League Two: Luton Town 1 Carlisle United 0
Recalled Hatters striker Mark Cullen bagged his 12th goal of the season to ensure 10-man Luton were deserving 1-0 winners over Carlisle United this afternoon.
The forward, who manager John Still admitted had lost his place recently after being the subject of interest during the transfer window, was back with a bang, making it three goals in two games, after his brace in Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw against York.
When his chance came, Cullen took the pass from Matt Robinson, another who was returning to the side, into his stride and rifled past the static United keeper Dan Hanford.
Hatters then had to hang on for large parts of the second period as defender Luke Wilkinson was shown a straight red just after the hour mark as he was deemed the last man when tripping Antony Sweeney.
Luton, who unveiled Norwich City midfielder Cameron McGeehan on loan until the end of the season at half time, made four changes in total for the game.
Skipper Steve McNulty was suspended as Fraser Franks came in, while Nathan Doyle missed out injured as Hatters reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, with Cullen partnering Jayden Stockley upfront.
In came Robinson for his first league start since he was sent off against Shrewsbury on August 30, while Scott Griffiths came in for Jake Howells, with Wilkinson was fit enough to take his place in the centre of defence.
The hosts almost had a sniff early on as Smith burst away and his cross was cut out, but Carlisle’s delaying tactics were evident from pretty much the first whistle, taking an age over single set-play as they were clearly sent out by boss Keith Curle to spoil proceedings.
Kyle Dempsey’s far post header was gathered by Mark Tyler, with Town struggling to get going, apart from Scott Griffiths’ positive bursts forward from full back, as he fed Stockley, whose curler was deflected behind.
Hatters went close again when from a corner, the ball was chipped back in by Michael Harriman, keeper Dan Hanford came needlessly charging out to fumble, but Cullen’s follow up volley flicked a defender on its way over.
Town finally mounted some momentum as the impressive Nathan Oduwa cut inside and curled straight at Hanford too while Stockley’s fierce drive was charged down.
A marvellous break by the hosts saw the tricky Oduwa almost pick out a home attacker and Cullen’s speculative volley from range was turned behind needlessly by Hanford.
The hosts showed they could mount an attack when they put their minds to it, with Charlie Wyke turning Fraser Franks and skying his effort over under pressure from Wilkinson
Griffiths continued his attacking ways, scampering forward once more, unleashing a fierce drove that hammered into Sean O’Hanlon, while the defender dragged the rebound disappointingly wide as the space opened up.
Town deservedly had the lead on 36 minutes when Robinson picked out Cullen for him to make it 12 for the season.
Dempey tried to level immediately, skewing wide, but once the Kenilworth Road had rose to acclaim new loan signing McGeehan, Cullen had a marvellous chance to make it 2-0, passing across the face of goal rather than go for his second.
The forward then did go alone, forcing Hanford to parry, but Carlisle, obviously, freed from their awful time-wasting tactics, came close as Wyke couldn’t get enough on his effort, which ended up easy for Tyler.
Oduwa’s pace almost set up a second, as his effort was blocked after another pacey counter attack, while Smith almost set up a second, when his cross was cleared off the line by O’Hanlon before Robinson clattered one over the top.
Luton then wasted another glorious opportunity when Cullen sent over a magnificent low cross from the byline and Stockley at full stretch, just couldn’t convert from a matter of yards.
Wilkinson was called on to make an important block on David Amoo as Luton’s failure to net a second almost cost them.
Despite being well on top, Luton were then reduced to 10 men as Tyler didn’t get enough on his clearance, Robinson failed to win back possession and Sweeney raced clear, brought down by Wilkinson who had to go.
That saw Alex Lacey replace Oduwa, as Luton tried to shore up defensively, but they almost had a second in stunning fashion with Drury’s amazing volley from way out cannoning against bar and post, with the rebound turned in by Cullen, who was flagged offside.
Digging to ensure a much-needed three points, Luton brought on Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, who looked short of match sharpness and fitness, with the hosts messing up a late free kick chance.
Carlisle were almost made to pay as sub Amoo blazed over the bar from a long ball pumped forward as did Danny Grainger, but Luton held on to fully justify the three points.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths, Luke Wilkinson, Fraser Franks, Andy Drury, Matt Robinson (Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu 77), Jonathan Smith (C), Nathan Oduwa, Jayden Stockley, Mark Cullen (Jake Howells 83).
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Alex Lacey, Luke Guttridge, Shaun Whalley.
Cumbrians: Dan Hanford, Danny Grainger (C), Troy Archibald-Henville, Anthony Sweeney, Courtney Meppen-Walter (Brad Potts 60), Steven Rigg (Mark Beck 73), Kyle Dempsey, Sean O’Hanlon, Charlie Wyke, Matt Young, Anthony Griffith (David Amoo 46).
Subs not used: Daniel Kearns, Patrick Bough, Derek Asamoah, Danny Eccles.
Referee: James Linington.
Booked: Sweeney 73, Stockley 81, Archibald-Henville 90.
Sent off: Wilkinson 66
Attendance: 8,502 (Carlisle 276).
Hatters MOM: Mark Cullen. Super finish and looked a striker full of confidence.