Hatters head into Christmas with three big points!
LUTON TOWN 2
Att: 3,992 (1,095 Hatters)
Forget Blackpool’s famous illuminations, it was Nathan Jones’ Luton Town side who lit up Bloomfield Road to send over 1,000 travelling Hatters into Christmas with a huge smile on their faces.
Jack Marriott scored a cracker – his sixth of the season and third in his last three matches – just after the half-hour to set Town men merrily on their way.
Then Cameron McGeehan headed in his tenth goal of an increasingly gluttonous season to seal the points as early as the 48th minute as Jones’ men turned in what the manager described as the “perfect away performance”.
The result was even more impressive as Blackpool had risen into the play-off places in recent weeks, sitting two spots and two points off fifth-placed Town at kick-off, and had been beaten at home only once this term.
It’s now only one defeat in their last 13 league games for the Town, however, and they head into the festive fixtures with Colchester and Barnet in fine fettle, cemented in the top seven with eyes only on hunting down the automatic promotion spots in the New Year.
Jones made three changes, two enforced with left-sided defenders Alan Sheehan and Dan Potts ruled out through injury, James Justin and Olly Lee came into the side as their replacements, with Alex Gilliead also coming into midfield at the expense of striker Isaac Vassell.
Jones had opted for his third different formation in as many league games, with Glen Rea, captain Scott Cuthbert and Johnny Mullins as three centre-halves, Stephen O’Donnell and Justin as wing-backs with a central midfield three of Lee, McGeehan and Gilliead behind strikers Danny Hylton and Marriott.
The Town started on the front foot, Marriott and O’Donnell making inroads down the right and Lee crashing in a third-minute shot that flew high over the bar, before Mullins stepped out of the back three to tee up McGeehan, but his low 25-yarder was comfortable for home keeper Sam Slocombe.
His Hatters counterpart Christian Walton was the first goalie to have to make a real save though, the England Under-21 international flying through the air to tip over Blackpool captain Danny Pugh’s 14th-minute piledriver.
Four minutes later came the Town’s first real chance, Marriott winning a corner with a driving run and shot that was deflected wide, with Rea rising at the far post to meet Gilliead’s left-wing corner, though his free header drifted well wide.
Cuthbert, fresh from earning a year’s contract extension with his 50th League start for the Town last week, was proving strong at the heart of the back three, winning every header, making sliding clearances and standing up to bringing the ball out of defence to kickstart attacks.
When the Blackpool attack did get through, Walton was in top form, getting down low to hold Kyle Vassell’s 26th-minute effort, then tip the ex-Peterborough man’s drive over the bar soon after.
The game had an end-to-end feel to it, and Slocombe had to beat a Hylton drive from a tight angle away after a swift Hatters counter-attack down the right involving Gilliead and O’Donnell, seconds before the Town took a 31st-minute lead.
Hylton was the architect this time, bursting onto the ball in the middle of the Blackpool half and feeding strike partner Marriott into the box, where the 22-year-old checked back onto his right foot and slotted calmly under Slocombe from ten yards.
After a spell of Town dominance, the Seasiders reminded the Hatters’ defence of the major attacking threat that had made them third highest scorers in the division before kick-off, Jamille Matt glancing Eddie Nolan’s 39th-minute cross goalward, but Walton once more in the right place to gather.
The Hatters had a chance to increase their lead in time added on when Lee, after triggering the move with a stunning 50-yard pass out to O’Donnell on the right, volleyed over the bar after bursting into the box as Hylton’s cross for Marriott was
Within three minutes of the restart, the lead was doubled, Justin making good ground down the left and crossing for McGeehan to head in his tenth of the season from the edge of the six-yard box.
As the Town threatened to run riot, Hylton and Marriott both bent shots towards the far post after cutting in from the left, the latter’s drawing a gasp from the travelling Hatters behind the goal as it whistled just past the upright.
Those 1,095 Town fans were in great voice, with chants of ‘Nathan Jones’ Barmy Army’ ringing around the sparsely populated Bloomfield Road as McGeehan latched onto a Marriott lay-off and sent another 20-yarder inches past the opposite post.
Marriott and Hylton linked up wonderfully once again just before the hour, but the latter’s volley on the stretch after an incisive one-two flew across the six-yard box and Justin couldn't connect properly, but he did retrieve the ball and arc another one just past the far post, before McGeehan had another crack just off target.
In a brief spell of respite for the beleaguered Blackpool back four, their right-back Nolan broke forward and arrowed in a shot that Walton plucked easily from the air, then Brad Potts fired high over the bar in the 67th minute as the Town fans went through a medley of Christmas songs at the other end.
Ex-Hatter Mark Cullen, who had come on early in the second half, should have halved the Tangerines’ arrears with 20 minutes to go when he steered Andy Taylor’s inviting left-wing cross over the top from close range.
Within seconds, Jones introduced Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu for McGeehan, and five minutes later, Vassell for Marriott, with both goalscorers leaving the pitch to a standing ovation from the away end.
The hosts’ Vassell, Kyle, was still looking lively and the Town defence stood firm to block another of his efforts in the 77th minute, before an 80th-minute shot went well wide of Walton’s goal.
Jonathan Smith entered the fray in the 82nd minute, and almost immediately the Town fashioned another chance, Vassell setting Lee up for another crack from the edge of the box, this one almost taking a layer of paint off the crossbar as it flew powerfully over.
Smith proved his worth in the 87th minute by throwing himself bravely in the way of a thunderous free-kick from Potts after Cuthbert was penalised for climbing on Vassell 20 yards out, and from then on the Town saw the game out in a thoroughly professional manner.
In the shadow of one of the Britain’s great seaside landmarks, it was a towering display to enable all of Jones’ men to walk tall on the Golden Mile!
TOWN: Walton, O'Donnell, Cuthbert (c), Mullins, Justin, Rea, McGeehan (Mpanzu 71), Gillliead (Smith 83), Lee, Hylton, Marriott (Vassell 75). Subs not used: Cook, Senior, McQuoid, King (GK)
BLACKPOOL: Slocombe, Nolan (Gnanduillet 81), Aldred, Robertson, Taylor, Potts, Pugh (c), Payne, Philliskirk (Osayi-Samuel 56), Matt (Cullen 56), Vassell. Subs not used: Lyness, McAlister, Aimson, Redshaw