TOWN 3-1 SOUTHPORT
The Hatters continued from where they left off on Tuesday night with a ruthless performance against Liam Watson's Southport.
A Man-Of-The-Match performance from JJ O'Donnell provided Scott Rendell for one of his brace and Stuart Fleetwood's early strike secured all three points for the Hatters.
Town broke the deadlock three minutes in. Top scorer Stuart Fleetwood confidently curled into the top right hand corner for his ninth of the campaign after JJ O'Donnell lashed a long ball forward searching for the onrushing Andre Gray. Gray turned and set the ball back for Fleetwood who expertly dispatched to give the Hatters an early lead.
Town came close to doubling the lead with just seven minutes on the clock when O'Donnell, again involved, came close to a long range pile-driver. Yaser Kasim picked the ball up inside the centre circle before laying the ball off to O'Donnell who was invited to shoot by the Southport defence, an offer he duly accepted, hammering goalwards from 30 yards forcing Tony McMillan in the Southport goal to scamper across to his bottom right to deny O'Donnell his second of the season.
Despite Town's early dominance Southport came close to snatching an equaliser when Shaun Whalley's breakaway cross was deflected towards the Hatters goal with Mark Tyler left stranded. Fortunately the ball dropped inches outside the post for a corner, from which Chris Almond's looping header soared over the crossbar.
And the chances continued in favour of the Hatters with Jake Howells low effort wide of the mark shortly before the half hour mark. Southport's Godfrey Poku, the former Town midfielder, was penalised for a foul on O'Donnell, which Lawless took quickly to the feet of Howells. Howells then cut inside onto his right foot before dragging his shot past McMillan's goal.
Liam Watson's men tried to get back on level terms though with Almond’s right-footed effort saililng comfortably wide. Thirty-five minutes gone and Connor Essam becames the first name in the referee's notebook. After an impressive half-hour for the Gillingham loanee, Karl Ledsham skipped past the challenge of Ronnie Henry before being brought down by the 20-year-old.
Southport's attempts to rejuvenate their push for points at Kenilworth Road continued with a flurry of successive corners. After Almond's searching delivery was whipped towards the goal mouth, Tyler's attempted catch was forced onto the ground and the scramble that followed saw Howells clear.
Alex Lawless became the second addition to the referee's booking list after a dangerous lunge on Southport's Chris Lever. The resulting free kick was arrowed into the danger area by Whalley with Rendell stretched to nod to safety.
As the referee checked his watch to blow for half-time the Hatters seemed to have already entered the dressing room as Southport's search for an equaliser was rewarded. Successive sloppy passes across the park allowed Andrew Parry to nick the ball of the toes of O'Donnell. Parry then drove uncontested deep into the Town half before his low drive beat Tyler and found the far corner.
The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors with Ledsham's effort tamely into the hands of Tyler. Instantly the Hatters reacted heading down the other end of the pitch with Gray who then whipped a tantalising cross into the area with Rendell striving onto it. Rendell's effort was defended well by Port captain Simon Grand.
Despite being denied, Rendell's search for a goal lasted a mere three second half minutes. After a neat exchange between Fleetwood and O'Donnell, the latter drilled a low cross along the Southport six-yard box. The Town's number 10 slid in to steer the ball home for his third of the campaign to give Town an early second half advantage.
Town were then gifted the chance to double their lead after brilliant work from Howells down the left touchline. Howells picked the ball up inside the Luton half before driving past two Southport bodies into the danger area. Howells attempted to pick out Gray at the far post but his cross was deflected to the feet of Fleetwood who was bundled over and gave the referee no doubt when pointing to the spot. Rendell's stuttering run up sent the keeper the wrong way and he calmly dispatched for his second of the afternoon.
Town's dominance inside the first 15 minutes of the second half nearly saw them net a fourth. Again O'Donnell's pace down the left hand side left defenders scampering after him, O'Donnell then picked up Rendell again who must have thought he'd sewn up a 10-minute hat-trick were it not for goal-line heroics from McMillan.
It looked as though the Town were set to wrap the game up with 20 minutes still to play when Fleetwood was sent through on goal leaving on the keeper to beat. Rendell causing all sorts of problems in the final third and as the ball looped over his head a miss-timed jump by centre-half Chris Lynch allowed the ball to drop favourably at the feet of Fleetwood. Fleetwood then attempted to slot the ball past McMillan but the Southport shot-stopper got down early to deny Town's top scorer heading into double digits for the season.
The Sandgrounders defence will certainly be pleased to see the back of O'Donnell after the young midfielder enjoyed a magical performance for the Hatters which nearly saw him help his team to a fourth on 73 minutes. O'Donnell again set sprinting away down the left flank darted inside the full back, and whipped a vicious delivery in front of the keeper’s nose which was touched off the toes of Rendell for a Town corner.
Superb football from the Hatters had the Kenilworth Road faithful raising the roof after neat intricate play from Kasim and Lawless saw another dangerous cross headed behind their own goal with Rendell lurking as he could taste his treble getting nearer.
Town closed the game out with sumptuous ease. For the last 10 minutes they kept the ball calmly and could have had another were it not for Gray's miss-cued cross which looked for late substitute Jon Shaw who was free in the box.
Two wins in a week for Buckle's side who travel to Lincoln City next Saturday in search of a third win in a row.