Whalley's brace helps Town see off Stags
Luton Town 3
Benson 19, Whalley 59, 63
Mansfield Town 0
The Hatters bounced back from last weekend’s defeat at Burton to record their seventh straight league win at Kenilworth Road to lift them back into second place.
Winger Shaun Whalley was the Hatters’ hero with a fine brace – the first a cross-cum-shot, the second a sumptuous finish after a trademark mazy run – but the Town’s victory was overshadowed by the injury suffered to striker Paul Benson, who opened the scoring in the 19th minute.
It was another deserved three points on home soil in yet another solid display and although Mansfield threatened briefly at the start of the second half, after Benson’s opener there was only going to be one winner – and Whalley’s brace blew them away, and that was that.
It all started with Still making three changes to the side that their 11-match unbeaten run the previous weekend. Fraser Franks replaced the suspended Luke Wilkinson at centre-half, whilst Andy Drury and leading goalscorer Mark Cullen both started.
The Hatters began well, pushing the Stags back into their own third of the pitch and the Town came close to taking the lead on 11 minutes when Nathan Doyle’s fierce low drive from 25 yards was pawed away by Mansfield goalkeeper Sascha Studer.
It was all the Town against the visitors, who axed Paul Cox as boss two weeks ago, and Benson wasn’t far away from converting a deep left-wing cross from Drury with a back-post header.
Winger Whalley was given another start on the right flank and his pace and direct running got the Mansfield defence back-pedalling, but he was booked by referee Gavin Ward on 17 minutes after going down in the box under Lee Beevers’ challenge. A yellow card for simulation.
But two minutes later the Town did have a goal to cheer as Benson poked them ahead. Drury sent Cullen down the left flank with a fine ball and the striker’s cross was met by Benson whose first effort was blocked. However, seizing on the loose ball, Benson held off several Mansfield defenders and rolled the ball into near corner. It was his first league goal of the season.
Buoyed by that goal the Hatters began to turn on the style and Cullen was denied a certain second four minutes later by a fine piece of defending from the Stags’ Kieron Freeman following a peach of a cross from Whalley.
However the Town were dealt a blow on 27 minutes when goalscorer Benson was stretchered off the field with a suspected broken leg. Jake Howells was sent-on in his place. It was later revealed that Benson has broken his leg following an innocuous incident with a Stags player.
As the Hatters dealt with the loss of Benson, Franks did well to block a Mansfield effort full in the face before Drury dinked a lovely effort just wide from the edge of the area.
Drury then orchestrated a superb move on 37 minutes when his stunning cross-field pass got Whalley away but the winger’s effort was well blocked. From the resultant corner, however, Franks saw his bullet header cleared off the line by Stags skipper Martin Riley.
It was more of the same soon after half-time. Four minutes after the restart the Town came close again when Cullen hung in the air to nod a Michael Harriman pass onto the top of the crossbar.
Having been denied once more, the Hatters then had to face a strong Mansfield spell that saw Mark Tyler save from Riley and substitute Junior Brown, and Stephen McNulty block a Vadaine Oliver shot from the edge of the area.
However, on the hour, with Luke Rooney about to come on, his replacement Whalley had other ideas and duly doubled the Hatters’ lead. He strode down the right flank after Studer’s poor clearance, and thundered in a cross that nobody moved for. Seconds later the ball nestled gloriously in the net. A fluke? Maybe, but no-one cared, and the Town were 2-0 up.
Rooney had to sit back down and four minutes later Whalley doubled his tally with a stunning solo effort to make it 3-0. He waltzed past a number of Mansfield challenges before sending a sweet low left-foot strike into the bottom corner of the net past the outstretched arms of Studer. The Town faithful had a new hero.
Kenilworth Road was bouncing with the Hatters on their way to another three points. Scott Griffiths headed straight at the keeper from a Drury free-kick on 69 minutes as the Town hunted a fourth.
Whalley was at it again with 10 minutes left when he left a statuesque Stags defence behind with another mazy run. The loose ball the dropped to Jonathan Smith but the midfielder’s deflected shot struck the base of the post.
The last word went to Whalley when he was substituted in the final stages to which he received a deserved standing ovation – and that was most definitely that.
Seven straight home wins, up to second in the table, one defeat in 13 games. The Town juggernaut is back on track after last weekend’s defeat at Burton.
Town: Tyler; Harriman, Griffiths, McNulty, Franks; Doyle, Smith, Whalley (sub Rooney 86), Drury; Benson (sub Howells 27), Cullen (sub Walker 82). Subs not used: Lacey, Miller, Ruddock, Justham.
Attendance: 8,418, including 294 from Mansfield.