Town earn three points at home against Carlisle
The Town made it 10 games unbeaten in League 2 to move within one point of the automatic promotion places with a hard-fought win over Carlisle at Kenilworth Road.
Mark Cullen, the Hatters’ two goal-hero against York in midweek, scored the all-important winner – firing home a left-foot finish from Matthew Robinson’s fine pass nine minutes before half-time.
But for the second match running the Town had a man sent-off when defender Luke Wilkinson was shown a straight red card after the hour.
But the Hatters deservedly held on to record a 10th home win in their last 13 in league action to move into fourth place and a point behind third-placed Wycombe Wanderers with a game in hand.
With Stephen McNulty serving a four-match ban, Jonathan Smith took on the role of captain for the afternoon. The Hatters lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, and started with four changes from Tuesday night’s game against York. Luke Wilkinson overcame a groin strain to partner with Fraser Franks in defence with Alex Lacey on the bench.
With the game underway, early pressure from Smith was quickly turned around by the opposition. Carlisle then won an early throw-in from Danny Granger which was cleared by the Town defence. Play changed quickly direction and with Cullen dummying for Jayden Stockley, Michael Harriman tried a cross to Nathan Oduwa, whose attempt was taken simply by the visiting keeper.
The Town’s strikers had a few attempts in the first-half including an amazing charge by Oduwa, who selflessly crossed the ball in front of the goal. But with Cullen expecting him to shoot, the chance unfortunately went to waste. But the Town looked comfortable throughout the half, and were proving a handful for the Carlisle defence.
Carlisle had their own chances in the first half including a free-kick from Grainger that was hit high over the bar and into the Kenilworth Road end. Dempsey also tried his chances with a shot that warmed Mark Tyler’s gloves.
Then, in the 36th minute, the deadlock was finally broken. Matthew Robinson sent the ball through to the unmarked Cullen and the striker didn’t hesitate to fire home a left-foot shot into the back of the net. The keeper was left standing as the shot flew past him. 1-0 Luton.
The last chance of the first-half went to Oduwa making a winding solo run to get past the Carlisle defence, eventually coming to nothing when his cross to the waiting strikers was blocked.
Half-time saw plenty of its own excitement for this Valentine’s Day fixture as Hatters Chief Executive Gary Sweet arrived on the pitch to announce the arrival of Cameron McGeehan who has rejoined the Town on loan until the end of the season. McGeehan was met with rapturous applause by the Kenilworth Road faithful as he took he turn on the pitch, thanking the crowd for their reception.
The second half began with the Town 1-0 to the good and it wasn’t long before another chance came their way. Cullen, making a mischief of himself inside the box, rolled a shot across into the box but the waiting Oduwa couldn’t quite get there. Three minutes later Cullen had yet another chance at goal, largely thanks to a Carlisle defensive error.
On 59 minutes another chance for Luton went wanting as a Cullen cross flashed across the face of goal but Stockley couldn’t quite get a foot to it. Moments later Smith went on a run down the left setting up Cullen who crossed into the box, but again Stockley couldn’t quite connect.
Then, in what could have been a turning point in the game, the ref then pulled out his red card for Wilkinson who brought down Sweeney on the edge of the Luton area. The defender will miss the next two games and made it two red cards in two games for Hatters.
But with the Town down to 10 men, the team galvanised themselves and kept the pressure on, retaining good periods of possession. On 73 minutes, Andy Drury made a break and took a swing at the ball, sending it flying towards the top right corner, but with the crowd at their feet the ball ricocheted back off the bar. The rebound fell to Cullen but his effort was ruled out for offside.
Carlisle had their second half chances with attempts by Ryan Amoo, Charlie Wyke, Grainger, Brad Potts and Sweeney but Town’s defence held firm.
With 10 to go, referee James Linington showed Jayden Stockley a yellow card for a foul on Troy Archibald-Henville, but despite being a man down from Wilkinson’s sending off, the Town rarely looked too troubled by the visitors.
With ninety minutes gone, there were four minutes of added time. The Town wound down the game sensibly, keeping the ball and keeping it simple. And that was that, another three points in the bag.
TOWN: Tyler; Franks, Smith, Drury, Griffiths, Cullen (sub Howells 83), Harriman, Robinson (sub Ruddock 76), Stockley (Yellow), Wilkinson (Red), Oduwa (sub Lacey 67).
Subs not used: Justham, Whalley, Guttridge, Hall.
Attendance 8,502, Away 276.