Town show promise but County take the points
The Hatters slipped to their first defeat under new manager Nathan Jones, going down 2-0 to Notts County to slip to 16th in Sky Bet League 2.
Alan Sheehan put through his own net before Jon Stead doubled the advantage in a 12-minute second-half period that took the game from the Town.
The hosts had numerous chances in the first half but went in goalless despite some excellent play on the ball at Kenilworth Road.
Pelly Ruddock was among those to spurn opportunities before the break, meaning the Hatters have now gone goalless at home in their last three outings.
Jones named an unchanged side from last week’s victory at Mansfield, but one of those in particular had a few nervy moments early on.
Alex Lawless was adjudged to catch Stead with a late tackle, earning a booking in just the third minute, also gaining a word from referee Keith Hill for another foul just a couple of minutes later.
But with the ball at their feet, the Town looked sublime in the first half. Paddy McCourt’s sumptuous cross-field ball set Stephen O’Donnell away down the right to win a corner, from which Ruddock could only sky a 15-yard strike over the bar from the half-dealt with delivery.
It was McCourt who was next to have a chance, jinking his way through three County players from Craig Mackail-Smith’s through ball to force a block from the defender, sending Kenilworth Road into a cauldron of noise in the process.
Cameron McGeehan and Ruddock were also unable to profit from half-chances, but the visitors remained a threat when Izale McLeod was met by Stead in a central position, yet he could only fire over from a promising position.
The Hatters did have the ball in the net when Mackail-Smith turned and struck home a nice finish, but the referee’s whistle halted celebrations, spotting a handball from McGeehan upon attempting to take the ball down.
It was a frenetic first half at Kenilworth Road, and the deadlock was also broken by some superb skill by Mackail-Smith. The Town man managed to outjump his over-towering marker, reacting to the second ball to stream through the away defence before forcing Roy Carroll into a smart stop.
And the hosts were not done there for the first period, with Ruddock once again boasting an opportunity, profiting from more excellent hold-up play from Mackail-Smith, ghosting through the defenders to drag his effort wide when plenty more could have been achieved.
The Hatters started the second half with equal impressiveness, as Ruddock and O’Donnell combined excellently down the right once again to force a corner, which ultimately came to nothing.
The Town continued their impressive work-rate, and their efforts matched by the fans’ noise although only half-chances threatened Carroll’s goal heading towards the hour mark.
But the Hatters were undone just a couple of minutes later. Jake Howells was left with two players to mark, and the overlap proved decisive as the ball was fizzed into the danger area for Sheehan to touch helplessly past Elliot Justham.
The goal prompted a double switch from Jones, throwing on new loan signing Joe Pigott and Olly Lee for Smith and McGeehan, yet the afternoon soon got worse as Stead showed a sly turn of pace to blitz through Scott Cuthbert from deep, beating both he and Justham to the ball to double the advantage.
The Town, two goals behind, were only able to create minimal chances as debutant Pigott nodded McCourt’s first time ball straight to Carroll’s chest.
McCourt also tried his luck, this time from range, profiting from his initial mis-control to be teed up by Pigott, but the shot was straight down the throat of the veteran keeper.
And the substitute also came close to netting a debut goal, attempting to pick a shot from Mackail-Smith’s knockdown, only succeeding in getting the ball stuck in his feet.
It proved to be the last of Mackail-Smith’s afternoon, replaced by Paul Benson for the final five minutes in a bid to restore a last-ditch comeback.
It seemed as though the Town had pulled one back when Pigott spun and shot from Benson’s knockdown, and despite the beating of Carroll, Haydn Hollis was lurking on the line to head away to keep the Town off the scoresheet once again.
Town: Justham, O’Donnell, Cuthbert, Sheehan, Howells, McCourt, Smith (sub Lee 61), Lawless, McGeehan (sub Pigott 61), Ruddock Mpanzu, Mackail-Smith (sub Benson 85).
Subs not used: Tyler, Marriott, Okuonghae, Banton.
Attendance: 8,147 with 390 following Notts County.