Pompey halt Hatters' unbeaten run at nine matches
LUTON TOWN 1
Att: 8,805 (975 away)
The Hatters’ nine-match unbeaten run came to a halt in front of the biggest crowd of the season at Kenilworth Road tonight as Portsmouth leapfrogged the Town into fourth place in the Sky Bet League Two table with a 3-1 win.
The Town took an early lead as things started so brightly, with Danny Hylton netting his 12th goal of the season with a textbook header on seven minutes as the biggest home crowd of the season, 8,805, produced an electric atmosphere.
But the visitors from Hampshire hit back quickly with an equaliser from striker Michael Smith, then went on to assert their authority on the night with a goal on the stroke of half-time from Gareth Evans and a third in the second half from substitute Kal Naismith.
Town boss Jones had opted to stick with the starting XI that played so well up at Morecambe on Saturday, when Hylton and Isaac Vassell goals secured a 2-0 win for the Hatters.
The game started at a blistering pace, but it was the visitors who came close to breaking the deadlock in the third minute when Matt Clarke met a Gary Roberts free-kick at the far post, but Christian Walton got a good hand to it and Alan Sheehan cleared off the line.
It was the Hatters who took the lead in the seventh minute, however, when Sheehan proved equally effective at the other end, delivering a peach of a cross from the left that Hylton headed past visiting keeper David Forde into the top corner.
Jones’ side had their tails up, and with the crowd roaring them on, they thought they had doubled the lead two minutes later when Vassell burst past Evans with an exquisite first touch, and Hylton turned his low cross in from close range.
An assistant’s flag cut short the celebrations though, and it was Pompey who would next have the ball in the back of the net, levelling in the 11th minute when Smith curled a low shot in off the far post from 20 yards.
The frenetic feel to the game continued with a string of full-blooded challenges, and it was a cruncher from Sheehan in the 26th minute the set off the move that freed Hylton down the right.
The striker nutmegged his marker Clarke twice before teeing up Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu on the edge of the box, although the midfielder was fouled and Sheehan’s free-kick was cleared.
Pompey were the next to threaten, Roberts climbing highest in the box to meet Carl Baker’s right-wing cross, but Walton’s hands were as safe as ever in dealing with the danger.
McGeehan then tried his luck from 25 yards, but his shot was deflected for another corner that Sheehan pinged to the edge of the box where Olly Lee was waiting to pull the trigger Paul Scholes-style, and his 20-yard volley was only just off target.
It was real end-to-end stuff, and from the visitors’ next corner, in the 34th minute, they worked it short to Roberts who picked out Michael Doyle coming around the far post, but the Pompey captain’s volley flashed into Walton’s side-netting.
The Hatters keeper had to be at his best four minutes before half-time when Roberts was gifted the ball 25 yards from goal and the ex-Ipswich man let fly, but Walton flew across his line to push it away.
A minute later there was a huge shout for a penalty when Alex Gilliead, whose gliding runs were starting to penetrate the visitors’ defence more and more, crossed low and the ball appeared to strike Evans’ hand. Referee David Coote was not moved, and waved play on.
Before the half was out, Hylton hit a screamer from fully 30 yards that had Forde at full stretch, but the visitors’ keeper managed to push the ball away and within a couple of minutes, it was in the back of the Town net as Evans fired into the roof of Walton’s net after a corner was only half-cleared.
The Town came out positively after the break and Vassell’s pace was causing the visitors problems. They were taking drastic measures to try to halt him in full flow, which referee Coote finally recognised when he showed Danny Rose a yellow card for a trip just before the hour.
But the Town weren’t creating any clear-cut chances, and it was Portsmouth who came closest to adding to their score in the 62nd minute, when Christian Burgess headed against the bar from close range after Baker had cut the ball back from the right byline.
Evans spurned a glorious opportunity to net his second in the 66th minute when he glanced Roberts’ cross wide from close range.
Sheehan took the fight to Pompey at the other end, cutting in from the left to fire an effort at goal with his right foot, but it was straight at Forde in the Pompey goal.
McGeehan was the next to have a go, but was off balance when he hit a left-footer from 25 yards and it flew into the Kenilworth Road End, then – with eight minutes to go – Burgess cleared off the line when Sheehan volleyed at goal with Forde stranded after punching a Justin cross clear.
Portsmouth struck the killer blow two minutes later, however, when substitute Kal Naismith fired low across Walton from the right-side of the area and found the bottom corner.
Jones, who had brought Jordan Cook on for Gilliead just before the hour, immediately introduced Craig Mackail-Smith for Justin as the Town sought a way back into the game.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, and it’s on to Exeter on Saturday with an impressive record of just one defeat in ten matches.
TOWN: Walton, Justin (Mackail-Smith 86), Rea, Mullins, Sheehan (c), Lee, Mpanzu, Gilliead (Cook 58), McGeehan, Hylton, Vassell (Marriott 79). Subs: O’Donnell, Smith, Cuthbert, King (GK)
Yellow: Lee, Sheehan
POMPEY: Forde, Doyle (c), Burgess, Clarke, Stevens, Rose, Evans, Bennett (Whatmough 88), Baker, Roberts (Naismith 74), Smith (Hunt 90). Subs: O’Brien, Talbot, Linganzi, Lalkovic.
Yellow: Evans, Stevens, Rose, Hunt.