Hatters celebrate title triumph with away victory
Cullen 28, Gray 73
The Town showed they are worthy winners of the Skrill Premier with a classy 2-1 win away at Welling.
It is results like this that have finally seen the Town clinch promotion back to the Football League after five seasons, with this victory being their eleventh win on the road in what has been a remarkable campaign.
Goals from Mark Cullen and Andre Gray sealed the points in a match that always looked to be under control for the Hatters as they chase down their 100 points target. Impressive displays from the hosts' goalkeeper Lee Butcher and captain Ross Lafayette prevented the Town from winning by a larger margin, but 2,000 travelling supporters got their promotion party well under way following goals in each half.
The Town fielded an attacking 4-4-3 with Cullen flanked by the returning Gray and Alex Wall, who was making his first start of the season after his impressive goalscoring cameo last week. The two wide men combined impressively on, Gray cutting open the hosts' defence with a quality diagonal pass which sent Wall galloping through one on one with goalkeeper Butcher, whose timing had to be perfect as he tackled with his feet outside the area.
Welling launched occasional raids down the right in the game's opening stages, with Henry Beautyman and Loui Fazakerley combing well to release top-scorer Lafayette in the area after thirteen minutes. He looked up to find centre-back Quade Taylor roaming forward unmarked, but Taylor could only stab straight at Mark Tyler from twelve yards.
With the hosts piling on the pressure led by the impressive Lafayette, the Town reverted to more direct tactics in an attempt to find some space. Wall moved into the centre to try to rough up the home defence, and won a free kick on the edge of the area when he was pulled down while competing for a long ball from Fraser Franks. Full of confidence after his brace for the Development side in midweek, Wall elected to take the deadball himself. He clubbed the free kick straight into the defensive wall before striking the rebound with real venom, his effort whistling just over the bar.
And on 28 minutes the Hatters broke the deadlock with another quick break. Franks calmly intercepted the ball on the edge of the Luton box and lofted ball forward. Gray showed great skill to take the ball down in the centre circle and chipped the ball over the retreating backline to send Cullen scampering in on goal. The diminutive striker showed great composure to get the ball under control and slide the ball under Butcher and into the net for his ninth goal of the season.
With the Town leading at half-time, Alex Lacey and Andy Parry made welcome returns to the Hatters side as substitutes for Steve McNulty and Ronnie Henry shortly after the break. Lacey showed little sign of any rustiness following his long injury lay-off, and did well to sweep up in his own six yard box immediately after coming on.
After a lull at the beginning of the second half, the champions sought to increase their lead with an intense spell of pressure around the hour-mark.
First, Gray struggled to control the ball on the hard and dusty pitch and skewed a wild effort high and wide after running onto a long ball into the area.
Moments later, the Wings' Player of the Year Butcher made an outstanding save to keep out Cullen. With the ball bouncing around the area, Cullen thought he'd scored when he hit Gray's knock down on the half volley, but somehow Butcher dove to his left and palmed the ball away from point-blank range.
And Butcher frustrated the Town again in the follow-up to that save, nipping in to take the ball off of Cullen's toes after a fine through-ball from Matt Robinson.
But Butcher could do nothing to stop Gray notching his 28th goal of this classic season on 72 minutes. It looked like there was too much for the Town's leading scorer to do when Robinson lofted a long ball over the top, but Gray's speed and power is too much for most defenders in this league. With the back-peddling Fazakerley and Jake Bender panicking under a bouncing ball, he was able to shrug them both off before outstripping them for pace, taking a touch to settle himself, and striking the ball firmly inside Butcher's near post.
Welling weren't going to lie down for the champions though, and Lafayette got one back with a beauty on 80 minutes. The captain had been one of the best players on the pitch all afternoon, giving Luton plenty to think about with his strength and impressive link-up play, but hadn't had a clear sight of goal until he popped up unmarked on the left side of the area with ten minutes to go. He brought the ball inside on his right foot and curled a shot high over Tyler's head and into the top corner for his 14th goal of the campaign.
Two minutes later, with the Hatters fans behind the goal appreciating Lafayette's performance with chants of 'sign him up', the big striker held the ball up on the edge of the area and teed up Beautyman, but the winger's low shot was comfortably kept out by the well-positioned Tyler.
This was Luton's day though, and the visitors calmly played out the remaining minutes to chants of 'Champions' from the away terraces before celebrating in a mass huddle with their jubilant fans.