Five star Hatters rout the Poppies – again!

Blue Square Bet Premier: Kettering Town 0 (0) Luton Town 5 (2)

Sunday, 1st January 2012, 8:27 pm

IRRESISTIBLE Luton simply demolished Kettering 5-0 for a second game running as they ran riot against the Poppies at Nene Park this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.

First half strikes from Jake Howells and Adam Watkins, coupled with a straight red card for Phil Ifil left the hosts with a mountain to climb at the break.

And the second half was even more emphatic as Janos Kovacs, the exceptional Greg Taylor and substitute Stuart Fleetwood all netted to cap a great day and a fantastic festive period for the Hatters who won made it three straight wins in front of 2,018 travelling fans in the gate of 3,247.

Illness and injury forced the Hatters to make two changes from the side that thrashed Kettering 5-0 at Kenilworth Road on Boxing Day. With Dan Gleeson (back) and Danny Crow (ill) both ruled out in came former Rushden & Diamonds star Curtis Osano to play at his old stomping ground and James Dance recovered from a glute injury to play on the right of attack against his former club.

The Poppies made three changes to their side. Djoumin Sangare replaced the injured Jerel Ifil at centre-half, while Jean-Paul Marna returned from his loan at Corby to return to the starting 11 with Pat Noubissie also getting the nod as Mark Pryor and Oliver Jones dropped to the bench.

Former Hatters Sol Davis and Stephen O’Leary also started as the Poppies looked for revenge after their Boxing Day massacre.

Kettering showed good resolve in the opening moments, before Town snatched the lead with their first attack on four minutes. Howells produced a brilliant dummy on the left and surged goalwards. He fed Aaron’ O’Connor and, although his shot was parried, Howells was quickly on to the loose ball to thump home.

Howells was in scintillating form at Kenilworth Road on Boxing Day and carried that into this game as he went close again on nine minutes. Keith Keane’s pass found him in space, but Laurie Walker was just able to turn the ball round the post.

But it proved merely a stay of execution as Luton took a clever short corner and Watkins curled an exquisite effort over Walker and into the far corner as the Hatters made a dream start.

Town looked dangerous every time they went forward and went close again on 15 minutes when O’Connor played in the onrushing Taylor but his deflected effort was well beaten away by Walker.

Walker was by far the busier of the two keepers and the Poppies looked lucky not to concede a penalty on 20 minutes when Adam Watkins broke on the left and James Dance seemed to be hauled down off the ball as he offered a target in the middle.

Dance then had an effort deflected behind, while a training ground corner routine saw Alex Lawless thunder in a wonderful effort from the edge of the box but it was straight at Walker.

Luton had the ball in the net again on 21 minutes when Howells’ dangerous cross was turned into a net by Sangare, only for it to be ruled out for offside.

Rampant Hatters were in complete control and were denied a third three minutes later when Taylor’s superb 20-yard drive cannoned off the near post with Walker completely beaten.

Kettering recovered from their earlier pummelling, but when they did threaten Marna strayed offside.

A strong challenge from Dance on Phil Ifil left the right-back needing some lengthy treatment and the moment he was back on the pitch he went flying into a terrible challenge on Taylor and was promptly shown a straight red card by referee N Kinseley with five minutes of the half left.

On the stroke of half time an O’Connor effort deflected off a defender and on to the bar, while Kovacs headed a corner wastefully wide which had picked him out unmarked at the back stick.

Lawless had an ambitious long range effort easily fielded in injury time as the Hatters deservedly led 2-0 at the break.

Luton started the second half as they did the first, Dance having an effort blocked and flicking just wide as the visitors threatened more goals.

Kettering threatened on the break as Kovacs was booked for blocking out a home player close to the byline, while Davis was then booked moments later for a nasty late challenge on the Hungarian.

Howells saw a speculative effort fly over, while Lawless and Howells then linked well as only a great last-ditch tackle denied Dance a chance.

Injury forced O’Connor off as he was booked and replaced by Ryan Brunt on the hour before Luton finally sealed victory two minutes later when Watkins whipped in a corner and Kovacs was able to plant home his header from close range.

A certain amount of niggle increasingly began to creep in as George Pilkington was flattened in the box at a set piece.

Kiernan Hughes-Mason collapsed in a heap, claiming an off the ball incident, while Jaime Navarro then need treatment as Luton threatened a third on 68 minutes.

Brunt almost made it on to Osano’s ball over the top and Walker’s poor clearance fell to Dance, who burst past three players but his low drive was easily saved by Walker.

A glaring miss denied the Hatters a fourth on 72 minutes when Howells’ vision released Taylor on the left and he put it on a plate for Dance, but he could only hit the bar from a couple of yards out when he really should have scored.

But Luton did net from the resulting corner as Kovacs powered Watkins’ delivery against a post but the ball fell to Taylor who drove home an unstoppable follow-up.

Champagne football continued to flow as Brunt and Taylor combined to tee up Dance at the far post but his volley flashed wide.

Robbie Willmott replaced the impressive Dance as Town continued to run the Poppies ragged and he dragged an effort wide within moments of coming on.

Lawless then made way for Fleetwood as only a brilliant goal-saving tackle from Davis denied Willmott after good work by Taylor.

A Willmott cross seemed to hit O’Leary’s arm in the box but only a corner was given, while the woodwork again saved the Poppies with five minutes to go as Willmott’s up-and-under cross drew a sublime first-time effort from Fleetwood that crashed off the post and out.

Davis was substituted late on and received a rapturous send-off from the visiting faithful, while it looked like Brunt had won a late penalty only for the striker to be ruled offside.

Four minutes of time was added and a fantastic performances was capped in the third minute of stoppage time when Watkins played in Fleetwood and the striker produced a cracking finish to beat Walker.

Marna fired a late effort right at Kevin Pilkington as he was forced to make his only save of the game in a match the Hatters dominated from start to finish.

Poppies (4-3-3): Laurie Walker, Phil Ifil, Sol Davis (C, Mark Pryor 89), Djoumin Sangare, Jean-Paul Marna, David Bridges, Jaime Navarro, Pat Noubissie, Kiernan Hughes-Mason (Oliver Jones 77), Stephen O’Leary, Josh Dawkin.

Hatters (4-5-1): Kevin Pilkington, Greg Taylor, Keith Keane, George Pilkington (C), Alex Lawless (Stuart Fleetwood 81), Aaron O’Connor (Ryan Brunt 60), Jake Howells, Curtis Osano, James Dance (Robbie Willmott 77), Adam Watkins, Janos Kovacs. Substitutes not used: Mark Tyler, John Kissock.

Bookings: Kovacs 50; Davis 53; O’Connor 59; Marna 75; Bridges 90.

Sent off: Ifil 40.

Referee: N Kinseley.

Assistant Referees: A Barney and G Taylor.

Fourth Official: R Hodges.

Attendance: 3,247 (Luton 2,018).

Star Hatter: Greg Taylor. Kettering found him almost unplayable.