Palmer plunders late winner to get the party started
LUTON TOWN 1
Att: 7,968 (418 away)
Substitute Ollie Palmer scored a last-minute winner breathe new life into the Hatters’ promotion push against top-seven rivals Blackpool this afternoon – then admitted he’d forgotten his pre-planned celebration dedicating the goal to his fortnight-old son Vinny!
The on-loan Leyton Orient man scored his second goal in a Town shirt to send the 7,500 Luton fans inside Kenilworth Road wild and bring to an end Nathan Jones’ team’s five-match winless run, lifting them back above the Tangerines into fifth position in the Sky Bet League Two table.
It came late, very late indeed with 90 minutes up. But it was a victory Jones’ side thoroughly deserved after being consistently denied throughout the front-foot performance by visiting keeper Dean Lyness, who produced telling saves from Danny Hylton, Isaac Vassell and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu among others.
Palmer couldn’t really miss, the ball landing at his feet a yard out after Lyness got a hand on Luke Gambin’s low cross. But the big striker had earned the opportunity, forcing his way into the Blackpool box with the ball glued to his foot before laying it off to fellow sub Gambin to deliver.
With four minutes of added time signalled, he then picked himself up from under the bundle of team-mates after sliding on his knees in front of the Enclosure – forgetting his plans to stick to the cradle the baby or thumb sucking stereotype – to help his side defend the lead, picking up a bloodied lip that required stitches in the process.
At the start of what proved a glorious afternoon, Jones made three changes to the team that started last week’s 2-1 defeat at Colchester, with 24-goal top scorer Hylton returning up front.
James Justin and Olly Lee – both of whom came on as substitutes at the Weston Homes Stadium – also came into the starting XI with midfielders Jordan Cook and Jake Gray missing out.
Captain Scott Cuthbert, Glen Rea and Alan Sheehan formed a back three, with Stephen O’Donnell and Justin as wing-backs, Lee, Mpanzu and Lawson D’Ath in midfield and Isaac Vassell – fresh from scoring his tenth goal of the season at Colchester – up front with Hylton.
It was Vassell who had the first sight of goal on ten minutes, with his 20-yard shot deflected inches wide of Blackpool keeper Lyness’ right post, to signal the first of a flurry of early corners as the Town started brightly.
It was from a 15th-minute free-kick for a foul on Lee, who had won the ball in the centre of the Tangerines’ half, that Hylton had his first chance, hitting a volley on the turn that Lyness got his body right behind.
His next came five minutes later and was much more clear cut, but the visiting keeper once more stood strong and saved his left-footed drive from the edge of the box after Vassell had played him through on goal.
The Hatters were snapping into every challenge, Cuthbert in particular not giving former Hatter Mark Cullen a kick up front for Blackpool, and it was his defensive sidekick Sheehan who won the ball and stepped forward to fire the next warning shot, his 20-yarder skimming just wide.
With the Town dominating possession and territory, it took Blackpool until the 26th minute to string their first attacking move together, and it was Cullen who went close with a glancing header on Colin Daniel’s cross, before Brad Potts almost latched onto Bright Osayi-Samuel’s low ball into the six-yard box just after the half-hour.
Moments after Justin had raced down the left and put a dangerous low cross into the near post area, that Lyness gathered, Hylton played a cutting reverse pass to Vassell in the area, but the Seasiders’ keeper was once more on his guard to turn the ex-Truro man’s cross-shot behind.
Town had to rely on goalkeeper Matt Macey’s shot-stopping ability twice in quick succession, first spectacularly tipping a 40th-minute effort from Osayi-Samuel over the bar when it was arcing into the top corner, before getting down low to hold onto a fierce drive from Neil Danns to keep the score goalless going into half-time.
The Hatters started the second half brightly, Hylton and D’Ath linking up well to tee Justin up to the left of the area, but Blackpool managed to clear his cross aimed for Vassell, seconds before the Cornishman got his head on a centre from Mpanzu, but couldn’t keep his effort down.
Again, the Town were winning the midfield battle with the impressive Lee and D’Ath breaking up any possession Blackpool had, before Jordan Flores latched onto a loose ball from just outside the box, but was way off target with his shot.
Soon after a header from Rea had looped up safely into the hands of Lyness, Jones looked to add an aerial threat to the Town attack with just under 25 minutes to go by introducing Palmer in place of Vassell.
Blackpool brought on a Vassell of their own at the same time, Kyle, and it was the former Peterborough striker who had the next opportunity, Macey pulling off another brilliant fingertip save to turn the sub’s overhead kick onto the crossbar, before clutching a Tom Aldred header from the resulting corner.
The Town were soon on the attack again, however, and with Palmer bustling with the centre-halves on the edge of the box, Mpanzu took the loose ball in his stride and sent a left-footed shot towards the bottom corner, but Lyness again got down low to save at full stretch.
Town tails were up, and from a lovely passing that started on the left, the ball found its way to O’Donnell on the right, but Lyness again did well to gather as Hylton prepared to pounce at the near post.
It was to be the ex-Oxford man’s last involvement, with Marriott brought on in his place and almost immediately, a raking ball from Lee – one of many the midfielder hit over 90 minutes – set Marriott away down the left, but a heavy touch as he made his way into the box saw the opportunity pass.
Still Jones’ side probed, and some terrific interplay between Marriott, D’Ath and Mpanzu in the Blackpool penalty area created a shooting chance for Justin in the 80th minute, but the teenager’s shot was charged down.
Jones made his final substitution with four minutes left, bringing Luke Gambin on for O’Donnell – and it was the man who had missed the last two games while away on World Cup qualifying duty with Malta who played a crucial part in the winning goal.
Seconds after Cuthbert made a crucial block on Kyle Vassell’s 89th-minutes shot, Palmer bustled his way into the area and slipped the ball across to Gambin, whose low ball into the six-yard box presented the striker with the simplest tap-in of his career to send the home crowd into raptures.
Town’s second double of the season, following up the 2-0 win at Bloomfield Road in December, was complete and a massive three points against the country’s most in-form team was in the bag.
Now it’s onto Barnet and half-a-dozen equally big games as the Town look to put a run of wins together to take them towards their goal.
On players’ charity of the year Brain Tumour Research’s #WearAHatDay, the message is clear – hang on to your hats, it promises to be some ride!
TOWN: Macey, O’Donnell (Gambin 86), Rea, Cuthbert ©, Sheehan, Justin, Lee, Mpanzu, D’Ath, Hylton (Marriott 75), Vassell (Palmer 66). Subs: Smith, Bakinson, Famewo, Moore (GK)
BLACKPOOL: Lyness, Mellor, Robertson, Potts (Odelusi 86), Cullen (K Vassell 67), Flores, Aldred (c), Osayi-Samuel (Delfouneso 66), Daniel, Payne, Danns. Subs: Aimson, Matt, Black, Slocombe (GK)
REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh