League Two: Mansfield Town 0 Luton Town 2
Luton Town finally ended their seemingly never-ending 84-year wait for a league victory at Mansfield, and in some style too, with pretty much the perfect away performance this afternoon.
The visitors hadn’t tasted success at either Field Mill or now the newly-named One Call Stadium, since matches between the two sides began in 1932, but the destiny of the points was never in doubt from the moment Paddy McCourt side-footed into the bottom corner on seven minutes.
Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu then extended Hatters’ lead in superb fashion 10 minutes after the break, thundering an effort into the top corner, as Luton completed a first victory of 2016 and Nathan Jones’ reign to boot.
If this is what Jones has in store for supporters of a Hatters persuasion, then it could, just could, be the start of something special at Kenilworth Road, as the way Hatters went about their victory, was hugely pleasing on the eye.
That’s not to say the visitors didn’t put their foot through the ball when required, but gone is the direct approach of recent times, as time and time again, Luton played the ball out from the back, and with McCourt, Ruddock Mpanzu and Cameron McGeehan going forward, goalscoring chances are never too far away.
Coupled with a new-found defensive solidity too, as new signing Alan Sheehan looked composed and classy alongside Scott Cuthbert, success might well be around the corner.
The new Luton chief had made a hefty six changes to his side for the clash at the One Call Stadium, bringing midfielder Ruddock Mpanzu in for his first start since October 24.
Meanwhile, McCourt, Elliot Justham, Craig Mackail-Smith, Cameron McGeehan and new signing Alan Sheehan came into the Town starting 11, as Danny Green (ankle), Mark Tyler (back) and Ryan Hall (ankle) were injured, while Paul Benson and Jack Marriott dropped to the bench, with Magnus Okuonghae missing out completely.
Justham easily handled Chris Clements’ long ranger early on, before Luton were in front with their first shot on target, ending a four game drought in the process.
Alex Lawless’ dink over the top was perfect for Ruddock Mpanzu whose low cross was side-footed confidently in to the bottom corner by McCourt, for his first goal for the club.
Hatters pressed for a second with McGeehan winning possession back in the home half, driving forward and seeing a fierce shot flipped over by Scott Shearer.
The recalled midfielder then came close on 18 minutes too, wonderfully found by McCourt’s vision, but with time and space, could only fire weakly for Shearer to palm clear.
Stags striker Matt Green spun well to fire over, but he was well contained by a Hatters side utilising the counter-attack to a tee, content to let their hosts have the ball in front of them and bide their time as the home fans’ frustration grew.
Crucially, Luton were always a threat on the break too, with Mackail-Smith’s hanging cross headed at Shearer by Jonathan Smith.
Mansfield had been restricted to efforts from range, Reggie Lambe shooting at Justham, while Town had calls for a penalty rejected on 43 minutes when Mackail-Smith was barged over by Ryan Tafazolli, with a goal kick given.
Stags threatened once more before the interval, Krystian Pearce leaping highest to meet a corner, heading over the top.
In the second period, the main question was whether Luton would look to try and protect their lead, something they had been guilty off too often earlier in the season, or go for a killer second.
An early corner suggested otherwise, before a quick free kick by McGeehan almost saw Ruddock Mpanzu away, but he couldn’t sort out his feet out in time, with the danger cleared.
However, the midfielder did find the net in simply stunning fashion on 54 minutes, taking McCourt’s cross out of the sky, brushing off a defender and rifling beyond Shearer into the roof of the net.
The goal symbolised everything that a fully-fit Ruddock Mpanzu can bring to Luton, as his pace and power is at times unplayable, and the fact he got stronger as the game wore on, will do his confidence wonders too.
Hatters were then happy to soak up the pressure, by keeping their hosts at arms length, as Mansfield were reduced to half chances at best, Green finding the side-netting.
When they did have a clear sight of goal, Lambe could only direct his free header over, as Town might have extended their lead even further, with McGeehan’s determination to cover every blade of grass, another huge positive.
Jones was even able to give young centre half Frankie Musonda his professional debut in the closing stages to put the gloss on what was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Stephen O’Donnell, Jake Howells, Scott Cuthbert, Alan Sheehan, Alex Lawless, Jonathan Smith, Paddy McCourt (Olly Lee 75), Cameron McGeehan, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (Frankie Musonda 90), Craig Mackail-Smith (Jack Marriott 84).
Subs not used: Craig King, Dan Potts, Paul Benson, Mark O’Brien.
Stags: Scott Shearer, Mitchell Rose (Matty Blair 56), Krystian Pearce, Adam Chapman (Jack Thomas 83), Chris Clements, Matt Green, Ryan Tafazolli (C), Nicky Hunt, Reggie Lambe (Adi Yussuf 59), Sean Kavanagh, James Baxendale.
Subs not used: Brian Jensen, Lee Collins, Chris Beardsley, Craig Westcarr.
Booked: Clements 26, Sheehan 65.
Attendance: 4,245 (739 Luton).
Referee: Ben Toner.
Hatters MOM: Paddy McCourt,s