Ref justice as Hatters self-destruct in Iron defeat
Luton Town 2 (1) Braintree Town 3 (2)
Referee Lee Swabey took centre stage as Hatters fell to gut-wrenching 3-2 defeat at home to Braintree Town tonight, writes Mike Simmonds.
The official made a host of controversial decisions throughout the evening, none more so than the decision to send off Hatters striker Stuart Fleetwood in the 27th minute for his second booking.
Although forced to play with 10 men for over an hour and battling back from 2-0 down, there was still no excusing the haphazard defending from Town once again, as they failed to defend their penalty area, with Matt Paine’s second half winner a case in point.
Boss Paul Buckle made one enforced change with Scott Rendell missing out due to a dead leg, as Jon Shaw was recalled to the starting line-up.
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Town made a hugely promising start with Shaw almost turning in Jake Howells’ cross, while when a corner was half cleared, Jake Robinson’s low drive arrowed inches wide.
Out of the blue, Iron had the lead on six minutes when Daniel Holman showed a glorious touch to control a long ball into the box, turned Connor Essam in a flash and lashed into the top corner with his left foot.
An intuitive flick by Andre Gray sent him hurtling down the wing but his drilled delivery somehow evaded the onrushing Fleetwood.
Hatters had huge shouts for a penalty on 13 minutes when Fleetwood got the better of Adam Bailey-Dennis and went to ground claiming he had been pulled back.
Whether it was a spot-kick was touch-and-go, but Swabey bafflingly decided to book Fleetwood for his part, awarding a free-kick to the visitors.
Town then had another marvellous chance as Fleetwood danced his way into the area only for the Iron clearance to hit Shaw and rebound wide.
Swabey made his mark on 27 minutes though as he blew for a foul on Fleetwood, who in the same movement, slid in dangerously on James Mulley, earning his second yellow card in the process, leaving the pitch shaking his head.
JJ O’Donnell fizzed over, but Braintree stunned Kenilworth Road again on 31 minutes when a long ball was mystifyingly left by Ronnie Henry and Sean Marks nipped in to slide the ball through the legs of Mark Tyler.
Town almost hit back immediately as Gray wriggled clear, his shot was saved by the diving Daniel Naisbitt and Howells’ rebound was somehow deflected up and over the bar.
Luton started the comeback in earnest on 36 minutes though when Howells sent over a corner and Simon Ainge leapt highest to thump his header into the net.
As a rollercoaster of a half neared its conclusion, Shaw’s effort was deflected over, Essam headed against the bar, with Ainge drilling the rebound wide.
After the break, Shaw nodded Alex Lawless’ fierce cross over, while Gray burst into the area but couldn’t beat Naisbitt from a tight angle.
Buckle went for broke by taking off Essam and Robinson, bringing on Dan Walker and Yaser Kasim, with Walker making an instant impact, sending a daisycutter into the bottom corner with his third touch.
Kenilworth Road almost erupted once more as Gray beat two defenders, but his shot was touched into the side-netting by Naisbitt.
Braintree should he been back in front on 64 minutes as a neat passing move saw the home defence cut wide open, but Marks scuffed his shot straight at Tyler.
Town didn’t heed the warning though as from their first corner on 65 minutes, Paine easily rose above the awful home marking to head into the net.
Shaw then missed a glorious chance to make it 3-3 as Gray teased over the perfect delivery, but rather than using his head, he opted to chest down and saw his volley blocked.
The Iron’s goal rather sucked the life out of Town as, although they battled manfully in the latter stages, they noticeably tired, creating precious few clear-cut chances, with O’Donnell spearing a free kick into the wall and Lawless firing wide from a decent position.
In fact, Braintree could and should have won by more in the closing stages, but as it was, Town saw their three-match winning run brought to an end with a dramatic bump.