Cullen strikes as Hatters cling on to record home victory

Mark Cullen celebrates his goal
Mark Cullen celebrates his goal

League Two: Luton Town 1 Cheltenham Town 0

A resilient Hatters finally recorded their first home League Two win of the season at the fourth time of asking with a 1-0 win over Cheltenham Town.

Mark Cullen’s eighth minute strike proved enough for John Still’s side, who were indebted to some fine saves from keeper Mark Tyler in the second period to ensure victory

The Town boss had made four changes to his side from the 1-0 defeat against Plymouth last weekend as in came Curtley Williams for his Hatters debut, while Ross Lafayette made his full debut upfront.

Midfielder Jonathan Smith was also back in for his first start since Boxing Day, while Luke Wilkinson returned at centre half as Luton switched to a 3-5-2 formation.

That allowed Williams to play further upfield as a wingback and he relished the opportunity, getting forward to good effect, with a number of excellent crosses before being forced off late on.

Lafayette meanwhile, finally gave Luton the aerial threat they had missed in recent weeks, and despite running out of steam, was always a handful for the visitors defence.

It was the former Welling striker who went closest in the opening stages, showing real class in bringing down a Steve McNulty punt out of the sky and turning his man, but saw his shot blocked.

Hatters’ strong start continued as Cullen beat keeper Trevor Carson to a cross and his header would have looped under the bar until Troy Brown’s intervention.

Town had their reward though with a lovely goal as Griffiths’ inch perfect delivery was glanced into the net by Cullen for his second goal of the campaign.

One almost became two when Guttridge raced forward after a quick throw and his shot was deflected behind.

The set-piece routine almost brought about a second as Alex Lacey peeled away to the back post only to rather wastefully put his free header over.

Joe Hanks set a daisycutter straight at Tyler as Cheltenham failed to show the signs of an undefeated team sitting second in the table for the opening 25 minutes.

Slowly, but surely, they started to come back into the contest though as McNulty threw himself into a stunning block from Millwall loanee John Marquis’ goalbound drive.

They continued to press as Craig Braham-Barrett escaped down the flank and his cross was deflected marginally past his own post by McNulty.

Lafayette’s quick feet in the box were almost rewarded, but for a covering defender, while Guttridge came within inches of a second, arrowing just wide with the flying Carson beaten.

Hanks, a real handful from set-pieces, saw his shot take two deflections on its way behind and from the corner, forced Tyler to palm clear from under his own bar.

The midfielder then whipped a lovely free kick narrowly over and saw Marquis just fail to reach another dangerous deadball.

In the second period, the Robins brought on last season’s leading scorer Byron Harrison and despite Hatters going through new warm-up routine, Still’s side looked sluggish after the whistle.

Harrison could have drawn them level, but fluffed his lines, while when McNulty completed missed his clearance, the sub’s touch was too heavy, allowing Tyler to dive on the ball.

Arthur, who was a constant menace all afternoon, bamboozled Wilkinson with Griffiths just cutting out his cross, while the tricky attacker whizzed another shot wide.

WIth Town clearly struggling to match up their opponents, Still made a tactical switch, the unlucky Lacey making way once more for Jim Stevenson, as Town went back to a 4-4-2.

The sub, who had bagged a hat-trick in the development game in midweek then thought he had his first Luton goal, turning in from close range and was already off being swamped by his team-mates before the offside flag cruelly put paid to his celebrations.

Jason Taylor and Guttrige swapped wayward shots, while Hatters had another escape as Arthur dinked the ball over Tyler, but not the covering Wilkinson.

As was to become the theme, Tyler came to Luton’s rescue, repelling Jason Taylor’s fierce drive and Hatters then wasted a quick break, with Cullen’s touch letting him down at the crucial time

The Robins missed a superb chance with 18 minutes to go as sub Omari Sterling-James showed great control to take a crossfield pass down in the box, but could only poke tamely at the advancing Tyler.

Still Cheltenham looked to find a way back, with Marquis wide from Richards’ cross and Arthur cut inside Williams and again showed little composure, a factor of his display all afternoon.

Williams had to go off after straining himself in trying to cut out the shot and Andy Drury came on, with Ruddock Mpanzu moving to right back.

The replacement came so close to making it 2-0 as he danced through the defence but his shot was wide and then unleashed a beautifully lofted pass for Ruddock Mpanzu, although the danger was cleared.

A late free kick from Marquis drive was true and firm, but Tyler got both hands to push his shot away and the rebound was missed.

The Luton keeper then had to save Arthur’s late shot, with the attacker finally on target, as Luton clung on to the delight of a relieved and vociferous Kenilworth Road.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Curtley Williams (Andy Drury 77), Scott Griffiths, Alex Lacey (Jim Stevenson 54), Steve McNulty (C), Luke Wilkinson, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Jonathan Smith, Luke Guttridge (Jake Howells 71), Mark Cullen, Ross Lafayette.

Subs not used: Alex Wall, Luke Rooney, Elliot Justham, Charlie Walker.

Cheltenham Town: Trevor Carson, Craig Braham-Barrett, Matt Taylor (C), Troy Brown, Steve Elliott (Byron Harrison 46), Jordan Wynter (Terry Gornell), Matt Richards, Joe Hanks (Omari Sterling-James 63), Koby Arthur, Jason Taylor, John Marquis.

Subs not used: Andy Haworth, Jack Deaman, Paul Black, Harry Reynolds.

Referee: Andy D’Urso.

Booked: M Taylor 19, Brown 25, Guttridge 43, J Taylor 44, Smith 85, Marquis 90.

Attendance: 7,793 (including 221 from Cheltenham).

Hatters MOM: Mark Tyler. Some excellent stops helped Town to victory.