Tranmere Rovers 0
Substitute Ricky Miller struck the winner within five minutes of coming on to send the Town back to the top of League 2.
The summer signing from Boston celebrated his first Football League goal a week after opening his Hatters account against Newport County in the FA Cup.
And the frontman’s 70th-minute winner gave the Hatters their sixth straight home league win and make it 11 matches without defeat in League 2.
It was no more than Town deserved for an industrious performance against a dangerous Tranmere side, who would have snatched a last-minute winner if it wasn’t for the agility of the Town’s 37-year-old goalkeeper Mark Tyler.
The Town began showing one change to the side that beat Newport County last week, with Fraser Franks preferred at centre-half to Alex Lacey, who dropped to the bench.
Rovers, unbeaten in five games in all competitions under new boss Micky Adams, fired an early warning shot to the Town when Danny Johnson fired a fierce drive narrowly wide of Tyler’s right-hand post after just 60 seconds.
The visitors then had the ball in the net on seven minutes but Scott Laird’s calm finish was ruled out for offside as Rovers began the better. Tyler then had to be alert to race out to smother Johnson’s low shot 10 minutes.
But slowly the Town responded. Luke Guttridge began to pull the strings, and the midfielder almost conjured up an opening goal on 12 minutes when his cross-field pass was met at the back-post by Michael Harriman but the on-loan QPR man thrashed his volley wide of the target.
It was an open game, though, and Rovers called Tyler in action once more on 18 minutes when Max Power’s acrobatic volley from 25 yards flew goalwards, but the Town keeper was equal to the effort, diving down to his left.
Back came the Town and Guttridge was mighty close to making it 1-0 just before the half-hour when he connected with Franks’ wonderful right-wing cross in the six-yard box, only to see his volley tipped over the by Tranmere goalkeeper Petr Brezovan.
Tranmere responded by pushing the Town back for a five-minute spell as half-time approached. But it was the Hatters that ended the half the stronger with Mark Cullen shooting wide after a long kick from Tyler had bounced all the way down field and into the penalty area.
Visiting stopper Brezovan then needed to keep out a back-post volley from Guttridge four minutes before half-time after the midfielder had been found by a fine right-wing cross by Harriman.
It was more of the same for the Town after the break as they aimed to break the deadlock.
Four minutes after the restart, Jake Howells and Cullen combined in the box that led to Guttridge shooting wide, before Tyler was called into action at one end to keep out Power’s fierce drive.
Rovers, who arrived on Bedfordshire soil in search of a first league win since the end of August, had the Hatters under pressure as the hour mark approached yet failed to seriously test Tyler.
Luke Wilkinson saw a volley deflected away from its route to goal for the Town just before the hour and on 65 minutes John Still introduced Miller and Ruddock Mpanzu for Cullen and Nathan Doyle.
And, lo and behold, five minutes later one of the substitutions had the desired effect as Miller struck his first Football League goal. He took Jonathan Smith’s pass, waltzed past three Tranmere men before unleashing a left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area. At first it seemed destined for the bottom corner, only for Brezovan to get a hand to it. However, the visiting stopper’s efforts were not enough as the ball bounced delightfully over the line to give the Town the lead.
There were still a good 20 minutes left after the goal and it was the Town that looked the more likely to score again. One almost became two with three minutes left when Ruddock Mpanzu set-up fellow substitute Andy Drury to rifle a shot at goal that was deflected behind.
Knowing a win would take them to the top of the table, the Hatters had Tyler to thank for one last magnificent, contribution in the final minute. A ball lofted into the Town box was met by Rovers substitute Kayode Odejayi but the striker’s header was somehow turned away by Tyler at his near post.
Tranmere knew the game was up after that and in five minutes of stoppage time the Town came close to extending their lead when Howells thundered a vicious just narrowly wide of the target – and that was that.
The Hatters celebrated an 11th game unbeaten with their sixth successive home league win taking them back to the summit of League 2 – happy days!
TOWN: Tyler, Harriman, Howells, McNulty, Wilkinson, Franks, Doyle (sub Ruddock Mpanzu 77), Smith, Guttridge (sub Drury 77), Benson, Cullen (sub Miller 65). Subs not used: Lacey, Griffiths, Walker, Justham.
ATTENDANCE: 9,061, including 378 singing for Tranmere.