Hatters fall to narrow defeat on the road once more
The Town sank to their fourth successive defeat in League 2 - despite hitting the woodwork twice in the second period at Newport.
Elliot Lee’s shot and Luke Wilkinson’s header came back off the post and bar respectively early in the second half as the Hatters came close to equalising former Town man Aaron O’Connor’s first half effort.
But the Hatters couldn’t find a way through and Newport held onto record a narrow win and inflicted a sixth defeat in seven matches on the Hatters.
John Still made one change to the side that lost at Portsmouth on Saturday with Lee replacing Shaun Whalley. The on-loan West Ham striker partnered Mark Cullen in attack in a 4-4-2 formation.
Lee showed some promising early touches as the Hatters started the brighter of the two sides and on 15 minutes Alex Lawless’s fine turn in the box saw him cross dangerously into the box but the home side were able to clear.
Newport came into the game on the run of a five-match winless streak at home and on 16 minutes Elliot Justham was tested for the first time when he got down to keep out Ryan Jackson’s low shot.
Luke Guttridge, employed on the left flank, almost conjured up an opening goal after being played in down the wing on 18 minutes, but four minutes later the Town fell behind. Jackson’s long throw was not dealt with by the Hatters defence and O’Connor was free to swing a right-foot shot goalwards that gave Justham no chance.
Hurt by going behind, Guttridge’s low shot was held by Joe Day in the Newport goal straight from the kick-off but County, buoyed by their goal, came close to doubling their lead when Yan Klukowski headed wide on 24 minutes.
Right-wing-back Jackson was the hosts’ outlet ball, and he almost made it 2-0 on 26 minutes when his run and shot from an acute angle was turned over by the fingertips of Justham.
The Town were having plenty of the ball but struggling to get in behind the Newport back three and Andy Drury’s shot from 20 yards on 28 minutes whistled just wide of the target summed up their attacking threat in the opening 45 minutes.
Such is the Hatters’ luck of late, referee Malone waved away their penalty shouts on 36 minutes when Lawless’ cross hit the turf and bounced up and hit Kevin Feeley on the arm.
But as half-time approached it was the hosts that looked the more likely to score again with Stephen McNulty blocking Max Porter’s effort from distance before Lee Minshull arrowed a shot wide of the target from the edge of the box with the last action of a frustrating first half for the Hatters.
The second half almost started so well for the Town when on 50 minutes Lee came mighty close to making it 1-1. The striker played a one-two with Lawless on the edge of the box but his shot came back off the inside of the post.
Moments after that chance the Hatters changed tactics, matching up the home side by playing three centre-backs and wing-backs with Fraser Franks replacing Michael Harriman.
The change in tact had the desired effect as shortly before the hour the Town twice came close to finding an equaliser. Firstly, Cullen seized on a dreadful mistake from the hosts to run goalwards but forced wide and with no support, the striker went for goal and wasn’t far away with a firm drive. Lee then came close to scoring following Guttridge’s left-wing corner on 58 minutes when the striker’s near-post header was beaten away by keeper Day.
Just after the hour the Hatters made their second change, Paul Benson replacing Cullen but on 66 minutes the Town were indebted to Justham for keeping out Minshull’s back-post header, with the keeper palming the ball onto the post.
But the Hatters’ ill fortune in front of goal continued twice in the space of a minute on 67 minutes when Lee wriggled free of his marker to dart in the box and force Day into a smart save and from the resultant corner Luke Wilkinson’s header struck the angle of post and bar and away to safety.
Still introduced Nathan Oduwa for Lawless for the final 18 minutes but as time ticked down, Newport looked the more likely side to add to the score with Justham reacting smartly to O’Connor’s shot from a narrow angle on 81 minutes when tipping the ball over the crossbar.
Lee’s shot lacked power from the edge of the area with three minutes left on the clock and a minute later Cameron McGeehan also shot wide with a half-chance.
And that, after four added minutes, was that as the Hatters suffered another more misery away from Kenilworth Road, their fifth successive defeat on the road.
Despite the defeat the Hatters remain in sixth place in League 2.
Next up: Wycombe in front of the tv cameras next Tuesday. BE THERE.
TOWN: Justham; Harriman (sub Franks 52), Howells, McNulty, Wilkinson; McGeehan, Drury, Guttridge, Lawless (sub Oduwa 72); Cullen (sub Benson 61), Lee.
Subs not used: Robinson, Stockley, Hall, King.
Attendance: 2,536, including 349 backing the Hatters.