Nathan Jones’ Hatters fizzed like a can of 7-Up at Kenilworth Road this afternoon – beating Stevenage 7-1 to make it seven matches unbeaten in their seventh home game of the season!
The stunning result, in which Luke Berry scored a perfect head-left foot-right-foot hat-trick, also saw Danny Hylton net twice to join James Collins at the top of the club’s scoring charts on seven goals.
And to complete a landmark day for Luton Town Football Club, the victory – capped off by a first goal at the Kenny for homegrown defender James Justin and an injury-time strike by substitute Luke Gambin – was the 1,000th home win since the Hatters were formed in 1885.
Jones was forced into making two changes to his team, both to the back four with Johnny Mullins and Justin coming into the side for their first league starts of the season in place of Alan Sheehan, who was absent after his pregnant partner started having contractions in the morning, and the Dan Potts, who was suspended following his fifth booking of the season at Accrington last week.
The alterations made not a jot of difference, such is the depth of both quality and experience in the Welshman’s squad this season, and the Town made a dream start.
They were one-up in the third minute, Berry meeting Jack Stacey’s brilliant delivery from the right wing with a third-minute header that nestled in the bottom corner of the Boro net in front of a packed Kenilworth Road End.
Stevenage, who had already seen a Matt Godden volley fly high into the Oak Road stand, tried to find an immediate response with Danny Newton directing a header from Joe Martin’s cross inches wide of Marek Stech’s post.
By the seventh minute – inevitably today! – the lead was doubled, and it was that man Hylton who grabbed it.
As Stevenage looked to clear an attack, captain Scott Cuthbert sent a header forward, Martin miscontrolled a straightforward ball and Hylton – gambling in behind – pounced, bided his time to cut back from the right byline and finished left-footed inside Fryer’s near post for his fifth goal in as many games.
Stevenage went in seek of a reply, Tom Pett firing over from 20 yards, but Mullins and Cuthbert were comfortably dealing with any aerial threat the Boro attack posed, and the Town were looking lethal going forward.
That was never more evident than in the 21st minute when Justin won a header in his own six-yard box, Cornick picked the ball up on the edge of the area and sprinted forward, surviving Dale Gorman’s cynical attempt to trip him inside his own half, and played Olly Lee in.
The midfielder turned twice in an attempt to shake off his man, and the ball broke to Berry, who fired in left-footed from just inside the 18-yard box for his second of the game.
Again, Stevenage threatened to reduce the arrears when Newton met Pett’s cross with a glancing header that went just wide, but by the half-hour mark it was the Hatters who were looking to increase their advantage, Justin feeding Hylton, whose powerful drive from the left edge of the area was beaten away by Fryer, before Collins’ follow-up was blocked.
Five minutes later Justin was heavily involved again, sending in a left-wing cross that found Olly Lee’s head, but Fryer was equal to this one – although he was relieved seconds later to see Stacey’s low cross fizz just past his far post after being dummied by Collins.
Olly Lee was having a terrific game and with the half-time whistle approaching, the midfielder waltzed into the Boro area and unleashed a left-foot drive that flew inches over the bar, just before Ben Kennedy pulled a goal back for Boro, squeezing his low shot past Stech into the bottom corner.
If any Hatters nerves required calming after conceding so close to the break, a combination of Collins and Hylton came up with the solution soon into the second half.
Collins raced onto a fine through ball from Berry, but was running away from goal to the left of the penalty area when former Hatter Luke Wilkinson fouled him from behind in the 52nd minute.
Referee Brett Huxtable pointed to the spot and Hylton did the rest, once more abandoning his cheeky chip policy to send Fryer the wrong way with a side-footed finish into the bottom right corner to make it six goals in his last five matches, including three penalties in his last three games.
The Hatters were playing with a swagger, and when Olly Lee dug the ball out with his quick feet just outside his own area, he triggered a great move that had Berry at its heart, the midfielder trading passes with Collins, who produced a lovely flick by the touchline back to the rampant Berry to drive towards goal.
The majority of the 9,208 crowd – the biggest at Kenilworth Road so far this season – were loving the scintillating football Jones’ team were serving up, and they were in raptures in the 62nd minute when the former Cambridge man completed his treble.
Berry won the ball from former Hatter Jonathan Smith midway inside his own half, fed Collins in the left channel and then raced forward to pick up the return pass.
He still had plenty to do – not to mention Hylton screaming for the ball to his right – but the midfielder chose to bend a beauty around Fryer with his right foot, just inside the post from 25 yards, for perfect way to complete a perfect hat-trick.
Stevenage fired a couple of warning shots through substitute Kyle Wootton and Ben Kennedy, but the Town were toying as Jones elected to bring Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Luke Gambin on following their return from suspension and international duty respectively, for Rea and Cornick.
Both men being replaced received standing ovations, as did Hylton when the two-goal hitman made way for Elliot Lee with just under ten minutes to go.
Gambin was looking lively, and the Malta international combined with Stacey on the right, producing a terrific disguised pass, to play the full-back to the byline, but his cross was turned away by Fryer’s outstretched arm to prevent the Town adding to the lead.
They did, however, make it six – and when it came in the 90th minute, it brought the biggest cheer of the afternoon as Elliot Lee played Justin into the area and the England Under-20 international side-stepped Wilkinson before slamming a right-footed shot past Fryer from 15 yards.
Collins soon fired a shot that Fryer saved, then came as close as he ever will to scoring without actually doing so, as former Town captain Ronnie Henry somehow managed to clear the striker’s cross-shot off the line.
Elliot Lee had been full of tricks since coming on, and after twisting and turning his way into the box, the summer signing from Barnsley shot low through Wilkinson’s legs, only to find Fryer equal to it.
Then, three minutes into time added on, the 22-year-old smashed a fine 20-yard effort against the inside of the post, with Gambin there to slot in the rebound for goal number seven.
The Hatters’ poor recent record against the Hertfordshire side had been well and truly buried, and their place in the top three cemented, even if results elsewhere meant Jones’ side did not move up from third spot, two points behind both Tuesday’s opponents Exeter and leaders Notts County.
TOWN: Stech, Stacey, Cuthbert ©, Mullins, Justin, Rea (Mpanzu 65), O Lee, Berry, Cornick (Gambin 75), Hylton (E Lee 82), Collins. Subs: Cook, D’Ath, E Lee, Famewo, Shea (GK)
Goals: Berry 3, 21, 62, Hylton 7, 52 (pen), Justin 90, Gambin 90+3
STEVENAGE: Fryer, Henry ©, Franks, Wilkinson, Martin, Smith, Kennedy, Pett, Gorman (McKee 63), Newton (Wootton 63), Godden (Samuel 84). Subs: Whelpdale, Day (GK), Vancooten, Toner
Yellows: Smith, Gorman
Goals: Kennedy 45+2
ATT: 9,208 (595 away)