The Hatters moved back to the top of the Sky Bet League Two table this evening with another convincing victory at Kenilworth Road, dispatching an in-form Carlisle side 3-0 to leapfrog Notts County on goal difference.
In the wake of Saturday’s 7-0 home win over Cambridge, when Town made League history by becoming the first side to score seven or more on three separate occasions before Christmas, boss Nathan Jones had called for his team to back up fine individual results with prolonged consistency.
Here, just as they did when following up last month’s 7-1 win over Stevenage with a 4-1 victory at Exeter to go top for the first time this season, the Welshman’s lads heeded his advice and made it ten goals and none conceded in four wonderful days at the Kenny.
Andrew Shinnie bent in a beauty to set the ball rolling in the 19th minute – the Scot’s first league goal for the club after netting twice in the Checkatrade Trophy win at AFC Wimbledon – before Dan Potts headed in his fifth of the season to double the lead on the half-hour.
Substitute Harry Cornick came on to wrap things up late in the 76th-minute, before Danny Hylton passed up the opportunity to make it an even more emphatic win – and the chance for his 12th of the season – when he saw a penalty saved three minutes later.
In his team selection, Jones - already without the injured Alan McCormack and James Collins, who was the nine-goal top scorer prior to tweaking his hamstring at Cheltenham ten days ago - was forced into two changes.
Johnny Mullins came into the back four in place of captain Scott Cuthbert, who suffered a groin injury early in Saturday’s 7-0 win over Cambridge, and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu was brought into midfield with Olly Lee ruled out after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season before netting his 70-yard wonder strike from deep inside his own half four days ago.
Carlisle started positively and had the first sniff of goal when Reggie Lambe crossed from the right and top scorer Hallam Hope got his head on it, but Marek Stech’s save was routine.
The visitors had the next chance too, as Shaun Miller took advantage of space in behind Potts, who had ventured forward, to race onto a Tom Parkes ball into the corner and cut back onto his left foot to get a shot in, though Alan Sheehan’s intervention deflected it wide.
Then, in the 17th minute, Hallam Hope pounced on a drop-ball and cracked a low drive just wide of Stech’s right-hand post.
The Hatters had offered little in an attacking sense thus far, but in the 18th minute Elliot Lee burst onto a loose ball 35 yards from goal and drove at the Cumbrians’ box, slipping Luke Berry in to his left, though the midfielder’s delayed shot was blocked.
Fear not, the breakthrough wasn’t long in coming. A minute later, Lee was once more the architect, threading a lovely ball into the left side of the area that looked destined for Mpanzu, who wisely moved aside to let Shinnie bend a beautiful right-footed shot around United keeper Jack Bonham.
Now the Town were well into their stride, Lee relishing the opportunity of a second successive start and picking pockets of space to try to ease his team-mates in, one delightful curling pass into the box just eluding strike partner Hylton’s right boot.
The second goal arrived on the half-hour, and it was that man Potts again – the Town number three making it three goals in three games by meeting Sheehan’s deep, outswinging free-kick with a diving header to double the advantage.
Lee was keen to try his own luck, but, at the end of a flowing move down the left that started with Mpanzu and Glen Rea – who was dominating midfield – on the edge of their own box and continued with Berry, his 25-yard shot after cutting in from the flank as only troubling the scoreboard.
Sheehan, wearing the captain’s armband in Cuthbert’s absence, went into referee Chris Sarginson’s just before half-time after clashing with Hope, who was also shown the yellow card, but the Town went in at the break comfortably in the lead.
The Cumbrians were determined to make the evening anything but comfortable for Sheehan in a physical sense, ref Sarginson earning an ovation from the home crowd for booking midfielder Luke Joyce for a late challenge on the Irish defender, despite letting play go on for a good minute.
Carlisle once again had the early sights of goal in the half, Hope firing one in, Grainger cracking a free-kick against the strong Hatters wall – and the rebound out for a throw – before Mike Jones had two shots from range in the 65th minute that were both deflected out of harm’s way.
After a dangerous ball into the Town six-yard box was cleared, Mpanzu carried the ball down the Town right and put in two successive crosses that eased the mounting pressure, the second winning the Hatters a corner.
He was soon having to track back at the other end, however, and became the second Town player to be booked, this one for handball, as Shaun Miller looked to get in on 70 minutes.
Jones made his first change in the 72nd minute, bringing Cornick on for Lee – and within four minutes he had been rewarded.
Moments after Rea had seen a thunderous shot blocked, Stacey tapped a simple little ball down the right from just inside his own half and Cornick raced clear, ignoring Hylton’s instructions to leave it in the belief he’d be offside, and slipped his shot inside Bonham’s near post for the third.
It could have been four in the 79th minute when, after Clint Hill had brought him down in the box after a great nutmeg and wriggle past the veteran defender on the byline, Hylton saw his penalty saved by Bonham, diving low to his left.
Cornick tried to put one on a plate for the top scorer two minutes later when he crossed from the right, but lurking at the far post, Hylton’s header was blocked inside the six-yard box and Carlisle breathed another sigh of relief.
Lawson D’Ath came on for the injured Mullins, who along with Sheehan, had really dug in with some stout defending at 2-0 in the second half, and Jones then brought on teenage centre-half Famewo to add his height to what had become a back five against Carlisle’s towering forward line.
His obdurate Hatters saw it through without scare to make it ten clean sheets for the season, three league games unbeaten and just one defeat in 13 – one in 16 in all competitions – as they move on to Crewe on Saturday as league leaders for a second time.
TOWN: Stech, Stacey, Mullins (D’Ath 83), Sheehan ©, Potts, Rea, Mpanzu, Berry, Shinnie (Famewo 88), Hylton, E Lee (Cornick 72). Subs: Justin, Cook, Gambin, Shea (GK)
Yellows: Sheehan, Mpanzu
Goals: Shinnie 19, Potts 30, Cornick 76
CARLISLE: Bonham, T Miller, Grainger ©, Joyce (Cosgrove 85), Liddle, Parkes (Etuhu 46), Jones (Bennett 74), Hope, Lambe, S Miller, Hill. Subs: Devitt, Brown, O’Sullivan, George (GK)
Yellows: Hope, Joyce, Grainger
REFEREE: Chris Sarginson
ATT: 7,644 (215 away)