League Two: Luton Town 1 Portsmouth 2
Luton Town’s miserable start to the League Two season continued at Kenilworth Road this afternoon with a last-gasp defeat against Portsmouth.
The hosts looked like they had done enough to earn a point against one of the sides they were tipped to compete with for the title this term.
However, that is already starting to look a touch unlikely as substitute Matt Tubbs came off the bench to net from close range in the last minute, the third late goal Hatters have conceded in just five matches, as they remain without a win in the division this term.
Although the manner of defeat was harsh on Town, they paid the price for two defensive lapses, while for long periods, Craig Mackail-Smith had to plough an increasingly lonely farrow up front, with most of fellow striker Josh McQuoid’s best work coming in his own half.
On the flip side, Paul Cook’s Pompey look a class act, knocking the ball around with real ease, with the like of Gary Roberts and Kyle Bennett constant goal threats.
Boss John Still made three changes for the clash, with Cameron McGeehan, Ryan Hall and Craig Mackail-Smith coming in, as the manager kept faith with Justham and also the back four, meaning club captain Steve McNulty was left on the bench.
Hatters started as slowly as they finished strongly against Stoke in midweek, failing to take any of the momentum garnered, allowing Pompey time and space to get their pass and move style of football going, with the hosts often hitting long to the diminutive Mackail-Smith.
The visitors were ahead on seven minutes too, although there was a huge touch of fortune about the goal, as Luke Wilkinson cleared a cross straight against Scott Cuthbert, the ball dropping perfectly for Gareth Evans to hammer home.
Luton were then given a lifeline after a quarter of an hour as from their first foray forward, McQuoid, who was deployed in a wide right position, burst into the box and was sent tumbling by a needless challenge from Nigel Atangana.
Mackail-Smith then grabbed the ball and had no trouble in drilling past Brian Murphy low into the bottom corner for his second of the season.
Town’s players almost had a meeting of minds after the leveller, with both Wilkinson and Mackail-Smith urging their team-mates to refocus, but still Pompey had the better.
Justham needed to be alert to to claim the ball ahead of the unmarked ex-Hatters loanee Jayden Stockley, while Luton almost created an opening as Pompey stopper Murphy was forced into a clearing header, but only finding Hall, whose touch let him down, with the keeper recovering in time.
Luton then finally started to up their tempo, snapping into challenges higher up the pitch as for the first time Pompey looked nervy, and the home crowd belatedly came alive.
It led to Smith winning possession and McGeehan firing narrowly wide from 20 yards with Murphy at full stretch.
The game woke up for the final five minutes of the half as Kyle Bennett’s long ranger was clung on to by Justham, who then produced an even better stop to turn Stockley’s drive over with an outstretched leg.
Hatters had two chances of their own, both headers, with Mackail-Smith glancing off target and McQuoid’s towering effort just beyond the stretching McGeehan and the far post.
Luton swapped the injured Mark O’Brien for Olly Lee at the break, with the midfielder adding that bit more quality on the ball as the hosts started with far more initiative than they had the opening period.
Still’s men almost had the advantage on 54 minutes too when Mackail-Smith forced an error from the visitors defence and fed McGeehan, who was only a whisker wide from finding the bottom corner.
Pompey then weathered the storm and were back in their groove once more as Evans was inches away from his second, while Gary Roberts’ downward header saw Lee clear from the goal-line.
A neatly crafted move gave Bennett the space to rifle over the top as although Hatters broke quickly at times, the best they could come up with was a couple of corners that were well defended.
With both sides making all their changes, it was Pompey’s substitutes who were to prove the difference, Conor Chaplin taking advantage of a slip by Cuthbert to scamper away as the clock ticked towards 90.
His effort was brilliantly saved by Justham, but the predatory Tubbs, as he has done so often against Luton, was lurking to net the rebound and steal the points.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Stephen O’Donnell, Scott Griffiths, Scott Cuthbert (C), Luke Wilkinson, Jonathan Smith, Mark O’Brien (Olly Lee 46), Cameron McGeehan, Ryan Hall (Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu 82), Josh McQuoid, Craig Mackail-Smith (Jack Marriott 71).
Subs not used: Mark Tyler, Steve McNulty, Danny Green, Paddy McCourt.
Pompey: Brian Murphy, Ben Davies, Enda Stevens, Christian Burgess, Michael Doyle (C), Gary Roberts (Adam McGurk 82), Jayden Stockley (Matt Tubbs 73), Matt Clarke, Kyle Bennett (Connor Chaplin 75) Nigel Atangana, Gareth Evans.
Subs not used: Paul Jones, Adam Webster, Danny Hollands, Brandon Haunstrup.
Referee: Peter Bankes.
Booked: Smith 12, McGeehan 73, Wilkinson 90.
Attendance: 9,083 (1,032 Pompey).
Hatters MOM: Josh McQuoid. Got through so much running and showed great determination to Town’s penalty.