Ten-man Quakers shaken by rampant Hatters

Blue Square Bet Premier: Luton Town 2 (1) Darlington 0 (0)

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 10th September 2011, 5:19 pm

DOMINANT Luton bossed this afternoon’s encounter at Kenilworth Road as they eased to a 2-0 victory over sorry 10-man Darlington, writes Mark Wood.

The Quakers’ rough-housing style caused them problems from the start and Graeme Lee’s sending off for two bookable offences late in the first half gave Town an advantage they were happy to press home as they cantered to victory with goals from Danny Crow and new signing Stuart Fleetwood on his home debut.

It was also the Hatters’ first clean sheet of the season as they put in a more disciplined performance at the back against a largely ineffective Darlington attack.

Town made four changes to the team that was held to a frustrating last-gasp 1-1 draw at Stockport County last Friday night.

Fleetwood made his full debut up front after coming on as a late substitute at Edgeley Park and fresh from his move from Hayes & Yeading Jamie Hand started in the centre of midfield. Dean Beckwith recovered from a virus to partner Will Antwi in the heart of Hatters’ defence and Jake Howells shook off a knee injury to start at left-back.

As a result midfielders John Paul Kissock and Adam Watkins dropped to the bench with full-backs Curtis Osano and Ed Asafu-Adjaye having to make do with a watching brief from the stands.

The Quakers also made four changes with former Hatters loan star Liam Hatch leading the line, Spaniard Jonatan Sanchez-Munoz made his debut at left-back and James Walshaw and Chris Atkinson also came into the starting XI. Kris Taylor, John Campbell and Ryan Bowman dropped to the bench, while John McReady was ruled out with a knee injury.

A minute’s applause preceded the game for game for former Hatters stopper Mark Ovendale who recently passed away at the tragically young age of 37.

Neither side were able to assert themselves in the opening exchanges, but some clever interplay between Fleetwood and Crow eventually ended in the latter sending a hopeful long range drive well over.

Greg Taylor was allowed to stride through the middle unopposed after a quarter of an hour and Town were fortunate his 25-yarder was straight at Mark Tyler.

The Quakers were leaving their foot in a little and Lee rightly saw yellow for a late challenge on Fleetwood on 18 minutes when the Hatters threatened to break from the halfway line.

Town then had penalty shouts for handball and a fine challenge on Fleetwood turned down as some life was finally breathed into the game.

A fleet-footed burst from Robbie Willmott ended with the lively winger drilling goalward on 24 minutes and, although Sam Russell was unable to hold on to his effort, there was no-one on hand to seize on the loose ball.

And a defensive mistake helped the Hatters to snatched the lead on 31 minutes when Sanchez-Munoz inexplicably let the ball run and Fleetwood was quick on to it before unselfishly squaring an inch-perfect cross along the box for Crow to side-foot home under Russell.

A horrible lunging Hatch challenge thankfully failed to make contact with Howells as the ex-Hatter was booked before the game firmly swung in Town’s favour when Darlington were reduced to 10 men.

Amari Morgan-Smith broke on the right and was caught late by Lee and, with the linesman flagging frantically, referee W Atkin surprisingly showed him a second yellow as he was sent to the changing rooms for an early shower.

The tackles continued to fly in and, after Sanchez-Munoz had got away with one on Howells and Hand had lifted a well-placed effort carelessly over from the edge of the area, the Spanish defender clumsily clattered Morgan-Smith and was added to the list of Darlington players in the referee’s notebook.

Crow and Morgan-Smith overplayed a good opening in injury time before Town’s goalscorer fired another chance well over as Town went into the break in charge.

It was the visitors who had the first meaningful effort of the second half four minutes in but Sanchez-Munoz’s long range drive was gathered at the second attempt by Tyler.

Luton though should have doubled their lead seconds later though when another Sanchez-Munoz mistake let Morgan-Smith in and he picked out Crow at the far post only for him to head wastefully over when he had to hit the target.

The Hatters were starting to make their extra man tell as they whipped in a series of testing crosses and some quick feet from Fleetwood followed by a stinging shot brought a sprawling save from Russell.

Champagne football from the Hatters followed as they looked for a killer second and, after Morgan-Smith had been ludicrously booked for re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission, his blast from the edge of the box drew a sharp save from Russell.

The Quakers stopper was quickly back into the action again as he was forced to keep out a grubber from Fleetwood.

Darlington’s best chance for an equaliser looked to come from a set-piece and when Howells was penalised for a debatable handball they whipped a dangerous cross into the box that was just cleared behind by Beckwith under pressure from Ian Miller, with the away fans behind the goal baying for a penalty for handball.

More strange officiating saw Hand booked for the best challenge of the afternoon, while Sanchez-Munoz sent a free-kick tamely at Tyler.

But Town did deservedly net a second when Russell misjudged Willmott’s corner with 20 minutes to go and Fleetwood simply headed home from point-blank range to cap his home debut.

More good football saw Howells’ back post cross headed back across goal by substitute James Dance and Crow’s low drive was hacked off the line by Ben Purkiss with Russell beaten.

The diminutive striker was at the heart of everything and headed another good chance over when he should have done better.

A skidding Willmott cross eluded everyone as it drew a good stop from Russell while a Crow flick header flew just wide with Luton in complete control.

Some magic from late substitute Kissock won Town a free-kick on the edge of the box but Willmott’s flashing free-kick was a whisker wide of the goal, before the young Liverpudlian just failed to bulldoze his way through in the box - but by then the job was already done.

Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Keith Keane (C), Dean Beckwith, Alex Lawless, Amari Morgan-Smith (James Dance 61), Danny Crow (John-Paul Kissock 85), Robbie Willmott, Stuart Fleetwood, Jake Howells, Will Antwi, Jamie Hand. Substitutes not used: Aaron O’Connor, Adam Watkins, Kevin Pilkington.

Quakers (4-4-2): Sam Russell, Paul Arnison, Greg Taylor, Ian Miller (C), Liam Hatch (John Campbell 77), James Walshaw (Ryan Bowman 28), Chris Atkinson, Graeme Lee, Adam Rundle (Marc Bridge-Wilkinson 64), Ben Purkiss, Jonatan Sanchez-Munoz. Substitutes not used: Jamie Chandler, Kris Taylor.

Referee: W Atkin.

Assistant Referees: D Cook and K Kirkbride.

Fourth Official: S Pawley.

Bookings: Lee 18; Hatch 41; Lee 42; Sanchez-Munoz 45+1; Morgan-Smith 58; Hand 69.

Sent off: Lee 42.

Attendance: 5,952 (Darlington 151).

Star Hatter: Jamie Hand. Could have been almost any Hatter on the day, but he was happy to do all the dirty work in the middle.