REPORT: OXFORD UNITED 2-3 LUTON TOWN
Joe Pigott’s first goals in Hatters colours coupled with Olly Lee’s superb volley gave the Hatters an 11th away victory of the season thanks to a thrilling 3-2 victory at Oxford United.
Pigott tapped in from Benji Buchel’s mistake to equalise before Lee’s first-time effort secured a thrilling first-half comeback.
The striker finished the game with a clinical strike, giving the Town a victory after conceding first for the first time in almost two years.
Danny Hylton opened the scoring after just 90 seconds, while Chez Dunkley equalised in an end-to-end encounter at the Kassam Stadium.
Nathan Jones gave Alex Lawless his 200th Town appearance, in for Jonathan Smith who dropped out of the 18. A doubt over Jack Marriott’s fitness gave him a place on the bench, replaced by Pigott for the only other change.
But it was a disastrous start for the Hatters, conceding within two minutes as Hylton slotted confidently past Justham. The frontman was set by a perfect Kemar Roofe through-ball following a charge down from Lee’s attempted breakaway, a sucker-punch for a Hatters side looking composed on the ball in the opening stages.
The Town were getting forward at every opportunity, mostly through Pelly Ruddock, operating behind lone-striker Pigott, with his pace in behind.
It was from one of these runs where the visitors got their first chance. Ruddock hung a ball into the area for Pigott to knock down for the onrushing Lee, only for his volley to be charged down in the Oxford defence.
In Roofe, the hosts still held a valiant threat, with the Player of the Year nominee taking aim from distance, curling his long-range effort wide with Justham untroubled.
The Hatters had their first major chance on 20 minutes when Lawless picked out Stephen O’Donnell down the right, who in turn found Ruddock on the edge of the area. It seemed Ruddock, scorer against Dagenham, was unaware of the time he had, electing to scuff a first-time effort wide when a touch could, and probably should, have been taken.
The game reared up in intensity as Hylton seemed to lead with an elbow on Dan Potts, earning the striker a booking and an angry reaction from Alan Sheehan, pushing Hylton to the ground, although he escaped with just a word in the ear.
Despite their lead, goalscoring opportunities remained at a premium for Oxford, although Chris Maguire’s free-kick whistled just narrowly passed the post as half-time beckoned.
But just as the Town looked to go in with a deficit, calamity in the hosts’ back four gifted Nathan Jones’ side a leveller. Keeper Buchel made a mess of Dunkley’s backpass, falling over and gifting the ball to Josh McQuoid with a heavy touch. His pull-back met Pigott with the goal at his mercy, and the big striker couldn’t miss from a couple of yards to send his team back to terms at the break.
At least that’s what we thought. With a goal of superb quality, the Hatters went ahead in stoppage time. Pigott and O’Donnell combined in a clinical counter, and as the ball presented itself to Green on the right-wing, his sumptuous cross met Lee perfectly on the volley from 15 yards to send the travelling fans into delirium at the interval.
The Town started the second half in ascendancy too, denying Oxford any meaningful possession on the ball while looking to launch attacks of their own.
But the lead lasted just a few minutes. Dunkley rose the highest from Maguire’s free-kick to nod into the ground and then beyond Justham and square the game up once more at 2-2.
It was end-to-end thereon at the Kassam Stadium, with Green and Lee both having shots blocked after more excellent jinking work from Ruddock saw him reach the byline.
And in the blink of an eye, the Hatters were ahead yet again. Lee shaped for a shot on the edge of the area, but instead clipped a ball to Ruddock. He found Pigott, who earned himself a yard of space before unleashing a lovely curling finish beyond Buchel.
Nathan Jones introduced Cameron McGeehan for Lee, allowing everyone to get their breath back amidst a thrilling encounter in Oxfordshire.
Despite the goals, Justham rarely had a chance to test his glovework, but a good save from Liam Sercombe’s long drive kept the Hatters ahead, repeating the dose from Maguire, also chancing his arm from far out.
The Town, composed on the ball, were taking the sting out of Oxford’s attacks as the game headed into the final ten minutes.
The hosts thought they had their equaliser too, when James Roberts’ shot from the edge of the box cannoned off the post and away from danger. Back Oxford came, but the Hatters seemed to be weathering the storm, despite Hylton nodding narrowly over the bar after Zane Banton was introduced for the Hatters.
Nerves were shredded by the time the four added minutes were signalled, with Sercombe whistling a strike over the bar before Ruddock did brilliantly to win a free-kick and alleviate any pressure and seal the win for the Hatters ahead of Tuesday's trip to Carlisle.
Hatters: Justham, O’Donnell, Potts, Rea, Sheehan, Lawless, Lee (sub McGeehan 70), Green (sub Banton 83), Ruddock, Pigott, McQuoid (sub Howells 90+3)
Subs not used: King, Benson, Marriott, Musonda
Attendance: 8838, with 816 supporting the Hatters. Thank you for your fantastic support.