League Town: Cambridge United 1 Luton Town 3
A ruthless second half performance saw Luton finally get their League Two season up and running with a clinical 3-1 win at Cambridge United this afternoon.
With the scores level on 64 minutes and the result very much in the balance, U’s had Harrison Dunk dismissed for a second yellow and Luton went on to take full and complete advantage thanks to goals from Luke Wilkinson and Danny Green sealing a first victory of the league campaign.
It was the second successive time referee Graham Salisbury had played such a major part in proceedings too as in this fixture last term, with the match goalless, he sent off Cambridge’s Tom Naylor, Luton going on to triumph 1-0.
Although the sending off was harsh on the hosts, there was little disputing Hatters were good value for their win afterwards, with striker Craig Mackail-Smith to the fore, the summer signing never allowing United’s defence an moments rest with an amazing display of work-rate.
Luton also cut out the supply line to the aerial threat of Barry Corr and Robbie Simpson effectively too as the pair had caused the visitors some moments of real panic during the first period.
Earlier, Hatters made three changes from Tuesday’s cup win over Leyton Orient as Mackail-Smith, Wilkinson and Josh McQuoid came in, with Scott Cuthbert fit enough to partner Wilkinson in the centre of defence and Luke Guttridge belatedly handed his first league action of the season.
The hosts had a marvellous chance inside the opening five minutes when fit-again leading scorer Corr headed Dunk’s teasing cross badly wide at the far post.
However, Luton soon became more of an attacking force, as defender Scott Griffiths, on his 100th appearance, found some space and his shot was deflected behind for a corner.
An incredibly crude shoulder charge by Olly Lee saw him walking a disciplinary tightrope, while the hosts should have taken the lead on 20 minutes when Dunk picked out Robbie Simpson with an inch-perfect cross.
Devoid of any Town markers, the striker almost tried to do too much, possibly with one eye on the Channel Five highlights this evening, sending an acrobatic diving header wide.
On 21 minutes, Hatters had the lead though with a goal out of the very, very top drawer by Guttridge.
Picking up a loose ball 40 yards from goal, he was nonchalance personified, producing an outrageous chip that was in from the moment it left his foot, beating the back-pedalling Dunn.
Lee then tried his luck from 25 yards, but this time Dunn was well placed to save.
However, the U’s heads’ didn’t drop and were quickly back in the ascendancy as Corr volleyed straight at Tyler, with the keeper also making an excellent stop from the United striker’s downward header, pawing it away.
Cambridge remained a threat every time the ball was sent into the box, as it was quickly, often and effectively, the forward pair of Corr and Simpson enjoying the better of things against Wilkinson and Cuthbert, so it was no surprise when the equaliser came on 28 minutes.
Donaldson swung over a deep free kick and this time centre half Leon Legge timed his run perfectly to power beyond Tyler.
Moments later, Mark Roberts was off target from a corner as U’s direct but effective style looked increasingly like it would pay dividends.
Luton did fashion another chance before the break as Guttridge dragged wide, while there was an angry and heated exchange between Cuthbert and Corr as the players left the field.
In the second period, Hatters, after a spell of aimlessly lumping the ball out of play, got it down and threatened a second as Green’s free kick was blocked behind, with the winger then shooting into the side-netting.
However, United broke with speed too, Donaldson denied by a brave block from Griffiths.
The turning point arrived after the hour as Dunk, already on a caution, was adjudged to have deliberately hand balled, so had to go.
From the free kick, Luton retook the lead as Green swung in the perfect delivery and Wilkinson was on hand to send his downward header through Dunn, to the delight of Hatters’ 1,425 travelling fans.
With a goal and man advantage, Luton always looked the more likely to net again, Guttridge’s instinctive header going wide and Lee’s blast flipped over by Dunn.
The third goal did come too in the closing stages as an intricate move on the left flank involving McQuoid and Mackail-Smith saw Green jink past his man and confidently slot into the bottom corner.
With Cambridge already reeling, that blow was one they couldn’t recover from as Hatters’ toasted an opening league win, but remain fully aware, it’s a result and performance from which they now must build on.
United: Chris Dunn, Greg Taylor, Mark Roberts (C), Leon Legge, Ryan Donaldson (Elliot Omozusi 90), Luke Berry, Barry Corr, Harrison Dunk, Robbie Simpson (Conor Newton 86), Liam Hughes (Jacob Blyth 86), Mickey Demetriou.
Subs not used: Jordan Slew, Sam Beasant, Josh Coulson, George Taft.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Stephen O’Donnell, Scott Griffiths, Scott Cuthbert (C), Luke Wilkinson, Danny Green, Olly Lee, Jonathan Smith, Luke Guttridge, Josh McQuoid, Craig Mackail-Smith.
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Ryan Hall, Steve McNulty, Magnus Okuonghae, Curtley Williams, Mark O’Brien, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu.
Referee: Graham Salisbury.
Booked: Lee 12, Dunk 41.
Sent off: Dunk 64.
Attendance: 6,298 (1,425 Hatters).
Hatters MOM: Craig Mackail-Smith. Deserved a goal for his endless running. Unbelievable work-rate..