A FANTASTIC first-half performance was followed by a mundane second as the Hatters eked out a 3-1 victory against struggling Bath City on Saturday, writes Mark Wood.
Decked out in their commemorative pink and blue kit to mark the 125th anniversary of Luton’s first competitive game, the Hatters of today delivered a first-half performance fitting of the occasion.
Town created chance after chance and, after Danny Crow had finally stabbed them into the lead, further goals from George Pilkington and Taiwo Atieno – his first for the club – duly followed.
It seemed that a landslide could be on the cards, but the second half was a completely different affair.
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Bath bossed it and controlled proceedings pulling a goal back through substitute Lee Phillips.
That may have put a slight dampener on proceedings, but couldn’t hide the fact that Town more than deserved victory as they closed the gap at the top of the Blue Square Bet Premier to just three points.
The Hatters made two changes from the side that eased to a 4-0 win in the FA Cup against St Albans the previous week.
Wide men Claude Gnakpa and Amari Morgan-Smith were both ruled out through injury so in came the fit-again Adam Drury and striker Atieno.
There was also a place on the bench for youth team keeper Lewis Kidd following Kevin Pilkington’s loan move to Mansfield Town.
Town almost made a dream start as Ryan Robinson was twice called into action in the opening seconds.
The Bath stopper beat away Matthew Barnes-Homer’s venomous strike after just 21 seconds before Luton’s top scorer drove the ball across the face of goal but Atieno couldn’t connect properly and Robinson gratefully clasped the ball.
Atieno then turned provider on five minutes, pirouetting on the byline before driving a cross in which Crow could only direct just wide.
The Kenyan international should have broken the deadlock six minutes later when Gethin Jones could only head Mark Tyler’s clearance into his past but with just Robinson to beat his lob drifted over.
It was from a goalkeeping error that the Hatters finally broke the deadlock on 16 minutes.
Drury’s long-range effort appeared to be comfortable for Robinson but he spilled the ball at the feet of the incoming Crow who stabbed home his sixth goal in four games – catching the keeper in the midriff in the process.
A lengthy delay followed as Robinson received treatment for the injury but, with no replacement stopper on the bench, he was finally back up on his feet after six minutes of treatment.
That delay seemed to break up Luton’s flow with Adam Connolly firing in a low drive that was well held by Mark Tyler on 26 minutes.
But the Hatters made it two in all too simple fashion two minutes later when Pilkington rose unmarked at the far post to head home Drury’s corner.
A lovely passing move brought Town their third goal with 11 minutes of the half left.
Atieno laid a lovely pass into the path of Crow and his measured return ball was perfect for the Kenyan to slide home his first Luton goal past the exposed Robinson.
Only six minutes of injury time were shown as the game dragged without incident until half time.
Bath looked rejuvenated after the break and set about the Hatters with renewed purpose.
The early pressure was all from the Romans, but they failed to create any real chances.
Czech midfielder Pavel Besta came on for Atieno on 57 minutes as he made his first Hatters appearance since the 2-0 defeat at Grimsby in early September.
Bath started to gain in confidence as Alex Russell fired over before the visitors pulled one back six minutes later.
A long ball forward eluded the long legs of Zdenek Kroca and substitute Phillips was allowed to run in behind, cut into the box and drive into the bottom right-hand corner.
Luton had lost their way completely and with the hosts on the rack, the Kenilworth Road crowd began to let themselves be heard.
Chants of support were quickly followed by a chorus of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ towards the boss when Crow was replaced by Dan Walker.
The game had become terribly disjointed and scrappy as the crowd grew restless.
However, Barnes-Homer did superbly to muscle Sido Jombati off the ball with 10 minutes to go but Robinson was able to turn his side-footed effort round the post.
Danny Webb deflected a Drury cross on to the bar seconds later as Luton finally began to show some signs of life.
A marauding run on the left took Walker clear with four minutes remaining, but having done all the hard work he could only blaze over with Robinson to beat.
Phillips shot over late on while Pilkington somehow headed wide of a gaping net in the last minute.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Dan Gleeson, Freddie Murray, Keith Keane, George Pilkington (C), Matthew Barnes-Homer (Dan Walker 74), Taiwo Atieno (Pavel Besta 57), Andy Drury, Zdenek Kroca, Jake Howells, Danny Crow.
Substitutes not used: Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Adam Watkins, Lewis Kidd.
Romans (5-4-1): Ryan Robinson, Jim Rollo (C), Gethin Jones (Joe Burnell 46), Adam Connolly, Danny Webb, Marc Canham, Sido Jombati, Kaid Mohamed (Scott Murray 76), Joe Edwards, Marley Watkins (Lee Phillips 42), Alex Russell.
Substitutes not used: Adrian Harris, Darren Edwards.
Referee: S Bratt.
Assistant referees: M Wilkes and J Clark.
Fourth official: J Hillier.
Booked: Crow 65; Kroca 73.
Attendance: 7,003 (Bath 166).
Star Hatter: George Pilkington. Solid as a rock and capped a fine performance with a goal.