League Two: Luton Town 1 Tranmere Rovers 0
Hatters substitute Ricky Miller proved to be the matchwinner as he fired Luton back to the top of the table this afternoon.
The summer signing from Boston United had only been on the pitch for a few moments when he took Jonathan Smith’s pass to squeeze his curler from 20 yards past giant Tranmere keeper Petr Brezovan.
However, Luton were also indebted to a simply marvellous save from Mark Tyler in injury time, as he got down wonderfully to turn Kayode Odejayi’s header around the post.
Earlier in the game, Rovers had looked anything but a side who hadn’t won since August 30, 11 games ago, and sitting second bottom in the table.
Luton lined up with the same 3-5-2 formation that had seen off Newport County in the FA Cup the previous weekend, albeit with Fraser Franks in for Alex Lacey, his first appearance since August 19.
Tranmere started well with Danny Johnson’s snapshot inches wide early on from distance.
The visitors did had the ball in the net after seven minutes, but Marc Laird was adjudged offside, while an incisive pass put Johnson through as Mark Tyler raced off his line to block with his legs.
Hatters took a good 10 minutes to get going, as Luke Guttridge dug out a wonderful cross and Michael Harriman volleyed wide at the back post.
Tyler was then called into a comfortable enough save at the second attempt from Town boss John Still’s one to watch beforehand, Max Power’s speculative volley
Luton showed just what a threat they can be on the half hour as Franks’ glorious raking cross from the right was met by Guttridge on the volley and touched over by Petr Brezovan.
The chance of the half fell to Cullen soon afterwards though as Tyler’s kick forward beat the entire Rovers defence, but faced with just Brezovan to beat, he dragged wide.
Guttridge then had another volley pounced upon by Brezovan as both sides were goalless at the break.
In the second period, Luton fashioned a lovely chance through Jake Howells and Cullen, but Guttridge’s side-footer was wayward and just too far in front of the diving Benson.
A jinking run from the unorthodox Armand Gnanduillet almost created the opener for Rovers as he reached the by-line and pulled back for Power to unleash a blast that Tyler palmed clear.
Town then broke immediately though and Cullen almost played in Gutttidge as he was crowded out just as he went to shoot.
A corner almost saw Luton in front with the unmarked Luke Wilkinson’s volley crashing against Gnanduillet and away.
Boss Still then brought on Ricky Miller and Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu after 64 minutes and it was Miller who broke the deadlock in some style.
He cut in from outside the box, transferred the ball to his favoured left foot and curled beyond Brezovan, who despite getting a big hand to the ball, couldn’t prevent it crossing the line.
Chances then fell to both sides in the closing stages as Marcus Holness diverted a corner just wide and Johnson glanced narrowly past the post.
Another sub from Still almost paid dividends too as Andy Drury replaced Guttridge and on being teed up by Ruddock Mpanzu drilled goalwards with a Rovers body managing to deflect it for a corner.
Howells’ rasping left-footer flew into the crowd too, but it was veteran keeper Tyler who saved the day quite literally, showing magnificent reflexes to deny Odejayi.
With Wycombe not playing until Monday, the result saw Luton leapfrog their rivals back into top spot as they confirmed their aspirations to win back to back promotions this term.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Fraser Franks, Steve McNulty (C), Luke Wilkinson, Michael Harriman, Nathan Doyle (Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu 64), Jonathan Smith, Luke Guttridge (Andy Drury 77), Jake Howells, Paul Benson, Mark Cullen (Ricky Miller 64).
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Alex Lacey, Luke Rooney, Scott Griffiths.
Rovers: Petr Brezovan, Liam Ridehalgh, Max Power, Michael Ihiekwe, Marcus Holness (C), Marc Laird (Kayode Odejayi 73), Janoi Donacien (Danny Holmes 67), Steve Jennings, Armand Gnanduillet, Danny Johnson, Josh Thompson (Evan Gumbs 73).
Subs not used: Abdulai Bell-Baggie, Jame Rowe, Luke Pilling, Jake Kirby.
Booked: Benson 86, Power 90.
Attendance: 9,061 (378 Tranmere).
Referee: Lee Collins.
Hatters MOM: Michael Harriman - was up and down the right flank all afternoon.