League Two: Luton Town 3 Hartlepool 0
Luton Town breathed life into their play-off hopes with a comfortable 3-0 victory over relegation-threatened Hartlepool this afternoon, ending a run of four straight home defeats.
Goals from Cameron McGeehan, Jake Howells’ penalty and Scott Griffiths were enough for the Hatters to draw level on points with seventh-placed Plymouth Argyle after they were beaten 2-0 at Carlisle United.
It had looked like Luton would claw back three points on Stevenage in sixth too, but a late goal for Graham Westley’s side saw them draw 2-2 at 10-man Accrington and keep the gap at four with two games to go.
Town were forced into two changes before kick off as Paul Benson (suspension) and Nathan Doyle (calf) missed out, while Ryan Hall also dropped to the bench as Howells, Shaun Whalley and top scorer Mark Cullen came back in.
The struggling visitors, who are now just a point outside the drop zone themselves, had the first attempt of sorts as Jonathan Franks tested Elliot Justham from long range.
However, Luton were ahead in the fifth minute when from a flurry of corners, McGeehan stood his ground well to direct a header through a crowd and beyond Scott Flinders.
Town then had a second on 15 minutes when Whalley brilliantly manoeuvred some space in the area and he tumbled underneath an ill-advised challenge.
Although it appeared a soft decision, there was a sense of justice, especially with some of the stonewall spot kicks Luton haven’t been awarded this season.
Finally there was no need for a rebound either as Howells stepped up to confidently find the bottom corner to celebrate a birthday goal and convert his side’s first spot kick in the league this term.
Hatters were now running amok as Cullen was sent clean through only to be denied by a crucial intervention from the soon to become over-worked Flinders.
Lee set off on a mazy individual run and somehow managed to send over a cross that Howells teed up Whalley with, whose his close range blast was wonderfully cleared off the line by Nicky Featherstone.
Town thought they had a third when Lee’s curler was palmed straight out by Flinders for Cullen to tap home, but the striker was adjudged offside.
The visitors had offered nothing going forward in the early stages, although came close when Marlon Harewood’s shanked free kick deflected off Michael Harriman as Justham impressively changed direction quickly to save.
Back came Town though, with Cullen flicking on for Lee and Flinders made a breath-taking stop low down to keep it at 2-0.
Neil Austin should have done much better with a header when left unmarked, while Whalley’s inventive outside of the boot attempt was straight at Flinders.
The tempo then slowed slightly with news of Plymouth falling behind, before Luton sprang into life once more as Lee escaped his marker to race away on the wing and his cross picked out Cullen whose cheeky backheel didn’t come off.
Howells then sent over an excellent free kick that glanced off Wilkinson’s head and behind when he might have done better as Luton could and should have gone into the break with a far healthier advantage.
After the interval and mindful of the fact they had lost a 2-0 lead against Exeter from an identical position recently, Still’s side started the second period looking for a third and might have had it but Lee rather selfishly opted to go alone with Cullen and Whalley screaming for a pass.
Hartlepool weren’t completely out of the contest as Franks’ drive was deflected behind and then Justham fielded Jordan Hugill’s effort.
The visitors then had their best spell of pressure as Town once again dropped off with nerves starting to creep in on the pitch and in the stands.
However, Pools couldn’t ever capitalise on their improved territory and possession with Justham’s clean sheet never seriously under threat.
Luton then had the victory sewed up on 75 minutes when from another set-piece, they burst Hartlepool’s resistance, with Griffiths managing to find the net after an almighty scramble in the box.
Hatters could have had a another only for sub Ryan Hall to curl horribly over the top, but 3-0 was enough to ensure their top seven hopes remained alive and kicking for another week.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty (C), Luke Wilkinson, Shaun Whalley (Ryan Hall 74), Jonathan Smith, Cameron McGeehan, Jake Howells (Luke Guttridge 82), Mark Cullen, Elliot Lee (Ricky Miller 87).
Subs not used: Alex Lacey, Craig King, Lewis Kinsella, Alex Wall.
Pools: Scott Flinders (C), Neil Austin, Jonathan Franks, Marlon Harewood, Nicky Featherstone, Scott Fenwick (Jordan Jones 64), Dan Jones, Michael Duckworth, Jordan Hugill (Ebby Nelson-Addy 77), Scott Harrison, Aaron Tishibila.
Subs not used: Matthew Bates, Brad Walker, Stuart Parnaby, Jon Maxted, Jordan Richards.
Referee: Gary Sutton
Booked: Austin 43, Featherstone 89.
Attendance: 8,231 (277 Pools).
Hatters MOM: Jake Howells. Midfielder had two assists and a goal to cap a fine birthday.