The goal-hungry Hatters produced another convincing performance on their own pitch this afternoon to beat Colchester United 3-0 – making it 11 in two league matches at Kenilworth Road so far this season.
Olly Lee got the ball rolling in first-half injury-time with his second of the campaign, before James Collins bent a beauty into the top corner seven minutes after the break and Dan Potts added a third late on to seal the points and erase memories of last week’s 1-0 defeat at Barnet.
Manager Nathan Jones described his side’s showing as “more complete” than the opening day 8-2 victory over Yeovil, and the clean sheet preserved by a brilliant second-half save from goalkeeper Marek Stech was just as important to the manager as the goals flying in at the other end.
Jones made two enforced changes to the side that lost went down at The Hive, bringing Glen Rea into his defence as a replacement for captain Scott Cuthbert, who went off injured in north London,
And returning to the starting line-up for this first time this season in the league after his 45-minute Checkatrade Trophy run-out in midweek was last term’s 27-goal top scorer and four-time player of the year, Danny Hylton, who replaced the now-departed Isaac Vassell from last week’s team.
After an impeccably observed minute’s silence in respect of those affected by Thursday’s terror attacks in Barcelona, Stech was the first of the two goalkeepers called into action, the big Czech getting down low to his left to gather Doug Loft’s skidding shot.
The Hatters had caused concern in the Colchester six-yard box early on when Alan McCormack hooked an over-hit cross back and Hylton almost profited, then Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu drove at the U’s defence and played the returning striker in to the left byline, but his cross floated narrowly over the bar.
Hylton’s first real sniff of goal came in the 11th minute, Olly Lee slipping Stacey in on the right and the full-back’s pinpoint cross finding Hylton at the far post, but his header was clawed away from the top corner by visiting keeper Sam Walker.
Playing against a strong wind blowing, the Hatters were attacking the Oak Road End with a purpose, stringing some short, sharp passing moves together and getting into good wide areas, without really creating a clear-cut chance.
The visitors had been struggling to get out of their half for much of the opening exchanges, but Kane Vincent-Young had the game’s next shot at goal, capitalising on some loose passing out of defence by the Hatters to aim a low left-foot drive that fizzed wide of Stech’s left post.
It took until just before the half-hour for the Town to put their next attacking move of note together, but Walker dropped on Shinnie’s scuffed cross-shot as Collins looked to pounce in the six-yard box.
McCormack went into referee Seb Stockbridge’s notepad for a late challenge on Sammie Szmodics right in front of the visitors’ dugout on 35 minutes, and seconds later the Town had their best chance of the half, Hylton the creator this time.
The striker picked the ball up midway inside the Colchester half and played a crisp pass into Olly Lee’s feet, the midfielder turning sharply and aiming an angled drive across Walker, but the U’s keeper managed to get something on it to divert the ball wide.
With 45 minutes up, Stacey burst down the right – as he had done several times – and cut back for Shinnie to fire at goal, but Walker was once again in the right place at the right time.
He could do nothing to prevent the Town taking the lead three minutes into time added on, however, McCormack and Hylton keeping Sheehan’s half-cleared corner live and Olly Lee turning it home from inside the six-yard box.
Within four minutes of the second half getting underway, the Hatters almost doubled the advantage – Colchester once again struggling to clear a corner, this time from Olly Lee on the right, but Walker producing a superb flying save to tip a McCormack piledriver over the bar.
It was two by the 52nd minute, however, and what a strike it was from Collins.
Olly Lee set Stacey racing free on the right for the umpteenth time, and when Tom Eastman headed his deep cross straight up in the air, Collins controlled the ball, played a one-two with Shinnie and curled a beauty into the top corner with his right foot.
Jones off the bench celebrating the stunning strike, praising his team for making a routine they’d been working on in training pay off.
Three minutes later the Town had to call on Stech to preserve the two-goal cushion, and – just as he did in the previous home game – the former West Ham stopper produced a save right from the top drawer to claw Szmodics’ close-range header away from the top corner.
The woodwork denied Hylton goal in the 66th minute when McCormack’s dink over the United defence found the striker’s head 12 yards out, but his effort came down off the underside of the crossbar and bounced out.
McCormack was pulling the strings with some delightful passing in the middle of midfield, and the Irishman quickly bounced up to run off a worrying looking bang to his thigh to clip another terrific ball over left-back Lewis Kinsella’s head for Stacey to latch onto.
That time it came to nothing, but in the 72nd minute the woodwork was troubled again – Stacey this time drilling a terrific cross to Sheehan on the left edge of the area, and the Town captain cut across a volley with that wonderful left foot of his, only for it to bounce off the top of the bar.
Colchester sounded an increasingly rare warning shot in the 76th minute when Vincent-Young cut in from the right and fired a left-footed shot just wide.
But by the 83rd minute the result was beyond doubt when Sheehan arced another wonderful set-piece towards the far post after Stacey had been fouled on the right, and Potts was there to steer it home for his second goal for the club.
Collins, Shinnie and Hylton left the pitch to standing ovations with three minutes to go – the latter lasting 27 minutes longer than expected, according to the gaffer – as a good day in front of goal proved just as prolific in getting game time into the striker’s legs.
Now it’s a week’s work on the training ground in preparation for next Saturday’s trip to Mansfield, with the Town sitting in third place in the infant league table.
TOWN: Stech, Stacey, Rea, Sheehan ©, Potts, McCormack, O Lee, Mpanzu, Shinnie (Cook 88), Collins (Cornick 87), Hylton (E Lee 88). Subs: Justin, Mullins, Gambin, Shea (GK)
Yellows: McCormack, Potts
Goals: O Lee 45+3, Collins 52, Potts 83
COLCHESTER: Walker, Kinsella, Lapslie © (Murray 54), Kent, Wright (Issa 76), Loft, Szmodics, Kpekawa (Johnstone 63), Eastman, Mandron, Vincent-Young. Subs: O’Sullivan, Gilmartin (GK), James, McKeown
Yellows: Kinsella, Kent
REFEREE: Seb Stockbridge
ATTENDANCE: 7,865 (445 away)