Championship: Luton Town 1 Birmingham City 2
Luton's hopes of retaining their Championship status took a body blow this afternoon as they produced a woeful performance when going down 2-1 at home to Birmingham City.
The visitors, on a run of five defeats from six, had, on paper, looked the perfect side for Town to kickstart their survival bid against, and pick up the first of the three points needed on their way to the minimum of 20 that manager Graeme Jones had called for.
However, Town could just never get it together, looking low on confidence from minute one, as they conceded early on for the umpteenth time, and although James Collins pulled them level from the spot, a Gary Gardner strike shortly afterwards, saw the visitors emerge triumphant.
Boss Graeme Jones made a host of changes to the side who were knocked out of the FA Cup at Bournemouth last weekend, with Sonny Bradley, Andrew Shinnie, Luke Berry, Kazenga LuaLua and Collins coming in, meaning Donervon Daniels made his league debut for the club.
Town's hopes of making a fast start were immediately dashed as they trailed after just four minutes, with once again their full back deficiencies being highlighted.
Daniels was unable to stop Jeremie Bela from sending over a cross from the left and Lukas Jutkiewicz outjumped James Bree at the far post to thunder a header goalwards.
Simon Sluga looked to have done superbly to parry his effort, only for the ball to bounce over the line, with the hosts' defence unable to get a clearance in.
A desperately poor first period then followed for Luton, as they just couldn't find any sort of rhythm, with passes going astray constantly.
Unlike City, the hosts' crosses rarely beat the first man too, as they grew increasingly disjointed, meaning any early Newlands Park optimism on the terraces was quickly sucked out of the home fans.
Berry's free kick almost drew them level, looking to have deflected past Lee Camp, only for the Blues back-line to clear behind for a corner.
Jutkiewicz threatened a second, his low shot gathered by Sluga, as Town just couldn't get out of neutral, devoid of any sort of spark, barring LuaLua, who at least looked capable of creating something.
Turning round just 1-0 down, Jones made a change in an attempt to improve things for the second period, Dan Potts coming on for the struggling James Bree, his first appearance since going off injured against Wigan in early December.
However, the visitors threatened first once more, Bela's free kick flicking the side-netting on its way behind.
Town then started to at least look like they could get back into it, Harry Cornick bulldozing his way forward and finding LuaLua, his shot flashing over the bar.
Hatters brought on George Moncur for Shinnie, and the move paid instant dividends as the midfielder breathed life into an otherwise flagging Luton.
His ability to carry the ball, coupled with LuaLua's jinking runs, saw the Blues flustered for the time, conceding a number of free kicks, usually against when taking out the latter.
One saw Moncur curl his effort into the wall, before a deeper set-piece saw Town with a penalty, after Harlee Dean pulled back Pearson.
Collins stepped up to send Camp the wrong way and roll into the corner to restore parity with his ninth of the season.
Rather than the goal buck up Town's ideas though, it appeared to have the opposite effect, with City the more likely once more.
They had a second just seven minutes later too, as Potts trying an ill-advised turn inside his own half to give possession away, and Blues broke with clinical precision, Gary Gardner exchanging passes with Maghoma before slotting through the legs of Pearson and past Sluga.
The Luton stopper had to save from Jutkiewicz as Birmingham looked a third that would surely put the game beyond Luton.
Town almost levelled on 78 minutes, as Pearson rose highest to meet a corner, with Jutkiewicz proving a nuisance at both ends, getting up to head off the line.
They were given a boost with five to go, Dean sent off for his second yellow card after fouling Collins, but despite throwing Sonny Bradley upfront, they appeared almost reluctant to use his aerial prowess, preferring to pass the ball around midfield and defence.
Moncur's left-footer landed on the roof of the stands, but after Sluga denied late sub Dan Crowley, Hatters had their final chance to grab an equaliser when Collins' backheel found Bradley.
His low effort got stuck between Camp's legs though, and with that went any hopes of rescuing a draw.
Hatters: Simon Sluga, Donervon Daniels, James Bree (Dan Potts 46), Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley (C), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Andrew Shinnie (George Moncur 56), Luke Berry (Ryan Tunnicliffe 80), Kazenga LuaLua, Harry Cornick, James Collins
Subs not used: James Shea, Elliot Lee, Glen Rea, Lloyd Jones.
Blues: Lee Camp, Kristian Pedersen, Maxime Colin, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Jereme Bela (Dan Crowley 90), Harlee Dean ©, Jake Clarke-Salter, Kerim Mrabti (Jude Bellingham 78), Jacques Maghoma, Gary Gardner (Wes Harding 88), David Davis.
Subs not used: Jefferson Montero, Josh McEachran, Alvaro Gimenez, Connal Trueman
Booked: Bree 27, Mrabti 37, Dean 41, Gardner 61, Davis 65.
Sent off: Dean 87.
Referee: Graham Scott.
Attendance: 10,062 (1,035 City).