Benson 22, Lawless 34
The Hatters overcame a strong second half display from 10-man Barnet to move to within a point at the top of the Skrill Premier in a game overshadowed by an injury to Jonathan Smith.
First half goals from Paul Benson and Alex Lawless had the Hatters ahead before the Bees were reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half-time when Jon Nurse was sent-off for an awful challenge on Jonathan Smith.
After the break the Hatters came under severe pressure from the hosts, who had only lost once at home before this game, and after Luke Guttridge had missed a wonderful chance to make it 3-0, Jake Hyde made it 2-1.
The Bees continued to press but the Hatters held out to secure another victory and extend the unbeaten run to 16 games in the Skrill Premier.
The Town began unchanged from the side that beat Gateshead against Edgar Davids’ Bees and the home side tested Mark Tyler early on, Luisma Villa arrowing a shot from distance that the Hatters stopper had to turn around the post on three minutes.
In truth that would be the last time the Town keeper would be in action in a first half that the visitors bossed.
Benson warmed Graham Stack’s gloves on 10 minutes with a snap-shot half-volley having found room in the penalty area before the Hatters missed a glorious chance to take the lead seven minutes later. Ronnie Henry’s deep cross from the right was nodded back across by Benson but Joe Davis, with the goal at his mercy, failed to prod the ball over the line.
It came at a time that the Town were on top but the 1,700 travelling hordes needn’t have worried as on 22 minutes they were celebrating an opening goal. Smith spotted Andre Gray’s run in the right-hand channel and the striker’s pass across goal was tapped home by Benson for his ninth goal of the season. Pandemonium in the away end.
Deservedly ahead it got better for the Hatters on 34 minutes. The Town did well to block a shot from the hosts’ Jake Hyde and then went about the counter attack. Lawless carried the ball upfield from the left flank, cut inside and sent a wonderful curling drive beyond the reach of Stack. It was his fourth goal in five matches.
Seconds after that second goal the Hatters came mighty close to adding a third goal when Benson capitalised on a defensive mishap from David Stephens to bear down on goal on goal. His finished looked all the world it would make it 3-0 until a superb intervention from defender Jack Saville who poked the ball off of the line and away to safety.
Lawless came to scoring his second and the Town’s third on 38 minutes. Pelly Ruddock engineered the move, swapping passes with Gray to tee-up the Welshman and his shot on the turn scuttled inches past the post.
However, the celebrations and smiles in the away end disappeared on 45 minutes when Smith was on the receiving end of a terrible challenge by Nurse. There was immediate concern for the midfielder and referee Whitton was quick to book the former Dagenham winger. But, with it becoming more apparent that Smith was in discomfort, the referee – after consulting his fellow officials, reached for a straight red card.
With concerned faces all round, the Town regrouped: the players showed solidarity in a huddle before Matt Robinson replaced the stricken Smith.
After the restarted Barnet upped the ante in a flurry of action in the Town half. The Bees should have pulled a goal back five minutes into the second period when Mark Byrne was able to cross from the right flank but his pull back rolled agonisingly across the face of goal with Jake Hyde unable to reach it.
The Town were defending deep as the Bees pressed but the Hatters were threatening on the break and missed several chances to put the game beyond the hosts. Gray swiped a left-foot shot wide, Robinson and Guttridge were both off target.
On 63 minutes the Hatters spurned an even better chance when Guttridge strolled through on goal and past the home defence. With just Stack to beat and with Benson and Gray for company the midfielder couldn’t find the target much to his and his team-mates’ frustration.
And that looked an ever bigger miss five minutes later when Barnet pulled a goal back. Scott Griffiths’ slip down the left presented Andy Yiamdom the chance to streak through and his cross was on a plate for Hyde to head past Tyler.
Barnet tails were now and truly up as they sensed a comeback, but Gray almost restored the two-goal cushion a minute later when Gray lofted a shot over the stranded Stack and Tyler needed to keep his concentration when saving a Dani Lopez shot a minute later.
The Town took the sting out of the Bees’ attack and pressed for a third but as time ticked down the Bees continued to search for an equaliser; Tyler saving a Lopez header.
It was end-to-end in the closing stages – Davis brilliantly denying Hyde the chance for an equaliser before Gray and Lawless both fired shots at goal but, after one final chance for Barnet with Curtis Weston firing wide, it was all over and the Town could celebrate a sixth away win.
TOWN: Tyler; Henry, Griffiths, McNulty, Davis; Smith (sub Robinson 45), Guttridge, Lawless, Ruddock; Gray (sub Cullen 90), Benson.
Subs: Mawson, Howells, Justham.
ATTENDANCE: 3,608, including 1,700 backing the Town.