Ten-man Hatters come from behind to beat Crewe
CREWE ALEXANDRA 1
LUTON TOWN 2
Att: 4,368 (995 away)
The Hatters moved back up into the Sky Bet League Two play-off places with a monumental come-from-behind win at Crewe Alexandra after playing all but eight minutes of the second half with ten men after defender Alan Sheehan was sent off.
Jack Marriott cancelled out Ryan Lowe’s opener on the stroke of half-time for his ninth goal of the season, before midfielder Jake Gray scored his fourth – one in each competition the Hatters have competed in – to seal three points after Sheehan’s 53rd minute dismissal.
Boss Jones described the victory as “massive” in terms of the current campaign – and in historical terms it was too, his side recording what is only the club’s second win in 11 attempts at Gresty Road, the other coming in 2002.
The Welshman made five changes from last Saturday’s FA Cup defeat at Accrington, and there were starts also for five of the players who kicked off the midweek Checkatrade Trophy win over Chesterfield.
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jordan Cook, Marriott and top scorer Danny Hylton all came in after being on the bench or missing the Stanley defeat through injury, while Lawson D’Ath was handed his debut a week after signing from Northampton Town.
And even though the Town met the Checkatrade Trophy ‘full-strength team’ requirement on Tuesday with five of the top 11 starters in league and cup competitions in the line-up against Chesterfield, Jones made doubly sure in Cheshire.
Goalkeeper Christian Walton, midfielders Gray, Cook, Mpanzu and striker Marriott all started Tuesday’s magnificent 4-0 victory over the League One Spireites, and kept their place in the starting line-up for the return to league action.
Jones went with his trusted back four and midfield diamond, with Mpanzu keeping the holding role he impressed in against Chesterfield – turning in another immense and mature performance – with D’Ath and Gray either side of him and Cook at the tip.
The Town started on the front foot and the first effort on goal came in the third minute when Marriott met Sheehan’s left-wing cross, but home keeper Ben Garratt comfortably held his close-range header.
Hatters keeper Walton was called into action for the first time three minutes later when Crewe winger George Cooper crossed from the left and Alex Kiwomya stole in front of Sheehan at the far post, but the England Under-21 stopper gathered at the Chelsea loanee’s feet.
Crewe fashioned a great opening on 12 minutes that Charlie Kirk put wide, but seconds later Marriott had another go, this time Garratt at full stretch to tip the Town striker’s angled right-foot drive around the post.
Alex defender Jon Guthrie soon had to slide at the near post to turn a Hylton cross behind, then – on 17 minutes – the lively Marriott let fly from 20 yards, but his shot didn’t have quite enough curl on it to bend into the bottom corner.
An open, end-to-end encounter was developing and after Sheehan fouled Oliver Turton out wide in the 23rd minute, Cooper delivered a right-wing free-kick that Guthrie headed over from close range, seconds before the Hatters’ Irish left-back ventured forward to test Garratt again from distance.
The hosts had the lead in the 28th minute, however, when Lowe took a pass from Kiwomya in his stride on the edge of Hatters’ box and held off the challenge of Justin to fire past Walton into the bottom corner.
We had to wait until five minutes before half-time for the Town’s next chance and it went Mariott’s way again, this time controlling a beautifully lofted pass over the Crewe backline from Mpanzu, but Garratt was quickly off his line to smother his close-range flicked shot.
Inevitably, when the equaliser came, it was Marriott who got it. With 45 minutes on the clock, the in-form striker took Sheehan’s pass, via a deft flick from Hylton, in his path as he turned sharply on the edge of the box before firing low and hard through Garratt’s legs at his near post for his third goal in a week and sixth in his last six starts.
Hylton soon had a crack from distance too as the Town finished the half with a flourish, and crucially, on level terms.
They started the second half the brighter as well, Cuthbert heading Gray’s left-wing free-kick wide and Cook creating space for a shot as he worked his way across the edge of the box, but his effort only troubled the top of the BMW Family Stand.
By the 53rd minute though the Town had been reduced to ten men when Sheehan, who had been booked for a foul in the first-half, received a second yellow card for bringing down Kiwomya.
Jones reacted quickly with a double substitution, Jack Senior - the day after his 20th birthday - coming on for his EFL debut at left-back in place of D’Ath, and Jonathan Smith for Cook as the Town boss remained positive with a 4-3-2 formation.
And when the chance to nick the lead came in the 69th minute, the Town took it. Gray, who had scored in the FA Cup at Accrington last week to add to his efforts in the EFL Cup and Trophy earlier in the season, was involved at the start and, gloriously, at the finish.
After a spell of Crewe possession, Gray nicked the ball ten yards outside the Town box and Smith sprayed a great ball wide to Marriott on the left. The striker drove inside and cracked another terrific shot on goal, which Garratt could only push wide towards the corner flag.
Hylton kept the ball live, tricked his way past two defenders on the byline and cut back a cross for Gray, who had continued his run into the box, to fire home from eight yards.
Crewe went in search of a leveller and with just under a quarter-of-an-hour to go James Jones arrowed a 20-yard shot just wide of Walton’s right-hand post, but almost immediately at the other end, Garratt had to race off his line to deny Marriott a second after his pace took him clear again.
Jones brought Vassell on for Marriott, who’d put in a great shift and went off to a deserved ovation from the 995 travelling fans, then keeper Walton came to punch several dangerous crosses to relieve the danger with great authority, one clearance almost reaching the centre-circle.
Centre-halves Cuthbert and Mullins headed other crosses clear time and time again, while Senior stood up to the test, tracking the dangerous Kiwomya diligently before the winger finally got a cross past him with 90 minutes up.
Thankfully Lowe’s near-post effort cleared Walton’s bar, then the Town number one dropped on a cross that took a wicked deflection off Hylton, the back four dealt with five minutes of stoppage time and Mpanzu ran the ball into the corner from deep on more than one occasion.
Sheehan meanwhile, was on the phone to the media team from the dressing room, desperate to know when the final whistle would go. It went, the Irishman breathed a sigh of relief and Jones gathered his players in a huddle before celebrating in front of the supporters.
“A partnership,” Jones called the relationship with the “best fans in the league” afterwards. It was a day when Luton Town togetherness won through, on and off the field.
TOWN: Walton, Justin, Cuthbert ©, Mullins, Sheehan, Mpanzu, Gray, D’Ath (Senior 56), Cook (Smith 56), Hylton, Marriott (Vassell 86). Subs: O’Donnell, Mackail-Smith, Lee, King (GK)
Yellows: Cook, Sheehan
CREWE: Garratt, Turton, Guthrie, Ray, Bakayogo (Saunders 76), Kiwomya, Jones, Hollands (Wintle 85), Cooper, Kirk (Dagnall 65), Lowe. Subs: Richards (GK), Nugent, Udoh, Ainley
Yellows: Hollands, Turton