The Hatters began life back in the Football League with a determined 1-0 victory at Carlisle United thanks to Mark Cullen’s first half goal.
The Town striker was on the end of Jake Howells’ cross following a fine move, to give the Hatters a half-time advantage.
Carlisle upped the ante in the second half in which the Hatters resilience shone through as they kept out a barrage of pressure and shots from the home side and in the end the hosts had no answer as the Town held out to record all three points.
The Hatters began with two debutantes in the starting XI, both in defence, in the shape of Luke Wilkinson – at centre-half alongside new captain Stephen McNulty – and, at right-back, Paul Connolly.
And the Hatters, on their return to the Football League, began well as the home faithful – fresh from seeing their side relegated from League 1 last term – showed voices of frustration as the Town neatly passed the ball around the Brunton Park pitch.
Such was their early dominance and confidence the Town should have been ahead on 10 minutes. Carlisle failed to clear their lines down the left and Paul Benson’s cushioned header sent Cullen away. The striker raced clear and into the penalty area but could only curl his left-foot shot wide of the target with Howells screaming for a pass that would have led to a tap-in.
That let-off woke up the hosts. Graham Kavanagh’s side broke with pace on 13 minutes, and as the Town backpedalled, right-back Danny Grainger’s cross was cleared by Wilkinson. Moments later Scott Griffiths did well to head clear the danger as the Cumbrians threatened to pin the Hatters back.
The home pressure continued, and Mark Tyler – making technically his 200th ‘league’ appearance for the Town, but his first in the Football League – was called into action for the first time on 26 minutes when he gathering Brad Potts’ low strike after the United midfielder had weaved through the Town defence.
However, four minutes later, the 1,000 Hatters fans decked in orange were jumping for joy as they saw their side take the lead on the half-hour with a beautifully crafted goal. Benson and Howells were the architects – the former feeding the latter to square across goal to the unmarked Cullen and the striker tucked home from a yard out.
“Luton are back, Luton are back,” chimed the delirious Town support, knowing their lead was a deserved one, and seconds later there was a sniff for a second but Matt Robinson’s left-wing pass into the box fell behind those Hatters players in the penalty area.
With the home support becoming increasingly agitated at their team’s performance, the Town almost snuck a second in before the break when Cullen did brilliantly to worm his way down the left and deliver an arching, delicious cross that was inches from finding Benson’s head in the six-yard box.
Boos rang out from the home support as referee Miller signalled for half-time. It was a much happier story in the away end.
Carlisle began the second period by making a change, bringing on new signing Stephen Elliott, and the home side immediately put the Town under pressure, winning an early corner that was pawed away by Tyler. The Hatters keeper then clung onto a deflected shot from distance by Courtney Meppen-Walter.
However, the home side continued to lay siege on the Hatters’ goal. Tyler then had to do well on 53 minutes to tip over a back-post header from Meppen-Walter from a left-wing corner before the Town number one was in the right place at the right time to block a Billy Paynter shot from a narrow angle.
Paynter wasn’t far away on 58 minutes for the hosts when flicking his header from an Amoo cross inches wide of the post before Meppen-Walter tried his luck from distance again, only to find Tyler’s gloves.
The Town had barely threatened in the second period but almost doubled their lead completely against the run of play on the hour when Andy Drury’s volley from 20 yards that bounced half-a-yard wide of the post with home stopper Mark Gillespie beaten.
Carlisle’s tempo had slowed considerably as the final 25 minutes approached, but the Hatters had a scare with 20 minutes left when Tyler allowed a right-wing cross drift across goal, was robbed of the ball by Gary Dicker out of his goal. However, to the Hatters’ relief, the home midfielder could only find the side-netting with his shot.
After coming close to being pegged back the Hatters all of a sudden sensed a second goal. Drury almost sent Howells through with 15 minutes left before the Town spurned a great chance to make it 2-0 a minute later on 76 minutes. Goalscorer Cullen scampered unchallenged down the right and to byeline but his pass into the six-yard box was missed by both Drury and Benson.
Half-chances followed for the Town as time ticked down and John Still made his first change, introducing Jim Stevenson for his first appearance since November in Drury’s place, with 12 minutes left on the clock.
Paynter fired over on 83 minutes for the hosts before Luke Rooney replaced Howells. And the Town substitute almost set-up a second for the Hatters with four minutes remaining when his cross from the left eluded Benson in the six-yard box.
Rooney and Benson again came close in the first minute of stoppage time when firstly the midfielder’s shot was blocked. Benson then reacted quickest to the follow-up to force Gillespie into a smart save – and that was the final action as the Town ended their first game back in the League with a victory.
Town: Tyler; Connolly, Griffiths, Wilkinson, McNulty; Lacey, Robinson, Drury (sub Stevenson 78); Howells (sub Rooney 83), Cullen, Benson.
Subs not used: Justham, Franks, Wall, Mpanzu Ruddock, Guttridge.
Attendance: 6,760 including a magnificent 1,088 backing the Hatters.