A gift from Lincoln keeper Paul Farman and substitute Jon Shaw’s second half header helped the Hatters to grind out a 2-1 victory at Sincil Bank this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
Town had looked in complete control when Farman punched Andre Gray’s cross into his own net and Shaw had netted with his first touch straight after the break.
But Jamie Taylor’s fantastic 25-yard strike just before the hour gave the Imps renewed belief and Luton were clinging on for victory at the death.
Town made just one change from the side that beat Southport 3-1 at Kenilworth Road last week, on-loan Northampton Town striker Jake Robinson coming in for Yaser Kasim who dropped to the bench.
Fireworks welcomed both sides out before kick-off and Town made a nice start, playing some good stuff in perfect conditions.
Alex Lawless fired a decent chance well over from the edge of the box in the first minute before Stuart Fleetwood should have given the visitors the lead.
Town’s top scorer did brilliantly to beat Andrew Boyce but, one-on-one with Farman, his left-footed poke went just wide.
A misunderstanding at the back ended in David Morgan dragging an effort wide for Lincoln, while the Imps also looked jittery when forced to defend.
City were having to shoot from range with Adam Smith thumping wide on 15 minutes while Boyce was just unable to get on the end of a corner at the far post four minutes later.
Luton keeper Mark Tyler had to be alert on 20 minutes when Smith got the better of Ronnie Henry, and his cross-cum-shot was expertly tipped over the bar.
The home side proceeded to press with Smith’s pace and forthrightness causing plenty of problems as the Imps hauled themselves back into the game.
However, the Hatters snatched the lead out of the blue on 27 minutes when Gray cut in from the right and fired in a powerful cross that keeper Farman could only bizarrely punch into his own net.
Gray’s electric pace proceeded to cause the Imps more problems while Fleetwood’s pass for Lawless was just too heavy.
Controversy engulfed the encounter on 36 minutes when Jake Robinson’s pass sent Gray clean through, but the pacy striker hesitated as Farman came out to challenge and Gray went over under the merest of touches. Referee Ross Joyce initially waved away any appeals, but with Lincoln’s players jostling the Luton striker, Gray pushed back and was shown a yellow card by the official.
An edge was beginning to creep into the game as Tyler got down well to turn Taylor’s 41st-minute effort round his near post.
The referee’s whistle was increasingly prominent and Lawless was the next man into the book a minute before the break when he cynically tripped Peter Bore as he broke clear.
Tom Miller went close at the far post from the resulting free-kick but it was the Hatters who deservedly led 1-0 at the break.
The visitors surprisingly made a double substitution at the break, Jake Robinson and Scott Rendell coming off as on came Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Shaw.
And that substitution paid immediate dividends as Town doubled their lead just two minutes into the second half. JJ O’Donnell won a free-kick on the left and Fleetwood’s delivery picked out Shaw unmarked to head home at the far post with his first touch.
Now in full command, O’Donnell battled his way through but lashed over before Gray’s forceful run was thwarted by Miller’s fine tackle and Fleetwood turned on the edge of the box and saw his effort flash just wide.
Taylor tumbled under Rowe-Turner’s challenge on 56 minutes but nothing was doing, before the home side pulled a goal back two minutes later, seconds after Luton had been denied a third.
Fleetwood skinned a defender but, again one-on-one with the keeper, Farman saved well with his legs.
The Imps broke straight back up the other end and, with Town’s defence backing off, Taylor let fly with a wonderful effort from 25 yards, leaving Tyler with no chance.
Morgan tried his luck from range but it was straight at Tyler, while at the other end Gray picked out O’Donnell on the edge of the box but he side-footed over.
The game was becoming increasingly stretched and, when O’Donnell did brilliantly on the left and Farman fumbled his cross, Fleetwood was swiftly on to it, but Farman recovered well.
With renewed belief Lincoln continued to press and Connor Essam will have been grateful to see his skewed clearance from Bore’s cross land on the roof of the net.
A lovely Lincoln move saw Morgan drill just wide on 73 minutes, before Town sacrificed Gray for Kasim with 14 minutes to go.
The home side were enjoying all of the ball as Town struggled to hold on to it with skipper Boyce heading a good chance wide from a corner with 11 minutes to go.
Lincoln continued to pile on the pressure as both of Town’s centre-halves received warnings.
Thankfully Simon Ainge was winning everything in the air as back-to-the-wall Hatters were forced to defend deep.
Town were threatening a third on the break and Fleetwood appeared to be put off his side in the box, but nothing was given as the ball fell to Shaw and his powerful drive saw Boyce’s leg deflect his effort over the bar.
Kasim was booked for kicking the ball away in the final minute before having a deflected shot well grasped by the keeper as four minutes of stoppage time were added.
And there was more controversy at the death as Fleetwood got the better of Morgan and floated his chip home, only for the referee to rule it out.
But it didn’t matter as Town held on for a victory to keep them right in the mix at the top.
Imps (4-5-1): Paul Farman, Dan Gray, Andre Boyce (C), Tom Miller (Jake Sheridan 90+1), Peter Gilbert, David Morgan, Mamadou Fofana (Colin Larkin 59), Adam Smith, Nicky Nicolau, Peter Bore (Conner Robinson 79), Jamie Taylor. Substitutes not used: Graham Hutchison, Jake Turner.
Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Ronnie Henry (C), Simon Ainge, Connor Essam, Jake Howells, Alex Lawless, Jake Robinson (Lathaniel Rowe Turner 46), JJ O’Donnell, Andre Gray (Yaser Kasim 76), Scott Rendell (Jon Shaw 46), Stuart Fleetwood. Substitutes not used: Dan Walker, Dean Brill.
Bookings: Gray 36; Lawless 44; Kasim 90.
Referee: Ross Joyce.
Assistant Referees: Paul Brown and Dean Hulme.
Fourth Official: Alan Marshall.
Attendance: 2,970 (864 Luton).
Star Hatter: Simon Ainge. Tower of strength at the back and won everything in the air with an old-fashioned centre-half’s performance.