Brighton and Hove Albion 4
March 36, Pedro 71 (pen), Adringa 85, Ferguson 90+5
Morris 81 (pen)
The Town were denied a fairytale win on their return to top-flight football, as the Hatters suffered a 4-1 defeat away to Brighton on the opening Saturday of the Premier League season.
Playing in the top division for the first time in 31 years, Rob Edwards’ side carved out a number of good chances against the Seagulls – who finished sixth in the Premier League last season – but went behind to a first-half Solly March header and a second-half penalty by João Pedro.
Carlton Morris gave hope to the 3,000 Hatters fans in the away end when he calmly slotted home from the penalty spot to score Luton’s first ever goal in the Premier League, but late strikes from Brighton substitutes Simon Adringa and Evan Ferguson ensured a final scoreline that was somewhat harsh on the visitors.
Town manager Rob Edwards named five debutants in his starting line-up, with goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski, defender Mads Andersen and midfielders Issa Kaboré, Tahith Chong and Ryan Giles all featuring from the off.
The first half was a frantic affair in which the home side enjoyed the majority of the possession. Brighton’s first clear-cut chance came after just two minutes as Japan winger Kaorou Mitoma pinged a perfect ball onto the head of Lewis Dunk, only for the Seagulls’ skipper to head over.
The Hatters more than held their own in the opening stages, however, and were soon carving out chances from both wings. With less than four minutes played, Morris burst down the left before squaring the ball towards striker partner Elijah Adebayo. Jason Steele in the Brighton goal was alert to the danger, though, and leapt off his line to gather.
Brighton should have been a goal to the good just moments later when striker Pedro received the ball just five yards from goal but scuffed his shot wide.
Possession continued to fluctuate as former England man Danny Welbeck flashed a dipping shot just over the Luton bar before Kaboré tore up the right wing before sending in a cross that couldn’t quite find Morris or Adebayo. Fellow debutant Giles picked up the loose ball and fired it back into the area – only for Dunk to chest it skilfully into the hands of Steele.
Brighton were gaining in confidence as the half wore on and Welbeck came close to opening the scoring with a shot that fell too close to Kaminski following strong defensive pressure from Andersen.
Still, the Town continued to threaten on the break. After becoming the first player in English football to go all the way from the Conference to the Premier League with the same club, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu came close to capping his achievement with a goal. The DR Congo international dived at full stretch to meet a well weighted Kaboré cross, but his header went agonisingly wide.
Shortly after the half hour mark, Mitoma fizzed a shot over after a great pass from former Liverpool and England man James Milner on his Brighton debut.
It was a warning of what was to come. Just a few minutes later, the influential Mitoma lifted the ball in towards fellow midfielder Solly March who sent a glancing header past Kaminski and into the Luton goal.
It was nearly 2-0 three minutes later as Welbeck pounced on a Pervis Estupinan pass before striking the post. Kaminski reacted quickly to collect the rebound.
Brighton continued to press, but, as the half wore to an end, it was the Town who came closest to scoring as Morris headed another dangerous Giles cross just wide in added time.
Following the restart, the home side were soon putting the pressure back on. A skilful run and shot by Pedro was blocked by Mpanzu before Kaminski dived low before the woodwork denied Brighton a second goal, when a Pascal Gross free kick struck the post.
In the 64th minute, Edwards made a double change with Alfie Doughty and debutant Jacob Brown coming on for Kaboré and Adebayo. The move nearly paid off immediately with Brown firing in a cross just one minute later that Morris rose to – but couldn’t quite head home.
Any nerves that Brighton may have been feeling were lessened with 20 minutes remaining when Tom Lockyer was adjudged to have fouled Pedro in the box. The Brazilian picked himself up to take the spot-kick which Kaminski got his gloves to but was unable to keep out.
A seventh new signing was introduced in the 76th minute when Chiedozie Ogbene replaced Andersen.
Moments later, the Hatters’ fans were celebrating a piece of history as referee David Coote pointed to the spot once more, this time at the other end of the pitch, after Brown whipped in another right-wing cross, which struck the elbow of Dunk. Following VAR confirmation of the handball, Morris stepped up to send Steele the wrong way to score his and Luton’s first ever goal in the Premier League.
The joy was short lived, however. Within four minutes, Brighton had restored their two-goal lead. Kaminski did well to punch the ball away but the Hatters defence were unable to clear the pressure, allowing substitute Adingra to make it 3-1 from close range.
For the remaining five minutes of regular time, it was all Brighton with Ferguson hitting the post before Kaminski made another fine save from Gross – this time with his shins.
The Town were still fighting and could have had another goal when substitute Cauley Woodrow headed back to Brown, whose shot was just palmed over by Steele. But instead of a consolation goal, the Hatters had to stomach a late fourth for Brighton. Estupinan burst down the left wing and sent in a perfect pass for Ferguson to slide home at the back post.
With the referee blowing his whistle for full-time moments later, it was a harsh end to a battling Hatters display, something that was recognised by the 3,000 travelling fans.
Despite the result, the supporters remained in strong voice throughout – particularly as they celebrated the Town’s first ever goal in the Premier League – and rose to applaud the team’s efforts at the final whistle.
It's a free week for the Hatters next week and Edwards' side return to Premier League action at Chelsea a week on Friday. See you then.
Town: Kaminski; Kaboré (sub Doughty) , Giles, Andersen (sub Ogbene), Lockyer, Bell; Nakamba, Chong (sub Woodrow), Mpanzu (sub Berry); Morris, Adebayo (sub Brown).
Subs not used: Shea, McAtee, Campbell, Francis-Clarke.
Attendance: 31,872, including 3,001 shouting for the Town.