LUTON TOWN 2
Davis OG 72
CHELTENHAM TOWN 3
Att: 6,708 (83 away)
The Hatters missed out on the opportunity to close the gap on the automatic promotion places by slipping to a disappointing 3-2 home defeat by lowly Cheltenham Town tonight.
The visitors took an early lead through Will Boyle and then doubled it through Jack Barthram before the opening half-an-hour was up.
Isaac Vassell halved the deficit with his fifth goal of the season four minutes before half-time, but Cheltenham restored their two-goal advantage on the hour through substitute Billy Waters and despite a 72nd-minute own goal from Liam Davis, Nathan Jones' men could not claw their way back.
Jones made one change to his team from Saturday’s 2-0 win over Cambridge and it came with Stuart Moore making his debut in goal after being signed earlier on transfer deadline day on loan from Reading following Christian Walton’s recall by parent club Brighton.
The Town started brightly, and Moore’s first involvement was to back-pedal to tip over a huge clearance from opposite number Scott Brown that kicked up off the greasy surface, but from the resulting corner the visitors had the lead when Will Boyle capitalised on
The Hatters should have drawn level two minutes later when James Justin and Jordan Cook combined down the right for the latter to zip a low ball across the six-yard box, but Vassell didn’t make a clean connection and the chance went begging.
With nine minutes on the clock, Jonathan Smith almost latched onto a deep corner from Cook at full stretch, then the same players combined for Smith to get a free header that went straight back across the six-yard box.
It took until the 25th minute for the Town to have another crack at goal, and again it was Smith who burst onto a loose ball on the edge of the box, but his effort crashed into the advertising hoardings behind Brown’s right post.
Within seconds, a promising Town move down the left had been abruptly halted by a foul on Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu 20 yards out from the centre of the Cheltenham goal. Cook stepped up and bent a wicked effort that crashed against the underside of the Robins’ crossbar and bounced back out.
By the 28th minute Cheltenham were two goals to the good, when Carl Winchester played an incisive pass inside Jack Senior and Jack Barthram flashed a right-footed shot past Moore and into the far corner of the net.
After a spell regrouping, the Hatters worked the ball around well to enable Cook to create another chance in the 35th minute, this time for Gambin, but the recent signing from Barnet saw his low shot skid just wide of the far post.
The Town were back in business four minutes before half-time when Mpanzu played a lovely one-two with Jack Marriott to the right of the Cheltenham area, then slipped a short pass into Vassell’s path and the striker did the rest, sliding the ball through the onrushing Brown’s legs.
It remained 1-1 until the interval, when Jones made his first substitution, bringing Olly Lee on in midfield for Smith, who went off with a foot injury.
The second period took a whole to catch fire, Cheltenham registering the only shot of the opening ten minutes, but even that from Harry Pell flew well wide of the Town goal.
And after a decent spell of Town possession, it was the Robins who countered and grabbed a third goal with an attack led by Kyle Wootton and finished off neatly by half-time substitute Billy Waters.
Jones immediately withdrew Marriott and threw Lawson D’Ath into the fray, pushing the lively Cook up front alongside Vassell.
The Hatters reduced the deficit to one goal once more in the 72nd minute when, after good link play between Justin and Cook on the right, the latter was fouled on the right edge of the area. Lee struck a powerful low free-kick into the six-yard box that visiting striker Liam Davis turned into his own net.
As the game became stretched, Cheltenham had another two good chances – Manny Onarise heading over the bar from close range and Davis sending in a drive that was always on the rise.
At the other end, Justin delivered a dangerous cross to the near post on 85 minutes that Cook just failed to get on the end of, then – after a lengthy hold-up for treatment to Cheltenham’s Jordan Cranston – Vassell got on the end of a knock-down from Scott Cuthbert and appeared to be fouled by Barthram, but referee John Busby gave nothing.
In the final minute of six added on at the end of normal time, Cuthbert – by now playing as an auxiliary striker – won another header that landed back invitingly at his feet, but his curling effort was just too high and the chance of a point went begging.
TOWN: Moore, Justin, Cuthbert ©, Rea, Senior, Mpanzu, Smith (Lee 46), Gambin (Gray 70), Cook, Vassell, Marriott (D’Ath 61). Subs not used: O’Donnell, Banton, Sheehan, King (GK).
CHELTENHAM: Brown, Barthram, Pell ©, Boyle, Cranston, Rowe, Onariase, O’Shaugnessy, Winchester (Waters 46), Wootton (Wright 72), Davis. Subs not used: Kitscha, Munns, Storer, Holman, De Girolamo.
Yellows: Wootton, Boyle