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MATCH REPORT

PUBLISHED
18:59 21st January 2012

SOUTHPORT 3-3 TOWN - REPORT & ANALYSIS

Southport 3
Gray 9, Mukendi 32, K. Pilkington (og) 59 Town 3
Crow 39, Watkins 45, O'Connor 47 Two-nil down, 3-2 up, the Town had to settle for a point in a six-goal thriller with promotion rivals Southport. The Hatters were a goal down inside 10 minutes and two behind just after the half hour thanks to goals from the hosts' strikers Tony Gray and Vinny Mukendi. But the Town rallied to go in at half-tine all square: Danny Crow's header made it 2-1 before Adam Watkins hit the equaliser on the stroke of half-time. The Hatters continued from where they left off after the restart when Aaron O'Connor stole in behind the home defence to complete the turnaround and fire the Town ahead. But 12 minutes later, Kevin Pilkington - who had been caught out by the wind that led to the Southport opener - was unlucky to concede an own goal that made it three a-piece when Gray's free-kick hit the post and bounced over the line off of the keeper's foot. Both side went in search of a winner with Crow going closest to find one in the second minute of stoppage time when he saw a shot saved, but the draw was still enough to stretch the Hatters' unbeaten run in the Blue Square Bet Premier to 10 games. The Town made a total of 10 changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Hinckley in the FA Trophy with only former Southport man John Paul Kissock keeping his place. Gary Brabin made two changes to the side that took to the field in their last league fixture, the 1-0 win over Stockport. The Hatters' boss had said in his pre-match press conference on Friday that he had plenty options for the trip north and that certainly showed on a strong bench with new signing Craig McAllister joining Stuart Fleetwood, Amari Morgan-Smith, Mark Tyler and Godfrey Poku - returning to Haig Avenue for the first time since his hugely successful loan spell ended three weeks ago - among the substitutes. And it was the Town that began the on the front foot with Watkins forcing home goalkeeper Craig McMillan into the first save of the game on four minutes when taking Jake Howells' first time pass in his stride to shoot goalwards. Still the Hatters pressed, winning a corner down the right that cumulated in Howells sliding a low shot narrowly past the post a minute later following a short corner routine. But the Town's confident start took a turn for the worse on nine minutes when, against the run of play, the Sandgrounders took the lead in bizarre circumstances. The Hatters failed to clear their lines and the ball dropped to the feet of Gray who looked up and tried his luck with a seemingly ambitious effort from 20 yards. However, whether it was the wind or a deflection, the flight of the ball deceived Kevin Pilkington, and it flew into the net with the stopper diving the other way. Miffed faces all round. It was the first time the Town had conceded a goal in 473 minutes of football but they continued to play with confidence in attack despite that set-back with Kissock pulling the strings in the middle of midfield. Both sides were struggling with the swirling wind which was hampering both short and long passes but the Hatters' afternoon took a further turn for the worst on 32 minutes when the Sandgrounders doubled their lead. George Pilkington was outmuscled by Mukendi and the big home forward had time to pick his spot brilliantly with a fine finish past Kevin Pilkington to leave the Town with a mountain to climb It harsh on the Town given that they were trying to play some neat and tidy stuff but they got their reward by halving the deficit on 39 minutes. Howells, who was enjoying plenty of success down the right flank, battled his way to the byeline and hooked a high right-foot cross deep to the back post. Greg Taylor was first to meet it, heading across goal to the unmarked Crow who couldn't miss from two yards, heading past McMillan for his ninth goal of the campaign. Game on all of a sudden. Now the Hatters were sensing a quick-fire double to level things up before the break and, after Kissock forced McMillan into a routine save on 43 minutes, the Town did complete the turnaround three minutes into stoppage time with a sublime team goal. Taylor burst forward playing a ball into the feet of Crow (via a dummy from Howells) and the scorer of the first goal turned provider as he teed up Watkins who bent a terrific shot from the edge of the area into top corner. It was a fantastic goal, one which would grace any game at a higher level, and all of a sudden as injury time continued to elapse following an injury the hosts' Chris Lever, the Hatters almost astonishingly took the lead in the seventh minute of time added on when Howells' free-kick from the right caught a gust of wind to call McMillan into a smart reflex save to prevent a certain goal. After a whirlwind end to the first half you could have been excused for thinking the second half would have been much tighter but no less than two minutes after the restart the Hatters took the lead. Home captain Simon Grand attempted a backpass to his goalkeeper but left him short allowing O'Connor to attack the ball and roll it into the empty net from just inside the area. It was breathless stuff as the Town hardly had time to catch their breath as Southport went in search of an immediate reply. Kevin Pilkington did well to stop Karl Ledsham's low shot on 49 minutes before Grand drove a shot inches wide of the post on 51 minutes as the Sandgrounders pressed. The wind continued to swirl devilishly around Haig Avenue and Shaun Whalley's left-wing corner a minute later almost swung all the way into the top right-hand corner of the net but luckily it breezed dangerously past the post. Back came the Town though, and Howells and O'Connor combined on 55 minutes that saw the latter smash a shot wide under pressure from a posse of Southport defenders. But then the hosts levelled the scores in fortuitous circumstances a minute before the hour mark. The Hatters conceded a very contentious free-kick that Gray blasted goalwards. The ball arrowed through the wall and cannoned off the foot of the post but, in spinning back into play it took a touch off Kevin Pilkington and the ball rolled agonisingly over the line. You were beginning to think that anything could happen in the game such was it's unpredictability but after another set-back the Town set about trying to regaining the lead once more. Crow lashed a shot wide on 64 minutes before lobbing the ball into McMillan's arms two minutes later after the ball had bounced conveniently into his path. The wind's role in the game had already made its mark throughout the game and it almost played its part twice more as both sides came close to scoring with wind-assisted efforts: Howells for the Town that hit a defender and dropped wide on 76 minutes before Janos Kovacs sliced a clearance behind his own goal three minutes later. It was tough, tough going for both sides - battling against the elements bravely but the luckless Pilkington however kept his side on level terms with a fantastic reflex save to turn over Whalley's drive from the edge of the box when the ball looked to be destined for the net. Southport looked the more likely side to sneak all three points in the closing stages and it was hearts in mouths time for the Town as they defended under intense Southport presure. Firstly a right-wing corner somehow bounced wide when any touch would have made it 4-3 before Gray hit a sweet shot from the edge of the area with a minute left that flew just over the crossbar at pace. But then here was one last chance for the Town to win it at the death. In the second minute of stoppage time Crow was sent through by substitute Amari Morgan-Smith but the scorer of the first Hatters' goal was denied a winner when McMillan smothered his low shot. And then - after all that - that was it: a six-goal thriller in difficult conditions. 2-0 down you wouldn't have given the Town a chance; 3-2 up you're dreaming of all three points but on a luckless afternoon in the wind it's a point the Town will travel home with. Next up? Well it's a busy week...three home games in a week starting against Hinckley in the FA Trophy on Monday night. See you then. For minute-by-minute analysis see below. Southport 3 (Gray 9, Mukendi 32, K. Pilkington (og) 59) Luton Town 3 (Crow 39, Watkins 45, O'Connor 47) Result FULL-TIME It's all over here a six-goal thriller, 2-0 down, 3-2 up, it's ended all square. Full report, reaction, photographs and interviews to follow. 90 mins + 2 - Almost a chance for the Town, Amari through for Crow, saved by McMillan. 90 mins - Three added mins...almost 4-3 Southport, Gray hitting a decent shot over the bar from the edge of the box. 89 mins - Another right-wing corner for the hosts drops just, just wide. A minute left now. 85 mins - Five minutes left here. 83 mins - Half chance for Southport, Whalley bends a shot wide. 82 mins - Oh top, top stop...Pilkington keeps out Whalley's well-hit drive on the rise from the edge of the area. 79 mins - Another near miss, this time for Southport as Whalley's left-wing cross is sliced wide by Kovacs from a corner...from which substitute James Ellison heads wide from five yards. Phew. 76 mins - Oooh, nearly a fortunate goal for the Town as Howells' effort is flicked up in the air and goalwards by a Southport man and the ball drops inches wide. 75 mins - Fifteen minutes left here and it's a real battle in these elements. Can either side find a fourth goal? 66 mins - Oh, chance for the Town, long ball over the top finds Crow who can't lob McMillan with an effort from 20 yards. 64 mins - Was that handball? Howells' rocket hits something in the box before the ball drops to Crow who lashes wide. 63 mins Change for the Town, Kissock off for Amari Morgan-Smith. 59 mins  GOAL! SOUTHPORT 3-3 Town (K. Pilkington own goal) - This game keeps throwing u surprises...Tony Gray hits a low direct free-kick from 22 yards that hits the foot of the post but as it pings away it hits the unfortunate Kevin Pilkington and rolls agonisingly over the line. Unbelievable stuff. 55 mins - Back come the Town with a nice move of their own, Lawless finding O'Connor who plays a one-two with Howells and blasts a shot wide. 53 mins - And again the hosts go close as Shaun Whalley's left wing corner misses everyone in the box and drifts inches past the post, taken in the wind. Phew. 51 mins - Again another great chance for the hosts as Grand, looking to make amends for that earlier error, shoots wide when well placed after the Town had failed to clear their lines. Let off there. 49 mins - This is topsy-turvy stuff here as Southport fight back, looking a threat once more. The Town have Kevin Pilkington to thank to keep out Karl Ledsham's low drive from the edge of the box. 47 mins  GOAL! Southport 2-3 TOWN (O'Connor) - So we start as we finish as the Hatters take the lead for the first time. Southport Simon Grand is the culprit as his poor backpass allows AARON O'CONNOR to challenge McMillan to the ball on the edge of the area, win the ball and roll the loose ball home from just inside the box. GET IN! 46 mins And we're off for the second half, as the Town kick-off. No changes for either side. HALF-TIME What a first half. 2-0 down and seemingly dead and buried the Town have roared back here. What a second half we've got in store. 45 mins + 7 - Wow, almost a third for the Town before the break, incredible end to the half as Howells wins a free-kick down the right and bends in himself. The wind catches it and it travels goalwards and it almost beats McMillan but the Southport keeper does ever-so well to turn the ball over the crossbar. Breathless stuff. 45 mins + 3  GOAL! Southport 2-2 TOWN (Watkins) - Unbelievable stuff. Taylor bombs forward, Howells dummies a pass which Crow takes into his stride. The goalscorer spots ADAM WATKINS running parrallel, bursting into the box and the young midfielder curls an absolute beauty into the top right cornet. Comeback complete. 45 mins - We've got four added minutes at the end of the first half. Southport have left back Chris Lever down on the far side and he's going to leave the field on a stretcher. Russell Benjamin is his replacement. 43 mins - Half chance for the Town as Kissock goes for goal with a weak effort from 20-odd yards that McMillan is equal to. 39 mins  GOAL! Southport 2-1 TOWN (Crow) Game on again. Howells, who has been the pick of the Town men ghosts down right and crosses deep with his right peg to Taylor at the back stick. He leaps high to nod across goal and there's DANNY CROW two yards out to head past McMillan for his ninth of the season. 36 mins - Half-hearted shouts for a Town penalty as Howells flies down the left and centres looking for Kissock who goes over McMillan but the ref's not interested. 32 mins  GOAL! SOUTHPORT 2-0 Town (Mukendi) - Oh dear, a nightmare for the Hatters and all of a sudden they have a mountain to climb. George Pilkington is outmuscled by VINNY MUKENDI 25 yards out and the home striker advances into the box and finishes superbly with a curling shot into the corner of the net giving Kevin Pilkington no chance. 30 mins - Don't worry, still here. There just hasn't been a clear-cut chance for either since the goal... 19 mins - The Hatters are still on top despite being behind. Playing some decent stuff. 14 mins - The wind is really wreacking havoc here, not sure if that influenced the goal but both sides are really struggling to find their men. 9 mins  GOAL! SOUTHPORT 1-0 Town (Gray) Well that's a strange one. The Town fail to clear their lines and home striker TONY GRAY tries his luck from 20 yards. I'm not sure if the ball had taken a deflection but Kevin Pilkington is deceived, diving to his left as the ball sails down the middle for the opening goal. 5 mins - All the Town at the moment, the home keeper can't keep the ball in play every time he kicks it with the wind blowing a gale out there. A wayward pass backwards wins the Hatters a corner which they take short and Howells sends a low shot just the wrong side of the post. Encouraging stuff here from the visitors. 4 mins - Chance for the Hatters and a decent one at that as Kissock plays the ball to Howells who finds Watkins with a first-time pass into the box and the young midfielder does well to hold off his man and shoot straight at Tony McMillan in the home goal. 2 mins - So the Town - who have started the first 90 seconds or so here brightly - are lining up 433 with Pilkington in goal, a back four of Pilkington, Kovacs, Gleeson and Taylor, Watkins, Kissock and Lawless in a central midfield three, O'Connor on the right wing, Howells on the left and Crow down the middle. 1 min Annnd we're off and underway here at Haig Avenue as the hosts kick-off - at the second attempt, enjoy the updates. Blinding sunshine here now. Expect a deluge later... 14:56 HERE THEY COME Out come the two sides onto the pitch. We'll be off and underway very soon. COYH! 14:50 PRESS BOX PREDICTIONS Andrew Barringer: 2-0 Luton, Simon Pitts: 2-1 Luton, Andy Burgess: 2-0 Luton, Lauren Archell: 2-1 Luton, Mark Wood: 2-0 Luton, Mike Simmonds: 1-1 draw. 14:40 TRAVELLERS Wrexham have brought the most support to Haig Avenue this season. It's just up the road for those Welsh boys and they took 664 on a Tuesday night. At the other end of the spectrum, Forest Green brought just six here. But it's a long way from Gloucestershire, especially on a Tuesday night. There should be about 400 Town followers here this afternoon. 14:30 MAKE YOUR MIND UP Weather in the last 15 minutes: hail storm, driving rain, bright sunshine. 14:15 THE TEAMS Southport: McMillan, Smith, Lever, Akrigg, Grand, Whalley, Parry, Ledhsham, Owens, Gray, Mukendi. Subs: Nemes, Carden, Ellison, Benjamin, Brown. Town: K. Pilkington, Gleeson, G. Pilkington, Kovacs, Taylor, Watkins, Lawless, Kissock, O'Connor, Howells, Crow. Subs: Tyler, Morgan-Smith, Poku, McAllister, Fleetwood. 14:15 10 CHANGES Loads of changes for the Hatters since Wednesday's FA Trophy draw at Hinckley. John Paul Kissock starts in midfield against his former club whilst there are places on the bench for Godfrey Poku, Amari Morgan-Smith and Craig McAllister. Full teams to follow. 14:00 TAKING THE MIKE The hosts are having issues testing their microphones for the PA system. Plenty of loud counting from one to six...I've think they've sorted it now.  13:45 ON THIS DAY The Town's record on this day reads played 12, won 4, drawn 3, lost 5, scored 15 and conceded 18. It hasn't been 1961 that the Hatters have lost on this day when they went down 2-1 to Norwich City at Carrow Road. The most recent game came back in 2006 when the Town triumped 2-0 over QPR in front of 9,797 at Kenilworth Road thanks to goals from Steve Howard and Marcus Heikennen. 13:40 WEATHER WATCH Cold and blustery here in Southport. Cloudy too with the sun attempting to peer through. 12:30 LET'S TALK ABOUT SIX Not only have five successive league victories got the Town up and into third place in the Blue Square Bet Premier, they've helped buoy a side's confidence and restore belief. The Hatters have only conceded once in seven games, keeping six clean sheets in the process as the silly mistakes that cost them points from winning positions in matches earlier in the campaign are resigned to distant memories. Granted, those frustrating away days at Cambridge, Bath, Hayes & Yeading et al will always be lurking in the backs of everyone's mind but, for now, as long as the Town keep winning, nobody's complaining. Victory this afternoon against manager Gary Brabin's former club Southport would make it six league wins on the spin. An impressive sequence no matter who the opposition are. Last season the Town's trip to Haig Avenue ended in disaster. Leading 1-0 with five minutes left the Sandgrounders claimed a famous win after scoring two late goals. It ended the Hatters' chances of the title and saw the end of Richard Money's tenure in charge. It was at that point that Brabin stepped forward to take over the reins and whip up confidence in a squad lacking self-belief. Since that point in late March last year the Town have only lost five league matches - not including that fateful afternoon in Manchester in May. As Brabin said at his press conference on Friday, he needs his team to keep winning with Fleetwood and Wrexham still lying out of reach in the two positions above them in the table. But the boss knows it's important to keep focused on yourselves not others. After all, with 18 games left and matches against both the top two still play, who knows what's going to happen? This is Luton Town remember. All you need to do is believe. COYH Well, whatever happens today, and indeed throughout the season, your official website will have everything covered: every step of the way. If you can't make the match then we'll have all the goals and incidents as it happens live with the usual news in the run-up to kick-off with team line-ups and plenty of chat as your official website has, as ever, the usual updates keeping you bang up-to-date with all the action - and in a number of ways. There's none of those boring ball-by-ball "defensive thrown-in taken by Luton left-back" updates as we continue to and bring you an updated and detailed text commentary. This is a great way to keep in touch and has been popular to those supporters not able to get to a computer or a radio as the service is also available and is updated live on our WAP site. On Hatters Player you all have access to our live commentary. Remember, Player is available as ever which means you all have access to our live commentary. If you haven't heard it yet then where you have been? It's still brought to you by Simon "Statto" Pitts but he's got company this time! The DiverseFM team have collaborated with BBC Three Counties radio and the Club to bring you the Luton Town Show. Following the final whistle we'll have all the reaction from the men that matter this after, bringing you exclusive video content from Gary Brabin and from the dressing room. We'll have plenty of content to keep you interested as we'll have all of the post-match reaction from Gary as well as match action from Gareth Owen to follow after the final whistle. Be sure to check out www.hatterspics.co.uk - our online image library. Like a picture you see and fancy having that on a mug? Well, fancy no more - with Hatters Pics it's a reality. Remember, we want you to get in touch. Join the updates and get in touch. Email andrew.barringer@lutontown.co.uk and we'll pick the best comments to go live on the site during our live updates. Don't forget we're also on twitter and Facebook so feel free to interact with your fellow fans online. Enjoy the game. #COYH  
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