League Two: Luton Town 4 Exeter City 1
Luton saved the best until the very last as they ended a disappointing season in real style with a supreme performance against Exeter City this afternoon.
The hosts gave a glimpse of the sort of fluid display that manager Nathan Jones has been craving, particularly at home, as they ran the Grecians ragged at times, with some truly wonderful football.
But for some better finishing, they could easily have racked up more than they finished with too, hitting four at home for the first time since returning to the Football League.
Meanwhile, looking to the future, by the time the final whistle arrived, Hatters had three of the successful U18s side on the field with with Tyreeq Bakinson and James Justin handed their debuts in the second half, youth team skipper Frankie Musonda on for the final moments too.
Boss Jones made three changes to his side as Jake Howells, Alex Lawless and Jack Marriott came back in for Olly Lee, Jonathan Smith and Danny Green.
Town started brightly as Marriott did superbly on the by-line, his pull back was smothered away from Cameron McGeehan for a corner, taken by Howells, that was deflected narrowly behind.
With Howells and Lawless looking good in the midfield areas early on, busily starting a number of attacking moves between them, Town had a good balance about them, with Marriott eager to add to his tally, firing straight at James Hamon.
However, Town were thankful to Glen Rea for staying on level terms as Elliot Justham fumbled a ball over the top, dropping it at the feet of ex-Town forward Jayden Stockley, who rounded the custodian and saw his low shot take a crucial nick off Rea’s toe and go behind.
With 14 minutes gone, Hatters wasted a glorious chance with Pigott making a fine run to reach Stephen O’Donnell’s inviting cross but couldn’t direct his header on target.
However, Luton did break the deadlock on 27 minutes though when Howells won a free kick after a poor challenge by Jordan Tillson and from the dead ball, McGeehan took aim, his effort taking a crucial defection off a covering defender to beat Hamon.
Hatters looked for a second as Sheehan’s raking pass found O’Donnell steaming forward and his left-footer was tipped over.
Town then then took the game by the scruff of the neck, adding a quickfire double to blow Exeter out of the water,
First, Howells’ deep cross was met by Pigott whose looping header clipped the underside of the bar, only for the lurking Marriott to nod home his 15th of the campaign from a yard out.
Before Luton’s fans could get their breath back, a third arrived too, as Hamon came out to clear, but cleaned out his own defender Christian Ribeiro in the process.
The ball fell kindly to Pigott, who he still had plenty to do though, and boy did he do it, curling a superb effort back over the head of the retreating Jamon and into the net, as Luton had three inside the opening 45 minutes at home this season.
Town then really started to turn on the style, Pigott inches away from a second after a superb passing move, with Hamon parrying McGeehan’s drive too.
A re-invigorated home side started shooting from all angles, Lawless’ low side-footer parried away by an over-worked Hamon and then Sheehan’s thunderbolt blocked by Emmanuel Oyeleke.
City couldn’t ever really test Justham after his earlier error, the keeper easily falling on to Jamie Reid’s acrobatic attempt.
In the second period, Exeter appeared to have given themselves an immediate lifeline as Luton’s costly habit of conceding goals immediately after half time reared its ugly head once more, Stockley’s clinical diving header from Tom McReady’s deflected cross making it 3-1.
City now had their tails up, with Aarron Davies firing at Justham, but Luton remained a threat too, with Marriott denied a second of the afternoon by a sharp Hamon stop low down and then Tillson’s block.
McGeehan tested the keeper’s handling once more, which had improved from the first half, but Luton weren’t to be kept out much longer.
Just after the hour mark, Marriott raced forward again and as the visiting defence stood off, swept into the bottom corner with his left foot to retake the top scorer’s honour with his 16th of the season.
He almost had the perfect hat-trick when set free by McGeehan’s excellent vision, as after a heavy first touch he steadied himself, only to put his right-footer against the outside of the post.
Exeter continued to fire the occasional warning shot, Jake Taylor sending a header that Justham reacted well to save, while the keeper also kept out the sub again as the game wore on.
With 14 minutes to go, youngster Bakinson was the first to come off the bench for what was his Luton and Football League debut.
The teenager was quick to show his glowing reputation at U18 level, as he settled in straight away, winning an early header and then keeping possession with some neat and tidy passing.
Town almost brought the house down with a lovely move involving some nifty footwork from Howells and McGeehan that teed up Lawless for a shot that was blocked and then Marriott volleyed the rebound over.
Still they looked for a fifth though as McGeehan drilled inches wide from range, while Marriott forced Hamon to repel another blast.
It really should have arrived in stoppage time as Marriott unselfishly squared for Pigott, who somehow stumbled and nutmegged himself with the goal gaping for a true head in hands moment.
However, the final whistle brought the curtain down on what has been an ultimately frustrating season for all concerned at Kenilworth Road, but if this is the standard set by Jones for next term, a far more entertaining campaign should be on the cards.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Stephen O’Donnell (James Justin 83), Dan Potts, Alan Sheehan, Glen Rea, Jake Howells (Frankie Musonda 89), Alex Lawless, Cameron McGeehan, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (Tyreeq Bakinson 74), Joe Pigott, Jack Marriott.
Subs not used: Craig King, Zane Banton, Jonathan Smith, Josh McQuoid.
Cobblers: James Hamon, David Noble (C), Jamie McAllister, Christian Ribeiro, Arron Davies, Alex Nicholls, Jamie Reid (Ollie Watkins 63), Emmanuel Oyeleke (Jake Taylor 63), Tom McCready, Jordan Tillson, Jayden Stockley (Lee Holmes 68).
Subs not used: Danny Butterfield, Jordan Moore-Taylor, Christy Pym, Troy Brown.
Attendance: 8,427 (310 Exeter).
Booked: Stockley 57.
Referee: Carl Boyeson.