Town hit the top as Pearson's magic hat defeats Southend

Matty Pearson celebrates scoring against Southend this afternoon
Matty Pearson celebrates scoring against Southend this afternoon

League One: Southend United 0 Luton Town 1

Luton went to the top of the League One table for the first time this season after a confident 1-0 win at Southend United this afternoon.

Defender Matty Pearson's header after 29 minutes was enough to separate the sides, as Town leapfrogged long-time leaders Portsmouth who were in FA Cup action, drawing 1-1 with QPR.

The Hatters might have won by more, as they squandered a number of good openings, particularly in the second half, but it mattered not, as Southend barely tested keeper James Shea until a few set-pieces late on.

With Sunderland also not playing, it means that Luton are now four points clear of Barnsley, who climbed up to third by beating Rochdale 2-1, ahead of Tuesday's crunch clash with Pompey at Kenilworth Road.

Interim boss Mick Harford named an unchanged side for the trip to Roots Hall, Elliot Lee not recovering in time to make the squad.

It was Luton who dominated the early stages in terms of possession, but despite all their touches of the ball, Jack Stacey's cross shot that flew over was their only real threatening moment.

The full back then almost gave Town the lead on 19 minutes, as found by some wonderful vision from Luke Berry, he raced into the area, home keeper Nathan Bishop quickly out to make a crucial block with his outstretched leg.

Luton then had the advantage on the half hour, when James Justin's corner was met by Matty Pearson, who powered his downward header beyond Bishop and in for his fourth of the season.

It was also the first time that Town had scored a header in just over three months, since Danny Hylton's effort against Accrington.

United's only real opportunity of note in the opening period saw Stephen Humphrys' tame header give Shea the simplest of saves.

After the break, Town almost had a second instantly, Justin's deep free kick volleyed goalwards by Sonny Bradley, Bishop saving with his legs.

The game then opened up a touch, Blues defender Sam Hart hammering one over, while Kazenga LuaLua's wonderful cross was put behind before James Collins could pounce.

Berry dragged well wide, before Justin went a lot closer, his curler from 20 yards only just missing the target with Bishop beaten.

LuaLua, who was a constant menace, running himself into the ground, the dug over another cross that Collins put over under pressure from the home defence.

United carried a sporadic threat, Simon Cox sending in a swerving potshot from 25 yards that needed palming behind by Shea.

The visitors should really have had breathing space with 14 minutes to go when Justin did superbly to get round the back of Elvis Bwomono on the left and find Collins, but he hammered disappointingly into the stands.

Late on, Southend might have snatched an undeserved leveller, with a few free kicks causing the odd moment of panic in Town's back-line, but they stood firm in front of a superb travelling support number over 2,000 to climb to the summit.

Shrimpers: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Michael Turner, Timothee Dieng, Simon Cox, Dru Yearwood (Charlie Kelman 69), Sam Mantom (C, Stephen McLaughlin 84), Taylor Moore, Stephen Humphrys, Sam Hart, John White.

Subs not used: Ted Smith, Michael Kightly, Michael Klass, Theo Robinson, Isaac Hutchinson.

Hatters: James Shea, Jack Stacey, James Justin, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley (C), Alan McCormack, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Andrew Shinnie, Luke Berry, James Collins, Kazenga LuaLua (George Moncur 86).

Subs not used: Harry Isted, Lloyd Jones, Alan Sheehan, Aaron Jarvis, George Thorne, Dan Potts.

Booked: Yearwood 28, Hart 65, Stacey, McCormack

Referee: Thomas Bramall.

Attendance: 8,460 (2,037 Luton).