Cod Army sink Town as Hatters are left all at sea

Blue Square Bet Premier: Luton Town 1 (0) Fleetwood Town 2 (1)

MEEK Luton whimpered to defeat as goals either side of half time by title rivals Fleetwood Town saw the Hatters succumb to a 2-1 home defeat, writes Mark Wood.

An incident-packed first half gave way to a lame second as Town surrendered after finding themselves 2-0 down.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The excellent Jamie Vardy was a constant menace and his controversial opener was doubled by Jamie Milligan’s second half penalty as Fleetwood’s ferocious firepower proved too much for Luton who had started brightly enough.

And, although Janos Kovacs netted a consolation with virtually the last touch of the game, it counted for nothing as Town dropped out of the play-offs and fell to seventh in the table.

Town made seven changes to the side that had eased to a 5-1 win against Hendon in the FA Cup the week before.

In came keeper Mark Tyler, defenders George Pilkington and Kovacs, midfielders Keith Keane, Alex Lawless and Robbie Willmott plus striker Amari Morgan-Smith as the Hatters named an extremely strong side to face promotion rivals Fleetwood Town.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As a result John Paul Kissock, Jamie Hand, Kevin Pilkington and Tommy Wright dropped to the bench, James Dance was ruled out with a broken cheekbone and jaw and Dean Beckwith and Will Antwi were left out of the squad entirely.

Fleetwood’s players gathered in a huddle to gee themselves up before kick off, while Morgan-Smith sported a newly-dyed red barnet.

The game started at a frantic pace and the visitors almost took the lead after just 40 seconds. Vardy picked the ball up in the midfield and played in Sean Clancy who closed on goal but could only fire wastefully wide.

Town’s strikers were bright from the off, twice going close inside the opening five minutes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

First, Stuart Fleetwood’s cross to the back post was played back across goal by Aaron O’Connor but Morgan-Smith’s header ran wide.

Then a flowing Luton break saw Morgan-Smith beautifully backheel into the path of O’Connor but Scott Davies saved well at his feet.

The lively O’Connor threatened again on seven minutes and could easily have gone down under an outstretched leg as Fleetwood invoked the home crowd’s ire by time wasting from the start.

But the Cod Army certainly have a strikeforce to be reckoned with and former Halifax striker Vardy, whom they paid six figures for, looked dangerous every time he got the ball.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was his fleet-footed run that drew a rash challenge from Pilkington on the edge of the box on nine minutes that duly earned the Hatters skipper a yellow card and, although Milligan’s free-kick beat the wall his effort flashed just wide of the right-hand upright.

But the visitors snatched the lead in controversial fashion on 11 minutes. Morgan-Smith was seemingly felled by a crude challenge close to the halfway line but referee A Davies waved play on and the Cod Army broke at pace with Sean Clancy playing in Vardy who expertly lifted the ball past Tyler and into the net.

The referee was struggling in an increasingly ill-tempered clash as Jamie McGuire was let off with a warning as a lack of consistency continued to infuriate the crowd.

A stop-start encounter saw Junior Brown finally replaced after a lengthy spell of treatment and Luton got a break when Lawless’ long ball out of defence was missed by the Fleetwood defence and, spotting Davies off his line, Willmott attempted a speculative strike that ran harmlessly wide.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A series of tasty tackles – some fair, some not – led to an increasingly aggressive atmosphere, while the impressive Vardy was booked for deliberate handball as he looked to break through Town’s defence.

O’Connor was just crowded out as he looked to break on to Lawless’ pass before more controversy reined on 43 minutes. Fleetwood left his foot in on Shaun Beeley who reacted angrily and ‘went for’ the Luton striker, but after consulting with his linesman, the referee bizarrely showed just a yellow card to both players.

Pilkington and Brodie tangled on the stroke of half time as the visitors were awarded a free-kick and Pilkington thankfully escaped a second booking but Pilkington did have the leave the pitch until half time for treatment to a head injury.

Milligan’s set pieces were causing problems and, with Luton down to 10 men, substitute Gareth Seddon escaped him marker but his effort ran inches wide of the bottom right-hand corner.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But Town should have levelled in the fourth of five minutes of stoppage time as Morgan-Smith and Fleetwood combined in the box, but the latter’s curler flashed just wide.

The official walked off to a cacophony of catcalls and, with him still on the halfway line, it appeared both sets of players clashed in the tunnel as it moved irregularly as a fracas developed inside.

O’Connor had a shot deflected wide in the opening moments of the second half before Ryan Jackson survived a strong appeal for handball in the box.

Vardy again threatened in behind but his pull-back was well snaffled by Tyler before an overly ambitious effort from Fleetwood was easily saved by Davies.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Morgan-Smith dug a shot out from inside the box but failed to connect properly before O’Connor burst into the box and saw his mishit effort smack the underside of the bar and come out on the hour.

Town were turning the screw and Fleetwood saw a long range drive grasped by the keeper, while Brodie’s great run an shot drifted inches over Tyler’s bar.

And Fleetwood all but sealed victory with their second on 67 minutes from the spot. Morgan-Smith tangled with Jackson on the edge of the box and Milligan made no mistake from the spot, ramming the ball unceremoniously home to Tyler’s left.

With the Cod Army defending resolutely, Town were struggling to make an impact as they introduced Kissock for O’Connor.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He saw a powerful shot immediately headed behind by Fleetwood skipper Steve McNulty, but in truth Luton looked largely clueless and ineffective as the game limped into the last 10 minutes.

Adam Watkins’ introduction made little difference and, although Fleetwood’s clever touch ran nicely into the path of Morgan-Smith, his shot was blocked.

The quiet Jake Howells had a great effort beaten away by Davies in stoppage time and, with almost the last touch of the game, Kovacs rose highest to power home Howells’ cross, but it counted for nothing as the final whistle sounded seconds later.

Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Keith Keane, George Pilkington (C), Alex Lawless (Adam Watkins 76), Amari Morgan-Smith, Robbie Willmott (Tommy Wright 58), Stuart Fleetwood, Aaron O’Connor (John Paul Kissock 70), Jake Howells, Curtis Osano, Janos Kovacs. Substitutes not used: Jamie Hand, Kevin Pilkington.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Cod Army (4-4-1-1): Scott Davies, Shaun Beeley, Steve McNulty (C), Nathan Pond, Sean Clancy (Keith Briggs 53), Jamie Milligan, Richard Brodie (Andy Mangan 83), Junior Brown (Gareth Seddon 25), Jamie McGuire, Jamie Vardy, Ryan Jackson. Substitutes not used: Magno Vieira, Danzelle, St Louis-Hamilton.

Bookings: Pilkington 10; Vardy 36; Beeley 43; Fleetwood 43; Morgan-Smith 80.

Referee: A Davies.

Assistant Referees: N Cooper and M Hopton.

Fourth Official: C Hatzidakis.

Attendance: 6,361 (Fleetwood 83).

Star Hatter: Morgan-Smith. Was Town’s biggest threat as he was battered from pillar to post in the first half.