The Hatters were able to move up into an automatic promotion spot in Sky Bet League One for the first time in 13 years with a 2-0 win over Fleetwood Town at Kenilworth Road this afternoon.
A sixth successive home league win, stretching their unbeaten run over 90 minutes at the Kenny to 19 games in all competitions, came courtesy of an early goal from Harry Cornick – his third in as many matches – and substitute Danny Hylton forcing Cod Army captain Craig Morgan into an own goal ten minutes from time.
It may not have provided the amount of goals that the home fans have experienced in recent weeks, but it was another result to celebrate as the Hatters continued their unbelievable form in a dogged encounter with a well-structured Fleetwood side on a stick pitch.
James Shea recorded his third clean sheet in a row for the club and made it seven in 10 matches. The keeper is enjoying a solid run in the team proving himself, and the back four, as one of the division’s best with just three goals conceded since the defeat at Barnsley on October 13th.
Jones chose to stick with the same starting XI for a sixth league and FA Cup match in a row, although Luke Berry began the match among the substitutes, a fantastic achievement considering the ex-Cambridge midfielder has been out of action since March.
He did make an appearance in stoppage time which was met by a chorus of ‘One Luke Berry’ – a sight the fans have been waiting to see for months and the standing ovation made it a perfect return for the number eight.
The opening exchanges between the two sides included a lot of possession for the Hatters, who patiently kept hold of the ball, without troubling the Fleetwood defence.
James Justin won the first corner of the afternoon that turned into a swift counter attack by the visitors, but Paddy Madden’s scuffed effort bobbled harmlessly past the post.
Only a minute later, Madden was involved again, lofting a smart pass through towards the on-running Ched Evans. Evans’ tussle with Sonny Bradley proved to be successful as he turned the Town centre-half, but shot straight into Shea’s palms.
It was the Hatters who broke the deadlock on the 11th minute though. The Fleetwood defence couldn’t deal with Andrew Shinnie’s low cross, as James Collins managed to scramble the ball away from goalkeeper, allowing it to fall to Cornick, who was able to tap in his sixth of the season.
Shinnie picked up the ball in the middle of the pitch two minutes later and played it to the League One Player of the Month, Elliot Lee. His quick flick over to Justin allowed the 20-year-old time to cut inside and put an effort just wide of Alex Cairns’ far post.
The Town seemed to take control of the half for the next few minutes, not letting Fleetwood play and pushing them back to their keeper on one or two occasions with little chance to regroup.
Some more lovely football from the home side followed, Cornick beating his man and finding Stacey, who forced a decent save from Cairns, stopping it with an out-stretched foot.
Matty Pearson also showcased a classic example of ‘no-nonsense defending’; a crunching challenge, winning the ball and taking Jason Holt out with one quick sweep of his leg. His efforts were greeted by a loud rendition of ‘Matty Pearson’s Magic.’
The visitors showed some attacking intent though, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu losing the ball in the 27th minute, sparking a creative counter attack from the team in yellow. The ball made its way out to Ross Wallace, whose delivery was headed away by Bradley only for it to fall to Ryan Taylor, who rattled the advertising board above the Oak Road stand.
Lee also had a few glimpses on the edge of the box, twisting and turning to create a few half chances for Justin and Shinnie, keeping the pressure on Fleetwood who just about dealt with it.
The visitors came back once more with more good work from Evans in the attacking third, managing to create space for the substitute Kyle Dempsey, who crossed it in for Dean Marney to head wide from 12 yards.
The goalscorer was effective again with some delightful foot work inside his own half, getting it to Lee. Cornick then raced half the length of the pitch into the opposing box, waiting for the eventual delivery that Shinnie sent in, but the forward couldn’t direct his header goalward in what was a brilliant move.
The second half began with another Fleetwood chance, Marney losing his man outside the box and thrashing a hard shot towards Shea. But again, it failed to truly test the shot-stopper as he comfortably dealt with the effort that flew straight into hands.
Nathan Sheron misjudged the bounce of the ball that fell kindly to Lee on the hour mark. Although the attack came to nothing, the Hatters showed signs of the occasional, free-flowing football the home fans have been treated to in recent weeks.
It became slightly bitty at times with both teams struggling to keep the ball for long periods of time. The Town spurned a few chances, as did Fleetwood, one of which started with a quick throw from Cairns, sending Ash Hunter on his way. His pace causing a rush of orange shirts back from the attacking half. Evans couldn’t quite do anything with the ball after receiving it though, fouling Pearson in the process.
A Luton clearance had the ball stuck in the netting between the floodlight pylons on the 73rd minute. It was met by a sarcastic cheer which summed up the consistency of the second half to that point – until Hylton entered the field a little later.
The number nine was highly useful when he arrived on the field, adding a touch of class early on, lifting the ball over Ashley Eastham and centre-half partner Morgan’s head until his progress was stopped by a potential handball according to the Kenilworth Road faithful.
The second goal came just after, another skilful piece of work from Hylton who beat Taylor on the turn. The striker made his way to the byline, where his effort across the six-yard box flicked up generously off Morgan at the near post and into the net.
Glen Rea also headed down from a corner late on which was missed by Hylton from almost on the line. The fans were sure it was in, but the Cod Army just about dealt with it as the Hatters had to settle for two goals on this occasion – a feat they have achieved, or bettered, in 12 of their last 14 matches.
Bradley also had time to slice his header into Madden who shot well from outside the box. Shea had to be alert after a relatively quiet half to get down well to his right and prevent a nervous finish, when he kept out Madden’s shot late on.
But the win means the Hatters go into next weekend’s clash with Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena in second spot, with the next fixture back at the Kenny on December 22nd, when they will look to extend the unbeaten run to 20 as they entertain Burton.
TOWN: Shea, Justin, Pearson, Bradley, Stacey, Rea (C), Mpanzu, Shinnie (Berry 90’), Lee (Potts 88’), Cornick (Hylton 71), Collins. Sub: Stech, Grant, LuaLua, Sheehan
Goals: Cornick 11’, OG Morgan 80’
FLEETWOOD: Cairns, Holt, Eastham, Evans, Madden, Taylor (McAleny 86’), Morgan (C), Wallace, Marney, Husband (Dempsey 12’) (Hunter 66’), Sheron. Sub: Jones, Bolger, Biggins, Baines
Yellows: Wallace, Marney, Dempsey
REFEREE: Nick Kinseley
ATT: 8528 (61 Away)