League Two: Luton Town 0 Burton Albion 1
Luton Town suffered a fourth successive home defeat as they went down to league leaders Burton Albion this afternoon.
The loss was hard to take for the Hatters as they had just about edged a tight contest against a Brewers side who looked more than happy with a point in their race with Shrewsbury for the title.
However, Luton missed chances through the returning Elliot Lee, Paul Benson, Scott Griffiths and sub Luke Guttridge, with Burton making them pay in the 79th minute, Matty Palmer’s effort deflecting off Nathan Doyle to cruelly beat Elliot Justham.
The most frustrating aspect was it had been the best Hatters had played in those four matches, but yet again they lost by a single goal to a well-drilled Brewers side, who did nothing extravagant, merely the basics very well indeed.
Results elsewhere went against John Still’s side too, especially as they had been back in the play-off places at the interval.
But both Stevenage and Plymouth overturned deficits to triumph, leaving Luton now three points behind Argyle, with a massively inferior goal difference and just four games remaining.
The hosts had made three changes to the side that had won at Tranmere, as Lee, Jake Howells and Alex Lawless came back in for Jonathan Smith, whose partner is due to give birth, Ryan Hall and Mark Cullen.
The visitors had a good opportunity early on as Adam McGurk was left unmarked in the area only to head Lucas Akins’ cross wide.
Town had a huge opportunity on eight minutes though when a long ball forward from Elliot Justham was headed up rather than out by John Mousinho.
It dropped for Paul Benson, who had just keeper Jon McLaughlin to beat, but on the volley, he lifted wastefully into the crowd.
Benson then combined with Lee as the ball broke for Michael Harriman and with the crowd baying, opted to shoot first time, his effort narrowly flying past the post.
The front two of Benson and Lee showed further signs of promise as after marvellous work by Nathan Doyle, Benson nodded down for Lee to shoot over.
Town’s impressive start continued too as when the ball broke to Lawless, he opened up his body to curl just beyond the far corner.
Burton offered precious little going forward in the first 30 minutes, Phil Edwards, who scored against Town at the Pirelli Stadium, sending a left footer that Justham clasped easily, with the keeper then holding on to Akins’ low drive.
In the closing stages of the first period, Town fashioned another excellent opening as Howells’ free kick reached Lee at the far post but he couldn’t find the target from close range.
Harriman had to be alert to cut out a promising attack forward as Stuart Beavon looked to tee up a team-mate, with the striker outwitting Luke Wilkinson, to test Justham from 20 yards.
Although the scores were goalless at the break, there remained an air of optimism around Kenilworth Road, with supporters witnessing a far more promising display than last time out, even though they had been 2-0 ahead against Exeter.
After the break, McGurk was unmarked again, but headed into Justham’s gloves, while Howells broke away on the left for one of the first times and his low cross was met by Benson’s toe, eventually deflected behind for a corner.
Just before the hour mark, Luton fashioned their clearest opportunity of the match as a neat move on the left saw the onrushing Griffiths racing into the box.
He shifted the ball on to his preferred left foot, but with only McLaughlin to beat, fizzed into the Brewers fans behind the goal.
Town rang the changes as Cullen drilled over from Benson’s neat flick, while Nathan Oduwa was also introduced and reached the byline, with Burton getting back to clear the danger.
Steve McNulty was booked for persistent fouling and from the free kick, Justham easily dealt with McGurk’s effort.
Brewers sub Abdenasser El Khayati wriggled clear to set up a shooting opportunity that he fluffed before Luton wasted another great chance when Oduwa’s cross reached the lurking Guttridge who scuffed wide.
That miss was to prove costly too as soon afterwards, Burton had a rare foray forward with Town’s defence and supporters screaming for an offside flag.
It never came though and Palmer found a yard of space to beat Justham and puncture the optimism that had been growing.
Luton could still have rescued a point late on though, but Cullen on the stretch, lofted over the top as Hatters lost yet again in front of their own fans.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty (C), Luke Wilkinson, Alex Lawless (Nathan Oduwa 68), Nathan Doyle, Cameron McGeehan, Jake Howells (Luke Guttridge 76), Paul Benson, Elliot Lee (Mark Cullen 60).
Subs not used: Alex Lacey, Craig King, Ryan Hall, Lewis Kinsella.
Rovers: Jon McLaughlin, Phil Edwards, Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, John Mousinho (C), Robbie Weir, Stuart Beavon (Denny Johnstone 57), Lucas Akins (Abdenasser El Khayati 68) Damien McCrory, Tom Naylor, Adam McGurk (Kevin Stewart 88), Matty Palmer.
Subs not used: Marcus Harness, Kelvin Maynard, Scott Shearer.
Referee: Andrew Madley.
Booked: McNulty 71.
Attendance: 8,680 (500 Burton).
Hatters MOM: Michael Harriman - full back was both a bundle of energy both going forward and defensively.