Danny's the Guy again as Hatters progress to round two
EXETER CITY 1
LUTON TOWN 3
Hylton (pen) 11, (pen) 86
Att: 2,972 (310 Hatters)
Top scorer Danny Hylton set the fireworks off early on Bonfire Night with a typical all-action display in Devon to help the Hatters make it nine games unbeaten in all competitions with a 3-1 Emirates FA Cup first round win over League Two rivals Exeter.
The Town hitman has been in sparkling form since making his summer switch from Oxford, and he added two more to his season’s haul by notching a penalty in each half at St James Park; one that he won himself, the second he helped create.
Typically, the 27-year-old also picked up his seventh yellow card of the campaign for a first-half clash with home keeper Bobby Olejnik, and subsequently had the home crowd on his back for most of the game. “I think they wanted to throw me on the bonfire,” he joked afterwards.
But Hylton’s firecracker of a campaign continues and, with Glen Rea’s second goal in a Hatters shirt sandwiched in between his own ninth and tenth, the striker’s contribution was once again immense as the Hatters held off a spirited fight-back from the hosts, despite being reduced to ten men when Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu was sent off for a second yellow card with a quarter-of-an-hour to go.
Manager Nathan Jones made three changes to the starting line-up from the 0-0 draw at Notts County, with teenage right-back James Justin returning after a three-game absence through injury, while Olly Lee and Mpanzu came into midfield.
Jack Marriott missed out with an ankle knock, while Stephen O’Donnell dropped to the bench – as originally did the Scot’s house-mate Cameron McGeehan, although the midfielder was called into the team 15 minutes before kick-off when Johnny Mullins pulled up in the warm-up with a foot injury.
Exeter had the first sight of goal with Robbie Simpson firing over, but the Hatters are used to adjusting to late changes, with an injury in the warm-up occurring three times now this season, and they were soon on the front foot.
The breakthrough came in the 11th minute when Hylton was brought down in the box by Pierce Sweeney, and the Hatters striker picked himself up to chip a Panenka-style penalty down the middle of the City goal as Olejnik dived to his right.
Hylton was at the centre of the drama again in the 22nd minute when he closed the home keeper down by the corner flag on the Town right. The centre-forward nutmegged the keeper and went on a twisting run into the Grecians’ area, but couldn’t get his shot away as the home defence got back to cover.
The ball eventually found its way to Sheehan, however, but the left-back’s drive from just outside the box was deflected narrowly wide of the Grecians’ goal by Sweeney.
Hylton and Olejnik were soon into referee John Busby’s notepad, after the home keeper appeared to push the Town hitman to the ground by the advertising hoardings as he looked to retrieve the ball for a goal-kick.
They wouldn’t be alone, with Busby – who had already booked Sweeney for the foul that led to the penalty – adding Mpanzu and City midfielder Jake Taylor to his collection of names before the first half was out.
It was a half in which the Town struggled to find any rhythm and Exeter were always a threat, especially from crosses into the box. David Wheeler spurned two good chances in as many minutes from excellent deliveries from Lee Holmes on the left and Ethan Ampadu, deep on the right.
However, just after the half-hour, the Town almost went two up when Sheehan whipped in a free-kick from the right that Cook just missed. City defender Jordan Moore-Taylor didn’t though, stretching to clear and forcing Olejnik had to react smartly at his near post.
Simpson soon headed a Sweeney cross over, then six minutes before half-time the hosts were deservedly level when 16-year-old Ampadu arrowed a 20-yard shot against the post. The rebound went straight into the path of Reuben Reid, who steered it into an empty net with Walton grounded.
Within seconds of the restart, the Hatters keeper had to save well at his near post to prevent Reid from doubling his haul for the afternoon, and keep the scores level going into the break.
With neither manager making any changes at the interval, it was Exeter who came out in much the same vein as they’d finished the opening period – Holmes cutting inside onto his right foot to fire in a low shot that Walton got his body right behind.
Hylton had another chance when Cook and Mpanzu combined on the right for the latter to deliver a deep cross to the far post, but the striker’s 54th-minute shot was deflected into Olejnik’s hands.
Alex Gilliead then went on a driving run across the area, and home skipper Moore-Taylor produced a tremendous block to deny the Newcastle loanee a clear shooting opportunity as he prepared to pull the trigger.
McGeehan went close to notching his ninth of the season – and draw level with Hylton at the top of the Town scoring charts at that moment – in the 63rd minute when he met Sheehan’s inviting delivery with a flying header, but it drifted wide of the far post.
The Hatters were enjoying a good spell of pressure and with 20 minutes to go, Jones introduced Craig Mackail-Smith for his first appearance since March, when he broke his leg on another trip to Devon, at Plymouth Argyle.
And the pressure told a minute later when Mpanzu delivered a cross to the far post, where Rea met it at full stretch with his right foot, with his stabbed effort appearing to hit the post and find its way into the back of the net, possibly off Olejnik.
Within five minutes the Town were down to ten men when Mpanzu received a second yellow, somewhat harshly, after being bundled to the ground by Wheeler as the Exeter man attempted to get the ball for a free-kick conceded by Town sub Jonathan Smith. Wheeler was only booked, despite being the aggressor.
A man down, the Town defence were soon under the cosh as the hosts chased an equaliser. Holmes fired over the bar from the edge of the area with just over ten minutes to go, then he crossed for Reid, who couldn’t keep his header down, before the left winger sent a weak effort straight at Walton.
The Town were content to play on the counter, however, and despite dropping into a deeper role, Hylton had his second goal four minutes time after he carried the ball from the edge of his own box into the Exeter half and played Mackail-Smith into the area.
The Town substitute was tripped by home sub Troy Arhibald-Henville, who was surprisingly not booked, and Hylton stepped up to deliver once again, this time calmly placing the ball in the bottom corner as Olejnik dived the wrong way.
He might have completed his second hat-trick of the season moments later when he raced clear, but his shot flew high over the Hatters fans on the open terrace behind the goal and in the end, it mattered not.
Red-hot Hylton had been the Guy on fire for the Town once again, helping his side safely through to Monday’s second round draw, which will be screened live on BT Sport 1 and BBC 2 from 7pm.
TOWN: Walton, Justin (O'Donnell 87), Mullins, Cuthbert, Sheehan, Rea, Lee, Mpanzu, Cook (Mackail-Smith 70), Gilliead (Smith 62), Hylton. Subs: Gray, McGeehan, Vassell, King (GK)
Yellows: Hylton, Mpanzu, Mackail-Smith
Red: Mpanzu (two yellows)
EXETER: Olejnik, Woodman, Simpson (Grant 67), Holmes, Wheeler (Archibald-Henville 83), Moore-Taylor, Taylor, Ampadu (Watkins 87), Stacey, Sweeney, Reid. Subs: Hamon (GK), James, Oakley, McAlinden.
Yellows: Sweeney, Olejnik, Taylor, Reid