McNulty header secures all three point
Stockport County 0
The Hatters secured a vital home win thanks to captain Steve McNulty's first-half header against struggling Stockport.
A combative first half saw both sides cancel each other out before McNulty broke the deadlock a minute before half-time with a commanding header from Dave Martin's perfectly-weighted corner. A close nit second period saw both sides go close but McNulty's header proved to be the match winner to secure John Still's first home win as Town boss.
Still handed Solomon Taiwo his Hatters début for the visit of Stockport County in another attacking line up in front of the Kenilworth Road fans. McNulty continued to captain the side in the absence of Ronnie Henry with Simon Ainge deputising at fullback. Jon Shaw and Andre Gray led the line for the Hatters with Jake Howells and Martin occupying the wide areas.
The Hatters started brightly with the first sighting of goal falling for Shaw early on. Martin skipped away from the challenge on the left hand touchline with the cutest of nutmegs before slotting the ball inside to the open Shaw. Unchallenged Shaw drove onto the edge of the area before drilling the ball low past the near post.
A real enticing game lit up Kenilworth Road as the passion poured onto the pitch firstly through the tenacious display of Gray tussling for the ball with Fagbola followed by Martin bulldozing his way through against Vidal forcing the County player to foul Martin. Taiwo stood over the dead ball and whipped a ferocious ball into the danger area which popped out to Smith on the edge who volleyed inches over the crossbar.
Smith again came close to breaking the deadlock seconds after latching onto Martin's cross to prod over the bar from close range. Taiwo again instrumental as his switch of play allowed Martin to drive purposefully into the final third. His cross, aimed at Gray, eluded the forward but Smith was on hand to attempt to turn the ball home.
The game quietened down due to a combative nature that ensured both sides battled for possession in the middle of the park until Hackney tried his luck from range. Shaw had possession stolen from underneath his toes by Kenyon before the Town forward tracked his run to slide in and prevent the first shot. The ball rebounded to the feet of Hackney who looked for the top corner but his shot lacked conviction and soared into the Kenilworth.
The deadlock was finally broken when McNulty leapt above the bodies to power a header home from Martin's corner. Gray again hassled the back line winning a corner off of Fagbola. Martin drilled the cross in and as McNulty peeled away from his marker and rose highest. He kept his composure to bullet his header into the corner leaving the O'Donnell in the County goal glaring at his absent defensive markers.
The Hatters started the second half with the same ruthless attitude they ended the first with Gray stinging the fingertips of O'Donnell early on. A long searching pass from Martin saw Gray brush off the challenge and race into the area before slamming the ball across the keeper looking for the far corner only for O'Donnell to palm the ball to safety.
Seconds later and a handball on the edge of the Stockport area presented Taiwo a chance to mark his début with a dream goal. Howells and Taiwo stood over the ball with the latter strolling up to whip the ball around the four man wall. Too much swerve on the ball however as O'Donnell clutched onto it at the second attempt to maintain the scoreline.
Continued pressure from the hosts as Smith again ran close to a second. Ainge's looping cross found Shaw who dummied the ball for Martin at the far post who flashed his shot across the face with Smith lunging franticly to get on the score sheet but coming up short. Wouldn't have counted anyway as the assistant on the near side had his flag raised aloft.
County did attempt to mount a comeback with the introduction of former Manchester City hit-man Jonathan Macken. It was the substitute who flicked the ball into the path of Mark Cullen who bounded into the Town half and let fly from range. His low drive seemed destined for the bottom corner before Tyler leapt to his right and stuck a stone glove on the ball eradicating the danger.
It was Macken again who was heavily involved latching onto a scrappy corner routine to sling the ball over his shoulder on target. The ball travelled through a barrage of bodies but Tyler kept a firm eye on it and clutched onto the effort.
Both sides livened up proceedings as the hour mark passed with chances coming more frequently. Howells then went close for the Hatters as he cut in from the left and lashed a right footed effort inches over the crossbar with O'Donnell motionless.
Again Luton pressed following Howells effort as Martin, Shaw and finally Gray combined to set Ainge up for a strike on goal. Twisting and turning Gray drew the County players in before setting the ball off to Ainge on the edge. The full back's first touch was precise allowing him to steady himself before cracking a drive towards the bottom corner which cannoned off the post.
The Hatters wide men enjoyed a superb evening, both looked sharp, consistent and dangerous and the pair nearly linked up for the Hatters second on 70 minutes. Howells, playing from the right, drifted in field before selling the full back a clever dummy and whipping the ball into the far post. Martin scampered into the area attempting to latch onto the end of it but was a studs length away from tapping home to double the advantage.
It was not to be all straight forward for Still's men however as Tyler was kept aware to the danger as Cullen again tried his luck from range. A thunderous strike from the County player had Tyler sprawling back to his line before flinging up an arm to direct the ball over the crossbar.
15 minutes remained when Still made his first change of the evening as Gray departed for Dan Walker.
County continued to threaten the Hatters goal as Newton came close to levelling the tie late on. Mainwaring cut inside before swinging a cross in which McNulty headed clear but only as far as Newton. The full back watched the ball all the way onto his foot before volleying sumptuously goal-wards. Tyler sprang to his right but removed his arm at the final minute as it bounced wide without a touch from the Town keeper.
As the fourth official held the board aloft to indicate how many precious minutes would be added Shaw released Walker on the counter attack. Surging down the right hand side Walker had Smith and Shaw busting to join him in the middle. Ignoring the support Walker jinked in field before prodding at goal which was slammed away by Fagbola to prevent the Hatters securing a last gasp second.