Another Stuart Fleetwood brace and Scott Rendell’s first goal for the Hatters earned them a comprehensive 3-1 victory at Ebbsfleet this afternoon.
Town attacked from the start with a four-man forward line and could have had even more in an entertaining clash at Stonebridge Road in which the home side played a full part.
Luton made three changes from Saturday’s disappointing 1-0 home defeat to AFC Telford United. With skipper Ronnie Henry suspended and Adam Watkins and Yaser Kasim dropping to the bench, in came Dean Beckwith for his first start since the beginning of the year at centre-half, with Greg Taylor starting at left-back and Andre Gray as part of a four-man attack. Target man Jon Shaw, meanwhile, was named captain for the day.
Town started on the front foot, Rendell forcing an effort just wide from Fleetwood’s cross after just two minutes.
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Having looked lively the Hatters deservedly took the lead on 10 minutes when Alex Lawless’ cross into the box found Rendell and he unselfishly laid the ball off to Fleetwood who calmly slotted inside Preston Edwards’ near post to make it five in five games.
Another sharp Fleetwood effort was straight into a defender’s midriff before he looped another shot wide.
The Hatters were playing into a strong breeze and every ball forward was holding up in the wind.
But they deservedly doubled their lead on 19 minutes when Gray raced on to a good throw, found Fleetwood who jinked his way into the box and laid the ball across the face of goal for Rendell to tap home his first goal for the club.
The goalscorer was then on the end of a poor two-footed lunge from defender Patrick Ada as he became the first man in the book on 21 minutes.
Ebbsfleet had good shouts for a penalty waved away by the referee on 24 minutes when Moses Ashikodi appeared to be wrestled to the deck by Lathaniel Rowe-Turner in the box.
Angered Fleet players surrounded the referee while boss Liam Daish gave the fourth official a mouthful on the sidelines.
Tom Phipp’s fine 25-yard free-kick forced Mark Tyler to turn over the bar on 27 minutes and Rowe-Turner was then forced to clear an inswinging corner off the line as Phil Walsh’s header dipped just over the bar.
A great challenge thwarted Gray as he darted into the box before Ada drove forward and fired harmlessly wide.
Fleetwood’s curler was miles off target and Rendell’s flick was easy for Edwards, while Ashikodi’s effort was deflected behind for a corner.
Paul Lorraine was lucky to escape censure after tussling with Gray before Shaw was harshly booked on the stroke of half time for preventing the taking of a throw from the wrong position.
With the wind at their backs Luton looked to press early in the second half with Gray’s dangerous cross just cut out in the opening moments.
But the Hatters were caught on the break five minutes in when the alert Ashikodi found the onrushing Lanre Azees at the far post and only a brilliant challenge by Beckwith turned the ball behind.
Good hold-up play by Shaw almost created an opening for Gray but his effort was blocked before
Lawless’ superb crossfield pass found Fleetwood on 53 minutes, but Edwards excellently turned behind.
Ashikodi’s shot on the turn thankfully drifted across the face of Tyler’s goal as the hosts pushed hard for a way back into the game.
And they should have got themselves on the scoreboard on 69 minutes when Neil Barrett’s touch found Liam Enver-Marum unmarked in the box but he couldn’t connect properly from just a few yards out as Tyler gratefully grasped his shot.
A clever Howells pass released the pacy Gray into the box but he miskicked at the vital moment before Luton did net a third with a quick counter on 73 minutes.
Howells won the ball in the middle and released Gray whose cross was touched on by Shaw for Fleetwood to smash home.
Phipp’s free-kick swung just past a Luton upright, while Fleetwood’s wonderful reverse pass picked out Gray and his cross-shot ran agonisingly past the far post with Rendell unable to get a telling touch.
Youngster Jake Woolley was introduced for the hard-working Gray on 81 minutes and seconds later Town were indebted to Tyler who reacted instinctively to keep out Ashikodi’s close-range header.
Fleetwood was inches away from his first Hatters hat-trick when his low effort flashed wide before Fleet introduced ex-Town trialist Nathan Elder and Adam Watkins came on for Luton at the expense of JJ O’Donnell.
And Elder made an instant impact as he emerged through a crowded six-yard box to power home his header from a right-wing cross.
Both teams continued to push forward in the closing moments and Town were denied a fourth when Fleetwood raced on to Lawless’ pass and teed up Woolley, but his first-time left-foot effort was well saved by the outstretched arm of Edwards.
Three minutes of stoppage time were added and Watkins’ bouncing bomb was well held in injury time and Fleetwood sent an opportunistic effort over the bar as Town eased to a 3-1 victory.
Fleet (4-4-2): Preston Edwards, Craig Stone, Patrick Ada, Phil Walsh, Paul Lorraine (C), Liam Enver-Marum, Moses Ashikodi, Tom Phipp, Joe Howe, Neil Barrett (Nathan Elder 83), Lanre Azeez (Jay Folkes 75). Substitutes not used: Ryan Blake, Tom McNeill, Ben Greenhalgh.
Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Greg Taylor, Dean Beckwith, Alex Lawless, Jon Shaw (C), Scott Rendell, Jake Howells, Stuart Fleetwood, JJ O’Donnell (Adam Watkins 84), Andre Gray (Jake Woolley 81). Substitutes not used: Dean Brill, Yaser Kasim, Alex Lacey.
Booked: Ada 21, Shaw 45+2.
Referee: Mike Bull.
Assistant Referees: Dean Appleby and Alan Dale.
Fourth Official: Sam Purkiss.
Star Hatter: Andre Gray. Energetic and all action display and was at the heart of the Hatters’ goals.