Luton Town opened their Sky Bet League Two campaign with a stunning 3-0 win at last year’s beaten play-off finalists Plymouth Argyle this afternoon.
The Town overcame the loss of captain Alan Sheehan moments before kick-off with a calf injury, and the late dismissal for a second yellow card of Dan Potts – when the score was already 2-0 – to beat a highly-rated Argyle side with goals from the Hatters hotel chain forwards, Danny Hylton and Jack Marriott, and an injury-time third from substitute Jonathan Smith.
Ahead of what panned out to be the perfect away afternoon, Jones had selected a side that included four debutants and seven players who started the last game of last season against Exeter.
Christian Walton was returning to his first club to make his competitive debut in goal on loan from Brighton, with Stephen O’Donnell, summer signing from Oxford Johnny Mullins, captain Alan Sheehan and Potts due to be in front of him.
Glen Rea was in the midfield holding role with Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Jordan Cook, who joined from Walsall, playing off him and Cameron McGeehan at the tip of the diamond.
The other recruit from Oxford, Hylton, led the line with Marriott, who scored the winner on the Town’s last visit to Home Park in March.
There was a change in the seconds before kick-off, however, when Sheehan was injured and Cuthbert was summoned from the bench to replace him. The Scot took the armband and went straight for the coin toss, as the Town players were left with little time to regroup.
For the first ten minutes, as you’d expect, the hosts tried to take advantage. To Cuthbert and his colleagues’ credit, the Town defended doggedly, producing several blocks and clearances that limited Argyle to a couple of corners, but no clear chances.
The best of them, it turned out, belonged to Luton. Showing patience to wait for their chance to grab a period of possession, the Hatters had three good opportunities in the space of five minutes.
First, on 29 minutes, Rea met Cook’s left-wing corner but couldn’t keep his header down.
David Goodwillie sent an over-head-kick narrowly wide at the other end on the half-hour, but a minute later Cook, O'Donnell and Mpanzu combined down the right and the latter cut the ball back for Marriott, but his stabbed effort hit Yann Songo'o and looped into the keeper's grateful arms.
In the 34th minute, Cook’s initial free-kick from the left was cleared, but only back to his feet. The 26-year-old went past his man and clipped a lovely ball to the far post, but Mullins’ header was too high.
Carey sent a 25-yard free-kick narrowly wide for the hosts, then a minute before half-time, Hylton went close with a curling effort set up by excellent run from Cook.
The former Oxford man didn’t have to wait long for his first goal. He had already set Marriott in the clear in the first few seconds of the half, but with 50 minutes gone, he held the ball up superbly to bring right-back O'Donnell into play.
The Scottish full-back’s cross looked perfect for Marriott, but the Hatters striker couldn't connect properly. It wasn’t a problem. The ball hit a defender and bounced back into the path of Hylton, who lashed in from six yards out.
Cook was having an excellent game and he soon hit one over, then Goodwillie sent a free-kick over for Argyle after Mpanzu went into the book for a foul.
McGeehan was keen to try his luck from fully 30 yards, but the midfielder’s effort was too high, but on 69 minutes the Hatters were two goals to the good – and this time it was the other half of the Hatters hotel chain.
McGeehan set the former Ipswich man clear and he was into the box like a shot, sending his unerring left foot effort low past McCormick and into the bottom corner.
There was still some defending to be done by the Hatters, but Cuthbert, Mullins and Co were obdurate in their duties, and when Argyle did look like breaching the defensive line, Walton was off his line in a flash to smother at Jimmy Spencer’s feet in the 74th minute.
The Hatters were in control, however, and always looked as if there was another goal in the locker.
Cuthbert had turned in a real captain’s performance and headed balls clear for fun all afternoon. In the opposite six-yard box, however, he produced another towering header with seven minutes to go, but this one from Cook’s corner found McCormick’s gloves.
Potts was dismissed in the 89th minute after collecting a second yellow card after an incident on the far side of the pitch with the hosts’ sub Jordan Slew, and when six minutes of time added on were indicated, you thought the Hatters might have a fraught finale.
Not so. Smith, who had only come on a minute before the sending off, replacing the excellent Cook, burst down the right in support of Hylton, who rather than run the ball into the corner, had cleverly held it up once again.
The striker slipped Smith into the box and although his shot wasn’t the most powerful the Town’s longest serving player has ever hit, it went under McCormick and into the gaping net to send the 1,000-plus travelling Hatters behind that goal into dreamland.
TOWN: Walton, O’Donnell, Mullins, Cuthbert, Potts; Rea, Mpanzu (Gray 90+7), McGeehan, Cook (Smith 88); Hylton, Marriott (Lee 90+2). Subs: Gray, Vassell, McQuoid, King (GK)
Yellow cards: Hylton, Mpanzu, Potts, McGeehan
Red card: Potts
PLYMOUTH: McCormick, Miller, Songo’o, Bradley, Sawyer, Ijaha (Jervis 64), Carey, Threlkeld, Donaldson (Fox 76), Spencer, Goodwillie (Slew 76). Subs: Smith, Purrington, Rooney, Dorel (GK)