League Two: Luton Town 2 Oxford United 0
Luton Town recorded back to back wins for the first time since they returned to the Football League with a 2-0 triumph over Oxford United this afternoon.
Goals from Luke Wilkinson and Jake Howells ensured the hosts are starting to gather some real momentum too as they are now four games unbeaten, with three victories, while Town’s back-line have also kept four successive clean sheets.
Luton boss John Still made four changes to his side as Nathan Doyle was handed his debut, while Shaun Whalley came back in for his first start since the Conference game against Southport on November 26, 2013.
Howells and Jonathan Smith were back too, with Andy Drury and Luke Guttridge dropping to the bench, while Curtley Williams failed to recover from his ankle injury and Alex Wall missed out.
Hatters made the perfect start to proceedings as from a free kick on 80 seconds, Howells swung his delivery over and Wilkinson rose highest to loop a header over George Long for his first goal since March 2013.
It should have been 2-0 moments later as Whalley teed up the bucaneering Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu and faced with just Long, he somehow thundered wide.
After dominating the opening 10 minutes with a performance of high intensity and pressing all over the pitch, Luton then stepped off it slightly and Oxford enjoyed a period of possession.
Callum O’Dowda cut inside to test Mark Tyler from range, with the keeper holding on low down.
Luton then had another let off when Alex Lacey tried to leave a cross into the box and Brian Howard’s shot was blocked by a covering defender.
Howard also came close from a free kick on the edge of the D, when his effort deflected off the wall and behind, while he tried again while on the run from further out, but was well wide.
Town’s attacks had become more sporadic until Cullen, who had been rather isolated at time, raced on to Whalley’s flick and Long turned over his fierce cross shot.
Oxford continued pressing with youngster O’Dowda impressing, the teenager arrowing narrowly over and then sending over a cross that Wilkinson cut out.
Danny Rose then had a decent sighting moments before half time, sending a free kick disappointingly into the crowd, while Howard’s effort was closer, although still not worrying Tyler.
After the break, Oxford started well once more, while with Town struggling to keep hold of the ball upfront, Whalley was replaced, as Ross Lafayette came on to partner Cullen.
Town were indebted to Tyler for keeping them level on 57 minutes as Barnett let fly after shrugging off McNulty and his shot took a deflection, only for the Luton keeper to superbly adjust his body and palm away.
The forward then had no-one to blame but himself as O’Dowda’s cross was on a plate, but from six yards, he glanced wide.
The on-loan Peterborough man was incredibly lucky to stay on the pitch moments later after a terrible challenge on Doyle, which was somehow only deemed a yellow by referee Mark Haywood.
From the free kick though, Luton had a penalty as Alex Lacey pumped the ball in the box and Johnny Mullins stuck out a hand.
Howells stepped up and as had happened to Cullen at Cambridge last week, saw his effort saved, only to bundle the rebound over the line before Long could recover as Hatters scored two for the first time at Kenilworth Road this term.
After the strike, Town then gave a masterclass in closing the game out as they contained their opponents at arms length with ease.
They only had one further scare in injury time as Tyler made another top stop, as he was in just the right place to claim Barnett’s powerful header.
The result saw Luton now on the fringe of the play-offs ahead of a trip to Stevenage next weekend, while for visitors Oxford, defeat dropped them into the relegation zone.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Alex Lacey, Scott Griffiths, Luke Wilkinson, Steve McNulty, Nathan Doyle (Andy Drury 67), Jonathan Smith (Jim Stevenson 73), Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Shaun Whalley (Ross Lafayette 51), Jake Howells, Mark Cullen.
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Luke Guttridge, Matt Robinson, Charlie Walker.
Oxford: George Long, Tom Newey, Johnny Mullins, Jake Wright (C), Danny Hylton (Junior Brown 68), Josh Ruffels, Callum O’Dowda, Michael Collins (Danny Rose 24), Joe Riley, Tyrone Barnett, Brian Howard (Alex Jakubiak 76).
Subs not used: Michael Raynes, Carlton Morris, Alfie Potter, Max Crocombe.
Referee: Mark Haywood.
Booked: McNulty 50, Barnett 63.
Attendance: 9,101 (868 Oxford)
Hatters MOM: Luke Wilkinson. Defender was such a solid presence at the back and popped up with his first goal too.
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