Impressive Cullen nets winner for profligate Hatters

Friendly: Maidenhead United 0 (0) Luton Town 1 (1)

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 20th July 2013, 5:42 pm

Wasteful Luton passed up a number of great opportunities again this afternoon, but still managed to triumph 1-0 at Maidenhead United, writes Mark Wood.

The impressive Mark Cullen netted the decisive goal for the Hatters midway through the first half, but both he and Andre Gray were guilty of glaring misses that would have embellished Town’s well-deserved victory over the Conference South side.

Town named a team filled with a mixture of youth and experience for the first half at York Road this afternoon, with left-back Scott Griffiths sporting a freshly-shaved mohawk.

And it was the Magpies who threatened first when ex-Town trialist Michael Malcolm broke on to a loose ball and his chip from 20 yards drifted just over.

Leon Solomon then saw his long-range lash fly past the bar on six minutes, while Solomon Taiwo curled a well-placed free-kick harmlessly wide.

Town took their time to work their way into the game and crafted a decent chance on 11 minutes when Jake Howells and Cullen combined but Luke Guttridge could only whistle over from the edge of the box.

Route one almost paid dividends for the Hatters after a quarter of an hour as Elliot Justham’s mammoth clearance put Howells away, but he could only spoon wide, while Harry Pritchard threatened at the other end with a nifty break but fired past the post.

With young centre-half Alex Lacey looking more solid at the back by the game, a swift Town’s counter looked promising, but after good play by Guttridge and Howells, keeper Elvis Putnins claimed a dangerous cross with Cullen lurking.

But the Hatters did take the lead on 22 minutes when Howells’ delicate chipped pass was nodded down by Cullen as he strode through before confidently firing inside the far post.

Buoyed by that Howells and Gray combine superbly, but the Welshman could only fire Gray’s backheel straight at the keeper.

An early contender for miss of the season then followed as Cullen was allowed to race clear but, with only the keeper to beat and virtually the freedom of the half, the former Hull City man somehow dragged his effort wide.

It was all Luton at this point as Cullen and Gray played in Guttridge, but the offside midfielder stabbed just wide.

And it was almost 2-0 after half an hour when the ball again broke for Cullen in the area and his sharp low drive brought a good save from the keeper.

But having dominated their hosts, Town were almost hauled back on to level terms four minutes before the break but young keeper Elliot Justham produced a fine reaction stop to beat away Tony Mendes’ close-range overhead kick.

Winger Pritchard then threatened as his effort from an acute angle deflected off Jonathan Smith and behind.

However, the Hatters missed another gilt-edged chance on the stroke of half time as a flowing counter ended in JJ O’Donnell teeing up Gray, only for last year’s top scorer to prod wastefully wide with only the keeper to beat.

Gray’s cross-shot flew across the face of goal early in the second half before Cullen’s angled drive from Howells’ pass was ruled out by the linesman’s flag on 54 minutes.

Town made a treble substitution just before the hour and replacement Ronnie Henry was quickly into the action, heading away Pritchard’s dangerous cross with a Maidenhead sub lurking.

A close-range Pritchard blast then drew a good save from Justham, before the Luton keeper flapped at a cross and a Maidenhead header went just wide.

The Magpies were beginning to exert more and more pressure as Malcolm was just unable to reach a tantalising cross, with Gray firing wide at the other end.

A flowing Luton counter almost ended in number two, but Maidenhead’s replacement keeper seemed to get a finger to it as his rocket from the edge of the area thudded against the bar and out on 73 minutes.

O’Donnell’s tame effort ran well wide before Alex Wall replaced O’Donnell with 10 minutes to go as he got to face his former club.

Town looked to finish the game strongly as Matt Robinson, recovered from the illness that had precluded him from any involvement in pre-season to date, saw his dipping curler skirt just past the far post with six minutes to go.

And the Magpies were denied a last-minute equaliser from the no-numbered Reece Tison-Lascaris who nipped in behind Luton’s defence and fired home, only to be flagged offside as Town held out for victory.

Magpies: Elvi Putnins, Bobby Behzadi, Leon Solomon, Wada Ahmidi, Mark Nisbet (C), Matt Ruby, Danny Ruby, Adrian Clifton, Tony Mendes, Michael Malcolm, Harry Pritchard. Substitutes not used: Richard Pacquette, Reece Tison-Lascaris, Tom Gilbey, Michael Pook, Daniel Brown.

Hatters: Elliot Justham, Jonathan Smith, Scott Griffiths, Alex Lacey, Steve McNulty (C, Ronnie Henry 58), Luke Guttridge (Jim Stevenson 58), Andre Gray, Solomon Taiwo (Matt Robinson 58), Mark Cullen (Jake Woolley 74), Jake Howells, JJ O’Donnell (Alex Wall 80). Substitutes not used: Alex Lawless, David Martin, Mark Tyler, Jon Shaw, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner.

Referee: Adrian Quelch (New Milton).

Assistant Referees: Ernie Moore (High Wycombe) and Kieran Bailey (High Wycombe).

Fourth Official: Simon Maynard (Reading).