The Hatters ended a run of four successive home defeats by easing past struggling Hartlepool to breathe new life in to their Play-Off hopes.
Cameron McGeehan’s header and Jake Howells’ penalty had the Town two goals up inside 15 minutes and, although the visitors rallied in the second half, the Hatters secured three important points when Scott Griffiths poked home with 20 minutes to go.
It was the Town’s first home win since beating Accrington on 28th February and with Plymouth losing 2-0 at Carlisle, the Hatters are now level on points with the final Play-Off place with two games to go.
Showing three changes from the side that drew 0-0 at Dagenham & Redbridge on Tuesday – Howells, Shaun Whalley and Mark Cullen all starting – the Town started well and led inside five minutes.
Howells’ right-wing corner was swung high to McGeehan and his header eluded a crowd of players in the box to cross the line in slow-motion.
With the Town boosted by an early goal, 10 minutes later the lead was doubled. Whalley ran directly at the visitors defence and as he broke into the box to weave between two defenders, he went down and referee Sutton pointed to the spot. Howells, on his 24th birthday, stepped up to roll home the Town’s first successful penalty of the season in League 2 [the Hatters’ three previously penalties had all been converted on the rebound].
2-0 to the good, the Hatters went in search of more goals. On 18 minutes Cullen raced on to Howells’ searching pass only to be denied by sprawling Hartlepool keeper Scott Flinders, and two minutes later, the Town were denied a certain third goal when Whalley’s shot from 12 yards was hacked off the line by Nicky Featherstone.
But the chances kept on coming, and on 20 minutes the ball was in the net again when Cullen tapped home from close range after Elliot Lee’s shot was parried by Flinders – only for the Town’s top scorer to be denied by the offside flag of the linesman.
Hartlepool, in desperate need for the points in their quest to avoid relegation, almost pulled a goal back on 23 minutes when Marlon Harewood’s off-target free-kick bounced off Michael Harriman but Elliot Justham was in the right place to keep the ball out.
Back came the Town after that close shave and Cullen, chasing a lost cause down the left, almost embarrassed Flinders when his cross to the keep the ball in play was fumbled by the visiting stopper.
Flinders then made fine stop to deny Lee from making it three on 27 minutes when the on-loan forward muscled his way into the box following Cullen’s flick.
It was chance-a-minute stuff and Pools should have tested Justham 60 seconds later when Neil Austin headed wide of the target when meeting a left-wing cross unchallenged in the box from close range.
As half-time approached the Town upped the ante again though, with Lee and Cullen combining on 40 minutes only for Cullen to fluff an attempted back-heel six yards out after Lee’s run down the right.
Three minutes after the break Lee then should have done better when racing clear of the Hartlepool defence but failed to square to three team-mates unmarked in the penalty area. And that let off gave the visitors hope.
However Pools never seriously tested Justham with their few of half-chances, with Jordan Hugill rifling a shot straight at Justham their best effort.
Hartlepool were enjoying more of the ball but their inability to make their dominance count was punished by the Hatters with 19 minutes left on the clock. The visitors failed to clear Howells’ right-wing corner and Griffiths pounced on the loose by nipping in to slide home his second goal of the season.
And that was pretty much that as the final 20 minutes saw the Hatters contain the visitors with John Still introducing Ryan Hall, Luke Guttridge and Ricky Miller from the substitutes’ bench in the final quarter-of-an-hour.
No final chances came in the closing stages and the Town comfortably held on to what might be three vital points come the season’s end.
With just two games to go it’s all to play for. See you at Southend next Saturday! BE THERE!
Town: Justham; Harriman, Griffiths, McNulty, Wilkinson; McGeehan, Smith, Whalley (sub Hall 75), Howells (sub Guttridge 82); Cullen, Lee (sub Miller 87).
Subs not used: Lacey, Wall, Kinsella, King.
Attendance: 8,231, including 277 from Hartlepool.