Luton Town 2 Ipswich Town 0
THE optimism surrounding Kenilworth Road was cranked up another notch this afternoon as Luton defeated Championship side Ipswich Town thanks to two Janos Kovacs’ headers, writes Mike Simmonds.
The giant Hungarian escaped the Tractor Boys marking not once but twice, to nod both goals for Town in another hugely promising display from Paul Buckle’s newlook side.
The Hatters boss opted to play possibly his strongest side available, with summer signings Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Robbie Henry, Scott Rendell and Yaser Kasim all starting.
Yet again, there was no Jon Shaw though, despite hopes he may be fit enough to finally feature for the club, while Danny Spiller, James Dance and Garry Richards all missed out.
The visitors followed Hatters’ lead, opting for a starting XI packed with experience as both Jimmy Bullard and Michael Chopra started, while former Town midfielder Andy Drury made his first return to Kenilworth Road.
Another old boy, Carlos Edwards had to make do with a place on the bench, as did one-time Premier League striker Nathan Ellington.
A quiet opening saw Bullard’s half volley easily fielded by Tyler, while Town should have taken the lead on 11 minutes as Rower-Turner, who excelled in the first half at left back, bursting forward at every opportunity, broke clear on the left.
His cross was horribly miskicked by Gray, connecting with clean air and then Rendell’s side-footer was saved by the toe of Scott Loach.
Tyler kept out Chopra’s neat volley, while Hatters had the ball in the net through Gray’s piercing finish, only to see the linesman’s flag had already been raised.
Gray had another fine chance on 28 minutes when Rowe-Turner’s raking pass was headed back across goal by Rendell, but rather than attack the ball, the former Hinckley man allowed it to bounce and it went behind for a goal kick.
Luke Chambers saw his header cannon off the post for the visitors, but Town took the lead on 39 minutes when Howells’s floated corner saw Kovacs rise highest to plant a header over the defender guarding the post and into the net.
Tyler was responsible for keeping Town ahead at the break as he made a fine double save, blocking Bullard’s long-ranger and then reacting superbly to charge down Stevenson’s follow up.
Hatters made just one change during the interval, with JJ O’Donnell given another chance to impress in place of Rendell, while the Tractor Boys swapped six, including bringing on Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Jason Scotland.
Tyler made another athletic stop from Luke Hyam’s volley and also produced a fine low stop from the powerful Emmanuel-Thomas.
As the game wore on, Ipswich gained the ascendancy, with Luton reduced to chasing their opponents tails for long periods, but they did so with gusto, showing further signs of the super-fit nature that Buckle had been preaching.
With Hatters changing a host of the personnel in the second period including Dan Walker, Jake Woolley and Matt Robinson all enjoying some time on the sun-drenched Kenilworth Road playing surface, the match rather petered out as a spectacle.
With just four minutes left, Ipswich should have garnered a point, but Ellington curled wide from a good position in the box.
They were left to rue that miss too as Town won a free kick in the closing seconds, and Taylor’s flighted delivery was nodded past Arran Lee-Barrett by Kovacs for his second of the afternoon.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner (Adam Watkins 56), Greg Taylor, Janos Kovacs, Alex Lawless, Stuart Fleetwood (Jake Woolley 67), Andre Gray (Dan Walker 67), Scott Rendell, Jake Howells (Matt Robinson 76), Yaser Kasim, Ronnie Henry (Dean Beckwith 71).
Subs not used: Dean Brill.
Ipswich Town: Scott Loach (Arran Lee-Barrett 46), Jack Ainsley (Luke Hyam 46), Joe Whight (Aaron Creswell 46), Luke Chambers, Damien Delaney, Massimo Luongo, Cheick Kourouma (Carlos Edwards 46), Jimmy Bullard (Jay Emmanuel-Thomas 46), Ryan Stevenson (Nathan Ellington 70), Michael Chopra (Jason Scotland 46), Andy Drury.
Subs not used: Josh Carson, Byron Lawrence.
Attendance: 2,440 (273 Tractor Boys).