Nathan Jones celebrated 150 games in charge of the Hatters with an impressive 3-2 win over in-form Scunthorpe this afternoon, lifting the Town up to eighth in the Sky Bet League One table after another entertaining encounter at Kenilworth Road.
Harry Cornick followed up first goal of the season last Saturday with the opener on ten minutes, with Elliot Lee restoring the lead before half-time after Lee Novak had hauled the ninth-placed Iron level within seven minutes.
After half-time the Hatters had to weather a period of pressure from the side sitting one place above them at kick-off, but game changer James Justin – on for the injured Lee – netted his first of the campaign with four minutes of normal time to go to put the result beyond doubt.
Stephen Humphrys grabbed a second for the visitors in injury-time, but the Hatters had done enough to extend their unbeaten run to five matches – and remain undefeated in six home games this season – by following up the the 2-1 victory at Oxford in midweek with a second successive win.
Jones made just one change to the starting line-up, with Jorge Grant returning to the team after being on the bench on Tuesday night, with Andrew Shinnie making way.
That meant goalkeeper James Shea was in goal behind a back four of Jack Stacey, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley and Dan Potts. In the midfield holding role was captain Glen Rea, with Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Grant and Lee behind the strike force of James Collins and Cornick.
The Hatters had started well enough without creating anything, but that changed in the tenth minute when Cornick sprang the Scunthorpe offside trap to race onto a Pearson clip towards the corner.
The centre-half had waited patiently for the chance to play forward, swapping passes with Shea, Bradley and Stacey deep inside the Town half before playing the ball over the top.
As the Scunthorpe defence appealed for offside, Cornick latched onto the ball and slid as he neared the byline to steer it goalwards, eventually finding the bottom corner via keeper Jak Alnwick’s outstretched leg.
The Iron were level seven minutes later. Lee cleared a short corner routine as far as the centre circle, but the ball quickly came back and a flick-on found Josh Morris 15 yards out. Shea raced off his line to save from the left winger, but the ball rebounded straight to Novak who placed it into the bottom corner.
The Hatters’ lead was restored in the 26th minute when Lee rounded off another move that began deep inside Luton territory in fine style.
Bradley intercepted the ball and fed Mpanzu close to halfway. The midfielder spread the ball to his right, where Grant took over and carried it towards the Scunthorpe area, twisting and turning, and having the nous, when his path was blocked, to turn and roll it to Lee on the right angle.
The striker took a couple of touches inside and unleashed a beautiful curling effort, the like of which we normally see from him cutting in on the other side of the box, that beat a fully stretched Alnwick comfortably into the far corner of the net.
Collins looked to extend the advantage in the 34th minute when he won the ball himself by the right corner flag, closing down Burgess’ clearance, before chopping back on the same man when he reached the byline, but his low drive only found the side-netting.
There was a let-off seconds later when Novak shot on the turn after wriggling clear of Bradley, but his effort flashed across the face of goal with Morris sliding in at the far post, thankfully a fraction too late.
Town were playing some excellent football and Collins had another good chance on 36 minutes – Stacey crossing from the right and finding Collins, whose header was firm, but straight at Alnwick.
Scunthorpe went close six minutes after half-time when Jordan Clarke’s header from a left-wing Morris free-kick drifted inches wide, then Shea had to deal with Humphrys’ 25-yard shot that dipped wickedly after a deflection off Rea.
Funso Ojo was next to have a go for the Iron, who were enjoying a good spell after the break, but it was Collins who would go close again for the Hatters on 64 minutes, taking a chipped pass from Rea in his stride before shooting right-footed across Alnwick, whose strong right hand kept it out.
Scunthorpe had the ball in the Hatters’ net on 68 minutes when Lund headed a Colclough cross down for Novak to nod in from close range, but the offside flag was already raised and it counted for nothing.
The Tow were soon on the front foot again in the 69th minute, when Mpanzu and Justin combined on the left to tee up Collins, but Alnwick pulled off another good save at his near post.
Two minutes later Mpanzu skipped past Lund in the centre circle before releasing Justin with a brilliant pass inside right-back Clarke, who brought the flying substitute down on the edge of the box to pick up a yellow card. Grant couldn’t punish them further as his free-kick sailed high into the Kenny End.
Mpanzu was right at the heart of the next flowing move down the Town right, presenting Cornick with a good opportunity to double his tally for the afternoon.
Pelly started it by tracking back to nick the ball off Borthwick-Jackson almost on his own goal-line, then Stacey, Pearson, Collins, Rea, Justin and Grant all couriered the ball, with some wonderful play, to Cornick inside the Iron area.
The ex-Bournemouth man chopped back onto his left foot, but his low shot was deflected behind for a corner, from which Pearson saw his header blocked.
Three minutes later, Pearson – who was performing like a man mountain at the heart of the Town defence – won the ball in own box and fed Justin, who played a beautiful curling ball down the right just out of reach of the sliding defender.
Cornick was in again, but instead of pulling the trigger with his right, he cut back once again on his left foot and allowed Ojo the chance to slide in and nick it off his toe.
You can’t keep a prospect like Cornick down though, and he was soon flying down the right again, this time choosing to stand up a cross for Justin that Scunthorpe managed to turn behind. From the resulting corner, Grant picked out Rea at the near post, but the skipper’s header was off target.
The killer third wasn’t long in coming however, with the Hatters again carving Scunthorpe open down the right in the 86th minute – Stacey playing a crisp one-two with Rea to get to the byline and cutting the ball back for Justin to steer home from inside the six-yard box.
It should have been four a couple of minutes later when Bradley nicked the ball halfway inside the Town half, Grant found Cornick who slipped in Stacey on the over-lap, but Alnwick produced another excellent save from the right-back’s angled shot, with Collins unable to keep the rebound down.
Scunthorpe grabbed a goal back just over a minute into injury time when Humphrys flicked a Clarke cross beyond Shea, then Colclough looked to pull the trigger moments later, but captain Alan Sheehan – on as an 88th-minute sub for Potts – got in a crucial block on the edge of the box.
A long wait for referee Kevin Johnson to finally blow his whistle followed, but eventually it came and the Hatters fans could give the manager an ovation he and his team deserved after victory number 74 from those 150 matches helped cement his position as the Town boss with the highest league points per game ratio of all-time - 1.76 points per game.
It’s just one defeat in the last nine league games now as the Hatters head to Barnsley for the live TV game next Saturday with momentum well and truly starting to mount.
TOWN: Shea, Stacey, Pearson, Bradley, Potts (Sheehan 88), Rea (c), Mpanzu, Grant, Lee (Justin 43), Collins, Cornick. Subs: McCormack, Shinnie, LuaLua, Jarvis, Isted (GK).
Goals: Cornick 10, Lee 26, Justin 86
SCUNTHORPE: Alnwick, Clarke, Borthwick-Jackson, Ojo, Lund, Humphrys, Morris, Novak (Thomas 80), Burgess, McArdle (c), Colclough. Subs: Dales, Perch, Lewis, Goode, Flatt (GK), Butroid
Goals: Novak 17, Humphrys 90+2
Yellows: Clarke, Borthwick-Jackson
REFEREE: Kevin Johnson
ATT: 8,682 (432 away)