Luton's play-off hopes dented by Red Devils smash and grab raid
League Two: Luton Town 0 Crawley Town 1
Luton Town suffered a huge dent to their League Two play-off ambitions with an almost impossible to stomach 1-0 defeat against Crawley Town at Kenilworth Road this afternoon.
It was a match that hosts completely and utterly dominated in terms of possession and territory for pretty much the entire 90 minutes, but try as they might, they couldn’t find a way past Red Devils keeper Paul Jones.
Not that the visiting stopper was particularly overworked, bar one excellent save from Dan Potts during the second period, although he did have his woodwork to thank twice for denying both Jonathan Smith and Paul Benson.
However, it was in front of him where the Crawley defensive wall was to prove unbreakable, as despite Luton trying every avenue available to them, Potts and Stephen O’Donnell in particular enjoying the freedom of the flanks, plus Paddy McCourt on song, they just couldn’t create enough clear-cut goalscoring opportunities as crosses were blocked and through balls cut out.
Since taking over boss Nathan Jones has already broken a number of unwanted records, including a first ever victory at Mansfield, but winning after conceding the first goal continues to remain beyond him for the time being, that sequence now stretching back to the Conference days.
The hosts named an unchanged side for the clash, although Alex Lawless missed out from the bench with Zane Banton replacing him.
Luton, searching for that first goal in the first half since December 12, almost had it immediately, but Craig Mackail-Smith connected with fresh air from Jack Marriott’s cross.
Smith was then inches away from the opener on seven minutes as from 20 yards out, his low daisy cutter flicked off a defender and cannoned against the outside of the post.
Although Hatters completely dominated the opening 10 minutes, with new keeper Jonathan Mitchell not called upon, he was somehow left picking the ball out on 11 minutes when a free kick wasn’t cleared and Matt Harrold produced a clinical finish into the bottom corner.
Hatters didn’t let the early goal knock them though, resuming their passing approach, as O’Donnell’s cross was diverted narrowly over by Mackail-Smith, with the full back’s shot also hacked away.
Crawley then had their best spell midway through the half as only a wonderfully-timed challenge by Scott Cuthbert prevented on-loan Wolves striker Liam McAlinden from making it 2-0 as he was went through on goal.
Winger Gwion Edwards then saw his low effort a whisker away from the bottom corner, with Lanre Oyebanjo’s shot easy for Mitchell.
Still Luton went about their business calmly though, O’Donnell’s low cross shot repelled by keeper Jones’ legs, with Marriott’s first time effort only just missing the target as did Cameron McGeehan from 20 yards.
For all their possession though, Luton just couldn’t break through in the first period, Olly Lee thumping over, as Town’s drought in the first half at Kenilworth Road stretched to seven games.
In the second period, Hatters assumed their dominance on the ball once more, forcing a corner after 22 seconds, while O’Donnell’s hopeful blast was straight at Jones.
Feeling the need to increase Town’s aerial threat, boss Jones sent on Joe Pigott for Mackail-Smith, while McGeehan couldn’t have been too far away with his shot that appeared destined for the top corner only to fly wide.
Town upped the ante one more, with two claims for penalties within 60 seconds, Marriott pleading that his shot cannoned off an arm, with Pigott then hauled down, neither getting an affirmative decision from referee Michael Bull.
McGeehan was getting closer, his free kick from 25 yards, just not coming down in time.
Hatters were then desperately unlucky not to level as Potts’ effort on the run was palmed away by Jones, and O’Donnell’s deflected rebound somehow cleared off the line by the back-pedalling Lanre Oyebanjo.
Pigott then dived full length to head off target, while Hatters had a marvellous chance on 75 minutes as O’Donnell ran half the length of the pitch, with the ball finding its way out to sub Green and his pinpoint cross was headed against the from close range by fellow replacement Paul Benson.
Potts flashed another across goal, while late on Lee’s header looked to be looping in, only to drop narrowly over the bar, with Crawley holding on for the victory as Town fell six points adrift of the play-places once more.
Hatters: Jonathan Mitchell, Stephen O’Donnell, Dan Potts, Scott Cuthbert (C), Alan Sheehan, Jonathan Smith (Danny Green 66), Olly Lee, Cameron McGeehan, Paddy McCourt, Jack Marriott (Paul Benson 75), Craig Mackail-Smith (Joe Pigott 54).
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Zane Banton, Magnus Okuonghae, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu.
Red Devils: Paul Jones, Lanre Oyebanjo, Sonny Bradley (C), Gwion Edwards, Liam McAlinden (Simon Walton 80), Jon Ashton, Matt Harrold, Andre Bond, Frankie Sutherland, Lyle Della Verde (Roarie Deacon 86), Charles Dunne.
Subs not used: Lee Barnard, Callum Preston, Lewis Young, Shamir Fenelon, Josh Yorwerth.
Attendance: 8,264 (197 Crawley).
Booked: McAlinden 25.
Referee: Michael Bull.
Hatters MOM: Paddy McCourt.