New boss earns Hatters win in first game in charge
The John Still era at Kenilworth Road began with victory as a goal from the recalled Jake Howells in first half stoppage time ended the Town’s run of seven league games without a win.
It could have been even sweeter – Stuart Fleetwood had earlier missed a penalty, but the Hatters were good value for the three points in the new manager’s first game in charge.
The Town began well and they almost had the lead inside 10 minutes when a clever through-ball from Alex Lawless found Andre Gray in on goal, but his well-hit left-foot drive was stopped by the legs of Stockport goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell.
Back came Stockport, themselves enduring a poor result of form, but Jon Nolan’s snap-shot from 22 yards only threatened the 400 or so travelling fans behind the goal rather than Mark Tyler.
However, the Hatters were playing the better football, and Fleetwood missed a glorious chance to put Still’s side into the lead. Gray was tripped in the box by Matt Mainwaring but Fleetwood saw his penalty saved by O’Donnell, diving well down to his right.
That miss did not dampen the Town’s confidence, though, as they continued to plug away in search of an opener. Stockport were not helping themselves – often giving possession back to the Town – and on 37 minutes, after a period of strong pressure, a right-wing corner from Howells was met by Steve McNulty, but to the home side’s relief, the ball bounced away for another corner instead of hitting the back of the net.
As half-time approached the Town continued to apply pressure and Howells saw a well-hit, goal-bound shot blocked by a County defender after being found by a square pass from Fleetwood.
But, in first half stoppage time, the Hatters did deservedly take the lead when Howells, in a similar position to his effort seconds before, hit a low left-foot shot beyond the dive of O’Donnell. It was only the Wales Under-21 international’s second goal of the season.
The Town started the second half like the end ended the first, and came close to doubling the lead when a inswinging right-wing corner from Howells eluded everyone in the penalty area, including McNulty, ghosting in unmarked.
Still the Hatters pushed for a second and Fleetwood’s left-footed cross almost picked out an unmarked Howells haring into the penalty area.
On the hour Still made his first change, introducing Greg Taylor for the injured Janos Kovacs and a minute later Gray almost stole in after Lawless and Fleetwood had combined well down the right flank.
Stockport continued to frustrate their own supporters by giving the ball away and the Town almost profited again, this time a Lawless cross dug out from the right was met by the head of Howells whose effort was easy pickings for O’Donnell.
Fleetwood made way for Scott Rendell – the scorer of the goal the last time the Hatters won a game, at Norwich in the FA Cup – on 67 minutes and three minutes later the substitute was inches away from tapping home Howells’ low cross.
Gray continued to be a pest for the Stockport defence before his substitution for Dan Walker with 14 minutes left at a time the game flowed from one end of the pitch to the other.
The Hatters were defending well and looking a threat on the break and Howells curled over a free-kick from 25 yards after Walker was felled.
Stockport huffed and puffed in search of an equaliser but failed to call Mark Tyler into any action throughout the 90 minutes.
Indeed it was the Town who looked the more likely to find a second goal but in the end Hatters comfortably held onto record all three points.
From small acorns...the Play-Offs still might be a way off but a win’s a win and it’s been a while since we’ve been able to say that.