Luton Town 1
Cheltenham Town 0
• Mark Cullen's eighth-minute header the difference
• Town's first FL win at home in 2,002 days
• Goalkeeper Mark Tyler named man-of-the-match
• Hatters three points off the Play-Off places
THE Town recorded their first home win back in the Football League thanks to Mark Cullen’s first-half header.
The striker found space in the Cheltenham penalty area to nod Scott Griffiths’ teasing left-wing cross in the eighth minute to send the Hatters on their way.
The Town came close to adding to their tally but the visitors, who arrived at Kenilworth Road unbeaten at the start of the day, were kept at bay in the second period with Mark Tyler producing a string of fine saves in a man-of-the-match performance to ensure the Hatters picked up their first victory since the opening day at Carlisle.
It all started with John Still making four changes to the side that lost to Plymouth last week. A debut was given to Curtley Williams at right-back; striker Ross Lafayette made his first start; Jonathan Smith returned to action for the first time since breaking his leg on Boxing Day; and Luke Wilkinson came back into the starting XI as one of three centre halves.
The Town started brightly and Lafayette came close to opening the scoring in the sixth minute, bringing Stephen McNulty’s long ball forward out of the sky with a great first touch before turning his man and blasting a shot goalwards that was blocked.
However, it didn’t take the Hatters long to celebrate, as two minutes later Cullen put the Town in front. Luke Guttridge and Griffiths worked the ball neatly on the left-hand touchline that saw the left-back swing in a perfect cross into the Cheltenham penalty area and Cullen was on hand to expertly head home unmarked past visiting goalkeeper Trevor Carson. It was his first Luton goal since the winner on the opening day at Carlisle.
With their tails up the Town sensed blood early on. Alex Lacey headed a Guttridge corner wide on 10 minutes in a whirlwind start from Still’s troops.
Tyler made his first telling contribution three minutes later, though, diving down to his right to stop Joe Hanks’ ambitious long-range effort.
And Cheltenham came even closer to levelling the score on 18 minutes, but this time the Town had McNulty to thank for a brave block when getting his body in the firing line of John Marquis’ goal-bound shot.
Both sides traded chances as the first half swung from one end to the other. Lafayette saw a shot on the turn blocked on 26 minutes before Guttridge came mighty close to making it 2-0 when his drive from the edge of the box whistled inches wide of the post with Carson beaten.
Back came Cheltenham: Marquis’ eye-of-an-needle low effort from just inside the 18-yard bounced through Town legs and deflected just wide on 34 minutes, and Tyler needed to be alert a minute later to turn over a Hanks corner that nearly curled Keith Keane-esque and straight into the net.
Hanks fired a free-kick over the bar for the Robins before Guttridge did the same for the Town as the first 45 minutes came to close.
Cheltenham introduced their top goalscorer of last season, Byron Harrison, at the start of the second half – and his presence aided the Robins in their quest for an equaliser.
Troy Brown headed wide three minutes after the restart before Harrison guided a shot wide a minute later.
As the Robins pushed for a leveller, McNulty got away with an air-kick in the penalty box after Koby Arthur’s cross caused confusion, but Tyler was first to the ball before Harrison.
The Town continued to be put under pressure from the visitors – Harrison picked the wrong option when looking for a pass in the penalty area before Arthur drilled a shot wide on 53 minutes.
Two minutes later, to combat Cheltenham’s dominance, Still brought off Lacey for Jim Stevenson – the scorer of a hat-trick in the dev squad in the week – as the Town changed shape and went with four across the back.
Within minutes of his arrival Stevenson and the majority of the 7,700 crowd thought the midfielder had doubled the Town’s lead shortly before the hour. Cheltenham failed to clear a right-wing corner and Stevenson tucked home from close range. However, amid the celebrations, it wasn’t until several seconds later that the assistant referee raised his flag for offside.
It was a late call, but with the score still at 1-0 the game remained on a knife-edge as the game continued to swing from end to end. Jason Taylor blazed over for the visitors from a good position on 62 minutes before Guttridge’s acrobatic volley at the back post at the other end flew over two minutes later.
The lively Arthur wormed his way into the box for Cheltenham on 65 minutes with Wilkinson on hand to whack clear the ball as it bounced goalwards, before the same player fired into the side netting for the Robins on 68 minutes.
As Cheltenham continued to press Tyler came to the rescue on 72 minutes when he grabbed Omari Sterling-James’ shot from inside the box.
But despite the Robins’ pressure, the Town still were playing some lovely football and Pelly Ruddock Mpaznu linked up magnificently with substitute Andy Drury on 82 minutes until the move broke down.
As the noise inside Kenilworth Road increased as the final whistle approached, Tyler stepped up to keep his side ahead. Firstly he beat away Marquis’ thumping free-kick from 20 yards with four minutes left, and then denied Arthur with a similar save in the third minute of added time.
However, after five additional minutes were up, referee Andy D’Urso blew for full-time to signal huge roars from the Kenilworth Road crowd. The celebrations of a first home win in the Football League since a 1-0 victory over Macclesfield in March 2009 could begin.
Town: Tyler; Lacey (sub Stevenson 55), McNulty, Wilkinson; Griffiths (sub Drury 78), Williams; Smith, Ruddock Mpanzu, Guttridge (sub Howells 71); Cullen, Lafayette. Subs not used: Wall, Rooney, Walker, Justham.
Attendance: 7,793, including 221 from Cheltenham.