Vassell into double figures, but Hatters slip to defeat
COLCHESTER UNITED 2
Porter 4, 31
LUTON TOWN 1
Att: 5,445 (1,775 Hatters)
Two first-half goals from Colchester striker Chris Porter put a dent in the Hatters’ hopes of chasing down the automatic promotion places this afternoon as the Essex side won 2-1 at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
Isaac Vassell scored deep into stoppage time at the end of a second half in which the Town looked much more like themselves following a hugely disappointing opening 45 minutes.
But ultimately the Cornishman’s tenth goal of the season proved too little, too late as Nathan Jones’ side went a fifth game without a win and dropped eight points off the top three, with next Saturday’s opponents Blackpool leapfrogging the Hatters into fifth place.
Jones made three changes to the team that drew 1-1 at Newport in midweek with striker Jack Marriott and midfielders Jake Gray and Lawson D'Ath coming into the team, and defender Johnny Mullins and top scorer Danny Hylton – who both went off with injuries at Rodney Parade – missing out along with Ollie Palmer.
Colchester bossed the opening exchanges and took the lead in the fourth minute when Porter rose to head Brennan Dickenson’s left-wing cross into the top corner.
There was a spell of pinball in the opposite area when Alan Sheehan’s first corner of the day found its way to D’Ath on the edge of the box, but his shot was blocked and the hosts were soon looking to add to their lead, Town keeper Matt Macey at full stretch to keep out Drey Wright’s 25-yarder and a Dickenson header within seconds of each other.
Before a quarter-of-an-hour was up, United centre-half Tom Eastman had sent a close range header over from Richard Brindley’s cross, and it really should have been 2-0.
It took until the 26th minute for the Town to string a forward move of note together, Gray and Marriott combining to give D’Ath possession on the right, and the January signing from Northampton tricked his way past his man and stood a lovely cross up to the far post, where Eastman did well to divert the ball away from Vassell.
The ex-Truro man then created space for a shot in the box, which was blocked, before Jordan Cook played Stephen O’Donnell down the right, the Scot’s low cross just evaded the Hatters forwards sliding in at the near post.
As they had been threatening for most of the game, the U’s did double their lead just after the half-hour, and it was that man Porter again, connecting with another inviting cross from Brindley and steering it just over the line as Macey tried fruitlessly to claw it back.
Jones responded by making a substitution with seven minutes to go before half-time, James Justin coming on for Gray, the teenager slotting in at left wing-back with Sheehan moving inside to form a back three with Scott Cuthbert and Glen Rea.
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu tried to change the Hatters’ fortunes but his 20-yard shot flew high over the bar, then Porter spurned a great chance for a first-half hat-trick for the hosts when his flick header on the end of a Sean Murray free-kick proved too high a minute before the break.
The Town needed an early response in the second half, and nine minutes in Sheehan decided to take matters into his own hands, surging forward from centre-half and slipping Justin in on the left, but the substitute’s low cross was hacked clear from inside the six-yard box.
Town were enjoying plenty of possession and were first onto more second balls, and D’Ath and Sheehan both tried their luck from distance, before D'Ath drove towards the right byline and crossed well, but Vassell couldn’t keep his near-post header down just after the hour.
This was more like it from Jones’ side, and with Palmer thrown into the fray, a flurry of chances soon came. First, on 63 minutes, Cook’s volley was blocked after Justin did well once again to dig out a cross from the left, initially directed towards Palmer.
Then, in a quickfire double chance, Sheehan had a right-footed shot parried by Sam Walker – the Colchester keeper’s first save of the game – before Justin’s follow-up was destined for the top corner, only for home defender George Elokobi to grow a couple of inches and head it over the bar from the goal-line.
Cook picked up an injury and had to be replaced, with Olly Lee coming on, but it was a much improved second-half performance from the Hatters, with D’Ath once more at the heart of the next opening on 78 minutes, the midfielder racing onto a good ball from Palmer down the left, but Vassell couldn’t quite spin on his low cross to the near post.
With four minutes left Vassell tricked his way to the left byline and crossed low once again, but Colchester sub Tom Wynter turned it behind for a corner, from which Lee, Mpanzu and Sheehan all had shots blocked as the ball ricocheted around the U’s penalty area.
The Hatters continued to press for a way back into the game, and Cuthbert – playing as an auxiliary striker – saw a shot on the turn blocked.
Then, three minutes into four added on, Vassell managed to squeeze an effort over the line to halve the deficit after Lee’s initial shot had been deflected away from goal, but it proved just a consolation as tenth-placed Colchester closed the gap on the play-off places to just two points.
TOWN: Macey, O'Donnell, Cuthbert (c), Rea, Sheehan, Mpanzu, Gray (Justin 38), D'Ath, Cook (Lee 68), Vassell, Marriott (Palmer 61). Subs: Smith, Bakinson, Famewo, Moore (GK)
COLCHESTER: Walker, Brindley, Lapslie, Wright, Porter (Bonne 88), Dickenson, Elokobi, Eastman, Murray, Pyke, James (Wynter 59). Subs: Brill, Briggs, Fosu, O'Sullivan, Kinsella