 Barnet 1
Luton Town bounced back from their disappointing Boxing Day reverse against Colchester in excellent fashion to end 2016 on a positive note as they deservedly saw off Barnet this afternoon.
Cracking goals from Alan Sheehan, Cameron McGeehan and Alex Gilliead proved enough on the day, but it was more the manner of the performance that will have done wonders for the majority of the 8,262 in attendance.
Gone was the at times ponderous passing around in defence from the hosts which blighted the loss during the last home match, with the ball going side-to-side and more often than not backwards, as Luton looked to get forward far, far quicker at Kenilworth Road than at any other stage this term.
Keeper Christian Walton had clearly been instructed about this new approach too, as the on-loan stopper kicked out of his hands with far more frequency to get his side up the pitch quicker, although it was by no means just high and hopeful long balls forward.
It worked too, as a much-changed Luton made a far brighter beginning to the contest than six days previously, with manager Nathan Jones sticking to his word that alterations were needed, Jonathan Smith in for only his second league start of the campaign and first since September 17 against Crawley, one of four swaps.
Jordan Cook, Dan Potts and Sheehan were back too, with Gilliead, Jack Marriott, Olly Lee and James Justin all dropping to the bench.
The Luton chief has spoken about Cook being an option as a striker and he decided to give the summer signing his chance in that position, playing alongside leading scorer Danny Hylton.
Cook's willingness to press led to an excellent opening as the former Walsall man fired in a low effort that deflected inches past the post and saw an angled drive touched behind by Jamie Stephens for one of four corners won by Luton inside the first 10 minutes.
Disappointingly, the hosts couldn't quite make the most of their opportunities from set-plays, a factor that has dogged their campaign at times, with Bees quick to showcase their main threat too.
Forward John Akinde, already with 17 goals to his name, set off from the half way line, with Scott Cuthbert just about stopping him, although fortunate not concede a free kick in the process on this occasion.
It was the start of a fascinating battle between the pair all afternoon, with neither giving an inch, Luton's skipper going on to show he's easily in his best form since joining last summer, winning over any straggling doubters with another dominant display.
It needed a timely intervention from Johnny Mullins to prevent Akinde nodding home at the far post, while Barnet, whose neat football caught the eye all afternoon, saw Jack Taylor volley straight at Walton.
Town were forced into a reshuffle when Potts had to go off with a knee problem, Gilliead coming on, meaning the hosts reverted to their usual diamond formation.
They then led on 31 minutes in magnificent style too, with Smith's gutsy determination to win the ball back seeing him brought down for a free kick.
Sheehan stepped up and from 25 yards, curled it magnificently beyond Stephens and into the top corner for a truly wonderful second goal of the season, add to his ever increasing selection of dead ball strikes.
Barnet were level just six minutes later in controversial fashion though as Taylor's cross shot was bundled over the line from close range by Bira Dembele with the Luton back-line and supporters screaming for offside, Walton booked for his part in remonstrating after no flag was raised.
Rather than let their heads drop though, Luton were back in the ascendancy, almost notching a second on 42 minutes as Cuthbert's clearance was taken up by Hylton and from near the byline, he fizzed an effort that needed clawing away by Stephens.
Town threatened again with Smith's low cross flicked up and volleyed acrobatically just over by Hylton, while they almost had the goal they crave from a corner, Glen Rea's header kicked off the line and McGeehan scooping over from a yard.
With bright start required in the second period too, Hatters did just that, McGeehan teeing up Smith who only just missed the target.
Jones' side didn't have to wait too long to restore their lead though as on 49 minutes, a bout of head tennis saw the ball drop invitingly to McGeehan who executed a superb swiveling volley into the top corner.
Luton thought they had a third when Gilliead released Cook who burst away to dink over Stephens, only to this time see the flag curtail his celebrations, much to the ire of the home supporters.
It mattered little though, with Gilliead, who had spoken of his desire to add goals to his game, doing just that on 56 minutes, taking Cook's pass to let fly from 25 yards, picking out the bottom corner to perfection.
With the third though, Luton's intensity started to drop, as a Barnet side, unbeaten on their travels since October 8, came into the game far more, causing some moments of consternation in the home defence, particularly when Walton was beaten to the punch by Michael Nelson, the Barnet skipper's header dropping just over.
Led by the irrepressible Cuthbert though, Town restricted the visitors to potshots at best, with Curtis Weston's daisycutter bringing out the best of Walton once more.
He had to make a more comfortable stop from Taylor, as Bees forced a late series of corners, but Cuthbert more often than not got up to head them away, as Town saw the game out to record a much-needed home success.
Hatters: Christian Walton, Johnny Mullins, Scott Cuthbert (C), Alan Sheehan (James Justin 63), Stephen O'Donnell, Glen Rea, Jonathan Smith, Cameron McGeehan (Olly Lee 88), Dan Potts (Alex Gilliead 28), Jordan Cook, Danny Hylton.
Subs not used: Craig King, Jake Gray, Jack Marriott, Josh McQuoid.
Barnet: Jamie Stephens, Elliot Johnson, Bira Dembele, Michael Nelson (C), Curtis Weston, John Akinde, Luke Gambin (Sam Muggleton 74), Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro 50), Alex Nicholls (Nana Kyei 68), Jack Taylor, Mauro Vilhete.
Subs not used: Ryan Watson, Josh Vickers, Alie Sesay, Harry Taylor.
Attendance: 8,262 (Barnet 494).
Booked: Dembele 1, McGeehan 23, Walton 39, Rea 50, Gilliead 88, Muggleton 90.
Referee: Mark Haywood.