McGeehan's ninth goal of the season sinks Stanley
LUTON TOWN 1
ACCRINGTON STANLEY 0
Att: 8,008 (101 away)
Cameron McGeehan struck his ninth goal of the season late on to sink Accrington Stanley on an afternoon of patience and persistence at Kenilworth Road, making it eight games unbeaten in the league for Nathan Jones’ side.
The midfielder’s 75th-minute strike took him back to within one of top scorer Danny Hylton, although the Town actually drop a place in the Sky Bet League Two table with Portsmouth’s 4-0 home win over Mansfield taking them above the Hatters into fourth place.
Jones made just one enforced change to his starting line-up from last week’s FA Cup win at Exeter, with Jack Marriott returning from injury to partner ten-goal Hylton up front, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu missing out through suspension after his sending off for two yellow cards at St James Park.
The Town started brightly, some good interplay on the edge of the box between Jordan Cook and Alex Gilliead feeding James Justin on the right, but his cross was turned behind for a corner, which Glen Rea headed over at the far post.
Boco fired high and wide for Stanley as the visitors made their first real foray into the Hatters’ half in the seventh minute, just before Gilliead brought the best out of their keeper, Elliot Parish, with a drive from fully 30 yards.
Justin was making good progress down the Hatters’ right, and his delivery was causing problems for the Accrington defence, although McGeehan was penalised for a foul on Paddy Lacey at the far post as he battled to get on the end of a wonderful first time delivery in the 16th minute.
The game hit a bit of a lull, which was broken by Stanley skipper Seamus Conneely firing a 25-yarder narrowly wide on the half-hour, just before the Town put together their best move of the half to that point.
Cook, Gilliead and Hylton combined with some incisive one-touch passing on the edge of the box to create a good opening for McGeehan, whose shot crashed against the outside of the stanchion.
In the 34th minute, Alan Sheehan squared a short free-kick to Gilliead when many were anticipating a shot, and the Newcastle loanee fed Marriott into the box. The striker was quick to get a powerful shot away, but unfortunately for the Town, it was always rising.
Confidence was clearly growing and Hylton was next to try his luck, this time from five yards inside how own half! Stanley keeper Parish was comfortably back in his six-yard box in plenty of time to gather, however.
The Town came closest to breaking the deadlock – twice – in the 39th minute when Rea’s volley was brilliantly saved by Parish, before a stabbed effort from McGeehan forced an even better stop from the Stanley number one.
Rea got his head on another right-wing corner from Sheehan in the final minute of the first half, but the Stanley defence managed to smuggle that one away – and a subsequent corner – to keep the scoresheet blank at the interval.
Christian Walton had to make his first save, inadvertently, six minutes after half-time when Scott Cuthbert’s clearance rebounded off Terry Gornell and the Town keeper had to drop sharply to gather in his six-yard box.
Hylton carried the Town threat at the other end almost immediately, wriggling clear of some close marking from Omar Beckles to fire a low shot towards goal, then Jordan Clark cut in from the Accrington left and sent a right-footed effort well wide.
On 57 minutes Justin produced a great saving tackle to deny the same player, although an assistant’s flag would have ruled it out for offside anyway, before Hylton, Gilliead and Marriott linked up to create an opening for Cook, whose 20-yard curler flew high into the Kenilworth Road stand.
It was becoming an end-to-end affair and Cuthbert was the next to set up a Town attack, just before the hour, with a delightful chip over the top of the visitors’ defence for Hylton to run on to, but Mark Hughes got back to turn the striker’s cross-shot behind for a corner.
Jones introduced Isaac Vassell in the 66th minute, taking Marriott off, and the Cornishman’s first involvement was to win a free-kick on the edge of the Accrington area, with Hughes penalised for holding.
Sheehan stepped up and rattled the underside of the Stanley crossbar with a terrific effort that bounced down and out, with Parish eventually dropping on the ball in a goalmouth scramble that involved Hylton, Vassell and McGeehan all attempting to force it over the line.
Gornell reminded the Hatters that Accrington still carried a threat, sending a 71st-minute shot straight at Walton from 25 yards, and the Town keeper also saved smartly from Boco, although the Benin international had already been flagged offside.
Parish denied the Town again in the 74th minute when Cuthbert met Sheehan’s inviting cross with a powerful header, but the visiting keeper produced another outstanding save.
He couldn’t prevent the Town making the breakthrough with quarter-of-an-hour to go, however, when McGeehan stabbed the ball into the top corner after Hylton and Vassell had combined to set up Cook to deliver another telling low cross.
Accrington winger Sean McConville cut in from the right to send another warning shot to the Town defence with ten minutes left, and the Town were soon reduced to ten men when Cook picked up his second yellow card for an 83rd-minute foul on Matty Pearson, six minutes after his first.
Stanley went in search of an equaliser, but Walton was equal to Boco’s 88th-minute looping header, before punching the resulting corner away at the far post as the visitors threatened.
The Town number one saved his best for a minute into injury-time, however, changing direction on his goalline to claw the ball away after Clark’s corner had hit an unwitting McGeehan on the knee to preserve the victory and send nearly 8,000 Town fans home happy.
TOWN: Walton, Justin, Cuthbert, Rea, Sheehan, Lee (Mullins 90+2), McGeehan, Cook, Gilliead (Smith 87), Hylton, Marriott (Vassell 66). Subs: O’Donnell, Gray, Mackail-Smith, King (GK)
Yellows: Cook, McGeehan.
Red: Cook (for two yellows)
STANLEY: Parish, Pearson, Hughes, Beckles, Clarke, Brown, Gornell, McConville, Boco, Lacey (Taylor-Fletcher 82), Conneely. Subs: Davies, Hewitt, Ogle, Sykes, Hery, Chapman (GK)
Yellows: Parish, Clark.