Jack Marriott's impressive lob proves the difference at the Matchroom Stadium
Jack Marriott’s spectacular first-half lob proved the only goal of the game as the Hatters made it four consecutive League 2 wins with victory at Leyton Orient.
Marriott made the most of Craig Mackail-Smith’s flick-on to notch his 12th goal of the season, and a fourth in five outings.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing for a Town side under pressure for large periods of the second half, but a fantastic defensive display ensured the side held on for a fifth win in six, moving to 50 points and to 12th in the League 2 table.
Nathan Jones gave an immediate start to loan signing Jonathan Mitchell
in place of Mark Tyler, while Jake Howells also missed out through injury to Dan Potts.
Mitchell encountered a quiet opening period, a sign of the game as a whole as Paddy McCourt attempted to replicate his weaving magic from Tuesday night against Morecambe.
The Northern Irishman implicated it to good effect, twice winning corners early on as the Hatters built up an early head of steam.
McCourt was also instrumental in the Town’s first opening, slipping in Stephen O’Donnell to put a teasing ball into the box. The delivery found Mackail-Smith, but neither he nor Marriott nor Cameron McGeehan could find a half yard to fire past Alex Cisak.
Orient were more limited in their opportunities, with top-scorer Jay Simpson having the best of those, cutting inside to strike high and wide as Mitchell watched on comfortably.
Mitchell then turned defence into attack just minutes later, finding Mackail-Smith with a long ball downfield, who in turn flicked on to Marriott. With work to do, the Hatters striker took the opportunity superbly, executing a sumptuous side-foot lob over Cisak from a tight angle just inside the area, completing a goal-scoring double over Orient this season.
It was richly deserved for a Town side looking assured at the back and threatening up front, although there were a few uncomfortable moments when Mitchell caught Shaun Brisley when looking to punch away a free-kick.
The Orient man was down for at least seven minutes, eventually stretchered off to be replaced by experienced midfielder Jobi McAnuff.
Inadvertently, the game grew more and more tetchy following that incident, with numerous stoppages in play as more O’s players than Hatters felt the detriment of an increased level of aggression.
When the game was being played, however, it was the hosts creating half opportunities. Ollie Palmer could only nod over Sammy Moore’s excellent cross before Jerome Binnom-Williams cut inside to draw an excellent save from Mitchell after the 20-yard effort had looked to be creeping in the far post.
The second half began in much the same niggly manner, with neither side creating too many chances as the Town looked to double their lead.
While the hosts upped it on the hour mark, opportunities for an equaliser proved limited despite a couple of communication lapses from the Hatters, who replaced McCourt with Pelly Ruddock in a bid for a potentially decisive second goal.
And the Hatters were inches away from doing so when Marriott played a neat reverse towards the fresh legs of Ruddock, who couldn’t quite take the ball in his grasp on the edge of the O’s area. The resultant ball fell nicely for Potts, who bent a shot narrowly wide of the far post with the ‘keeper beaten, as the left-back looked to mark his return to the side with a goal.
Orient undeniably had more of the ball as the game headed to the last 20 minutes, but seldom tested Mitchell as the Town debutant handled superbly despite the pouring east London rain.
That was in a large part down to captain Scott Cuthbert, putting in a solid display at the back exemplified by his brave last gasp header to deny a certain equaliser.
Still the hosts came, but the Town remained resolute despite the incessant pressure down both flanks, forcing Jones to throw on Magnus Okuonghae in place of Potts to try and sure up the back four.
And the Hatters held on to the obvious delight of Jones, saluting the crowd at the final whistle before shouting his way down the tunnel as his side moved to within three points of the play-off places.
Hatters: Mitchell, O’Donnell, Cuthbert, Sheehan, Potts (sub Okuonghae 86), Smith, Lee, McGeehan, McCourt (sub Ruddock 64), Marriott (sub Green 76), Mackail-Smith
Unused subs: Justham, Lawless, Benson, Pigott
Attendance: 5,684, with 1,402 shouting for the Hatters. Thank you for your excellent support!