Full report: Luton Town 3-0 Newport County
The Hatters bounced back to winning ways in League 2 as goals from Luke Wilkinson, Luke Rooney and Jake Howells earned the Town their eighth successive home league win to lift them back in the top three.
After last weekend’s 3-0 loss at Morecambe, the Town got off to the perfect start when Wilkinson nodded home after just four minutes.
The Town weathered some heavy Newport pressure to get to half-time in front before the Rooney fired home early in the second period to double the advantage.
Goalkeeper Mark Tyler made two fine saves to thwart any chance of a County comeback and the win was wrapped up in the final minute of injury time when Jake Howells flicked home.
John Still made one change to the Town side from Tuesday’s FA Cup win over Bury with skipper Stephen McNulty replacing Fraser Franks, who dropped to the bench.
The Hatters got off to a good start and, after Nathan Doyle saw a deflected shot saved by Jamie Stephens, the Town took the lead on four minutes. Luke Rooney’s fine reverse pass found Jonathan Smith and his shot from close range was tipped around the post. From Andy Drury’s left-wing corner Wilkinson rose highest to plant home his third goal of the season with a fine header.
But after the Town had taken the lead it was County that looked the more likely to score the next. On seven minutes McNulty blocked a Chris Zebroski before Michael Harriman charged down a Yan Klukowski shot from the edge of the box.
The Hatters were on the back foot as the visitors continued to boss things and, as a few tackles began to fly in from both sides, County saw Lee Minshull hit the crossbar following a right-wing corner. The visitors appealed that the ball had crossed the line by the officials ruled no goal.
Back came the Town, and on 22 minutes Shaun Whalley ran at the Newport defence before teeing up Mark Cullen with a shot from the edge of the box which was blocked. Whalley then saw his follow-up charged down.
Tackles continued to fly in, with Nathan Doyle and McNulty both booked for the Hatters and Tyler needed to be alert on the half-hour when the Town stopper saved a Sean Jeffers header with his thigh following a left-wing corner.
As the first half came to a close, the heat of the game seemed to disappear and the Town were unlucky not to go 2-0 in front shortly before the break when Drury set-up Cullen to drive a shot at goal but the striker’s deflected effort was cleared off the line by Ismail Yakubu.
At the start of the second period, there was a change in referee as Darren Drysdale was replaced by assistant Andrew Laver and, like the first half, the Town began well.
So well in fact that, after Whalley spurned a great chance following a stunning pass from Rooney, the Town doubled their lead five minutes after the restart. Cullen did well to challenge the goalkeeper, who made a mess of an attempted punch and Rooney was on hand to tuck home his fourth goal of the season.
In command, the Hatters were unlucky not to extend their lead further. Drury, Doyle and Cullen all came close to extending the Hatters lead but the Town, and Tyler in particular, kept the visitors at bay as they went in search of a way back in to the game.
Firstly, the keeper kept out Chris Zebroski’s header in the 76th minute and from the resultant corner Tyler bravely blocked Ishmail Yakubu’s close range shot.
That signalled the end of the visitors’ threat as the Town pushed forward in search of a late third goal. Drury, imperious all afternoon, came close to making it 3-0 but shot over the crossbar after winding past two challenges and, with two minutes left Cullen saw to efforts saved well Stephens.
However, the third goal did come in the final minute of stoppage time. Drury was the creator, whipping in a fine low cross from the right which Howells met first-time at the near post to complete the scoring – and that was that.
Allied with results elsewhere, the Town leapfrogged into the final promotion place in League 2 and now lie just two points off the top.
Enjoy your Christmas…see you Boxing Day…
TOWN: Tyler; Harriman, Griffiths, McNulty, Wilkinson; Doyle, Smith, Drury; Rooney (sub Lafayette 81), Whalley (sub Howells 72), Cullen.
Subs not used: Franks, Connolly, Miller, Stevenson, Justham.
Attendance: 8,383, including 317 from Newport.