Gray’s Hatters’ ace as Town dish up a Boxing Day treat against Woking

Blue Square Bet Premier: Luton Town 3 (2) Woking 1 (0)

Wednesday, 26th December 2012, 9:58 pm

Impressive Luton kept their fans in the holiday mood with a fine 3-1 Boxing Day victory over Woking at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.

Janos Kovacs’ brave header and Jon Shaw’s predatory strike had put Town in control at the break and, although makeshift striker Joe McNerney struck midway through the second half to cause a few jitters, cool cucumber Scott Rendell netted his fourth successful penalty of the season to seal victory late on after Alex Lawless had been fouled in the box.

But it was energetic and skilful striker Andre Gray who again starred ahead of the January transfer window as Town’s biggest crowd of the season by one, 6,744, were sent home happy.

And the victory was all the more important with almost every other team in and around the Hatters also tasting victory.

Town made two changes from the side that had triumphed 2-1 at Matlock last time out in the FA Trophy. JJ O’Donnell and Dean Brill dropped to the bench and into the starting XI came Mark Tyler and top scorer Stuart Fleetwood as the Hatters kicked off with four strikers on the pitch. Meanwhile, the visitors named former Hatter Adam Newton in their starting side.

After a slow start Luton finally threatened on nine minutes when Simon Ainge looped Jake Howells’ free-kick to the back post where Rendell was beaten to it by keeper Aaron Howe.

But after an uneventful opening the Hatters grabbed the lead on 15 minutes when Howells whipped a fine corner into the six-yard box and giant Hungarian Kovacs thundered in to bravely head home his second goal of the season.

Moments later Lawless’ clever low corner picked out Fleetwood on the penalty spot but both his and Rendell’s efforts were blocked, before Gray dragged wide.

The Cards were lucky to escape a sending off on 27 minutes when Gray looked to burst on to Kovacs’ long pass and was hauled down by Adam Doyle, but bizarrely nothing was given by referee K Johnson as Gray pounded the turf in frustration.

And the Hatters went close again two minutes later when Ronnie Henry’s swirling cross towards the back post held up in the wind and Howe could only weakly punch into the path of Arnaud Mendy, who was desperately unlucky to see his vicious strike deflect off Mark Ricketts and away.

Shaw almost poked the ball into Gray’s path but he was denied by the linesman’s flag as the Hatters started to play with some real panache much to the delight of the home crowd.

A beautiful passing move on 32 minutes ended in Rendell setting Fleetwood free in the box but his effort was well blocked, while Rendell saw a long-range effort deflected behind.

Gray then released Fleetwood but he refused to trust in his left foot as the chance vanished, but seconds later Luton did double their lead on 37 minutes.

Livewire Gray, who was causing the visitors all kinds of problems, got the better of McNerney in the box and, although Howe saved his low drive well, the rebound fell to Shaw at the far post who took a touch before belting home.

Woking offered virtually nothing in the first half but finally had an effort five minutes before the break when Gavin McCallum broke, but his long-range effort was easy for Mark Tyler.

The visitors started the second half with more purpose and, after a disjointed start from Town they almost scored a third nine minutes in when Howells’ corner picked out Ainge at the far post and his header was acrobatically tipped over by the keeper.

And Luton went close again two minutes later when Henry’s cross picked out Gray but he could only spear his near-post header just over.

A jinking run by Fleetwood ended in him lofting over on the hour before Henry’s cross found Gray, but his mishit volley on the turn was easy for Howe.

A powerful header out by Kovacs saw Fleetwood stab into the hoardings on 66 minutes before Gray had half-hearted appeals for a foul in the box turned down on 69 minutes.

Out of nothing the Cards pulled a goal back on 71 minutes when McCallum found space on the edge of the box and, although his low drive was beaten away by a strong Tyler paw, makeshift striker McNerney, pushed up from centre-half, was on hand to slide the rebound home.

Poor officiating denied Fleetwood a sight of goal on 75 minutes when a defensive deflection ran into his path and he was incorrectly flagged offside much to his consternation.

Over-elaboration by Mendy put Town in trouble as McNerney went down under a challenge from Kovacs but, after having a look, the referee waved play-on.

Town broke at pace as Gray did superbly to hold off Ricketts on 81 but with just Howe to beat his near-post drive rebounded off the upright. The danger though wasn’t over as Town regained possession and, as Lawless tried to break clear, Ricketts felled him in the box.

Up stepped Rendell and, although Howe went the right way, the striker’s effort was too powerful as he netted his fourth penalty of the season to take him into double figures for the campaign.

Resilient Woking though refused to give up as Ainge had to head another McNerney effort off the line.

Rendell was just unable to turn home a great Henry cross in the last minute, but it mattered little as the Hatters held on to keep themselves in the mix at the top.

Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Janos Kovacs, Alex Lawless, Jon Shaw, Scott Rendell, Jake Howells, Simon Ainge, Stuart Fleetwood (JJ O’Donnell 83), Arnaud Mendy, Ronnie Henry (C), Andre Gray (Matt Robinson 90+4). Substitutes not used: Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Greg Taylor, Dean Brill.

Cards (4-5-1): Aaron Howe, Adam Newton, Mark Ricketts (C, Dean Sinclair 82), Joe McNerney, Adam Doyle, Jack Parkinson, Kevin Betsy, Gavin McCallum, Billy Knott, Jayden Stockley (Loick Pires 71), John Nutter (Mike Cestor 90). Substitutes not used: Brett Johnson, Andy Little.

Referee: K Johnson.

Assistant Referees: S Feerick and J Burridge.

Fourth Official: S Pawley.

Attendance: 6,744 (Woking 235).

Star Hatter: Andre Gray. A constant thorn in Woking’s side and really deserved a goal.