Hatters unbeaten run comes to an end at Field Mill
The Hatters took a following of 821 fans two hours up the road to Mansfield tonight on what proved to be a disappointing night at Field Mill as their 10 match unbeaten run came to an end.
Mansfield Town’s first-half substitute Rakish Bingham scored the only goal of the game in the 32nd minute of a hard fought match from both sides.
Tonight’s game also saw a return to first-team action for Luke Guttridge who came on as a substitute in the 69th minute.
With 16 games to go until the end of the season, and a game in hand on Shrewsbury, Burton and Wycombe above them in the League 2 table, the stakes were high for the Hatters as three points would mean a return to the automatic promotion places.
The Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation once again and with just two changes to the side that beat Carlisle on Saturday. Alex Lacey started, coming in for the suspended Luke Wilkinson and Jake Howells was in for Nathan Oduwa. With Stephen McNulty, still serving part of a four-match suspension, Lacey would line up with Fraser Franks in the heart of defence. So, with the scene set, and the crowd in great voice for a cold Tuesday night, referee Kevin Johnson got the game underway.
The first half began with the Town playing from right to left, with the Luton faithful ahead of them in the West Stand. The opening exchanges proved to be quite cagey, with Jake Howells getting stuck-in early to relieve Reggie Lambe of the ball early on. The next few minutes saw the Stags applying the pressure to the town back line, but never really challenging Tyler in the Luton goal.
The trend continued through the first twenty minutes, with the game being played out in the midfield of both sides. There were half-chances for both teams; Cullen connecting well with Stockley for the Hatters but with no clear way through on goal.
On 19 minutes, Mansfield Town made the first substitution of the match with Rakish Bingham coming on for Reggie Lambe. A substitution which would later pay dividends for the home team.
On 21 minutes, Jonathan Smith had to leave the field with a bloodied nose and the Hatters were momentarily down to ten men. Despite this, the match continued in its cat and mouse style. Again, there were half chances – on 31 minutes, Drury’s free kick fell to Smith who turned his man and almost managed to get the ball through to Lacey in front of goal.
Then on 32 minutes and somewhat against the run of play, substitute Bingham received a ball played deftly over Matt Robinson’s head. Finding himself in the clear, Bingham took his chance, shooting into the goal past the arms of Tyler. Until now this had been the only real the chance for the Stags.
The remainder of the first half played out much as the opening 35 minutes. The Stags upped the ante, but Lacey proved himself in defence, heading the ball clear on several occasions.
On the stroke of half time, a cross in from Smith met Jake Howells but his header went wide and so ended the first half, the home team a goal to the good.
John Still made two changes at half-time, bringing on Shaun Whalley and Nathan Oduwa, replacing Matt Robinson and Jake Howells and after the break, both teams came out looking to raise the pace. Early on, Jayden Stockley came close to putting Oduwa through with a clever reverse pass but was blocked by a Masfield defender. Oduwa, who looked sharp and hungry throughout the second half then made a run along the byline on the left of the goal but couldn’t quite deliver a killer cross. Likewise, Whalley made a nuisance of himself out on the left and the side looked more dangerous as a result.
Halfway through the second half, the pace of the game stepped up again as the midfield battle continued. On 67 minutes Cullen took a shot after some good work between Stockley and Whalley but the shot lacked power and the keeper gathers the ball comfortably.
Next there was a substitution for both sides, with Clements replacing Hislop for the stags, and Luke Guttridge coming on for Jayden Stockley. The Hatters faithful welcomed Guttridge back warmly for his return to the first team since sustaining a foot injury earlier in the season. This would be the third and final change from Still.
Then on 73 minues, perhaps Luton’s best chance. Cullen skilfully flicked the ball over his own head on the edge of the Mansfield box and with only had the keeper to beat he put the ball just wide of the left hand post, agonisingly close for in-form Cullen who had scored three times in the previous last two games.
With ten minutes to go, and the Mansfield crowd showing their frustration, the Stags tried to break down the Hatters defence. An attack built down the left hand side but Oduwa and Harriman tracked back with the ball eventually going out for a corner to Mansfield amounting to nothing. Shortly afterwards Andy Drury receives a yellow card for a strong challenge.
Four minutes into added time, a penalty shout as Guttridge seemed to be brought down in the box. Referee Johnson waved play on and the resulting shot by Smith ripples the side netting.
So ended a frustrating night for the Hatters, with John Still feeling disappointed, but satisfied with a hard-working performance from his team despite the result.
Attendance: 2998 with 821 Hatters making the journey to Field Mill.
TOWN: Tyler; Harriman Franks, Lacey, Griffiths, Drury (y), Robinson, Smith, Howells, Cullen, Stockley
Subs Used – Whalley, Guttridge, Oduwa