Woeful first half sees Town beaten by Colchester
League Two: Colchester United 2 Luton Town 1
Luton Town saw their automatic promotion hopes all but ended this afternoon as they made it five games without a win, beaten 2-1 by Colchester United.
The damage was done for the Hatters in a first half where they just plain and simply didn't turn up, U's striker Chris Porter taking advantage of slack marking not once but twice, to put the hosts 2-0 in front.
Although the visitors did improve in the second period, with Colchester barely featuring as an attacking force, they couldn't mount a dramatic fight back, Isaac Vassell's goal when it came, in the final minute of stoppage time.
Results elsewhere saw third placed Portsmouth move eight points clear of Town, and with seven games to go, that advantage looks insurmountable, while Luton now facing a real battle on their hands to secure even a play-off spot, leading eighth-placed Carlisle by a single point.
Boss Nathan Jones made three changes from the 1-1 draw at Newport, with Lawson D'Ath in for his first start since the 3-0 win over Hartlepool on February 14, with Jake Gray involved too, after not featuring since the 4-0 triumph at Yeovil.
With top scorer Danny Hylton unable to recover from his tight hamstring, Jack Marriott began upfront alongside Isaac Vassell, Ollie Palmer dropping to the bench and Johnny Mullins out injured.
The hosts were ahead with their first venture into the Luton box as winger Brennan Dickenson sent over a superb cross from the left and Porter beat Town's defence to loop his header over Matt Macey on four minutes.
Hatters were just nowhere near it during the opening 15 minutes in what was an error-strewn performance, caught on their heels at every turn, as Macey turned Drey Wright's 20-yarder behind, berating his defence for opening up far too easily.
From the corner, Rekeil Pyke nodded back for Dickenson, forcing Macey to flip over the top, while he should have been picking the ball out of the net on 15 minutes, when Tom Eastman sent his header at the back post over.
Luton did finally begin to look like they were capable of getting back into the contest, Vassell's shot blocked, as the visitors started to at least take up some advanced positions.
Any such optimism quickly evaporated though when Colchester made it 2-0 on 31 minutes with another goal of alarming simplicity, with Town undone from yet another cross.
It may have been from the right this time, but the outcome was the same, Porter prodding beyond Macey, who although getting a hand to the striker's shot, couldn't keep it out.
Clearly not happy with what he had witnessed, boss Jones hauled off Gray on 35 minutes for James Justin, going to three at the back, with Rea, Cuthbert and Sheehan the centre halves, O'Donnell and Justin as the wing backs.
It could and probably should have been 3-0 just before half time, as from a free kick whipped into the box ,Porter was free yet again to meet the delivery, but couldn't direct his effort on target.
When the whistle finally ended Luton's misery, Jones quickly turned on his heel and headed off down the tunnel, with the players trudging behind, expecting a real tongue-lashing.
After the break, nothing particularly improved from a visitors' perspective early on, although Alan Sheehan's skillful burst saw Justin's cross blocked, while the Irish defender also shot wide from range.
With an hour gone, and the hosts clearly settling for their two-goal advantage, Luton began dominating possession and territory, as Vassell headed over O'Donnell's cross, with Marriott replaced by Palmer
Somehow, Town weren't level on 62 minutes, Cook's volley blocked by Elokobi, with Sheehan's attempt parried by Sam Walker, and then Justin's wonderful side-footed attempt destined for the top corner, was somehow headed over the bar by Elokobi who was stationed on the line.
With that chance gone, so did it appear did Luton's belief that they were going to get anything from the match, and U's might have had a penalty on 69 minutes, when Porter was manhandled in the area by Cuthbert, but there was nothing doing from official Gavin Ward.
Hatters pushed everyone forward in the closing stages, even throwing Scott Cuthbert on as a makeshift striker and did create openings, although too often, crosses flashed across the box, or were cleared by home defenders.
Vassell did pinch the goal his all-round play deserved, nipping in to prod over the line in the final minute of stoppage time, however, there was no real chance of a late, late leveller with the U's easily seeing out the final 60 seconds to boost their own hopes of a play-off berth.
Colchester: Sam Walker, Richard Brindley, Tom Lapslie, Drey Wright, Chris Porter (Macauley Bonne 88), Brennan Dickenson, George Elokobi, Tom Eastman, Sean Murray, Rekeil Pyke (Tarique Fosu 66), Cameron James (Alex Wynter 59).
Subs not used: Dean Brill, Matt Briggs, Tommy O'Sullivan, Lewis Kinsella.
Hatters: Matt Macey, Stephen O'Donnell, Alan Sheehan, Scott Cuthbert, Glen Rea, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jake Gray (James Justin 31), Lawson D'Ath, Jordan Cook (Olly Lee 68), Isaac Vassell, Jack Marriott (Ollie Palmer 61).
Subs not used: Stuart Moore, Tyreeq Bakinson, Akin Famewo, Jonathan Smith.
Booked: Lapslie 70.
Attendance: 5,445 (1,775 Luton).
Referee: Gavin Ward.
Hatters MOM: Isaac Vassell. Kept going out there.