Hatters make it nine unbeaten with "complete performance"
LUTON TOWN 2
Hylton 26, Vassell 60
Att: 1,507 (520 Hatters)
The Hatters turned in “the complete performance”, according to manager Nathan Jones, to beat Morecambe 2-0 and move back up to fourth in the Sky Bet League Two table this afternoon.
On a filthy day by the Lancashire coast, Danny Hylton hit his 11th goal of the season and Isaac Vassell his first – and his debut goal in professional football – to extend the Town’s unbeaten run in the league to nine matches.
Roared on by 520 travelling fans, many who didn’t make it to the Globe Arena until well after kick-off following traffic problems on the M6, the Hatters dominated their hosts to leapfrog Tuesday night’s opponents Portsmouth, who could only draw with Cheltenham, and record a third successive clean sheet in the league.
Jones made three changes to his starting line-up, with Johnny Mullins in at centre-half for skipper Scott Cuthbert, who was ill, while Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu returned to midfield after serving a one-match ban in place of Jordan Cook, who was suspended following his dismissal against Accrington last week.
Up front, Vassell came in for only his second league start for the Hatters in place of Jack Marriott, who dropped to the bench.
The Hatters made a blistering start, dominating possession and making several penetrative runs into the Morecambe box, with Vassell especially a threat.
It was his strike partner Hylton, however, who was first to register a shot on target, which home keeper Barry Roche blocked in unorthodox fashion with his legs.
Alex Gilliead was pressing high too, and after robbing left-back James Jennings of possession, the Newcastle loanee drove to the byline, only for his cross to be turned around.
Jennings proved a threat at the other end after good work from Cole Stockton on 19 minutes, but Glen Rea – continuing at centre-half, this time alongside Mullins – got a flicked header clear and Christian Walton confidently gathered the resulting corner.
Gilliead was gliding through the Globe Arena mud, and he and Hylton combined to set Cameron McGeehan up on the edge of the box, but the midfielder couldn’t get his shot away.
Seconds later, however, Hylton had broken the deadlock – and how! The top scorer collected the ball 25 yards out and shuffled sideways with it before bending an exquisite right-footed shot around Roche and into the hosts’ net.
Just before the half-hour the ex-Oxford striker almost produced a carbon copy, holding onto the ball after a run into the box was blocked and coming back outside to curl another one towards the bottom corner, only this time Roche kept it out with a strong left arm.
Morecambe fired a couple of warning shots as the first half progressed, centre-half Ryan Edwards dispossessing Hylton and driving one over the bar from 30 yards, before Stockton called Walton into action for his first real save and then blasted one high and handsome from inside the box.
It was turning into the Danny Hylton show at the other end and after more good work on the right by Gilliead, the leading scorer forced another good save from Roche with an angled shot.
Veteran striker Kevin Ellison glanced a header just wide of Walton’s right-hand stanchion on 42 minutes as Morecambe came more and more into the game, then referee Ben Toner waved away Shrimps appeals for a penalty as Sheehan challenged Aaron McGowan for a far post cross.
But overall, the Hatters were good for their half-time lead – and it should really have been more for their early domination and sharp passing through midfield on a difficult surface.
Vassell, like Gilliead, Mpanzu and McGeehan, was gliding through the Lancashire mud and another storming burst down the left almost produced a second, but no-one could get the faintest of touches needed on his low cross.
Then, on 51 minutes, Olly Lee ran onto a loose ball and unleashed a rocket of a shot that seemed destined for the back of the net until a home defender diverted it wide for a corner, which was delivered by Sheehan and headed onto the roof of the net by McGeehan.
Stockton reminded the Town back four of the threat he posed, coming close to his own 11th goal of the season just before the hour, but his shot from just inside the area after a smart turn was always rising.
The Hatters doubled the lead on the hour when James Justin was left in oceans of space to the right of the Morecambe penalty area, and he needed no second invitation to shoot.
Roche did well to block the right-back’s effort, but the power was such that the home keeper could only push it up onto the crossbar and Vassell was waiting to pounce for his first goal in a Luton shirt, nodding it in from virtually on the goalline.
Mpanzu was the next to go close, playing a delightful one-two with Hylton and striding around Roche, but he could only find the side-netting from a tight angle.
The Hatters – and Hylton and Mpanzu in particular – were rampant. After latching onto another ball that put him clear, the latter backheeled for the former to try to pick his spot, but home centre-half Dean Winnard cleared off the line with Roche beaten again.
On 69 minutes, Gilliead and Hylton combined on the right to great effect, but Vassell couldn’t quite get on the end of his partner’s low cross as it fizzed across the six-yard box.
Then, on the other side of the penalty box, Hylton waltzed to the byline again but his cut-back went begging as the Hatters looked more and more likely to add to their lead.
Jones introduced Marriott for Vassell, who left the pitch to a standing ovation from the 520 travelling Hatters who made up more than a third of the crowd, and Jonathan Smith for Mpanzu as the game neared its conclusion.
As the away fans in the Bay Radio Stand gave oles to the Town’s possession and sang in great voice, the hosts were reduced to ten men with five minutes left when Alex Whitmore was shown a straight red card for jumping into a challenge on Lee just inside the Town half.
Smith soon picked up a yellow, then he delivered a peach of a cross in injury-time that fellow sub Marriott met with a firm header. It went just wide and the striker was penalised for a push, seconds before Hylton picked up another yellow for a foul on Jennings as the clock ticked down.
It slightly marred a brilliant afternoon for the striker, but he had done as much as anyone to ensure a second successive league win and keep the Town hanging firmly on the coattails of the automatic promotion spots.
Town: Walton, Justin, Mullins, Rea, Sheehan, Lee, McGeehan, Mpanzu (Smith 83), Gilliead (Gray 86), Vassell (Marriott 80), Hylton. Subs: O’Donnell, Mackail-Smith, McQuoid, King (GK)
Yellow: Smith, Hylton
Morecambe: Roche, McGowan, Edwards, Winnard, Murphy (Turner 71), Molyneux, Ellison (Mullin 71), Whitmore, Jennings, Stockton (Massanka 82), Rose. Subs: Nizic, Wakefield, Conlan, Dunn.