League Two: Luton Town 2 Hartlepool 1
Striker Craig Mackail-Smith scored his first goal for five months as Luton Town boss Nathan Jones enjoyed a long overdue first win at Kenilworth Road this afternoon.
With only five minutes left, it had looked like Luton would be left frustrated once more on home soil as they were being held by the League Two strugglers.
However, Mackail-Smith, who had only been on the pitch for five minutes himself, raced on to Olly Lee’s clipped through ball, to lift his effort over the advancing Scott Carson for a first goal since September 19, and a first from open play since August 22.
The late winner also ended Town’s run of six games without a victory at home, stretching back to November 14, as they saw the game out to seal only a fourth home success of the campaign.
Boss Jones had recalled Mark Tyler to the side for the clash after he missed the last five matches, with Elliot Justham dropping to the bench.
Danny Green also was included after he had been missing since the first game of Jones’ stint as manager, with Alex Lawless and Pigott back in too, as Luton lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, Lee holding and Jack Marriott wide left, with Pigott the lone striker.
Hatters were dominating possession early on as Cameron McGeehan’s excellent cross was put behind for a corner that Scott Cuthbert met, forcing Carson to claw away, with the rebound hacked clear.
Green’s deep delivery was just missed by a sliding Jack Marriot, with Pools then doing the exact same on 17 minutes, Billy Paynter inches away from an 11th of the campaign.
Town then upped the tempo slightly as Joe Pigott’s mis-hit shot from Green’s free kick was scrambled away, with the winger’s corner reaching Stephen O’Donnell who fired well wide, when a cooler head might have prevailed.
Marriott then had a real chance after beating the offside trap only to get the ball stuck under his feet, while Green put a volley over the top, as he did again with a 25 yard free kick nine minutes before the break.
The visitors had the best chance on 40 minutes though when O’Donnell bafflingly tried to let Paynter’s low cross run through his legs and Nathan Thomas slid in to skew badly wide from six yards when he should have scored.
Half time came though with Town failing to score in front of their own fans during the opening period for the fifth successive game, as they haven’t netted a first half goal since Paul Benson’s overhead kick against Northampton on December 12.
After the break, Nicky Featherstone warmed Tyler’s gloves from long range, before Hatters came within inches of the lead as McGeehan went alone, beat two men and with Carson advancing, sent his left-footer into the hoardings despite half the crowd thinking it was in.
Lawless tried his luck too, curling wide from 20 yards, however Pools almost had the opener on 55 minutes when Luton were caught on the hop by Thomas’ dart forward, and Alan Sheehan had to courageously block as Gray pulled the trigger.
A silly foul by the Pools defence on Pigott saw Hatters awarded a free kick on 58 minutes and Green’s effort cannoned into the wall, with referee Andy Davies adjudging the visitors had handled, signalling for a spotkick.
McGeehan took the ball and slotted into the bottom corner for his 11th of an increasingly prolific season.
Any hopes of a comfortable first home win though were immediately dashed as Tyler saved well from Thomas, putting it behind for a corner, but the delivery saw Adam Jackson climb highest to head home, despite a last-ditch clearance, with the linesman’s flag immediately confirming the goal.
Jones replaced Lawless with Ryan Hall, who moved to the left flank with Marriott going alongside Pigott upfront.
Pools looked like they fancied the victory, as a lovely passing interplay led to Paynter’s audacious outside of the boot effort going wide.
With Town struggling to pierce a defence that was looking more and more assured as the game wore on, often resorting to long, hopeful and at times telegraphed diagonal balls, they finally broke through when Lee sent Mackail-Smith away.
Despite his long-running drought, the striker didn’t show any sign of nerves, coolly beating Carson before celebrating wildly.
That left Hatters’ four minutes plus stoppages to hold on, and with Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu on as makeshift right back, they did so comfortably, as bar Gray’s low shot that was easy for Tyler, Pools couldn’t muster a leveller.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Stephen O’Donnell (Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu 85), Jake Howells, Scott Cuthbert (C), Alan Sheehan, Olly Lee, Alex Lawless (Ryan Hall 72), Cameron McGeehan, Danny Green, Jack Marriott, Joe Pigott (Craig Mackail-Smith 80).
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Magnus Okuonghae, Paddy McCourt.
Pools: Trevor Carson, Carl Magnay, Jake Carroll, Matthew Bates, Nathan Thomas (Rhys Oates 85), Brad Walker, Billy Paynter (C), Nicky Featherstone, Lewis Hawkins, Adam Jackson, Jake Gray.
Subs not used: Scott Harrison, Rakesh Bingham, Adam Bartlett, Scott Fenwick, Jordan Richards, Josh Laurent.
Booked: Thomas 45, Lee 61, McGeehan 64, Featherstone 89.
Attendance: 7,880 (193 Pools).
Referee: Andy Davies.