League Two: Luton Town 3 Mansfield Town 0
A quickfire double from flying winger Shaun Whalley saw Luton Town send struggling Mansfield Town to another defeat this afternoon.
With Hatters 1-0 in front, the wideman was about to be taken off on the hour mark with Luke Rooney readied on the sidelines, only to pick up a poor clearance from Stags keeper Sascha Studer, drive forward and see his cross shot fly into the far corner that left the Kenilworth Road crowd purring in delight.
Rooney was then sent back to sit down and Whalley produced a brilliant individual run and finish moments later to make it 3-0.
Prior to the game, Hatters made three changes for the clash as Fraser Franks replaced the suspended Luke Wilkinson to partner Steve McNulty in the back-line.
Top scorer Mark Cullen came in as did Andy Drury, with Jake Howells dropping to the bench and Luke Guttridge missing out.
A quiet opening exchange saw Luton eventually have the first effort of note on 11 minutes, Nathan Doyle’s low drive turned behind by Studer.
The hosts came close moments later too when Paul Benson rose highest to meet Drury’s free kick, but nodded over.
Whalley was controversially booked on 17 minutes as he raced past Lee Beevers in the area before going down under the defender’s challenge.
Referee Gavin Ward adjudged the Luton man had dived though and brandished a yellow much to the furore of Town’s management staff.
However, within seconds, Town were in front as Cullen escaped on the left and his cross was flicked goalwards by Benson.
Studer parried the initial effort but Benson showed great determination to win the loose ball and his low shot beat the keeper’s dive and trickled over the line almost in slow motion.
With the bit between their teeth, Hatters came close to a second as Whalley sent over a marvellous cross and Kieron Freeman’s superb sliding intervention prevented Cullen nothing a certain goal.
Hatters were then dealt a real blow as Benson, who had looked something like being back to his best, injured himself while making an innocuous challenge and had to be stretchered off in real pain.
With Jake Howells on his place, Town took a while to get going once more, Drury scooping wide from just outside the area.
As they often do, Hatters upped the tempo quickly though, Whalley’s drive deflected behind and from the corner, Fraser Franks’ header was nodded off the line by Martin Riley.
After the break, the visitors almost levelled in spectacular style, Reggie Lambe’s overhead kick flying narrowly over.
With the game becoming more open, Town threatened as Michael Harriman dinked over the perfect cross and Cullen arched his back to nod against the bar.
Tyler easily gobbled up Martin Riley’s header, while as Stags started to become more dominant, second half sub Junior Brown’s fierce drive was parried by the Luton keeper.
Out of nothing though, Town had their crucial second thanks to Whalley’s wing play, with Studer rooted to the spot.
If the first one had an element of luck to it, there was nothing fortunate about Whalley’s second minutes later as once again, he beat his man, and curled a beautiful left-footed dasiycutter into the bottom corner.
The visitors almost had a reply as Chris Clements’ shot deflected off Franks and just was wide of the post.
However, Luton were coasting now as Griffiths’ far post header was claimed by Studer, as Hatters boss John Still brought on Charlie Walker and finally Rooney as Whalley was given a deserved standing ovation.
Results elsewhere meant Town climbed back up to second place, leapfrogging Burton Albion, who lost 1-0 to Shrewsbury Town, as they remain a point behind leaders Wycombe Wanderers
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty (C), Fraser Franks, Shaun Whalley, Jonathan Smith, Nathan Doyle, Andy Drury, Mark Cullen (Charlie Walker 82), Paul Benson (Jake Howells 27).
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Alex Lacey, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Ricky Miller.
Stags: Sascha Studer, Martin Riley (C), Ryan Tafazolli, Kieron Freeman, Simon Heslop, Reggie Lambe (Matt Rhead 76), Lee Beevers, Rob Taylor (Junior Brown 46), Vadaine Oliver, Chris Clements, Jamie Sendles-White (Fergus Bell 61).
Subs not used: Rakish Bingham, Ollie Palmer, Liam Marsden, Dimitar Evtimov.
Booked: Whalley 17, Beevers 67.
Attendance: 8,418 (Stags 294).
Referee: Gavin Ward.
Hatters MOM: Shaun Whalley. Reborn winger dazzled in the second period.