Hatters show real resilience to defeat Rovers
League Two: Forest Green Rovers 0 Luton Town 2
Luton's title tilt gathered further pace with a gritty and determined 2-0 win at struggling Forest Green Rovers this afternoon.
The visitors had to do so with 10 men for the final half an hour after what was a highly contentious decision from referee Lee Swabey to send off defender Jack Stacey for what he deemed a dangerous challenge on Daniel Wishart.
Town had been leading 1-0 at the time, but crucially they extended their advantage just eight minutes later after an absolute howler from home keeper Brad Collins saw Danny Hylton tap home from close range.
Hatters boss Nathan Jones opted to name the same side for a third league game running, but the visitors looked second best in the early stages, as Rovers belied their lowly position in the table.
They had the first real chance on seven minutes when a long ball forward caught out Luke Berry in the left back position, Jordan Stevens motoring into the box, his low shot blocked by the legs of Marek Stech.
Rovers' tactics of playing keep ball from goal kicks almost saw them come a cropper early on, Hylton close to dispossessing stopper Collins, but despite the warning, they continued to play with fire throughout the contest as Luton's forward sniffed blood.
Top scorer Christian Doidge had a marvellous chance on 15 minutes, as with Johnny Mullins expecting the ball to fly over his head, he let the striker jump unchallenged, Doidge volleying the second ball tamely at Stech from 10 yards.
Luton might have taken the lead moments later, with their prolific combination almost working wonders again, Dan Potts getting a rare header wrong from Alan Sheehan's set-piece, powering wide.
The visitors were finding Doidge hard to deal with at times, Rovers' striker with the knack of running into his opponents and falling over to win free kicks, official Swabey buying his theatrics, Mullins seeing yellow.
From one such incident, Scott Laird's 35-yard fee kick was straight at Stech, with Luton breaking with purpose, Elliot Lee working some space to rifle into the side-netting.
Hatters finally started to come into the game, producing a lovely team move with Sheehan and Berry combing to send Potts away on the left, his cross met by Hylton's controlled volley which Collins did superbly to keep out at full stretch.
Hylton then wasn't too far away from 20 yards, with Shinnie firing straight at Collins, as Luton stepped it up dramatically in the closing stages of the first half.
They reaped their rewards after forcing three corners, as from the third, Luton unveiled the same routine that had led to the penalty at Accrington, with Hylton backheeling to Sheehan.
This time the Irishman advanced himself and with very little on, opted to go for goal, blasting an effort from virtually the byline that cannoned off the far post and into the net.
Town continued their dominance in the second period, Elliot Lee cutting in from the left after another incisive passing move, his snapshot saved by Collins.
Despite appearing to have got Doidge under control, the Rovers striker was then denied an equaliser in mind boggling fashion by Stech, redeeming himself entirely for the error against Notts County last week.
Wishart's inviting cross from the left was thundered goalwards by the striker from eight yards, Town's stopper somehow staying big enough to deflect the header away when the home fans were pretty much celebrating the goal already.
Swabey then became the main attraction, as a ball out to the wing saw Stacey go in to try and win it with his foot raised, while Wishart ducked to head it.
Although there was contact, it was accidental at best, with no malicious intent from the right back, but Swabey was straight to the back pocket to dismiss the mystified defender, thus ending his 100 per record in the league for the Hatters.
Jones reacted by removing the Lee brothers, with James Justin and Harry Cornick on for the duo as Town's boss was left spitting feathers when Justin was clearly clipped by Wishart on the charge, nothing given by the increasingly underfire Swabey.
However, the changes worked wonders, Cornick in particular giving Luton a real outlet and they had their second on 68 minutes, after keeper Collins connected with fresh air in attempting to clear a throw-in under pressure from Hylton, who won't have an easier goal this season.
Cornick almost made it 3-0, not far away as if anything, Luton looked to have the man advantage, although Wishart, easily the hosts' most dangerous player, teased a cross over that Jack Fitzwater hooked wide.
Hatters' attacking intentions weren't in doubt either, Justin racing away on the wing, his cross flicked off target by Hylton, with Berry right behind him and ready to pounce.
Sub Toni Gomes had a go from range, Stech saving well, before Marsh-Brown flashed well wide with an ambitious effort.
The Luton stopper was called into action once more, shovelling Luke James's volley behind as Town had to weather some pressure in the closing stages.
Mullins was fortunate to avoid becoming the second visitor to see red as after being clattered in the air by Doidge, he got up and pushed the striker over, boss Jones covering his head fearing the worst, but despite the Rovers forward seeing yellow, the centre back escaped further punishment.
Cornick almost clinched victory in the first moments of eight minutes of stoppage time, as found by sub James Collins, he was denied by a superb last ditch sliding challenge at full stretch from Jordan Simpson.
With Rovers finally adopting a more direct approach to launch crosses into the box, Luton stood firm to keep a 10th clean sheet of the season, with the only chances coming from range.
Results elsewhere went for Town too, Notts County held at home by next weekend's visitors to Kenilworth Road, Grimsby Town, to go two points clear of the Magpies, while the visitors also moved eight clear of fourth-placed Wycombe.
Rovers: Brad Collins, Scott Laird, Lee Collins (C), Keanu Marsh-Brown (Luke James 83), Christian Doidge, Reece Brown (Drissa Traore 58), Jordan Simpson , Charlie Cooper, Jack Fitzwater, Dan Wishart, Jordan Stevens (Toni Gomes 71).
Subs not used: Harry Pickering, Omar Bugiel, Mark Roberts, Samuel Hendy.
Hatters: Marek Stech, Jack Stacey, Dan Potts, Johnny Mullins, Alan Sheehan (C), Glen Rea, Olly Lee (James Justin 61), Luke Berry, Andrew Shinnie (James Collins 85), Elliot Lee (Harry Cornick 61), Danny Hylton.
Subs not used: James Shea, Lawson D'Ath, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu.
Booked: Potts 19, Mullins 22, Laird 81, Doidge 90.
Sent off: Stacey 60.
Referee: Lee Swabey.
Attendance: 2,546 (841 Luton).
Hatters MOM: Andrew Shinnie. Was always keeping things ticking over for Luton.