Town’s changes fail to come off in Crawley defeat

Luton fall behind to James Collins' first half header
Luton fall behind to James Collins' first half header

League Two: Crawley Town 2 Luton Town 0

Luton Town manager Nathan Jones’ selection gamble failed to pay off this afternoon as his side’s miserable league run at Crawley continued with another defeat to the Red Devils.

The 1,000-plus visiting fans who travelled to the Checkatrade.com Stadium were left with more than a raised eyebrow by the teamsheet that greeted them, as leading scorer Danny Hylton, Jack Marriott and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu all dropped to the bench, with Josh McQuoid, Jonathan Smith and Isaac Vassell in for their first league starts of the season.

Glen Rea also missed out with ligament damage picked up in training, but it was a big call for the manager to leave out a strikeforce he later hailed as the ‘best in the division’ with a pairing who have yet to score a goal between them this term.

Ultimately, the alterations didn’t work out, as although Luton dominated possession and territory in the first half, they had nothing to show for their efforts, failing to test home keeper Glen Morris and falling behind as the hosts scored through James Collins’ stooping header.

Marriott and Hylton were then brought on midway through the second half, but it turned out to be too little too late, as Morris didn’t have to face a shot in anger until five minutes from time, with the hosts sealing victory when Enzio Boldewijn raced clear to beat Christian Walton, ending Crawley’s run of three straight losses.

The result made it back-to-back defeats in League Two for the Hatters, as it was the first time they have failed to score in the league this season too, dropping out of the top three in the process.

It had been a promising opening for Luton too as Vassell utilised his lightning pace to get the better of a dithering Joe McNerney, sending an angled left footer wide, while Cameron McGeehan’s pot shot was inches off target too.

However, the best opportunity went the way of Crawley, as Town’s defence was cut open on 10 minutes, the ball threaded through to Collins, only for Walton to readjust himself accordingly and block.

Walton’s next work on 20 minutes was easier, as Billy Clifford shot straight at the Luton keeper, before a lovely Town move saw Jordan Cook’s crossfield pass taken on the instep by Stephen O’Donnell who picked out McGeehan with his effort charged down.

Town’s Olly Lee, who had clearly heeded Jones’ advice to become more of a physical presence, did just that, doggedly trying to win his headers and tackles early on, although went too far on 21 minutes, picking up a caution for felling Clifford who was looking to scamper away.

Hatters were almost gifted an opener as Smith harried Andre Blackman into a mistake by the corner flag and Vassell lifted the ball over the out of position Morris, but Mark Connolly was back to hack away from the line.

The visitors pressed again on the half hour, with McQuoid twisting well to dig out a cross, the unmarked Cook failing to hit the target from 15 yards, dragging wide.

Back on set-piece duty, Alan Sheehan saw one corner not dealt with convincingly by Morris and then delivered another free kick that McQuoid flicked narrowly over.

Despite barely registering as an attacking force for much of the half, it was the Red Devils who crucially went in front on 43 minutes as Lewis Young’s teasing cross was expertly headed home by Collins.

Boss Jones made no changes at the break, giving the original 11 chance to turn it around, but they almost fell 2-0 behind early on as Dan Potts didn’t get anywhere near enough on his back header, as Walton just got to the ball ahead of Collins, with Sheehan sliding in to prevent Boldewijn from turning the rebound in.

Boldewijn hacked over with another attempt as Town, with the hour gone, opted to bring on the big guns, Marriott and the masked Hylton on for Vassell and McQuoid, to huge cheers from the reinvigorated away end.

Cook then won the ball back with a fully blooded challenge outside the D, but with a sight of goal, tried to chip Morris and once again got it all wrong, as the keeper picked it up pretty much at his bootlaces.

As much as Town continued to enjoy plenty of the ball, Morris still hadn’t had to make a save of any real note, Marriott swivelling to shoot wide from the edge of the box.

Smith soon made way for Alex Gilliead too as all three of Town’s changes were substituted, with the side now looking something like Town’s full strength 11, the Newcastle loanee catching the eye once more in his 20-minute cameo.

Although now with their front-line strikeforce, the supply-line was still misfiring, and when Marriott did peel away to take up a great position in the area, McGeehan opted to go for goal, blazing waywardly over.

Luton belatedly made Morris work from 85 minutes onwards as a deep corner led to Johnny Mullins’ low shot being blocked and the defender recovered to cross for his centre half partner to send a downward header goalwards, the keeper palming away.

Town pushed once more, Marriott’s snap shot saved at the second attempt by Morris, while the visitors thought they had rescued a point in stoppage time when Hylton challenged the keeper in an aerial duel, with the loose ball turned in by Marriott, only for referee Gavin Ward to blow for a foul on the home custodian.

Mullins was booked for his complaints in the aftermath and Luton’s misery was compounded when O’Donnell was caught in possession, with the ball worked out to winger Boldewijn who had a clean run on Walton and coolly put the result beyond doubt, as Town have now failed to win at Crawley in their last four league visits.

Red Devils: Glenn Morris, Lewis Young, Mark Connolly, Enzio Boldewijn, Jimmy Smith (C), Jason Banton (Jordan Roberts 72), Andre Blackman (Chris Arthur 64), Billy Clifford (Alex Davey 86), James Collins, Joe McNerney, Kaby Djalo.

Subs not used: Yusuf Mersin, Bobson Bawling, Ayran Tajbakhsh, Adi Yussuf.

Hatters: Christian Walton, Stephen O’Donnell, Dan Potts, Alan Sheehan (C), Johnny Mullins, Olly Lee, Jonathan Smith (Alex Gilliead 70), Jordan Cook, Cameron McGeehan, Josh McQuoid (Danny Hylton 61), Isaac Vassell (Jack Marriott 61).

Subs not used: Craig King, Jake Gray, Scott Cuthbert, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu.

Bookings: Lee 21, Djalo 41, Banton 65, Sheehan 78, Mullins 90.

Attendance: 2904 (1,052 Luton).