A wonder volley from crowd favourite Steve McNulty and second half strikes from Jonathan Smith and Andre Gray saw Luton ease to a 3-0 victory over clueless Southport tonight, writes Mark Wood.
Town made two changes from the team that beat Welling on Saturday, as Smith came back into the team along with Luke Guttridge, meaning Shaun Whalley dropped to the bench against his former club and Jim Stevenson missed out entirely.
Southport named ex-Luton loan man Jamie Hand, freshly signed before the game, in their starting XI along with Hatters hate figure Richard Brodie, on loan at Haig Avenue from Gateshead.
Gray’s early sighter went well wide, but Town could have taken the lead on 10 minutes when Scott Griffiths worked the ball to Paul Benson whose brilliant first-time pass set Gray clean through.
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The in-form striker never looked entirely comfortable as Danny Hurst narrowed the angle and could eventually only prod wide.
Hand was lucky to just be booked when he went flying in with a reckless tackle on Henry on 14 minutes and from the resulting free-kick Town should have taken the lead.
Alex Lacey competed for Alex Lawless’ delivery and the ball dropped kindly for Benson but he could only mishit his shot against a post when he should have scored.
Brodie was then booked for a nasty late challenge on Lacey before Town took the lead out of the blue with a wonder goal after half an hour.
Lawless’ free-kick was cleared as far as McNulty 25 yards out and he looped his ferocious volley over the hapless Hurst.
It was almost two seconds late when a lovely passing move released Griffiths but he skewed just wide.
Town threatened again on 36 minutes when Benson headed down Henry’s cross but the onrushing Guttridge couldn’t get enough purchase as he toed the ball into Hurst and Matty Flynn was able to clear with Gray lurking.
Lacey’s earlier knock forced him off on 38 minutes as he was replaced by Matt Robinson and Andy Parry dropped into defence.
The sub was straight into the action as his long-ranger was easy enough for the keeper, before Southport registered their first shot on target on the stroke of half time but Joel Logan’s effort was comfortable for Tyler.
Guttridge then had the ball in the net, but it was ruled out for offside as he picked up his fifth booking of the season and will miss the FA Trophy tie at Staines Town at the weekend.
Town continued in the same vein in the second half as Gray glanced over Guttridge’s cross, before Brodie’s effort seven minutes in deflected off a defender and just wide.
Good work by Smith and Gray ended in Benson firing just wide, before Gray did superbly to cut in from the wing and bring another save from Hurst.
With Luton in control Logan was booked as he felled Griffiths breaking forward, while a dangerous low Gray effort was blocked on 65 minutes.
Great build up play then saw Town all but seal victory a minute later as Gray teed Smith up on the edge of the area and he side-footed home into the bottom corner.
Guttridge saw his effort deflected wide on 73 minutes before Benson’s looping header was cleared off the line by Flynn.
But it was 3-0 to Luton with 15 minutes to play when Guttridge flicked Lawless’ pass into the path of Gray and he thundered home left-footed from the edge of the area.
Whalley replaced Lawless and made an instant impact as he crossed for Guttridge, but his close range effort rebounded back off the bar.
The former Sandgrounder then brought a stunning flying stop out of Hurst from a short corner with five minutes to go.
Gray got the ovation he deserved as he was replaced by Mark Cullen and Town proceeded to play some champagne football with Guttridge warming Hurst’s midriff.
Southport should have grabbed a consolation in the last minute when Hand burst through but Tyler spread himself to superbly save with his body and complete a fantastic night for the Hatters as they closed the gap on leaders Cambridge United to just four points.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Jonathan Smith, Steve McNulty, Alex Lawless (Shaun Whalley 77), Scott Griffiths, Andy Parry, Luke Guttridge, Ronnie Henry (C), Paul Benson, Andre Gray (Mark Cullen 86), Alex Lacey (Matt Robinson 38). Substitutes not used: Jake Howells, Elliot Justham.
Sandgrounders (4-5-1): Danny Hurst, James Smith, Steve Akrigg, Matty Flynn, Jamie Hand, Jamie Milligan (C), David Fitzpatrick, Richard Brodie, Brice Irie-Bi, Godwin Abadaki (Danny Hattersley 63), Joel Logan (Osayamen Osawe 63). Substitutes not used: Liam Willis, Paul Rutherford, Cameron Mason.
Booked: Hand 15; Brodie 21; Guttridge 45+2; Logan 62.
Referee: A Backhouse.
Assistant Referees: S Pawley and S Feerick.
Fourth Official: L Rashid.
Attendance: 6,057 (Southport 16).
Star Hatter: Steve McNulty. Imperious defender completely dominated Brodie and broke the deadlock with a phenomenal volley.
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