League Two: Portsmouth 2 Luton Town 0
Luton Town lost more ground on the top three as they slumped to yet another disappointing away reverse, beaten 2-0 at Portsmouth this afternoon.
The Hatters’ worrying run on their travels showed no signs of ending after Matt Tubbs put Pompey ahead in the fifth minute, making it three successive defeats on their travels for John Still’s side and now just one win in 13.
Town had made two changes from the side beaten 3-2 at home by Morecambe last weekend as midfielder Alex Lawless made his first start since October 25, while Andy Drury was also back in, with Jonathan Smith and Scott Griffiths missing out.
Former Pompey striker Paul Benson was named on the bench for the first time after breaking his leg against Mansfield on November 29.
The hosts had the Fratton Park crowd off their feet early on when Jed Wallace swung over a dangerous cross from the right and Tubbs got in front of Luke Wilkinson to flick a lovely finish beyond the fingertips of Elliot Justham.
Wilkinson then ensured he was walking a tightrope after recklessly cleaning out James Dunne who had intercepted Shaun Whalley’s weak pass.
Pompey’s main two almost combined again on 16 minutes, but this time captain Steve McNulty just beat the predatory Tubbs to Wallace’s cross.
Despite the early blow, Luton looked by far the more composed in possession and weren’t far away from a leveller on 19 minutes as the ball broke to Cameron McGeehan in the area, who fired wildly over.
Luke Guttridge then sent one wide from range, while McGeehan was nearer from even closer in, charging down keeper Paul Jones’ clearance as it rebounded narrowly behind.
Lawless almost had a stunning equaliser on 39 minutes, taking aim as Guttridge’s corner landed at his feet fully 35 yards out, as his first time effort zoomed inches over the bar.
Luton’s final ball was proving problematic once more though as too often crosses were overhit or easily cleared away, and when Drury did finally locate his one destination at the end of the first half, Cullen, under pressure, nodded over the top.
After the break, McNulty didn’t reappear, with Still later confirming it was blurred vision from a blow to the head as Fraser Franks took his place, while Luton piled on the pressure with Drury, Cullen and Lawless all having efforts blocked.
However, for all their possession, as in the first period, Hatters couldn’t fashion anything by the way of clear cut chances, as Pompey showed their quality upfront, Wallace beating the slow to react Justham only to be denied by the base of the post.
Luton ultimately paid the price just after the hour mark too as Pompey sent over another fine delivery and when Tubbs missed his kick, the ball fell invitingly for Ryan Taylor to slam beyond Justham.
Although 2-0 behind, Town kept prodding and pushing, with Cullen flicking on Drury’s cross only for Paul Robinson to head off the line.
The Portsmouth defender was clattered by McGeehan in the process of clearing, with his afternoon ended prematurely.
By this time, Spurs youngster Nathan Oduwa had replaced Shaun Whalley and was immediately into the action.
He set off on a number of direct runs at every single opportunity to burst away from challenges, leaving it all the more puzzling why his introduction had been left so long.
Try as they might, Luton couldn’t snatch a consolation though as Wilkinson reached Guttridge’s corner to head past Jones but not the covering Dan Butler stationed on the line.
Results elsewhere means Hatters are now down to sixth in the table, seven points from third place and now only with a two point cushion from Stevenage in eighth.
Pompey: Paul Jones, Jack Whatmough, Joe Devara, Andy Barcham (Danny East 78), Jed Wallace, Ryan Taylor (Craig Westcarr 85), Matt Tubbs, Paul Robinson (C, Adam Webster 71), James Dunne, Danny Hollands, Dan Butler.
Subs not used: Alex Bass, Wes Fogden, Nigel Atangana, Conor Chaplin.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Michael Harriman, Jake Howells, Steve McNulty (C, Fraser Franks 46), Luke Wilkinson, Cameron McGeehan, Andy Drury, Luke Guttridge, Alex Lawless, Shaun Whalley (Nathan Oduwa 62), Mark Cullen (Paul Benson 75).
Subs not used: Craig King, Jayden Stockley, Matthew Robinson, Elliot Lee.
Referee: Darren Drysdale.
Booked: Wilkinson 8, Whatmough 18, Cullen 45, Butler 67.
Attendance: 17,149 (2,680 Hatters).
Hatters MOM: Andy Drury - most of Town’s best moments came through the recalled midfielder.