Hatters' unbeaten away run comes to a crashing end

League Two: Port Vale 4 Luton Town 0

Saturday, 30th December 2017, 5:47 pm
Updated Saturday, 30th December 2017, 5:55 pm
Danny Hylton tries to charge down Vale keeper Ryan Boot this afternoon
Danny Hylton tries to charge down Vale keeper Ryan Boot this afternoon

Luton's record breaking away run came to a shock and abrupt end this afternoon, as they were totally, utterly and comprehensively defeated by an impressive Port Vale side.

Going into the game, the Hatters hadn't lost on their travels in any competition since August 12 against Barnet, going 12 matches unbeaten in that time.

However, with boss Nathan Jones making four changes in what is a frenzied Christmas period, it proved to be too many, with his side clearly second best throughout.

Striker Tom Pope was virtually unplayable for the hosts, giving Town's back-line a torrid, torrid time, while winger Ben Whitfield caught the eye too, as Town suffered the biggest defeat of Jones's reign, beating the 4-1 reverse at AFC Wimbledon back in February 2016.

The Luton chief's wholesale alterations, saw Lawson D'Ath in for his first league start of the campaign, with Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Harry Cornick and Elliot Lee all starting, as James Collins, Andrew Shinnie and Luke Berry dropped to the bench, Olly Lee missing out entirely.

On a dreadful pitch that cut up from the very early stages, Vale should have led on three minutes, when a free kick dropped at the feet of a surprised Nathan Smith who volleyed wastefully over.

Elliot Lee had a fierce effort charged down, while Pope quickly showed what a dominant force he was is in the air, winning yet another header for Cristian Montano, whose shot was bravely blocked by Alan Sheehan.

Cornick, who appeared Town's only major threat in the opening stages, then charged forward as Luton finally had an opportunity of note, with Lee tackled inside the area after taking up possession and neither Hylton nor Mpanzu able to convert.

Luton fell behind on 23 minutes though when Pope flicked on and Whitfield beat Sheehan to deliver low, as Dan Potts's attempted clearance cannoned off Johnny Mullins to cross the line, Town conceding the opening goal for the first time in 12 matches, since beaten 3-0 at home by Coventry on October 28.

Mpanzu's blast was deflected over for a corner and a short set-piece routine saw Sheehan find Mullins, who failed to get any kind of connection.

Vale then grasped the bit between their teeth, Montano's blast drawing a sharp parry from Marek Stech.

Town's keeper should really have been picking the ball out of his net again on 42 minutes, Montano escaping on the left all too easily and stood the ball up perfectly for Pope, who rose well, but somehow directed his header wide.

After the break, Hatters changed to a 3-5-2 formation, Rea moving alongside Mullins and Sheehan at the back, as Jones tried to counter the obvious aerial threat of Pope.

It led to a slight improvement, Hylton teeing up James Justin to shoot straight at Ryan Boot on the angle.

Jones then made a double switch on 54 minutes, bringing on Collins and Berry for D'Ath and Lee, with the visitors giving themselves over half an hour to get back into the game.

Rather than boost the Hatters though, it led to Vale fully grasping the ascendancy, inches away from moving 2-0 in front as Whitfield's deflected free kick didn't miss by much, with Stech rooted to the spot.

However, Luton's mountain got that little bit steeper on the hour mark when Rea was caught out of position by Whitfield, who picked out Pope perfectly, the striker's first touch good and second even better, beating Stech to find the bottom corner.

With 20 minutes to go, it was game over, when a long ball forward saw Rea make a horrible error, selling Stech woefully short with a backpass.

Pope took advantage and then repaid the favour to slip in Whitfield who had no problems in finding the open net.

Although Luton looked to try and shut up shop, they conceded once more with 20 minutes to go, Rea once again missing a clearance, a looping header beating Stech and although Pope hit the post, his second effort was adjudged to have crossed the line by the referee's assistant.

Comprehensively beaten on the day, results elsewhere did go in Town's favour, as they remained four points clear of Notts County, losing 1-0 at Swindon, while Exeter, now in fourth, are nine points back too,

Luton only have to wait just over 24 hours before they get the chance to put it right too, facing Lincoln City at Kenilworth Road on New Year's Day.

Vale: Ryan Boot, Joe Davis, Anthony Kay, Marcus Harness, Danny Pugh, Tom Pope (Tyrone Barnett 87), Cristian Montano, Nathan Smith, Ben Whitfield (Dave Worrall 75), Michael Tonge, Gavin Gunning (Tom Anderson 56).

Subs not used: Rob Lainton, Tyler Denton, Anton Forrester, Dan Turner.

Hatters: Marek Stech, Jack Justin, Dan Potts, Johnny Mullins, Alan Sheehan (C), Glen Rea, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Lawson D'Ath (Luke Berry 54), Harry Cornick (Andrew Shinnie 67), Danny Hylton, Elliot Lee (James Collins 54).

Subs not used: James Shea, Akin Famewo, Luke Gambin, Jordan Cook.

Referee: Tom Nield.

Attendance: 5,523 (Luton 1,175).