Hatters hold firm to defeat United
League Two: Luton Town 2 Cambridge United 0
Luton Town maintained their record of never having lost to rivals Cambridge United at Kenilworth Road in the Football League, with a hard-fought 2-0 win this afternoon.
Isaac Vassell's first league goal on home soil and Jordan Cook's late penalty were enough for Town to make it nine games without defeat, since their first clash back in 1978.
Victory wasn't straight-forward by any means though for the hosts, who had to dig deep during the second period under some constant United pressure, with Scott Cuthbert and Glen Rea given more than the odd nervy moment by U's man mountain of a striker in Uche Ikpeazu.
Given some superb protection by holding midfielder Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, who popped up at the right place to clear the danger time and time again, Luton ensured the U's drew a league blank on their travels for the first time since September 3, with the hosts keeping a first clean sheet at home in the division since November 12.
Hatters, who had manager Nathan Jones watching on from the directors box as he served a one-match touchline ban, made three changes to the side as Vassell and Rea replaced the suspended Danny Hylton and Johnny Mullins, while Cook came in for Jake Gray.
Luke Gambin caught the eye in the opening 10 minutes, pulling the strings in the playmaker role, but bar a fine block by James Justin on the rampaging Conor Newton, and the odd corner, there was literally nothing of note until the midway point.
Then, Hatters then had first real moment of excitement, Jack Marriott's shot deflecting into the path of Jonathan Smith, as his heavy touch allowed Will Norris to claim, while United threatened too, Ikpeaz linking with Conor Newton whose half volley flashed behind.
With the game starting to show signs of life, Luton went in front on 33 minutes with a goal that was counter-attacking football at its very, very finest.
A U's corner was claimed authoritatively by Christian Walton, who quickly rolled the ball into the path of Smith. He fed Marriott as the striker set off on mazy run, beating Brad Halliday and finding Vassell who showed tremendous pace, strength and a cool head on his shoulders to speed away and slide past the advancing Norris.
Now ahead, Luton set about trying to add a second, Marriott missing good chance on the stroke of half time, when Gambin spied a clever pass to Cook, he teed up the striker, whose finished was scuffed and easy for Norris.
In the second period, Cambridge came out with a far more attacking intent, although Hatters still had their moments, Gambin's ambitious potshot handled by Norris and Vassell turning provider with a cross for Marriott whose header didn't unduly worry United's custodian.
Rea had to be alert to thwart a fierce Piero Mingoia drive, while the visitors should have levelled when Newton exchanged passes with Ikpeazu, only to scoop over from a presentable position.
The big striker, an ex-Watford man to boot, was starting to relish his task against Town's centre halves, outmuscling Rea and crossing for Luke Berry to miss the target, with James Dunne's long ranger flying well wide too.
With Ruddock Mpanzy never once neglecting his defensive duties, making a number of last-ditch clearances, while never forgetting his attacking instincts too, Luton crucially managed to weather the storm.
As ever, Jones' side remained a threat on the break, no more so than when Vassell set off at blistering pace once again and managed to stay on his feet until Leon Legge brought him down in the area with eight minutes left.
Despite already being booked, the centre half remained on the pitch and without Hylton and McGeehan, Cook took the responsibility from 12 yards, confidently finding the bottom corner.
With the points wrapped up, Hatters could and should have added more, Vassell putting the afterburners on again, testing Norris from 20 yards.
Sub Lawson D'Ath then fluffed the best chance of all, sent completely free by Cook's clever through ball, but with just Norris to beat, he side-footed the wrong side of the post.
Luton gave one final demonstration of their counter-attacking prowess, with late addition Craig Mackail-Smith bursting away to find Smith, whose swerving attempt was repelled by Norris.
Results at the top end went for the Hatters too, Carlisle held at home by Barnet and Portsmouth losing to Exeter, meaning Luton climbed up to fourth in the table and now trail the automatic spots by a mere four points, with their game in hand against Cheltenham at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday night.
Hatters: Christian Walton, James Justin, Scott Cuthbert, Johnny Mullins, Jack Senior (Alan Sheehan 87), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jonathan Smith, Luke Gambin (Lawson D'Ath 79), Jordan Cook, Isaac Vassell, Jack Marriott (Craig Mackail-Smith 87).
Subs not used: Craig King, Jake Gray, Stephen O'Donnell, Olly Lee.
United: Will Norris, James Dunne (Gerry McDonagh 84), Mark Roberts, Leon Legge (C), Piero Mingoia (Paul Lewis 77), Luke Berry, Harrison Dunk (Ben Williamson 46), Jake Carroll, Conor Newton, Uche Ikpeazu, Brad Halliday.
Subs not used: Scott Wharton, David Gregory, George Maris, Max Clark.
Attendance: 8,917 (997 United).
Booked: Carroll 58, Newton 66, Legge 71.
Referee: Seb Stockbridge.
Hatters MOM: Pelly-Ruddock MPanzu. Excellent going forward, but even better at the back.