Skrill Premier: Dartford 1 Luton Town 2
A stunning late fight back saw Hatters take another giant step towards the Football League with victory at 10-man Dartford last night, writes Mike Simmonds.
With eight minutes remaining it looked like being consecutive defeats for John Still’s side until wonderful strikes from Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu and then Andre Gray earned them a crucial victory.
With nearest rivals Cambridge winning 1-0 at Macclesfield, Town’s lead stays at 13 points going into the final six games of the season.
Still made one change with Jake Howells replacing Ruddock Mpanzu, who dropped to the bench, while new signing Andy Mangan wasn’t included.
The opening exchanges were well contested with Hatters forcing a number of corners, one seeing Matt Robinson shank well wide.
Gray looked bright and on 14 minutes, he raced away only to be denied by Alan Julian’s legs, with Howells wastefully heading the rebound over.
Darts had barely threatened but on their first venture forward Max Cornhill missed his kick when well placed, while Elliot Bradbrook slashed off target.
Cameron McGeehan saw a long range blast bend just wide, while Paul Benson was unlucky as his glancing header hit the post.
Town then fell behind on 34 minutes when Mikel Suarez rose highest to power home a header from a corner, and they should have been 2-0 down immediately but Danny Harris skied over.
As against Halifax on Saturday, corners were a cause for concern, with Cornhill prodding narrowly wide. Hatters came close to a leveller just before the interval when Gray’s close range toe-poke was just deflected behind.
After the break, Still rang the changes early as Mark Cullen and Ruddock Mpanzu replaced Benson and Robinson.
Luton looked no nearer to an equaliser though, as Gray scuffed off target and the visitors’ hesitant defending was almost punished by Tyrone Sterling, only for Tyler to come off his line bravely.
The Town boss played his last card with 25 minutes to go too as Luke Rooney replaced Howells, and although Luton dominated possession, they didn’t look like levelling.
A feisty period of play saw Lawless involved in a running battle of words with referee Richard Martin and then came the game’s crucial moment with 13 minutes left, when Dartford’s Kenny Clark was shown a straight red for a robust challenge on Lawless.
Town were then level in glorious fashion on 83 minutes though when McNulty intercepted a quick break as Henry, Lawless and Gray combined to tee up Ruddock Mpanzu who sent a scorching half volley past a flying Julian.
With the bit between their teeth, Town almost had a winner as Rooney’s low free kick drew a brilliant reflex save by the unsighted Julian.
Rooney then had a shot deflected on to the bar and away but Town kept pushing as Henry’s deep cross saw Gray unleash a magnificent bullet header past Julian as Luton snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Dartford: Alan Julian, Tyrone Sterling, Kenny Clark, Max Cornhill, Lee Noble, Elliot Bradbrook (C), Danny Harris, Mat Mitchel-King, Lee Burns, Mikel Suarez (Nathan Collier 71), Rory McAuley.
Subs not used: Ben Swallow, Femi Akinwande, Craig Holloway, Alex Woodyard.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Ronnie Henry, Scott Griffiths, Fraser Franks, Steve McNulty, Cameron McGeehan, Matt Robinson (Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu 57), Alex Lawless, Jake Howells (Luke Rooney 66), Andre Gray, Paul Benson (Mark Cullen 55).
Subs not used: Elliott Justham, Anthony Charles.
Booked: Griffiths 47, Julian 77, Gray 87.
Sent off: Clark 76.
Referee: Richard Martin.
Assistant referee: Jonathan Burridge & Stuart Pawley.
Fourth official: Christopher Francis.
Attendance: 2,869 (Luton 1,828).
Hatters MOM: Alex Lawless. Full of trickery and endeavour. Back to something like his best.