Vassell and Cook on target in convincing win for Town
LUTON TOWN 2
Cook 82 (pen)
CAMBRIDGE UNITED 0
Att: 8,917 (997 away)
The Hatters moved back up to fourth place in the Sky Bet League Two table this afternoon with a convincing 2-0 win over one of the division’s in-form teams.
Cambridge United were only three points adrift of the sixth-placed Town at kick-off, and were unbeaten away from home in eight games since early September, but goals in each half from Isaac Vassell and Jordan Cook were enough to seal three valuable points for Nathan Jones’ men.
With Portsmouth losing 1-0 at home to Exeter and Wycombe in FA Cup action at Tottenham, the victory meant the Town leapfrogged the two sides immediately above them into fourth spot, four points adrift of third-placed Carlisle – who were held at home by Barnet – but with a game in hand.
Boss Jones, who was watching the game from the directors’ box after being handed a one-match touchline ban by the FA, made three changes to the team that drew 1-1 at Wycombe last week.
Two were enforced, with Glen Rea coming in at centre-half for Johnny Mullins, who was sitting out the first of a four-match ban following his second red card of the season at Adams Park, and Vassell replacing Danny Hylton, who will miss two games after collecting his tenth yellow in Buckinghamshire. The other change to the starting XI was in midfield, where Cook came into the team in place of Jake Gray.
The first real opening came the visitors’ way, when Uche Ikpeazu played Conor Newton into the box but just as the midfielder prepared to pull the trigger, James Justin slid in to make a perfectly timed challenge.
It was an opening quarter in which both sides were sizing each other up, neither creating a real chance, but Luke Gambin – making his first appearance for the Hatters at Kenilworth Road – was central to most of the Town’s attempts to string attacking moves together.
The Hatters broke in the 26th minute after clearing a corner, with Marriott laying the ball into Cook’s path midway inside his own half. Cook fed Vassell on the right touchline, and the ex-Truro striker’s cross was spilled by Cambridge keeper Will Norris, but Cook couldn’t profit from the loose ball.
Then, a minute later, Marriott had another crack and when the ball bounced off both Cambridge centre-halves, it looked as if it might fall into Jonathan Smith’s path, but Norris was quick off his line to smother at the midfielder’s feet.
Cambridge were the next to threaten, but Newton’s cross-shot flew well wide of Christian Walton’s far post, then Luke Berry’s effort from the edge of the box after good work from Ikpeazu was deflected behind for a corner.
The breakthrough came in the 33rd minute, and it was a great passing move from the Hatters that brought it about.
Walton claimed a right-wing corner and rolled the ball out to Smith, who found Marriott just inside the Cambridge half. The Town forward then slipped his strike partner Vassell through the middle of the Cambridge half, and the Cornishman held Newton off as he slipped it past the onrushing Norris and inside the far post for his fourth goal of the season.
The goal gave the Town confidence, and within a couple of minutes Gambin was playing one-twos down the right with Justin and Cook to get to the byline and cut a cross back that, on this occasion, Cambridge managed to clear.
Clocking up half-a-dozen corners, the Town were well in the ascendancy without creating any further clear-cut chances, although some of the one-touch football around the box between Marriott, Cook, Gambin and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu - once again excelling in the midfield holding role and on his way to a man of the match award (pictured below) – was a delight to watch.
In time added on at the end of the first half, Gambin once again tricked his way past Jake Carroll and played Cook inside, but Marriott’s effort at the near post only found Norris’ midriff.
The Hatters started the second half as they finished the first, on the front foot, and when Vassell was fouled to the right of the penalty area, Gambin curled in a free-kick that Glen Rea looked to get on the end of, but was penalised for a foul on Norris.
Smith, who was impressing once again with his energy in midfield, sent a left-footed shot just wide on 50 minutes, then Gambin unleashed a 25-yard drive that moved in the air and Norris did well to get his body behind.
Jones’ side were playing with confidence and in 55th minute Vassell swung in a cross from the left that Marriott headed straight at Norris, then – at the other end – Rea threw himself in front of a Piero Mingoia drive before Jack Senior produced two well-timed tackles on Ikpeazu and Halliday inside the box to halt the visitors’ attacks.
Newton and Luke Berry, United’s 15-goal top scorer, both curled efforts over the bar around the hour mark before James Dunne cracked a long-range shot wide as the visitors looked for an equaliser.
The Town broke away on 68 minutes when Vassell once again stretched his legs from deep inside his own half, although his attempted chip didn’t catch Norris out as he backpedalled towards his goalline.
Newton was posing a threat for Cambridge and Rea had to track his run to the byline in the 73rd minute, then Ikpeazu headed the resulting corner high into the Oak Road End.
Another flowing Town move down the right involving Gambin and Cook saw Justin win a corner, from which the ball found its way back to Gambin to the right angle of the box, and the ex-Barnet man curled one towards the top corner, but Norris plucked it out of the air.
Gambin left the pitch to a standing ovation in the 79th minute, and within another three, the Hatters had the killer second goal. It came from the spot, after Vassell – who had terrorised the visiting defence – once again went past Legge and was hauled down inside the box.
With regular penalty takers Hylton and Cameron McGeehan absent, Cook took responsibility and fired past Norris from 12 yards for his second goal in a Luton shirt.
Three minutes later the former Walsall midfielder was at the heart of another rapid break down the left, playing the ball inside for Vassell, who fired a left-footer that had Norris scampering across his line to keep out.
Then, four minutes later, Cook created another glorious chance, this time for Lawson D’Ath, who had come on for Gambin. Unfortunately, the recent signing from Northampton slid his shot wide of the far post, before Norris denied the Town a third in injury time as substitute Craig Mackail-Smith played Smith in, but the midfielder’s powerful drive was parried by the visiting keeper.
It could have been more, but two was more than enough to make it four games unbeaten in all competitions, and put the Town on a roll heading into Tuesday’s game with Cheltenham.
TOWN: Walton, Justin, Cuthbert ©, Rea, Senior (Sheehan 88), Mpanzu, Smith, Cook, Gambin (D’Ath 79), Vassell, Marriott (Mackail-Smith 88). Subs not used: O’Donnell, Gray, Lee, King (GK).
CAMBRIDGE: Norris, Dunne (McDonagh 84), Roberts, Legge ©, Mingoia (Lewis 77), Berry, Dunk (Williamson 46), Carroll, Newton, Ikpeazu, Halliday. Subs not used: Gregory (GK), Wharton, Maris, Clark.
Yellows: Carroll, Newton, Legge