League Two: Luton Town 3 Doncaster Rovers 1
A battered, bloodied and bruised Luton Town show bucketloads of character and determination to earn a 3-1 victory over Doncaster Rovers this afternoon in what turned out to be a crazy old game at Kenilworth Road.
After the visitors completely dominated the opening 25 minutes of proceedings, Hatters then saw recalled captain Scott Cuthbert stretchered off after suffering what looked like a serious head injury.
The break allowed Town to regather their thoughts and goals from Cameron McGeehan and Jack Marriott saw them somehow lead 2-1 by the time the half time whistle was blown after 11 minutes of time added on, with most supporters wondering just how their side were on level terms, let alone in front.
Hatters then had the better of the second half, with McGeehan’s penalty with 10 minutes giving them some breathing space, which they needed as another eight minutes of injury time, saw Town hanging on with Danny Hylton dismissed in stoppage time, as the final whistle wasn’t blow until the clock ticked well past five.
The hosts deserve great credit too, with physio Simon Parsell one of the most over-worked people in the ground, as he was called out at least 10 times during the game to patch up Town’s walking wounded.
Boss Nathan Jones reverted to his front-line strike force of Hylton and Marriott for the game, with young right back James Justin, who caught the eye once more, handed his full league debut in place of Stephen O’Donnell.
Cuthbert was preferred to Alan Sheehan in the centre of defence, while Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu replaced Jonathan Smith as the Luton chief changed five of the side who had lost 2-0 at Crawley last weekend.
To say the first five minutes were all Doncaster would be an understatement, as first John Marquis somehow put a header wide from two yards out, while when Cuthbert’s clearance was charged down, Andy Williams nodded against the top of the bar.
Marquis did have the ball in the net after Jordan Cook’s pass was blocked, only to see it chalked off by the linesman’s flag.
With three warning shots to their bows, Luton were struggling to get any kind of grip on proceedings, with the back four forced into a number of last-ditch clearances, as Rovers looked by far the best team to visit Kenilworth Road in the early stages.
The visitors were dominant in the air too, Joe Wright heading a corner off target, as still Hatters couldn’t enjoy any kind of meaningful possession, such was the forward press Darren Ferguson’s men were employing.
Doncaster finally made their early pressure pay on 20 minutes when Luton couldn’t clear their lines once more, and James Coppinger slammed home from close range, the goal definitely one of those marked in the ‘it was coming category’.
Skipper Cuthbert, who had injured himself moments earlier after a collision with Marquis, went down in the aftermath of the goal and needed over seven minutes of treatment before being stretched away in a neck brace and taken to hospital.
Sheehan came back for the skipper, but the stoppage didn’t appear to have loosened Rovers’ grip on the game, Williams beating the offside trap, his pull back cleared away by Olly Lee.
Hylton was then booked ruling him out of Tuesday’s trip to Hartlepool, but Luton finally came to life, McGeehan sliding in with a crunching challenge and then Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu’s rampaging run to win a corner, giving the home fans some belief.
On the back of that moment from Mpanzu, Luton levelled with 36 minutes gone, as Town finally won the ball back further up the field and Marriott’s shot was charged down.
Hylton recyled possession, fed Lee on the right and his wonderful fizzing cross was turned him home McGeehan who had once again timed his run to perfection.
Scarcely believing they were on level terms, Luton then had the temerity to take the lead four minutes before the break, with Lee once again the architect.
His low ball forward was brilliantly backheeled on by Hylton for Marriott to race clear and despite looking like he had gone too wide, kept his composure to slot a first goal at home this season.
Town’s injury problems reared their head again though as this time Cook went down with a muscle injury, Jake Gray coming on in his place.
Now ahead, Town started to settle down, as they finally went toe-to-toe with their opponents, who saw little errors, that just hadn’t looked likely early on, starting to creep into their game.
Lee in particular was impressing too, particularly with his defensive play, something that boss Jones has been publicly asking for as he slid in superbly to prevent Coppinger netting a certain goal after another incisive Donny break, while going on to make a number of crucial interventions throughout too.
After the break, Luton were clearly intent on making a better start to proceedings, with Mpanzu taking the game to the opposition once more, driving at the Donny back-line whenever the chance arose.
McGeehan carried that initiative on too, heading into the box with his shot deflecting off a defender and over the top.
With Hatters beginning to dominate proceedings, Doncaster looked a shadow of the side that started the game, restricted to very little going forward, Tommy Rowe’s free kick easy for Walton.
Sheehan was starting to motor too, clearly enhancing Town’s attacking threats, as he strode out of defence and from his cross, Hylton teed up Marriott, whose shot bounced into Marosi’s grateful gloves.
The Town sub even lined up a free kick too, as Marosi was there to palm away.
Looking a lot stronger defensively, the hosts still crucially carried a goal threat about them at al times too, with Johnny Mullins’ effort blocked.
Physio Parsell was having his work cut out, Mpanzu, Sheehan, Dan Potts and Marriott all requiring treatment as the half wore on, but thankfully they all battled on manfully with Luton having just one replacement left.
Potts and Sheehan even collided with each other, with Sheehan eventually forced to change shirt on four occasions, as blood poured out from a wound in his head.
However, Hatters had the daylight they wanted with nine minutes left as Mpanzu was slipped by Wright in full flight for a penalty, that McGeehan, at the same end he had missed recently against Wycombe, gleefully hammered into the roof of the net.
As the board read eight more minutes to play, the game took a further twist, as Hylton saw red for something the linesman flagged for, before Walton made a superb reaction stop from Marquis to prevent Luton having the nerviest of finishes.
Hatters: Christian Walton, James Justin, Dan Potts, Scott Cuthbert (C Alan Sheehan 28), Johnny Mullins, Olly Lee, Jordan Cook (Jake Gray 38), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Cameron McGeehan (Alex Gilliead 90), Danny Hylton, Jack Marriott.
Subs not used: Craig King, Isaac Vassell, Jonathan Smith, Stephen O’Donnell.
Rovers: Marko Marosi, Andy Butler, John Marquis, Tommy Rowe (Harry Middleton 77), Andy Williams, Joe Wright, Jordan Houghton, Matty Blair, Frazer Richardson (Mathieu Baudry 64), James Coppinger (C), Cedric Evina (Riccardo Calder 65) .
Subs not used: Ross Etheridge, Tyler Garrett, Liam Mandeville, Alfie Beestin.
Bookings: Hylton 34, Evina 61, Wright 80, Potts 90.
Sent off: Hylton 90.
Attendance: 7,917 (554 Doncaster).
Hatters MOM: Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu.