League Two: Luton Town 3 Newport County 0
Luton Town produced the perfect early Christmas present for their fans with an excellent 3-0 win over Newport County this afternoon.
Luke Wilkinson, Luke Rooney and sub Jake Howells were all on target as Hatters ended the Exiles lengthy nine-game unbeaten run, inflicting a first league defeat since October 11.
Town captain Steve McNulty had made an instant return after suspension, with the unfortunate Fraser Franks dropping to the bench.
The hosts started magnificently though with Luke Rooney to the fore as he took a crossfield ball out of the sky and set up Doyle for a shot that was saved.
Rooney then played a delightful reverse ball for Jonathan Smith who charged into the area and forced Jamie Stephens to palm behind.
From the corner, Hatters were ahead as Andy Drury swung over a dangerous delivery and Wilkinson climbed highest to glance into the net for his third of the season.
After the goal, Newport’s heads didn’t drop and if anything, they dominated proceedings, hemming Hatters back and slinging ball after ball into the box.
From a corner, Mark Tyler was beaten to the punch and Lee Minshull saw his header thump against the underside of the bar and out, as County appealed that the ball had crossed the line, but referee Darren Drysdale was unmoved.
The encounter then turned into a really spicy affair as Wilkinson looked like he was wrestled to the ground in the area when going up for a corner, and there was some pushing and shoving in the aftermath.
Bizarrely it was just Wilkinson who received a talking too from Drysdale, despite Minshull appearing to be the instigator, but Luton lose their discipline momentarily as both Nathan Doyle and Steve McNulty were in the book for what were poor challenges.
Newport were close to levelling too as after McNulty shoulder charged Jeffers into the advertising hoardings, the striker met the resulting free kick and his downward header forced Tyler into an excellent reflex stop with his legs.
Hatters got a grip on proceedings once more though as the needle that had been on show, died down momentarily, with Rooney dragging a low effort wide from distance.
Ref Drysdale was replaced at half time by assistant Andrew Laver to the delight of the crowd, who had been left howling in frustration at a number of the official’s decisions.
Once again though, Hatters made a fast start as Rooney’s glorious lofted pass was volleyed wastefully wide by Whalley, who lacked real conviction all afternoon.
Luton did have that crucial breathing space on 51 minutes though when Exiles keeper Stephens missed a cross and the ball dropped for Rooney.
Although the net was gaping, there was still plenty to do as the midfielder chested down and coolly beat the covering defender for his fourth of the campaign.
With the luxury of the second goal, Hatters settled down and spurred on by the creative forces that were Drury and Rooney, almost netted once more when Cullen’s low drive was parried by Stephens.
A free kick saw Drury then teed up Rooney and his low daisycutter was well kept out by Stephens, before sub Rene Howe headed over the top for Newport.
Lovely vision from Rooney saw him thread another fine pass for Doyle who was tackled as he shaped to shoot, while Jeffers found Tyler’s handling exemplary as he took aim from range.
Drury was becoming more and more of an influence as the game wore on, starting to show just why Hatters were so keen to sign him in the summer, chipping over when off balance after another mazy run.
The visitors always carried a threat though as Tyler had to be alert to tip Zebroski’s looping header over, and then repel Yakubu’s close range blast.
He was almost caught out soon after though, palming a cross back into play and Chris Zebroski’s follow up was blocked while he hit the rebound wide.
Jake Howells had replaced Whalley by now and he slipped Cullen through, as Stephens blocked with his legs.
The third did arrive in stoppage time though when Drury fashioned a cross from the right and Howells stole in to impudently flick the ball into the far corner.
That strike crowned yet another home victory for Hatters, their eighth in a row, as they leapfrogged Burton Albion to climb back into the automatic promotion spots once more.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Michael Harriman, Steve McNulty (C), Luke Wilkinson, Scott Griffiths, Jonathan Smith, Nathan Doyle, Andy Drury, Shaun Whalley (Jake Howells 71), Luke Rooney (Ross Lafayette 81), Mark Cullen.
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Fraser Franks, Jim Stevenson, Ricky Miller, Paul Connolly.
Newport: Jamie Stephens, Ryan Jackson, Max Porter (Adam Chapman 58), Darren Jones, Ismal Yakubu, Lee Minshull (Rene Howe 65), Chris Zebroski, Andy Sandell (C), Sean Jeffers, Yan Klukowski, Mark Byrne.
Subs not used: Lenny Pidgeley, Mike Flynn, Regan Poole, Danny Crow, Aaron Collins.
Referee: Darren Drysdale.
Booked: Doyle 27, McNulty 29, Cullen 80.
Attendance: 8,383 (317 Luton).
Hatters MOM: Andy Drury. Best display yet for Hatters. Undoubted quality shone though as he ran the game .