League Two: Luton Town 2 Exeter 3
Luton Town’s play-off hopes were dealt a body blow as Exeter City snatched a last-gasp winner at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, condemning the Hatters to defeat number seven on the spin.
To make matters worse, it had looked like Luton were well on the way to ending their horror form, leading 2-0 at half time thanks to goals from the recalled Luke Guttridge and Mark Cullen.
However, Exeter, who were easily one of the best teams to appear at Kenilworth Road this season, had other ideas, levelling through Ryan Harley and Jordan Moore-Taylor, before sub David Wheeler nicked it at the death, with boos then ringing out from the home support.
Although the manner of the defeat was harsh on the Hatters, they just couldn’t cope with the Grecians precise passing football, dragged this way and that at times.
The hosts made just one change before kick off, Guttridge replacing Andy Drury, and looked lively early on, as Jonathan Smith headed into the path of Guttridge whose side-footer was just wide.
Keeper Elliot Justham then tried to be too clever outside the box as his clearance fell straight to Liam Sercombe, but his ambitious left footed volley, with the keeper out of his area, flew into the stands.
The visitors settled into their stride quickly thanks mainly to some thrusting runs from Sercombe, one ending with Graham Cummins volleying wildly off target.
With Luton’s bright start soon evaporating, they fell back into their old habits of going too long too often, with the Grecians looking far more comfortable getting the ball down on the floor at every opportunity.
A quick break by Exeter saw Justham out smartly to save, but Luton then showed they could counter just well, netting the opener on 20 minutes.
First, Luke Wilkinson stepped in to win the ball, allowing Smith to take up proceedings. He found Cullen on the right who fed the onrushing Guttridge and his effort deflected off a visiting defender to beat James Hamon.
Exeter didn’t appear rattled by the goal though, continuing to press as Lee Holmes’ daisycutter was well handled by Justham, who then had race off his line again to claim, before Nicholls drilled wide.
Despite leading 1-0, the home fans were growing more and more restless watching their side being out-passed and dropping deeper and deeper in the opening 45 minutes, allowing Exeter to control proceedings with relative ease.
Justham confidently claimed Cummins’ header, but Hatters finally advanced up the field with Lawless showing some fine skill to beat his man on the byline as with players well placed, went for the top corner and ended up finding touch.
The hosts then had another opportunity which came again from one huge punt forward by Steve McNulty, as Moore-Taylor slipped and let Benson in, who got stuck in two minds and eventually teed up Lawless to side-foot well over.
Somehow, Luton then had a second moments before the whistle, as they finally showed the virtues of pressing higher up the pitch, with Lewis Kinsella this time stepping in to win the ball back by the half-way line.
Smith helped out and chipped through to Cullen, who back in his favoured central position for a moment, showed great chest control and goalscoring instincts to race away and slam under Hamon.
A strike from Town’s top scorer has always been followed by a Luton triumph previously, but Hatters’ positive start to the second period was punctured immediately when a lovely lofted pass was met by Ryan Harley and he volleyed past Justham.
The Hatters should have been 3-1 ahead straight away as a long ball forward dropped for Lawless, who crucially couldn’t direct his effort on target.
Aaron Davies then tried his luck from a clever corner as 30 yards from goal, Justham clung on, but the signs were clearly worrying for Luton.
However, Hatters broke away as they had done twice to such great effect in the first period, with Lawless and Smith leading the charge.
Eventually, Benson toe-poked through to Guttridge, though this time the deflection worked against him, going behind for a corner.
Town’s lack of fitness amongst their key players like Benson, Smith and Doyle really started to show as the game progressed, as they conceded territory to Exeter, which in turn upped the frustration in the home stands.
On 75 minutes, the visitors had the equaliser their play deserved as a free kick was swung in and with Luton losing the first header, the ball dropped for centre half Moore-Taylor, who coolly side-footed into the bottom corner.
Cameron McGeehan, Jayden Stockley and Alex Lacy were now on for the hosts, but apart from a McGeehan effort that drew a decent block from Ribeiro, it was apparent the game was only going one way.
Stockley had a marvellous chance but skied into the stands after Michael Harriman’s cut back, although Exeter thought they had won it late on when Davies tucked home from close range, but the linesman’s flag had been raised.
There was to be no such rescue for the hosts in the final minute of injury time though when Ribeiro header’s was tipped on to the post by Justham, but sub David Wheeler reacted quickest to turn the rebound into the net.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Michael Harriman, Lewis Kinsella (Alex Lacey 76), Steve McNulty (C), Luke Wilkinson, Luke Guttridge, Nathan Doyle, Jonathan Smith (Cameron McGeehan 70), Alex Lawless, Mark Cullen (Jayden Stockley 75), Paul Benson.
Subs not used: Ricky Miller, Ryan Hall, Nathan Oduwa, Craig King.
Grecians: James Hamon, Christian Ribeiro, Liam Sercombe, Matt Oakley (C), Arron Davies, Jamie McAllister, Jordan Moore-Taylor, Lee Holmes, Alex Nicholls (David Wheeler 63), Graham Cummins (Clinton Morrison 75), Ryan Harley.
Subs not used: Danny Butterfield, Craig Woodman, Scott Bennett, Jimmy Keohane, Kavanagh Keadell.
Referee: Rob Lewis.
Booked: Wilkinson 75, McNulty 78, Doyle 90.
Attendance: 8,755 (429 Exeter).
Hatters MOM: Nathan Doyle.