Five alive Hatters send Tynesiders tumbling
Blue Square Bet Premier
Luton Town 5 (2) Gateshead 1 (0)
A HATFUL of great goals alongside a tremendous goalkeeping performance from Mark Tyler saw the Hatters romp to an emphatic 5-1 win over high-flying Gateshead at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
Top saves from Tyler kept Town in it in the first half as a brace from Wales U21 Jake Howells gave Luton the edge at the break.
A first goal for the club from Aaron O’Connor cemented Town’s advantage in the second half and, although former Town target Jon Shaw netted with a great header to give Gateshead hope, that was soon destroyed by a fantastic late double from substitute Jamie Hand as Luton leapfrogged Gateshead in the league as they moved up to third in the table.
Town made three changes to the side that was held to a disappointing 2-2 draw at Ebbsfleet on Tuesday night.
Keith Keane returned from suspension to retake his place in midfield, Howells returned from international with Wales U21s and Stuart Fleetwood was thrust into the forward line.
That meant first team coach Paul Carden dropped out of the squad entirely with Aaron O’Connor and Hand taking their places on the bench.
An even opening saw the high-flying Tynesiders play some lovely football and when Chris Carruthers slid a cross through Janos Kovacs’ legs on seven minutes it took a great block from George Pilkington to deny Josh Gillies from the edge of the six yard box.
The Hatters though should have snatched the lead two minutes later when Robbie Willmott’s corner caused chaos in the Gateshead box and Pilkington’s close range effort was cleared off the line amid a melee in the box.
Town’s hopes though took a massive blow on 11 minutes when top scorer Amari Morgan-Smith limped off the pitch and was replaced by O’Connor.
That meant a change of formation too as Luton reverted from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 as both teams continued to feel each other out with action at a premium.
Yemi Odubade outpaced Shane Blackett on the right on 22 minutes but found no takers in the box, while Conference top scorer Shaw’s hooked effort was easy for Tyler.
There was a brief moment of danger when Keane won the ball well in midfield and lobbed it over the top but it was just too strong for Fleetwood.
Gateshead were in the ascendancy though and Luton needed the woodwork to come to their rescue on 26 minutes. Centre-half James Curtis whipped over a great cross and Micky Cummins outjumped Kovacs in the box but saw his header crash back off the bar with Tyler beaten.
The Luton keeper recovered quickly to pat clear and then responded sharply to block Gillies’ follow-up as Town breathed a sigh of relief.
Losing Morgan-Smith had clearly effected the home side as they struggled to make an impact on The Heed, but they finally found their feet on the half-hour when they pummelled the Gateshead goal only to find Paul Farman in outstanding form.
First he pushed away Curtis Osano’s low curler before repelling a fearsome Keane drive and when Willmott cut the ball back to Fleetwood a few yards out he could only loft over the bar.
But Luton didn’t have long to wait to take the lead in controversial fashion. Kovacs’ long ball forward was missed by Jeff Henderson and, as Fleetwood made a nuisance of himself, Chris Carruthers flailed the ball backwards and was penalised for a backpass when Farman picked the ball up.
Having feinted once from the indirect free-kick 10 yards out the ball was knocked to Howells who swept through a crowded box to give the Hatters a 34th-minute lead.
The Tynesiders refused to buckle though with Odubade forcing a routine stop from Tyler and, after O’Connor had been harshly booked for persistent fouling, an ever better save from Tyler was required. The ball fell to the dangerous Shaw eight yards out and his shot on the turn drew a superb reaction stop from Tyler.
And Luton made it 2-0 with two minutes of the half left. Willmott did brilliantly on the left and slipped in O’Connor who intelligently pulled the ball back for Howells to ram home his second of the game.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first with both teams having their moments, although Pilkington should have done better when Willmott’s corner was missed by the keeper and defence but Town’s surprised captain could only head tamely wide.
In the lead Town seemed happy to sit back and defend - sadly their undoing so many times this season.
A nasty clash of heads between Gillies and Osano resulted in the Gateshead man coming off with a head injury and being replaced by Nathan Fisher on 58 minutes.
A bulldozing run James Dance saw him break numerous tackles before lofting just over on the hour before Town made their second sub of the day, bringing the popular John Paul Kissock on for Willmott.
Shaw was given the freedom of the box when a deep cross found him lurking five minutes later but fortunately for Luton he was unable to get much purchase and it was easy for Tyler.
Kris Gate then threatened but his shot took a heavy deflection, before Luton all but sealed victory with their third 20 minutes from time.
Kissock swung in a corner to the near post and O’Connor was on hand to head home his first goal for the club at the near post.
A jinking run from the pacy Odubade caused plenty of problems on 74 minutes with his cross drifting across the face of goal.
Fresh legs were brought on for Luton when Hand replaced O’Connor who was on a booking and Gateshead were given a lifeline on 77 minutes when Kovacs gave away a soft free-kick and Shaw got a run on Pilkington to power his header past the despairing dive of Tyler.
Town’s response was instantaneous though, netting a sumptuous fourth two minutes later. Kissock was in mesmerising mood on the left and his pass was perfectly-weighted for Fleetwood to tee up Hand who deftly flicked home his first goal for the club.
Substitute Fisher managed a late deflected shot as Luton looked happy to kill the game off, but there was still one moment of magic left. Hand controlled the ball on the edge of the area before looping home a magnificent effort over the despairing dive of Farman in the second minute of stoppage time.
Ripping off his shirt as he celebrated with the fans earned him a yellow card and there was an acrimonious finish as Curtis caught Kissock with a nasty challenge on the final whistle, but despite the referee going to his pocket no card was produced as Town laid down a marker of their title credentials.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Keith Keane, George Pilkington (C), Amari Morgan-Smith (Aaron O’Connor 12, Jamie Hand 76), Robbie Willmott (John Paul Kissock 61), Shane Blackett, Stuart Fleetwood, Jake Howells, Curtis Osano, James Dance, Janos Kovacs. Substitutes not used: Adam Watkins, Kevin Pilkington.
Tynesiders (4-3-3): Paul Farman, Kris Gate (C), James Curtis, Phil Turnbull, Jon Shaw, Yemi Odubade (Kyle Nix 83), Micky Cummins (Martin Brittain 66), Craig Baxter, Josh Gillies (Nathan Fisher 58), Chris Carruthers, Jeff Henderson. Substitutes not used: Eddie Odhiambo, Jak Alnwick.
Bookings: O’Connor 39; Turnbull 73; Shaw 83; Hand 90+3.
Referee: R Whitton.
Assistant Referees: C Francis and T Goddard.
Fourth Official: M Tweed.
Attendance: 6,285 (Gateshead 104).
Star Hatter: Mark Tyler. Two fantastic stops that helped lay the foundation for a terrific Town win.