Mackail-Smith penalty has Hatters win at home at last
Craig Mackail-Smith’s second half penalty was enough for the Hatters to clinch a vital three points and a first home win of the season against Mansfield.
The striker was felled by Ryan Tafazolli just before the hour mark, but picked himself up to smash the spot-kick straight down the middle of Brian Jensen’s goal for a 1-0 victory in front of almost 8,000 fans.
Mackail-Smith had already been denied an outstanding overhead kick by the assistant’s flag in the first half, but was not to go without his third goal of the season to give Luton a deserved victory.
It was by no means a clear-cut victory, with Mansfield pressing in the last 10 minutes, but despite a nervy finale the Town were able to hang on for a vital three points at Kenilworth Road.
The Hatters made three changes following last week’s defeat to Notts County, with Stephen McNulty, Paddy McCourt and Cameron McGeehan all coming in. And it was McCourt who had the opening opportunity but his free-kick from the inside right was comfortably dealt with by the Mansfield keeper.
McGeehan was also in and amongst the early Luton attacks, breaking through the Mansfield midfield to earn a free-kick 30 yards out, which again came to nothing as the Town dominated the early proceedings.
The Stags got a foothold in the game soon after, but it was the Hatters who continued to form the half-chances, before Smith had his low shot, the best chance of the first 45 minutes, saved low down by Jensen from ten yards out.
The visitors then lodged their first real meaningful attack just after the 10-minute mark as Nathan Thomas found a fraction of room to get a shot away on the edge of the area that was well blocked by Griffiths.
Despite early domination, the Town were unable to fashion many clear-cut chances, with McQuoid the latest to jig his way through to the area, but again the hosts were left disappointed as their claims for a trip on Mackail-Smith were not met by the referee.
Mansfield became increasingly threatening on the break, and were able to fashion a chance of their own as Matt Green had a snap-shot dealt with excellently by Mark Tyler after McNulty – who replaced the suspended Scott Cuthbert in the back four – lost his footing in the area.
The home faithful became increasing frustrated with numerous decisions not going their way, with the officials missing an apparent elbow from Green on Luke Wilkinson, with the Town centre-half requiring treatment following the off-the-ball incident.
Chances dried up as the half developed, with numerous refereeing decisions going against the Hatters, who frequently gave the ball away in the last ten minutes of a bustling 45 minutes, the half eventually ending goalless in the Kenilworth Road sunshine.
The Town continued their dominance in the second half, and Mackail-Smith was once again left appealing in vain for a foul against Krystian Pearce 25 yards from goal.
But an early chance fell to the Stags on 50 minutes through Craig Westcarr who, after being put through from a counter-attack from the hosts, had his shot superbly saved from Tyler, who then dealt equally well with the spinning ball before it disappeared into the back of the net.
The Hatters were eventually rewarded for their endeavour though. Mackail-Smith latched onto a fine thoughball from McCourt but was hauled down in the area by Tafazolli. The striker dusted himself down to fire in the opener shortly before the hour mark. The offending Tafazolli was perhaps fortunate to remain on the pitch given he was the last man in the visiting defence.
A goal to the good, the Town were unable to press for a second, limited to an Olly Lee half-chance that the 24-year-old fired over from 10 yards, with the desire for that elusive victory at home becoming ever greater having previously lost two and drawn one of their games at Kenilworth Road this season.
While Mansfield were pressing, they were far from peppering the Town goal, limited to long-range efforts, mainly from substitute Jack Thomas who twice tested Tyler from difference in tend second-half minutes but to no avail.
The Town opted for some fresh legs with McGeehan, who just minutes before had nodded over from a Stephen O’Donnell cross, replaced by Mark O’Brien, alongside Danny Green, himself a late substitute for the Town.
Having suffered late goals in four of the previous seven league matches this campaign, nerves were understandably fraught in the home back four, but a commanding display from McNulty, marshalled by man-of-the-match Tyler, kept Mansfield at bay as the Town secured a first clean sheet of the season also.
Groans rang all around as four added minutes were announced, but the visitors could only muster a half-chance through Ari Yussuf’s header as Mackail-Smith defied his 93-plus minutes of running to execute some superb hold-up play in the dying moments to secure three points in Bedfordshire for the first time of the season.
The Town return to Kenilworth Road for their next league game, with AFC Wimbledon the visitors at 3pm next Saturday.
TOWN: Tyler; O’Donnell, Wilkinson, McNulty, Griffiths; McQuoid (sub Green 81), Smith, McGeehan (sub O’Brien 86), Lee, McCourt (sub Lawless 94), Mackail-Smith. Subs not used: Justham, Williams, O’Brien, Hall.
Attendance: 7,939, with 262 following Mansfield.