Nervy Hatters hold on to defeat Cambridge

Luke Wilkinson celebrates his goal
Luke Wilkinson celebrates his goal
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League Two: Luton Town 3 Cambridge United 2

Luton Town just about withheld a second half fight back to record the double over rivals Cambridge United this season.

It had looked the Hatters were going to enjoy a comfortable triumph after moving 3-0 in front by the interval thanks to goals from Andy Drury, Luke Wilkinson and Jonathan Smith.

But they made far heavier weather than they should have in the second 45 minutes as Cambridge threw caution to the wind, pulling goals back through subs Johnny Hunt and Robbie Simpson, leaving a shot-shy Luton hanging on for dear life at the final whistle.

Town had stayed with the same 11 for the third week running as a frantic opening saw little quality on display from either side.

Shaun Whalley was wayward, while Drury’s low effort easy for Chris Dunn, with U’s looking the more threatening, particular through former Luton loan star Cameron McGeehan, playing in a far more advanced position than during his time at Kenilworth Road last season.

The Norwich midfielder, who is surely destined to play at a higher level than League Two, took aim from range and his effort was destined for the bottom corner until Mark Tyler superbly got a finger tip to turn it behind, although bafflingly, a goal kick was awarded by the officials.

Cambridge then came even closer when Tom Elliott met Ryan Donaldson’s corner and powered a header against the bar.

Hatters’ first real opportunity arrived on 15 minute as Wilkinson brought the ball out of defence, committing the U’s back-line and found Jake Howells, whose trickery took him into the box.

The winger’s deflected shot was parried by Dunn on to Whalley but went behind the goal.

Whalley then gifted possession away and the ball was worked to Ryan Donaldson, but racing forward, he dragged well wide from a promising position.

However, Hatters had the lead out of nothing on 19 minutes, thanks largely to some fine wingplay from the impressive Howells.

Town’s current longest serving player again came off his flank and his shot was superbly parried by Dunn only for Drury to calmly volley the rebound into the net.

Luton now had the bit between their teeth as a lovely move saw Howells’ final ball gathered by Dunn, before Wilkinson stepped out from the back once more as Town won a corner just after the half hour mark.

The defender took his customary position in the box and rose highest to head Drury’s corner into the roof of the net as Luton doubled their lead.

Frustratingly, Wilkinson’s influential afternoon was curtailed early as he picked up a hamstring injury and was replaced by Fraser Franks.

Hatters then looked to have sealed victory on the half time whistle as Scott Griffiths’ acrobatic volley was blocked, but Smith took the loose ball and his shot embarrassed a red-faced Dunn, who ended up diving past the ball for a very soft third.

Town unveiled new signing, winger Ryan Hall, from Rotherham United on an 18-month deal during the interval, as crucially visiting boss Richard Money threw on Simpson and Hunt for the second period.

After former U’s loanee Jayden Stockley saw his audacious volley flash narrowly wide, it was pretty much all Cambridge, with Luton barely stepping foot into their opponents half at times.

Whalley did break away to fizz a left footer over, but the U’s won a host of corners that were just about repelled by the Town defence, who were finding themselves increasingly hemmed in.

A marvellous block by Drury prevented Simpson’s goalbound drive from thundering into the net, but the U’s were back in the game on 67 minutes.

A ball over the top was picked up by an offside-looking McGeehan and he teed up the onrushing Hunt, who produced a classy, measured finish beyond Tyler into the far corner.

Town boss John Still reacted by bringing Alex Lawless and Mark Cullen on in quick succession as Lawless almost made an immediate impact, transferring the ball on to his left foot and shooting wide.

The introduction of Cullen finally gave Stockley a partner, as the forward had been cutting a frustrated figure, with Drury moving to the left hand side.

Cambridge were screaming for a penalty as the ball appeared to hit Howells’ hand in the area, before Simpson then beat Tyler to a long ball and flicked goalwards as his effort went virtually along the line and away.

Another ex-Hatter, Greg Taylor fired into the side netting, but with five minutes remaining, the gap was down to one.

Hatters were once again beaten by a simple downfield pass and Simpson took it under control before swivelling to beat Tyler.

Luton’s hearts were in their mouths after giving a free kick away just outside the area, but thankfully, Hunt put it into the crowd.

Then, in stoppage time, McGeehan, who was afforded a fine ovation by Luton supporters afterwards, raced away, but Tyler just managed to nick the ball of his toes as Hatters held on.

The result saw Luton remain in fourth place, but are now only four points off new leaders Shrewsbury with a game in hand.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths (Mark Cullen 73), Luke Wilkinson (Fraser Franks 41), Steve McNulty (C), Nathan Doyle, Jonathan Smith, Andy Drury, Shaun Whalley (Alex Lawless 69), Jake Howells, Jayden Stockley.

Subs not used: Alex Wall, Elliott Justham, Luke Guttridge, Matt Robinson.

United: Chris Dunn, Richard Tait, Greg Taylor, Josh Coulson, Ryan Donaldson (Luke Chadwick 73), Tom Champion (C), Tom Elliott, Michael Nelson, Dominic Ball (Robbie Simpson 46), Cameron McGeehan, Sullay Kaikai (Johnny Hunt 46).

Subs not used: Ian Miller, Will Norris, James Akintunde, Jordan Chiedozie.

Referee: Jeremy Simpson.

Booked: Whalley 45, Champion 73, Doyle 76.

Attendance: 10,054 (939 Cambridge).

Hatters MOM: Jake Howells. Some really fine wing-play on the left flank, particularly during the first half.