Hatters seal play-off spot with a fine 4-1 win at Stanley
ACCRINGTON STANLEY 1
LUTON TOWN 4
Beckles OG 49
Att: 2,150 (590 Hatters)
The Town made certain of their place in the Sky Bet League Two play-offs – and strengthened their grip on fourth place – with an entertaining 4-1 win at in-form Accrington Stanley this afternoon.
James Justin netted his first senior goal for the club to give Nathan Jones’ side a first-half lead, and after Matty Pearson had levelled before the break, the Town took all three points with an Omar Beckles own goal putting them back in front before Isaac Vassell and substitute Jack Marriott got in on the act.
The result means the Town - who are unbeaten in six matches - sit at the head of the play-off positions on 74 points, with fifth-placed Exeter the only team who can climb above them on the final day next week, although the Grecians – who are three points behind the Hatters – would also have to make up a five-goal swing.
What made the result all the more impressive is that Accrington were second in the division's form table, unbeaten in 15 matches up to last week's defeat at Newport, and still able to make the end-of-season shoot-out.
Jones made two changes to his starting line-up, with Jake Gray, who scored at the Wham Stadium in the FA Cup defeat in January, coming into midfield in place of the injured Lawson D’Ath while Vassell returned up front in place of suspended Danny Hylton.
The hosts enjoyed the majority of the early possession, and it was from a right-wing cross by Jordan Clark that their first opportunity arose, striker Billy Kee’s control taking him in front of Scott Cuthbert in the box, but his shot proved too high.
Knowing they needed to win both their two remaining matches, Accrington were asking all the questions in the opening quarter-of-an-hour and it needed skipper Scott Cuthbert and centre-half partner Alan Sheehan to stand tall to head away a bombardment of crosses, in particularly from Sean McConville on the Stanley left.
The Town’s first sight of goal came in the 26th minute when an intricate passing move between Olly Lee, Ollie Palmer and Gray resulted in the latter being tripped 25 yards out as he tried to play Isaac Vassell into the box.
It was Sheehan territory, and the Irishman’s curling left-footer was destined for the top corner until home keeper Marek Rodak flew across his line to pish the ball behind. Sheehan would go close from the resulting corner too, his header from Lee’s set-piece going just over the bar and onto the roof of the net.
Two minutes later the Hatters did have the advantage, however, and it was another piece of fine link play between Vassell and Palmer on halfway that saw the on-loan Leyton Orient man play Justin in on the right, and the teenager made no mistake with an angled finish past Rodak into the bottom corner.
Buoyed by being a goal to the good, the Town started to dominate the ball and Palmer flashed a 20-yard effort flashed across the face of Rodak’s goal just after the half-hour, then – from almost a carbon copy attack to that which led to the goal – he played Justin in again on 38 minutes.
This time, however, an untimely bobble in the Accrington box resulted in the right-back’s shot being sliced high over Rodak’s crossbar as the great chance to double the lead – and his Town goal tally – went begging.
Stuart Moore was asked to make his first real save on 39 minutes when Shay McCartan found himself free in the box, but the on-loan Reading man reacted well at his near post. From the resulting corner, however, Stanley were level – Pearson rising to head McConville’s delivery home, despite Justin’s best efforts to clear off the line.
They might have taken the lead a minute before the break too, but Moore acrobatically tipped McConville’s 20-yard blast over the bar and the teams went in at the break on level terms.
Stanley started the second half well and created two early chances within the first minute for Pearson and Mark Hughes, but the Town stood firm and by the 49th minute were back in front – in bizarre circumstances.
Justin took a throw on the right and there appeared no danger whatsoever as Beckles turned to nod Gray's hooked cross back to Rodak inside his six-yard box. Unfortunately for the Stanley defender, his keeper was almost standing next to him and his looping header sailed over Rodak and into the back of the net.
Moore made another fine save to tip a McCartan free-kick over, but the Town were looking dangerous on the break and Vassell extended the lead on 54 minutes with his 12th goal of the campaign when he squeezed Palmer’s low cross home as Rodak scrambled across his line in a vain attempt to keep it out.
Accrington tried to hit back, Beckles almost making amends for his own goal with a 20-yard volley that shaved the top of the crossbar, but Vassell was rampant and he should have made it four – or squared for Palmer to tap in – with 65 minutes on the clock.
The Cornishman burst past Stanley defender Hughes down the right and bore down on the hosts’ goal, but Rodak got enough on his cross shot to send the ball up into air and somehow the Accrington defender and keeper got back to clear over the bar as Palmer and Vassell tried to force it over the line.
By this point the game was end-to-end like a basketball match, and Moore had to get down low to make another fine save from Stanley left-back Janoi Donacien, who tried his luck from range, before Palmer had two stabs at goal in the 72nd minute, the second deflected inches wide.
Vassell made way for Marriott two minutes later, before Jones introduced Jonathan Smith for Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu on 78 as he looked to get more game time into the legs of the pair who scored against Derby reserves in midweek.
Palmer had another opportunity to net his fourth goal in a Town shirt when Gray got to the right byline and cut back an inviting cross in the 82nd minute, but the striker’s shot was blocked and deflected wide for a corner.
It would be Gray’s last involvement, Luke Gambin brought on in his place with six minutes to go, but it was an Accrington sub who had the game’s next effort, ex-Dunstable Town striker Jonathan Edwards arrowing a low shot past Moore’s outstretched right arm – and thankfully past the post.
Two minutes into time added on, another Town game-changer, Marriott, put gloss on a fine afternoon for the Town when he raced onto another fine through ball from the excellent Lee and slipped it past the onrushing Rodak for his tenth goal of the season.
TOWN: Moore, Justin, Rea, Cuthbert ©, Sheehan, Potts, Lee, Mpanzu (Smith 78), Gray (Gambin 84), Palmer, Vassell (Marriott 74). Subs: O'Donnell, Mullins, Banton, King (GK)
STANLEY: Rodak, Rodgers, Beckles, Hughes, Donacien, Clark (Edwards 75), Pearson, Conneely ©, McConville, Kee, McCartan (Ogle 88). Subs: Brown, Gornell, Boco, Husin, Chapman (GK)