The Hatters picked up all three points in their first Checkatrade Trophy Southern Group H fixture of the season tonight, beating Brighton Under-21s 2-1 with goals from Aaron Jarvis and Jorge Grant.
With his former club in town, manager Nathan Jones gave new loan signing from Leeds United Eunan O’Kane his home debut after an impressive performance as a second-half substitute in the 1-1 draw at Wycombe on Saturday.
The Republic of Ireland international ran the show as the Hatters dominated the opening half, but unfortunately limped off with a groin injury before the break after going close himself, and creating chances for others, after Jarvis’ fifth-minute opener.
Goalkeeper Harry Isted was given his senior debut for the club behind a back four of James Justin, Lloyd Jones, captain Alan Sheehan and Jack Senior, while O’Kane lined up alongside Alan McCormack, Grant and Arthur Read in midfield, with Jarvis and Harry Cornick up front.
Jarvis had already gone close to opening the scoring in the second minute when McCormack chipped into the box, the ex-Basingstoke man chesting down and firing in a left-footed volley that was beaten away by Brighton keeper Jason Steele.
The Hatters had the breakthrough in the fifth minute, however, with Jarvis finishing off a flowing move down the right that he had triggered with a flick-on for Cornick, who backheeled into Justin’s path to deliver the pinpont cross that the striker hammered into the bottom corner from six yards out.
Isted had to be alert to a first-time volley from Aaron Connolly after a long pass from deep from left-back Alex Cochrane, but by the ninth minute it was the Hatters on the attack again, Cornick cutting back for O’Kane to send the first of two quickfire efforts on goal
On 23 minutes Reed intercepted a pass into the centre of the Brighton half, and fed Grant, who unleashed a drive that was destined for the top corner until Steele flew across his six-yard box to punch it away.
Two minutes later it was Jarvis’ turn again, receiving another cute pass from O’Kane just inside the area, but off-balance, his left-footed shot flew well wide.
The Town were dominating possession and in the 27th minute a flowing move down the right was started by Justin in the full-back position, into Cornick’s feet on halfway and onto O’Kane, who then threaded another lovely ball into the rampaging Justin’s path, but the local lad’s shot was only troubling the scoreboard at the Oak Road End.
On the half-hour mark, McCormack clipped a ball into Jarvis, who laid it back for O’Kane to bend a beauty that beat Steele all ends up, but not the crossbar. Within seconds Grant was having another crack from distance, this one just wide.
McCormack was keen to have a go himself, a 30-yard rocket of a shot calling Steele into action again on 36 minutes – moments before the impressive O’Kane was forced off with a knock, to be replaced by Frankie Musonda.
Grant had been fouled 25 yards from goal just before the substitution was made, and after the delay, Sheehan went close with the free-kick, before Brighton made a rare foray up the other end with Connolly having another crack, this one finishing closer to the corner flag than Isted’s goal.
It had been an opening 45 minutes in which the Hatters had dominated, however, and the final effort of the half produced Steele’s best save of the night so far.
Read picked up the ball at the end of a period of possession that covered more than 20 passes, but the former Sunderland keeper changed direction mid-air to fall on a 25-yard shot that took a wicked deflection.
The second half started in much the same vein, Grant firing over in the opening couple of minutes before Senior crossed for Cornick to volley on target in the 55th minute, Steele once more beating the ball away, just out of reach of the onrushing Jarvis.
Brighton’s first corner produced their best chance of the night on 57 minutes, Jordan Davies hitting one full on the volley at the far post, but Isted made a superb double save to deny the Seagulls’ captain and Connolly, who was following up.
Jarvis came close to rounding off another incisive move down the left in the 58th minute, the forward’s instinctive near post effort getting on the end of a low cross from Senior just beating the post.
Steele was proving a near unbeatable barrier in the Brighton goal, racing off his line to deny Jarvis again, this time latching onto a fine throughball from Justin, just after the hour, before Jones headed the resulting corner over the bar.
He flew acrobatically across his six-yard box to fist a Musonda cross-shot clear, but Brighton couldn’t clear the corner and Sheehan produced a right footed shot that was deflected just wide of the far post.
Read, Justin and Musonda combined down the right to tee up Jarvis for another chance, one that the striker couldn’t keep down as he stretched to meet it on the edge of the six-yard box.
Grant went close again in the 74th minute, spectacularly flicking a ball from McCormack with the outside of his right boot as it came over his shoulder, only for it to go inches over with Steele, for once, beaten.
The second goal finally came in the 79th minute, and it was Grant who got it, once more chancing his arm from distance, to the left of the area, and a massive deflection off Ben White took it past Steele and into the bottom corner.
Connolly went close again for Brighton with a smart near-post effort straight after the goal, then Jordan Davies pulled the trigger from 20 yards, with Isted holding well under pressure as Connolly raced in looking for a rebound.
They got a goal back with four minutes left when Cochrane raced down the left and whipped in a terrific cross that Connolly steered past Isted with a smart header, and Jordan Davies soon curled another attempt on goal that Isted had to get his body behind.
Jones had introduced Josh Neufville for Grant, who had picked up a slight injury while volleying a ball clear just before the goal, to make his senior debut the day after signing his first professional contract.
But the 17-year-old had little opportunity to make an impression, as the Hatters saw the game out to get off to the perfect start.
TOWN: Isted, Justin, Jones, Sheehan ©, Senior, McCormack (Rea 81), Grant (Neufville 85), Read, O’Kane (Musonda 39), Cornick, Jarvis. Subs: James, Tomlinson, Richardson, Stech.
Goals: Jarvis 5, Grant 79
BRIGHTON: Steele, White, Gyokeres, Tilley (Spong 71), Connolly, A Davies, J Davies ©, Kerr, Mandriou, Cochrane, Onen (Barclay 46). Subs: O’Hora, Collings (GK), Cashman, Packham.
Goals: Connolly 86
REFEREE: John Busby
ATT: 1,318 (44 away)