Hatters beat Crawley but lose to Pompey

Town’s U18s finished their Puma Youth Alliance season with two high scoring games against Portsmouth and Crawley Town last week.

Both finished 4-2 with Luton beating Crawley, but falling to defeat in the clash with Pompey.

Unfortunately, the first of these was a loss that handed the league title to Portsmouth, although the Hatters got off to the best start with Zac Stephens opening the scoring from close range.

The League One side struck back to lead by the midway point of the half and then two goals in five minutes just before half time opened a 4-1 lead.

Formation changes to a 3-5-2 almost paid off immediately as Zane Banton had a great chance to close the deficit but his effort was saved.

Banton did pull a goal back in the 68th minute with a left foot strike from 15 yards and then pounced on a poor back pass five minutes later but his touch around the keeper took the ball too wide and his effort was blocked.

Despite adding a fourth attacker, the Hatters couldn’t get the two goals that would be needed for the point that would set up a must win game for the title at Crawley and Portsmouth held on to clinch the title on a ‘points to games’ ratio system due to an uneven number of teams as some sides played a game less than others.

With the massive disappointment still in the mind, the Hattters travelled to Sussex early on Tuesday morning needing to win by seven goals to grab the runners up slot from Leyton Orient.

In a hectic opening 15 minutes, the Hatters could have scored four goals with Arel Amu shooting just wide, a Banton effort being saved brilliantly by the home keeper and an Amu shot striking the post.

The Hatters did take the lead in that period though when a cross from Charlie Smith was drilled home by Leeroy Maguraushe.

That seemed to spark the hosts into life though as they quickly moved 2-1 in front. This time, though, the Hatters struck back quickly through Banton to take the game into the interval level at 2-2.

An improved second half performance was rewarded as Banton added his second and the team’s third with 20 minutes to go and the victory was sealed in the 85th minute when substitute Ekene Amadi finished well from just inside the box.

The goal by schoolboy, Amadi, was a great way to celebrate his return to action after an extended injury period over the previous 18 months.

U18s boss Paul Driver said: “We are obviously disappointed not to have got the point at Portsmouth that, as it transpired, would have given us a chance to win the league at Crawley.

“It just doesn’t seem right that the team getting the most points doesn’t win the league but that’s the set up of the league, there is no ideal way of deciding things when we have the anomilies there are.

“Also, we weren’t even aware of the points per game ruling until Portsmouth started celebrating at the end of the game, which was, again, disappointing but we didn’t get the point so that’s that and we looked to move on quickly and the response to that set back at Crawley was, after a little blip in the first half, commendable.

“In the two games, we stopped doing the right things on the ball and, particularly, when defending - the things we had done since going on the brilliant run of results since November which had made us the best defensive side in the league - and got punished and it is this that the group must learn from as we look to improve and win the thing next season.

“That aside, I am proud of what the boys have done to achieve a top three finish. We finished above two Championship sides (and I’m sure our fans will note that one of them is our local rivals, Watford) and a number of League One teams and we certainly would have taken third place as the season started and especially after losing the first two games.

“The experience that Lee Hawkes, Zac Jules, Daril Ngwala, Ekene Amadi, Tuki Tayali and Luke Trottman gained as 16s playing in the 18s league will put them in good stead for next season and give me a strong pack of ‘new’ players to support the strong group of second years next season.”

Hatters squad: Barnes, Jibodu (c), Hawkes, Rees, Chabata, Stephens, Trottman/Tayali, Smith, Amu, Banton, Maguraushe.

Subs: Whybrow/King (GKs), Jules, Amadi, Kirkpatrick, Ngwala.

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