O’Connor ends Hatters penalty jinx
Blue Square Bet Premier
Luton Town 1 (0) Stockport County 0 (0)
A CONFIDENTLY-STRUCK Aaron O’Connor penalty ended Town’s spot-kick hoodoo and earned them a hard-fought 1-0 victory over stubborn Stockport County at Kenilworth Road this evening, writes Mark Wood.
The clash of the Hatters was a largely frustrating affair, but some Adam Watkins magic and O’Connor’s cool finish won the day for the home side.
Manager Gary Brabin, whose father sadly passed away on Monday night, made two changes from the team that eased to a 2-0 victory against Newport County AFC on Saturday as they alternated to a 4-4-2 formation.
A hamstring injury ruled out Keith Keane and O’Connor dropped to the bench as in came Stuart Fleetwood and James Dance.
Danny Crow had an early sight of goal but couldn’t get a proper strike in as Luton made a decent start, while County’s Danny Whitehead could only roll tamely at Kevin Pilkington.
Town had shouts for a penalty knocked back on 13 minutes when Dance broke on the right and teed up Watkins whose strike seemed to hit a Stockport arm.
An important header took Jake Howells’ cross away from Dance who was lurking at the far post midway through the half before Luton should have taken the lead seconds later.
Fleetwood’s cross ran to Watkins on the edge of the box and his deflected effort fell to Crow with just 17-year-old keeper Ian Ormson, who was making his league debut, to beat, but the striker’s shot rolled agonisingly wide of the far post.
It was a largely uneventful half though as the Hatters played far too may long, channel balls before they almost broke the deadlock from Howells’ corner but Janos Kovacs headed into a melee with Dance unable to force the ball home.
A half-cleared corner was drilled just over the bar by Aaron Cole on 33 minutes, while Luton continued to probe with Alex Lawless jabbing tamely at the keeper.
Watkins’ block on the edge of Stockport’s box forced Ormson to save before Euan Holden’s scorching 30-yard drive grazed Kevin Pilkington’s bar with eight minutes of the half left.
Good work by Lawless ended in Dance glancing over and Howells’ curler drew a Hollywood save as a poor half finished goalless.
O’Connor and Robbie Willmott were introduced at half time for Fleetwood and Dance as Whitehead headed over in the opening moments of the second period.
Willmott almost made an instant impact as he thumped Crow’s pass straight at Ormson five minutes in.
Watkins and O’Connor then teed up Crow but his effort was deflected behind as Kovacs stabbed against the base of the post from the resulting corner.
Sam Sheridan’s long-range blast forced a fine acrobatic stop out of Kevin Pilkington on 54 minutes before County skipper Danny O’Donnell seemed to pull back Willmott as he looked clean through, but nothing was given much to Town manager Gary Brabin’s anger on the sidelines.
Substitute John Nolan dragged wide on 69 minutes as Town continued to struggle to create against lowly Stockport.
They finally broke the deadlock from the spot on 73 minutes though as Watkins’ jinking run was ended with an untidy challenge from Joe Connor in the box and O’Connor confidently buried his penalty into the bottom corner for his eighth goal of the season.
County made a double substitution in a bid to get back into the game as the action stretched.
A pinpoint cross from Greg Taylor picked out Howells with five minutes to go but the Welsh U21 international’s header looped wide of the mark.
Crow tumbled under an O’Donnell challenge but nothing was doing while Willmott was just unable to get on a back header.
A magical bit of Watkins trickery put Crow in at the death but his slide-rule finish again ran frustratingly past the far post as the Hatters again ground out a well-deserved victory.
Hatters (4-4-2): Kevin Pilkington, Dan Gleeson, Greg Taylor, George Pilkington (C), Alex Lawless, Danny Crow, Stuart Fleetwood (Aaron O’Connor 46), Jake Howells, James Dance (Robbie Willmott 46), Adam Watkins, Janos Kovacs.
Subs not used: Mark Tyler, John Paul Kissock, Alex Lacey.
Hatters (4-4-1-1): Iam Ormson, Euan Holden, Danny O’Donnell (C), Martin Gritton (Tom Elliott 75), Sam Sheridan, Danny Whitehead (John Nolan 61), Andy Halls, Danny Rowe, Carl Piergianni, Aaron Cole (Daniel Rowe 75), Joe Connor. Substitutes not used: Matt Glennon, Ryan Fraughan.
Referee: Stephen Martin (Stafford).
Assistant Referees: P Harris and L Venamore.
Fourth Official: L Wood.
Attendance: 5,588 (Stockport 78).
Star Hatter: Danny Crow. Worked his socks off
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