The Hatters made it three wins in a week to maintain their grip on top spot in Sky Bet League Two with two goals in four second-half minutes enough to see off Crewe Alexandra in horrendous conditions at Gresty Road this afternoon.
After playing into driving rain and a gale in freezing temperatures during the first half, Danny Hylton fired the Town in front with his 12th goal of the season in the 63rd minute.
Luke Berry doubled the advantage on 67 minutes before the hosts pulled one back with just under ten to go, when the unfortunate, but outstanding, Johnny Mullins put through his own goal.
Just like last year, when the Town won 2-1 here after Alan Sheehan had been sent off early in the second half, Nathan Jones’ side showed their battling qualities to see the game through and beat their target of nine points for the month of November.
They have gathered that amount in the last eight days with a 7-0 win over Cambridge, a 3-0 midweek success against Carlisle that took them back to the top, and this ground out win that cemented their position at the summit, extending the unbeaten run on the road nine matches.
Jones made two changes to his starting line-up, with Olly Lee, the man who netted that stunning 70-yard strike against Cambridge last Saturday, returning from his one-match suspension, while striker Harry Cornick also returned after scoring as a sub in midweek Carlisle, with Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Andrew Shinnie dropping to the bench.
Hylton had the Town’s first attempt on goal with just a minute on the clock when the home defence struggled to clear an Alan Sheehan corner, then – in the seventh minute – Cornick fizzed a low cross into the six-yard box after sprinting down the right, only for Crewe to clear for a corner.
Hylton turned creator next, chipping a lovely ball into Elliot Lee’s path, but the ex-West Ham man couldn’t repeat last week’s exquisite volleyed finish as his right-footed effort on the stretch flew high over the bar.
The Hatters had a scare in the 12th minute when Alex midfielder Callum Ainley aimed a cross towards Chris Porter at the far post, and Sheehan attempted to chest the second ball back to Marek Stech in front of Chris Dagnall, eventually relieved to see it go safely out for a corner.
The captain soon had to deal with another dangerous ball into the Town six-yard box from George Cooper, but as usual, the Irishman did his job perfectly, lifting it over Porter with his outstretched right foot and out for a throw.
With 21 minutes gone, Luke Berry combined with Dan Potts on the left to play Elliot Lee in to the byline, and after robbing Sam Stubbs, his low cross intended for Berry was intercepted.
Cooper – looking threatening whenever in possession – then cut in from the Crewe left and let fly from 25 yards, but his effort was straight down Stech’s throat in the middle of his goal.
Town had the ball in the net in the 27th minute when Olly Lee raced onto a pass from Berry and stood a ball up to the far post for his brother, who was penalised for climbing on his marker as he headed firmly into the back of the Alex net.
Just before the half-hour Crewe saw another shot, this one from Ainley, fly through a thicket of legs in the Town box and safely wide of the far post, then Dagnall fired off target from 20 yards – only for ref Graham Salisbury to award a corner when no-one else in the ground had seen a deflection.
Five minutes before the break, Jack Stacey and Elliot Lee linked up well on the right for the latter to chip a cross to far post for Hylton, but Berry’s volley from the top scorer’s knock-down was deflected over the bar for the Town’s fifth corner of the half.
Although the Hatters had enjoyed plenty of possession, Crewe had sounded their share of warnings, and a minute before half-time Stech had to get down low again to keep out a Harry Pickering shot from the edge of the box after Conor Grant had done well to hook the ball back to him.
The hosts made a change at the break, bringing on striker Jordan Bowery for midfielder Ainley, with captain Dagnall dropping into a deeper role, but Town boss Jones waited until the hour mark – after a lull in the opening 15 minutes of the half – to make his first move.
The Welshman brought Shinnie on for Cornick, and within three minute the Town had their breakthrough.
Elliot Lee, who had been a livewire all afternoon, was the engineer with Hylton – who else? – applying the finishing touch. Lee picked up the ball wide on the left of the penalty area and for the umpteenth time went past Sam Stubbs to the byline, firing the ball across the six-yard box.
Crewe survived the initial delivery, but their stabbed clearance only fell as far as Hylton six yards out and the Hatters hitman lashed it in to the roof of the net for his 12th of the season.
Four minutes later it was two, and sub Shinnie was the man who created it, pressing Alex defender Pickering into conceding possession in the left-back area, then crossing low for Berry to fire home left-footed, all along the ground, for his fourth goal in a Luton shirt.
The result should have been put beyond doubt on 75 minutes when Elliot Lee turned Brad Walker inside his own half and raced towards goal, slipping Shinnie in to his right, but the Scot’s low shot was saved by Crewe keeper Dave Richards’ legs, and Hylton’s follow-up attempt blocked.
Crewe were handed a lifeline in the 81st minute when Walker’s cross from the right was turned into his own goal by Mullins, but Jones reacted by taking Elliot Lee off and bringing Mpanzu on to stiffen up the midfield.
The plan worked, with Mpanzu helping carry the ball forward to relieve pressure – along with the twinkle-toed Shinnie, who had made a real impact on the game.
Crewe threw balls into the box when they could, but Sheehan, Mullins, Potts and Stacey stood strong, the closest the hosts coming being a glancing 90th-minute header from Bowery that Stech had well covered as it drifted past the far post, ditto from Porter with four added minutes played.
The Hatters survived to make it make it one defeat in 17 in all competitions – one in 14 in the league – and maintain their grip on top spot, albeit on that mammoth plus-30 goal difference after Notts County’s late winner against Colchester, before heading into FA Cup and Checkatrade action.
TOWN: Stech, Stacey, Mullins, Sheehan ©, Potts, Rea, O Lee (Famewo 90+3), Berry, Cornick (Shinnie 60), Hylton, E Lee Mpanzu. Subs: Justin, Cook, Gambin, Shea (GK)
Goals: Hylton 63, Berry 67
CREWE: Richards, Ng, Walker, Porter, Dagnall ©, Cooper, Nolan, Ainley (Bowery 46), Pickering, Stubbs, Grant (Reilly 72). Subs: Garratt (GK), Kirk, Finney, Lundstram, Offord
Goals: Mullins (OG) 81
REFEREE: Graham Salisbury
ATT: 4,571 (1,244 Hatters)