Mansfield 0-2 Town
Two goals from two players making their first starts in League 2 since October – Paddy McCourt and Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu – gave Town boss Nathan Jones his first win in charge.
The pair combined to set each other up for a goal in each half to give the Hatters their first ever league win at Field Mill at the 14th attempt.
It was nothing more than the Hatters deserved for a bright and determined performance against the Stags.
McCourt scored his first for the Town after seven minutes, rounding off a fine team move by side-footing home from Ruddock’s pass.
And nine minutes after the break McCourt turned provider when his cross found Ruddock who turned and belted home a stunning second to seal all three points and a sixth away win of the campaign.
It all began with Nathan Jones making six changes to the side for his first away game in charge of the Hatters.
Ruddock, Craig Mackail-Smith, Cameron McGeehan, Elliot Justham and McCourt all started – while Alan Sheehan was given his Town debut at centre-half alongside captain Scott Cuthbert. Paul Benson and Jack Marriott both dropped to the bench, which also included youth team captain Frankie Musonda. Mark Tyler, Ryan Hall, Magnus Okuonghae and Danny Green all missed out through injury.
And the much-changed Town side were celebrating after just seven minutes when their 360-minute goal drought came to an end thanks to McCourt. Alex Lawless’ superb angled pass over the Stags defence released Ruddock and his low cross across goal from the right was tucked home by the Northern Ireland international from 12 yards. In his first League 2 start since October it was McCourt’s first goal in Luton colours.
Buoyed by taking the lead it was almost 2-0 on 12 minutes when McGeehan raced goalwards unchallenged to fire a well-hit effort from the edge of the box that Mansfield keeper Scott Shearer had to tip over acrobatically.
Seven minutes later McGeehan had an even better opportunity to double the Hatters’ advantage. McCourt rolled a perfect pass from the left flank into McGeehan’s feet and after shifting the ball into position the midfielder’s shot was well-saved by Shearer, diving to his right.
To their credit, Mansfield continued to play some good football in their bid for an equaliser, but the Town defence held firm, marshalled well by Cuthbert Sheehan.
The hosts’ leading goalscorer Matt Green fired over the bar after on 42 minutes but a minute later the Town thought they should have had a penalty when Mackail-Smith went down in the box under a challenge from Ryan Tafazolli but referee Toner waved away the Hatters’ appeals.
It wasn’t until the second added minute at the end of the first half that the Stags seriously tested Justham’s goal when centre-half Krystian Pearce powered a header a yard over the crossbar following a right-wing corner.
Five minutes after the break the Town weren’t far away from making it 2-0 when a quick-thinking free-kick from McGeehan released Ruddock in the box but, before the Hatters man could get a shot away, he was denied by the covering Sean Kavanagh’s challenge.
However Ruddock, like McCourt also making his first League 2 start since October, wasn’t to be denied on 54 minutes when he doubled the lead with a goal of real class. He took down McCourt’s left-wing cross with a lovely first touch and then swivelled past his man to blast past Shearer high into the roof of the net.
With the hosts struggling to test Justham, the Town almost made it 3-0 with 20 minutes to go. Stephen O’Donnell raced onto a Ruddock headed-pass to bomb down the right and find Mackail-Smith but his first-time, goal-bound effort inside the penalty area was bravely-blocked by Pearce.
Two minutes later the hosts did threaten the Town goal but Green could only find the side-netting after initially getting the better of Cuthbert.
The Stags really should have made it 2-1 on 77 minutes only for Adi Yussuf to head over when unmarked in the box after a long throw was flicked-on into his path.
As time ticked down and the hosts begin to run out of ideas, Justham held a late shot from Clements in injury time, before Jones introduced Musonda for his League debut for the final seconds.
The youngster got involved immediately on his fleeting appearance before the final whistle was blown and the Town could celebrate a first League win at Field Mill in 84 years.
Notts County and Yeovil are next to visit Kenilworth Road. BE THERE.
Town: Justham; O’Donnell, Howells, Sheehan, Cuthbert; Smith, Lawless, McCourt (sub Lee 75), Ruddock, McGeehan, Mackail-Smith (sub Marriott 85).
Subs not used: King, Potts, Benson, O’Brien, Musonda.
Attendance: 4,245, including 739 Hatters in the away end.