McNulty 30, Smith 66, Gray 75
The Town made it six home wins on the spin with a comfortable victory over Southport to extend their unbeaten run in the Skrill Premier to 13 games.
A stunning volley from Steve McNulty had the Hatters ahead on the half-hour before a fine low strike from Jonathan Smith doubled the lead midway through the second half.
And the Town secured yet another victory to jump into second place in the table when Andre Gray rocketed home a left-foot finish with 15 minutes left.
Showing two changes to the side that beat Welling on Saturday, with Smith and Luke Guttridge returning to the side, the Town began on the front foot and should have taken the lead in the 10th minute when Gray strode through onto Paul Benson’s throughball but couldn’t poke home with just the goalkeeper to beat.
As the Town continued to push for an early opener, Benson came even closer to breaking the deadlock on the quarter-hour mark, turning to hit a low shot that seemed for all the world would hit the back of the net, but in the end the effort bounced back off of the post.
Southport survived that scare but on the half-hour mark they should do nothing as the Town took the lead in astonishing fashion. There seemed little on after the visitors had headed clear Alex Lawless’ free-kick, but McNulty lined up a first-time volley which flew over gawping heads of those players in the penalty area and up and over goalkeeper Danny Hurst. It was a superb goal, the centre-half’s first of the season and the 13th different scorer of a Town goal so far this season.
Sensing a quickfire double, it was almost 2-0 a minute later when Scott Griffths sprinted up from left-back and into the box but his effort was sliced into the side-netting.
Clearly shell-shocked by McNulty’s pearler, the visitors were all of a sudden at sixes and sevens at the back and Guttridge almost made them pay for some hesitant defending on 36 minutes when he reacted first to Benson’s knock-down only for Southport to clear as the ball bounces goalwards.
Southport had by no means sat back throughout the opening first 45 minutes but it did take Alan Wright’s side 45 minutes to test Mark Tyler, the keeper equal to the sprightly Joel Logan’s fizzer from 20 yards.
A goal to the good at the break the Town pressed for a second straight from the restart. Gray should have done better three minutes into the second period when heading Guttridge’s left-wing cross over before Richard Brodie almost snuck in an equaliser a moment later with his shot from the edge of the box that deflected inches wide.
While the Hatters were dominating, clear-cut chances were at a real premium and it took until the 66th minute before the hosts doubled their lead. Guttridge’s cross-field pass found Gray and he in turn fed Smith and the midfielder, back in the team having missed Saturday’s game through suspension, rifled an accurate shot into the corner of the net. It was his second goal from outside the box this season.
2-0 up it was time for the Hatters to really flex their muscles. Guttridge’s shot was deflected behind on 73 minutes before Benson saw his goal-bound, back-post header denied by a clearance off of the line a minute later.
But the Town made it 3-0 with 15 minutes left on the clock. Guttridge and Lawless carried the ball into the box, the ball breaking kindly for Gray to belt home an unstoppable finish with his left foot. It was the striker’s 10th goal in his last 10 starts.
Guttridge angled a shot against the underside of the bar as the Town came close to a fourth on 78 minutes before Hurst pulled off an admirable save to keep substitute, and ex-Sandgrounder, Shaun Whalley’s stinging effort on 85 minutes.
Tyler, who was a virtual spectator throughout, showed his concentration levels remained in stoppage time with a brave stop with his body, denying former Hatter Jamie Hand a consolation for his latest employers.
The Hatters almost had the very last word in the second minute of added time when Guttridge curled a shot high and wide but it mattered little and the Town saw out a comfortable victory.
Town: Tyler; Henry, Griffiths, McNulty, Lacey (sub Robinson 38); Parry, Smith, Guttridge, Lawless (sub Whalley 77); Benson, Gray (sub Cullen 86).
Subs not used: Howells, Justham.
Attendance: 6,057, including 16 from Southport.