Hatters seal fourth spot with third successive win
LUTON TOWN 3
Marriott 74, 87
Rose (pen) 58
Att: 8,399 (187 away)
The Hatters secured fourth place in the Sky Bet League Two table with a 3-1 final-day win over Morecambe at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, sending them into a play-off semi-final with Blackpool on the back of an impressive seven-game unbeaten run.
Isaac Vassell’s 13th goal of the season set the Hatters on their way to a third successive victory for the first time this term, and although Michael Rose levelled matters from the penalty spot just before the hour, substitute Jack Marriott netted twice in the closing stages seal the three points.
The only downside to the afternoon for manager Nathan Jones was a worrying looking injury to the Town’s young player of the year James Justin, who left the pitch on a stretcher in the second half after suffering a blow to his ankle.
Jones had insisted he would continue to select his strongest possible side and resist the temptation to rest players. He was true to his word, with just one change from last week’s win at Accrington and that being an enforced one, Luke Gambin coming in for Alan Sheehan, who missed out as a precaution after picking up an ankle knock in training.
Gambin was at the heart of the Town’s first chance, whipping in an inviting eighth-minute cross that Vassell just failed to connect with as the ball skipped through to keeper Barry Roche.
Gambin had the best chance of the opening period after some fine link play between Dan Potts, Ollie Palmer and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu down the left presented him with an opportunity 15 yards out, but his left-footer this time flew into the scoreboard at the Oak Road end.
Morecambe reminded the Town defence of the threat they could pose with their first real attack in the 21st minute, Antony Evans’ glancing header from Rose’s left-wing cross drifting inches wide of the far post.
Paul Mullin shot straight at Stuart Moore after Shrimps keeper Roche picked him out direct from a goal-kick on 28 minutes, but it wasn’t long before the Town had their noses in front, and it was that man Vassell who was in the right place at the right time.
Gambin pinged a corner in from the left that Potts met with a firm header down that Roche saved low, but only into the path of Vassell to poke over the line from a yard out.
Gray pinged a 20-yard shot just past the post on 31 minutes, then Vassell was presented with another great chance after Gray chested Mpanzu’s cross into his path, but his left-footed effort was turned behind for a corner that Palmer headed narrowly over.
Town were utterly dominant by this point, Palmer bringing one of numerous raking passes from Olly Lee down in an instant and sending a low ball across the six-yard box before Roche had to push a James Justin cross away from under his own crossbar.
Lee was at the heart of most of the dangerous attacks with his pinpoint passing switching the play right, left and dissecting the Morecambe defence through the centre – Gray gliding across the edge of the box before firing over the bar at the end of one such move.
Town took the single-goal advantage into half-time, and although Morecambe came out brightly after the break, there was little to trouble Moore and it was at the other end the next chance arose, Potts again meeting a Gambin corner – this time with his chest – but Roche claimed comfortably.
Vassell went on a trademark surging run down the left from deep inside his own half, only to be cynically tripped 35 yards from goal by Aaron Wildig, who went into ref John Busby’s notebook.
Glen Rea had the ball in the back of the net on 55 minutes, but his header was ruled out for a foul, and within three minutes Morecambe were on terms, Rose slotting home the penalty after Scott Cuthbert had tripped Mullin in the box.
A minute later Justin went down with a serious looking injury that required lengthy treatment before he was carried off on a stretcher, and as the teenage right-back was heading up the tunnel to a standing ovation, Potts sae another header from Gray’s corner headed off the line by Ellison.
The Town went in search of a goal that would restore their lead, and Mpanzu headed another Gray cross onto the roof of the net before Stephen O’Donnell – on as a replacement for Justin – drilled in a ball for Vassell to attack, and Roche could only parry his header away.
On 71 minutes O’Donnell was tripped on the very right edge of the area and Palmer saw his header, from Lee’s delivery clawed away by Roche as it headed for the top corner.
O’Donnell was impressing on the right and he played his part in the Town’s second, slipping a ball inside to Gray who then threaded it through for Marriott to race on to. The former Ipswich striker took the ball in his stride and slipped his 11th of the season through Roche’s legs from a tight angle.
Morecambe tried to respond as Ellison’s 81st-minute free-kick was drilled into the wall, the ball falling to Mullin who dug a shot out, but Moore turned it away brilliantly to preserve the lead – with Potts doing his bit from the resulting corner, hacking Kenyon’s header off the line.
Mullin spurned another glorious chance to level four minutes from time when he skied his left-footer from 12 yards, and within seconds the Town had a two-goal cushion.
Mpanzu found Palmer, who slipped the ball to Marriott to the right side of the area and the striker did the rest, standing still and unleashing a low shot from 20 yards that beat Roche’s outstretched arm and nestled into the bottom corner.
Mpanzu went close in time added on to extending the lead, but the Hatters had enough already. Fourth place secured. A third win on the bounce for the first time this term and into the play-offs in fine form.
TOWN: Moore, Justin (O’Donnell 63), Rea, Cuthbert, Potts, Lee, Mpanzu, Gray, Gambin (D’Ath 78), Palmer, Vassell (Marriott 72). Subs: Smith, Banton, Famewo, King (GK)
Yellows: Potts, Cuthbert
MORECAMBE: Roche, McGowan (Duckworth 90+3), Kenyon, Edwards, Mullin, Molyneux, Ellison, Wildig (Hedley 88), Whitmore, Evans (Fleming 70), Rose (c). Subs: Nizic (GK), Wakefield, Turner, Jordan