Luton Town 5 (1) Barrow 1 (1)
DESTRUCTIVE Luton battled back from going an early goal down to blow away beleaguered Barrow at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
The lively Jack Mackreth shocked the Hatters with a goal after just 77 seconds, but thereon in it was all Luton as they destroyed the Bluebirds with a stylish attacking display.
Robbie Willmott netted twice alongside strikes from Adam Watkins, James Dance and standout striker Amari Morgan-Smith as Town ran riot in the second half.
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Luton made three changes from the side that slumped to a 1-0 midweek defeat to Cambridge United. Into the starting line-up came Aaron O’Connor, Watkins and the fit-again Curtis Osano, with Danny Crow and Will Antwi dropping to the bench and Stuart Fleetwood missing out through illness.
Barrow, who were without five injured players and three suspended, named just three players on the bench, two of whom were signed on emergency loans just before the game.
And the visitors stunned Kenilworth Road by taking the lead after just 77 seconds. A hopeful ball down the line saw Mackreth outpace Jake Howells and he kept his cool to dink over stranded keeper Mark Tyler to give the Bluebirds a surprise lead.
Luton proceeded to boss the game with Adam Quinn seeing yellow for a lunging tackle on Howells on eight minutes, before the young left-back drove straight at Danny Hurst after Willmott’s testing free-kick had only been half-cleared.
Town continued to press and Janos Kovacs’ brilliant crossfield ball was superbly controlled by O’Connor as he burst into the box and tumbled under Kevin Lomax’s challenge. Referee D Ford considered his options for a moment before pointing to the spot and booking the Bluebirds left-back.
Willmott stepped up and Hurst flung himself to his left as Luton saw a fourth-straight penalty saved, but the ball broke kindly for Willmott who forced home at the second attempt.
Morgan-Smith certainly looked in the mood as he bulldozed his way through on 15 minutes, but with O’Connor in space on the right he tried to go it alone and dragged his shot into the side netting.
Sloppy passing from Luton was putting them in trouble and only a magnificent save from Tyler prevented Barrow from retaking the lead on 31 minutes. A free-kick was headed back across goal and Adam Boyes did well to create space in the box before drawing a point-blank save from the Luton keeper who was going the wrong way.
Undeterred the Hatters went again and almost snatched the lead on 36 minutes. O’Connor won a good header before Morgan-Smith and Watkins combined superbly to lay the ball into the path of Willmott at the far post, but Andy Nicholas threw himself bravely in the way to deflect the ball behind.
A couple of dangerous Willmott corner were repulsed before another dodgy offside decision thwarted the Hatters again seven minutes before the break. Watkins’ canny pass sent O’Connor through and, although he rounded the keeper he was denied by the linesman’s flag.
Watkins just lacked the pace to break on to a clever Dance flick before having a decent strike deflected behind.
Town started to lay siege the Bluebirds’ goal as Willmott had a fierce effort well blocked before Osano and Watkins forced flying stops out of Hurst and Kovacs headed just wide from a corner.
In complete contrast to the first half it was the Hatters who made a flying start to the second, taking the lead after just 24 seconds. Morgan-Smith was crowded out from O’Connor’s backheel, but Dance did well to retrieve it and put in a telling cross that Willmott just beat Morgan-Smith to to prod home from inside the six yard box.
Some great trickery from substitute Dominic Rowe saw him dance his way into Luton’s box and roll the ball through Keith Keane’s legs and across the face of goal, as the flat-footed Ryan Brooke failed to capitalise.
And Luton made them pay a heavy price by netting their third moments later in the 55th minute. Town cut a swathe through the middle with Morgan-Smith and Watkins linking wonderfully and the latter showing neat feet to work some room before steering the ball beyond Hurst.
And things got even better as Town netted a fourth just past the hour. O’Connor’s incisive run cut Barrow’s defence to ribbons and his pass was swept home by Dance for his first goal for the club.
A breathless passage of play then saw the action swing to the other end as Kovacs was in the right place at the right time to clear Jason Owen’s side-footed effort off the line.
The impressive O’Connor received a warm round of applause as he was replaced by Crow, while a rasping Willmott effort was just turned round the post by Hurst.
Watkins was then replaced by John Paul Kissock as Town boss Gary Brabin shuffled his pack on a scorching hot day.
A flowing Luton counter saw Crow just unable to reach a Dance cross, while an offside Crow headed against the post as Town were in complete control.
And Morgan-Smith finally got his reward for a sparkling performance when Willmott played a peach of a pass over the top and Town’s top scorer got in behind and rounded the keeper to roll home his eighth goal of the season with 15 minutes still to go.
The dangerous Mackreth saw a cross drift just wide before substitute Andy Ferrell sent a long range drive from a free-kick against the left-hand upright with eight minutes to go.
Osano’s cross clipped the bar as it was turned behind seconds later before Dance was just unable to get on the end of a delicious Kissock pass as Town cracked open the champagne football.
Willmott, in search of his hat-trick, flashed a long range free-kick over the bar, before Owen was booked for a petulant lunge on the skilful Kissock.
More powerful forward play resulted in Morgan-Smith forcing another great save from Hurst in the last minute.
Dance and Morgan-Smith then played some lovely football to set Crow up in the dying seconds, but he could only spiral over, but it mattered not a jot as Town romped to a fantastic victory.
Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Keith Keane (C), Amari Morgan-Smith, Robbie Willmott, Aaron O’Connor (Danny Crow 65), Jake Howells, Curtis Osano, James Dance, Jamie Hand, Adam Watkins (John Paul Kissock 68), Janos Kovacs. Substitutes not used: Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Will Antwi, Kevin Pilkington.
Bluebirds (4-4-2): Danny Hurst, Andy Nicholas, Richie Baker, Adam Boyes, James Owen, Jack Mackreth, Adam Quinn (C), Louis Almond (Dominic Rowe 49), Kelvin Lomax, Cliff Mayo, Ryan Brooke (Andy Ferrell 58). Substitutes not used: Kyle Clancy.
Bookings: Quinn 8; Lomax 11; Owen 87; Dance 89.
Referee: D Ford.
Assistant Referees: D Avent and B Knight.
Fourth Official: K Howick.
Attendance: 5,612 (Barrow 115).
Star Hatter: Amari Morgan-Smith. A real all-round forward’s display from the in-form striker.