League One: Accrington Stanley 0 Luton Town 3
Midfielder Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu capped a superb performance with a match-winning double as Luton put themselves back in the driving seat for promotion to the Championship with a comprehensive 3-0 win at Accrington Stanley this afternoon.
The club’s longest serving player was in inspired form throughout the 90 minutes, with a second half brace ensuring the Hatters reached 90 points and moved five in front of second-placed Barnsley once more.
There had been real pressure on the visitors going into the game, televised live on Sky, with Luton historically not doing well in front of the cameras, plus the chasing pack all winning on Good Friday to cut the gap.
But Town’s players didn’t demonstrate any sign of nerves for a second, taking the game to their hosts from minute one, by far the better team throughout.
It was a much changed 11 that took to the ploughed field of a playing surface as well, with Luton handing recalls to goalkeeper Marek Stech and club captain Alan Sheehan, the pair starting for the first time since the 3-1 defeat at Peterborough back in August.
Stech replaced an ill James Shea, while Sheehan’s selection saw James Justin move into midfield.
Boss Mick Harford made four changes in total, with top scorer James Collins back, partnered upfront by Kazenga LuaLua, meaning Harry Cornick missed out despite scoring at Charlton last weekend, joining George Moncur on the bench, with Andrew Shinnie suspended.
Injuries kept George Thorne and Aaron Connolly out too, as youth teamer Corey Panter and young midfielder Arthur Read made up the substitutes.
Town had a superb chance to move in front after just four minute, as keeper Dimitar Evtimov made a shocking error, dallying over a backpass, taking a heavy touch and then cleaning out Collins who had nipped in.
With referee Carl Boyeson obviously considering it a genuine attempt to win the ball, Evtimov only saw yellow and immediately redeemed himself to save Collins’ poor attempt down low to his right.
Justin almost made the most of his move upfield, found unmarked in the centre of the area, only to disappointingly completely miss his kick.
Collins headed at the keeper from a Sheehan corner that was nodded into his path by Sonny Bradley, as Stanley took 19 minutes to fashion anything of note, Jordan Clark’s tame 20-yarder dribbling well wide.
However, Town then had another opportunity from the spot on 24 minutes when Stanley, who had persisted with baffling attempts to play the ball around in defence on a pitch that wasn’t cut out for such a tactic, made another mistake, Ross Sykes misjudging his back header.
It didn’t have the legs and as Evtimov came out, LuaLua was there first, with Town’s attacker cleaned out for another penalty, this time, the Stanley keeper sent off for his second yellow.
That meant Jonny Maxted came on for Scott Brown, with Stanley down to 10 and this time Collins made no mistake, hammering past the replacement for his 23rd of the season.
Sean McConville fired over, while Stanley had shouts for a spotkick of their own as Bradley tangled with Billy Kee, only for Boyeson to wave away their appeals.
A quick free kick almost led to Town’s second just after the half hour, Jack Stacey found on the overlap, Maxted saving well with his legs, the rebound blocked away.
The keeper then should have been picking the ball out of the net in the 40th minute as LuaLua won the ball back twice from Mark Hughes’ poor clearance.
However, clean through and with all the time in the world, he somehow managed to sidefoot wide from close range in what was a massive let-off for the hosts.
In the second period, Luton went close once more, Stacey easily beating Jonai Donacien, his blast parried away by Maxted, the keeper then comfortably collecting attempts from both Elliot Lee and LuaLua.
Town were then dealt a blow when Sheehan’s afternoon was ended early, the skipper rolling his ankle on Stanley’s awful surface, replaced by Moncur with Justin reverting to left back.
Moncur’s first action was to almost double the visitors lead from a free kick, curling an effort which was heading in, saw the hosts, clearly having done their homework, drop Hughes back on the line to repel his set-piece.
The danger remained though, Collins’ follow up blocked by Hughes again and then Maxted somehow clawing away Lee’s point blank header in what was a truly magnificent stop.
Berry slashed wide from the following corner, while Maxted then had an easier stop, getting two strong hands to LuaLua’s blast.
With Maxted looking like he was to prove Town’s nemesis, the keeper was finally powerless to prevent the visitors going 2-0 in front on 68 minutes.
A corner was headed back by Pearson for Mpanzu to take a touch, swivel and fire home his fourth of the campaign to give Luton some deserved and much needed daylight.
Now taking advantage of their extra man and with spaces opening up, Luton kept on hunting a third, and they should have had it with 10 to go, as Moncur set off on a fabulous run from inside his own half.
He kept going and going, looking up to deliver a perfect cross for Harry Cornick, on for the injured Lee, who shot straight at Maxted’s legs, the striker’s rebound hacked off the line too.
Alex Baptiste came on for his Town debut in place of LuaLua, while Town had the third their dominance utterly deserved in stunning fashion with three minutes to go.
Another quick break saw the ball played out to Mpanzu on the left hand side of the area, and he took a touch before unleashing a wonderful blast beyond Maxted and into the net.
The midfielder almost had his first Luton hat-trick, just unable to reach Cornick’s header at the far post from Stacey’s cross.
It mattered not though as Town now go into Tuesday’s home clash with AFC Wimbledon with an outside of sealing promotion if results elsewhere go their way on Monday.
Stanley: Dimitar Evtimov, Callum Johnson, Mark Hughes, Janoi Donacien, Jordan Clark, Scott Brown (Jonny Maxted 24), Sean McConville, Ross Sykes, Dan Barlaser (Liam Nolan 85), Seamus Conneely (C), Billy Kee (Luke Armstrong 63).
Subs not used: Ben Richards-Everton, Offrande Zanzala, Erico Sousa, Paul Smyth.
Hatters: Marek Stech, Jack Stacey, Alan Sheehan (C George Moncur 51), Sonny Bradley, Matty Pearson, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, James Justin, Luke Berry, Elliot Lee (Harry Cornick 72), James Collins, Kazenga LuaLua (Alex Baptiste 84).
Subs not used: Harry Isted, Corey Panter, Arthur Read, Jason Cummings.
Booked: Evtimov 4, Berry 17, Conneely 32.
Sent off: Evtimov 22.
Referee: Carl Boyeson.
Attendance: 3,271 (1,319 Luton).