A crazy encounter at The Lamb this afternoon saw Luton Town hang on to claim a dramatic 4-3 victory over lowly Tamworth, writes Mark Wood.
The Hatters battled back from a goal down as they romped into a 4-1 lead thanks to brilliant long-range strikes from Jonathan Smith and Andy Parry at the end of the first half and a brace from target man Paul Benson as they seened to be well in charge with over an hour played.
But just when it looked like Town were in complete control they conceded two quick goals as they were forced to weather a late Tamworth onslaught as they battled to three hard-earned point when they should probably have won at a canter.
It means that Hatters have now scored 25 goals in their last eight games, with three threes and four fours, and conceded 12 as their rollercoaster season continues to gather pace with them still eight points behind leaders Camrbidge.
Town made just one change from the team that had beaten Hyde 5-1 the week before, Shaun Whalley coming in on the right of midfield for Alex Lawless who dropped to the bench.
Good combination play early on saw Andre Gray burst on to Benson’s touch and win a free-kick as he was tugged back on his way through, but surprisingly no card was forthcoming.
Tamworth signed three players in the buld-up to the game and on-loan Birmingham City full-back Ryan Higgins displayed one of his wares early on as he hurled a mammoth throw into the box that was easily repelled.
It quickly became apparent that the long throw was a pre-planned Lambs tactic as oppostive full-back Tony Capaldi proceeded to hurl a long ball in from the other side.
And the hosts took the lead on 13 minutes as the fleet-footed Lateef Elford-Alliyu scampered past two players in the box and pulled the ball back for former Hatters target and Tamworth captain Duane Courtney to sweep home from eight yards out.
Luton almost hit back on 21 minutes as Gray looked to outpace the home defence, but Ben Richards-Everton got back to put in a brilliant last-ditch challenge.
However, the Lambs almost doubled their lead two minutes later when Andy Todd strode forward and, as Steve McNulty stumbled, his pass found Richard Peniket who could only roll tamely at Mark Tyler.
The slope across the width of the pitch made it difficult for both sides as Gray skirted the edge of the area before dragging wide.
A McNulty mistake allowed Elford-Alliyu to race clear on the half hour, but the pace on the ball and slope forced him too wide.
Out of nothing though the Hatters levelled on 31 minutes when Smith let fly from fully 30 yards and keeper Cameron Belford’s weak attempt to keep it out made no difference as his strike found the top corner.
And things got even better 10 minutes later when Smith teed up Parry 25 yards out and the young midfielder fizzed home to the hapless Belford’s right.
Guttridge fired a dipping free-kick harmlessly over before the break as Town led 2-1 at the interval thanks to two quality strikes.
Tamworth made a double change at the break as new signings Nick Chadwick and Lee Hildreth were introduced for Andy Todd and Richard Baker. But it took Town just 50 seconds to net their third in the second half as Whalley’s far post free-kick found the diving Benson to power home his header into the top corner.
On a high, Town sensed blood as Gray dragged an effort just wide and then lobbed wastefully over after racing on to Guttridge’s pass.
At the other end Tamworth’s appeals for a peanlty were ignored on 51 minutes as Chadwick tumbled close to McNulty.
The Lambs continued to persevere with their long throws into the box, but it was Town that seemingly put the game to bed on 54 minutes. Gray did superbly to outmuscle and turn Richards-Everton in one motion as he broke clear down the right and then sensibly squared for the unmarked Benson to steer home from six yards.
However, a Lambs long throw almost paid dividends on 59 minutes when two Town players got in each other’s way as the ball ran to Mark Wright at the far post, but his firm strike was thankfully straight at Tyler, making his 200th appearance for the Hatters.
Another brilliant 30-yarder from Smith forced a flying stop out of Belford on 61 minutes as the Hatters threatened to run away with it.
But tigerish Tamworth refused to meekly surrender like Lambs as they came roaring back. The impressive Elford-Alliyu got the better of McNulty as he surged into the box and then seemed to go down under pressure from Ronnie Henry as referee Robert Whitton pointed to the spot and the same player got back up to fire straight down the middle on 64 minutes.
The hosts proceeded to exert plenty of pressure as they threatened to bulldoze their way back into the back. The experienced Chadwick twice went close with headers as Town looked to finally calm proceedings down.
Lawless replaced the tiring Guttridge on 72 minutes, but it was the Lambs who continued to press as they cut Town’s lead to just one with 14 minutes to play. The Hatters failed to deal with a Tamworth corner and Courtney was allowed to somehow hook home his second of the day.
With Luton rarely threatening Gray did break clear again on 79 minutes but saw his cross cut out before Town should have scored a fifth with 10 minutes to go. Gray failed to connect properly with Whalley’s cross and Benson’s touch somehow squited just wide.
Tamworth laid siege to the Luton goal with throw-after-throw and corner-after-corner as the Hatters struggled to clear their lines.
Chadwick fired just over on 83 minutes from Richards-Everton’s knockdown before Gray was sacrificed for Anthony Charles as Town looked to shore things up late on.
Heavy rain started to hammer down at the death as Tamworth bombarded the Luton goal at every opportunity and, despite four minutes of stoppage time being played, Town held on to claim three invaluable points.
Thunder and lightning broke out after the final whistle and more controversy saw a Luton fan led from the field at the death after he tried to join Town’s post-match huddle in what has now become a common occurrence at Kenilworth Road.
Lambs (4-4-2): Cameron Belford, Ben Richards-Everton, Lloyd Kerry, Richard Baker (Lee Hildreth 46), Duane Courtney (C), Richard Peniket, Tony Capaldi, Andy Todd (Nick Chadwick 46), Ryan Higgins, Lateef Elford-Alliyu, Mark Wright (Justin Richards 65). Substitutes not used: Matt Regan, Kaiyne Woolery.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Jonathan Smith, Steve McNulty, Scott Griffiths, Andy Parry, Luke Guttridge (Alex Lawless 72), Shaun Whalley, Ronnie Henry (C), Paul Benson, Andre Gray (Anthony Charles 87), Alex Lacey. Substitutes not used: Mark Cullen, Elliot Justham, Matt Robinson.
Referee: Robert Whitton.
Assistant Referees: Christopher Ward and Alix Pashley.
Fourth Official: Nicholas Barnard.
Attendance: 2,066 (Luton 1,199)
Star Hatter: Paul Benson. Took his goals well, should have had a hat-trick and linked play superbly.