Hard-working Hatters earn creditable draw at title favourites Forest Green Rovers

Skrill Premier: Forest Green Rovers 0 (0) Luton Town 0 (0)

Saturday, 24th August 2013, 5:42 pm

Hard-working Hatters showed plenty of grit and determination as they claimed a goalless draw at title favourites Forest Green Rovers this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.

Town had the better of the few chances on the day with Luke Guttridge and Mark Cullen forcing decent stops from Sam Russell in the first half of game that never really came to live.

Luton made two changes from the side that scored a last-minute 1-1 draw against Macclesfield Town last weekend. Solomon Taiwo took part in the pre-match warm-up but was was ruled out with a hamstring injury, while winger David Martin dropped to the bench as Jonathan Smith and Cullen came into Town’s starting XI.

FGR, meanwhile, named former Hatters striker Matthew Barnes-Homer up front with Ed Asafu-Adjaye on the bench.

A clever Town free-kick released Shaun Whalley early on but Chris Stokes headed away his fine centre, before Jared Hodgkiss found room on seven minutes but Barnes-Homer could only head his cross wide.

But it was Town who had made the better start and almost took the lead moments later when two defenders got in each other’s way from Andre Gray’s cross and Guttridge’s rasping drive from the edge of the box drew a good save from Russell.

The Hatters continued to push and, after Gray had got clear of his man, his scuffed cross picked out Cullen whose first-time effort was deflected over.

A lovely passing move then almost saw the Town take the lead on 13 minutes as Guttridge, Shaw and Cullen all combined with the former Hull City man drawing a fine low stop from Russell.

However, the keeper couldn’t hold it and, as Shaw slid in for the loose ball he caught Russell in the process, drawing an angry response from the home players who all charged in to confront the striker. It took several minutes for referee Brett Huxtable to control the melee as Shaw was booked for his challenge and Chris Stokes for his overreaction.

Luton were looking to play some good stuff, with just the final ball lacking, while James Norwood was providing a real test for Scott Griffiths at the other end.

Al Bangura was booked on 28 minutes for a poor sliding challenge from behind on Guttridge, while young defender Alex Lacey needed some treatment just gone the half hour.

Skipper Ronnie Henry did well to clear when under pressure from a Danny Wright cross and right on the stroke of half time FGR were lucky to still have 11 men on the pitch.

Whalley and Cullen combined beautifully on the edge of the box and, as the winger looked to burst into the area, Bangura came straight across and body-checked him, but only a free-kick was forthcoming and not the second yellow card his challenge deserved.

Rovers had their first shot on target just 33 seconds into the second half when Whalley failed to clear properly and Marcus Kelly fired straight at Mark Tyler from range.

Steve McNulty was booked for a body-check on the halfway line moments later, which was no less blatant than Bangura’s at the end of the first half.

The introduction of Jake Howells for Shaw almost led to the breakthrough on 63 minutes. Lovely skill from the Welsh U21 saw him bulldoze his way into the box and when his ball ran to Alex Lacey the youngster swept home only to be flagged offside.

Cullen then fired over while Barnes-Homer got free at the other end but shanked his shot wide.

Nice interplay between Gray and Howells brought half-hearted appeals for a penalty on 76 minutes when Eddie Oshodi muscled Gray off the ball.

Henry then did superbly to cut out Yan Klukowski’s cross with Tyler sold before Andrew Parry was introduced for Cullen with 11 minutes to go.

Luton were happy to lie deep in the closing stages as they looked to hit FGR on the break.

However, too many balls forward by Luton were overhit, leaving Gray an impossible task to catch them as the game eventually fizzled out to a goalless draw.

Rovers (4-3-3): Sam Russell, Jared Hodgkiss, Chris Stokes, Al Bangura, Dale Bennett, James Norwood (Omar Koroma 90+2), Danny Wright (Yan Klukowski 55), Eddie Oshodi, Matthew Barnes-Homer (Magno Vieira 66), Anthony Barry (C), Marcus Kelly. Substitutes not used: Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Matt Bulman.

Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Jonathan Smith, Steve McNulty, Jon Shaw (Jake Howells 56), Scott Griffiths, Mark Cullen (Andrew Parry 79), Luke Guttridge, Shaun Whalley, Ronnie Henry (C), Andre Gray, Alex Lacey. Substitutes not used: Elliot Justham, David Martin, Matt Robinson.

Booked: Shaw 14; Stokes 15; Bangura 28; McNulty 47; Oshodi 85.

Referee: Brett Huxtable (Devon).

Assistant Referees: Christopher Husband and Neil Pratt.

Fourth Official: Thomas Harty.

Attendance: Luton 1,858 (653).

Star Hatter: Jonathan Smith. Could have been one of several, but put his foot in and worked tirelessly.