Hatters boss Nathan Jones saw his four changes to the starting line-up pay off tonight as his side recorded their first win of the season with goals from Elliot Lee and Danny Hylton seeing off Southend at Kenilworth Road.
With the old ground rocking as the 9,000-plus crowd made for a great atmosphere under the lights, the Hatters added to the point they picked up in their opening home match against Sunderland with a fine performance against the side that finished tenth last term.
The first change came in goal, where James Shea replaced Marek Stech for his first appearance of the season.
And with Alan McCormack injured and club captain Alan Sheehan on the bench, Glen Rea came into the side as skipper for the first time in a league match, having worn the armband in the Carabao Cup at West Brom last week, and was joined in midfield by fellow substitutes from the 3-1 defeat at Peterborough, Jorge Grant and Andrew Shinnie.
Lee, who got off the mark for the season with a goal in the second minute, was pushed up front to partner Hylton in place of James Collins, who was also on the bench.
The Hatters made a dream start when, with just 90 seconds on the clock, the first corner of the game produced the opening goal for Lee.
Jorge Grant’s delivery was headed clear by the Southend defence, but only as far as the edge of the area where Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu fired in a shot that was deflected into the striker’s path, and he gobbled up the chance from close range.
Southend responded well, but it was the Hatters who came close to extending the lead in the ninth minute when Jack Stacey raced to the right byline and drove in a low cross that visiting defender Elvis Bwomono did well to clear from almost on the line, Hylton’s follow-up shot also blocked.
Southend thought they’d drawn level midway through the half when Tom Hopper climbed highest to meet Bwomono’s right-wing cross, and although his header nestled in the bottom corner of Shea’s net, referee Trevor Kettle was already blowing for a push.
The Town went straight up the other end and tested Southend skipper Mark Oxley, Stacey feeding Grant to unleash a vicious shot from right edge of box that the Shrimpers’ keeper had to tip over the bar.
Bwomono was proving a threat down the visitors’ right, and after wriggling past Potts he fired in a low cross that Shea did well to get down to and gather, but by the 33rd-minute he’d given away the penalty that saw the Town double the advantage.
The Hatters had patiently kept the ball for at least ten passes, Shea, Bradley and Pearson building from the back with input from Stacey and Rea, before the captain’s forward pass intended for Lee arrived at Grant’s feet 25 yards out, via the head of Southend centre-half John White.
Grant fed Lee into the box, but the Town striker was heading away from goal, his path on the byline having been blocked, when Bwomono bundled him over from behind. Kettle pointed to the spot and Hylton did the rest, sending Oxley the wrong way from the spot for his second goal of the season.
The Hatters were playing well, confidence boosted, and when Hylton won a corner on the left with his persistence, Dan Potts sent a header back towards goal that fell to Hylton, but the striker couldn’t turn in the six-yard box and Oxley gathered off his own player, Timothy Dieng.
Town were rampant at the start of the second half and might have gone three goals to the good at the end of another superb break in the 51st minute, Mpanzu starting it by tracking back in his own box and finding Rea, whose pass on the stretch found Hylton on halfway.
The centre-forward traded passes with Shinnie, the latter’s return ball a cute through pass for Hylton to race onto, but Oxley came tearing off his line to smother, regaining his footing to then save Shinnie’s follow-up attempt from 30 yards.
The ball was in the back of the Shrimpers’ net again six minutes later when Rea dispatched a firm header past Oxley from an inswinging Grant free-kick, but again Kettle had long since blown for an infringement and the Town’s celebrations were cut short.
Southend tried to make their way back into it by making all three substitutions by the hour, and they created a couple of quickfire chances, Jason Demetriou slicing wide when well placed on the right side of the area, then Simon Cox blasting over the crossbar from 18 yards.
Hylton was still posing a threat at the other end, Bradley instantly controlling his own towering header from a right-wing free-kick and crossing low for the striker, who turned his man smartly but could only finding the side netting.
In the 72nd minute Potts sent Lee clear, the striker cutting in from the left and forcing Oxley into another excellent save, then – seconds after James Justin had been introduced for the impressive Grant – Oxley had to come racing off his line again.
Just 15 minutes were left when Lee and Rea combined deep in the Hatters’ own territory for the latter to release Justin, who played a beautiful first time pass into Shinnie’s path, only for Oxley to smother on the edge of his box again, then did his best to put Stacey off as well.
Four minutes later it should have been three when Hylton robbed Hyam in the centre-circle and fed Justin on the right side of the area. Oxley raced out once more, and Justin – who was running riot on both sides of diamond – tried to square to Mpanzu waiting in the six-yard box, but centre-half John White got back to clear.
Lee left the pitch to a standing ovation, and the announcement that he’d been chosen as match sponsors’ man-of-the-match, to be replaced by Harry Cornick, but Southend sounded a warning with just under five minutes of normal time to play when Robinson rattled in a volley that shook the advertising boards behind Shea’s goal.
Still the Hatters keeper hadn’t had a save of any real note to make, and it ended up proving a comfortable first win in the third tier for Jones’ men.
TOWN: Shea, Stacey, Pearson, Bradley, Potts, Rea ©, Mpanzu, Grant (Justin 73), Shinnie, Lee (Cornick 83), Hylton (Collins 90+3). Subs: Jervis, Gambin, Sheehan, Stech (GK)
Goals: Lee 2, Hylton 33 (pen)
SOUTHEND: Oxley, Bwomono (McCoulsky 61), Coker, Turner, Dieng (Hyam 46), Hopper, Cox, McLauglin (Robinson 61), Mantom, Demetriou, White. Subs: Kightly, Bishop (GK), Kyprianou, Hendrie
Yellows: Hyam, Demetriou
REFEREE: Trevor Kettle
ATT: 9,086 (916 away)