Poppies pulverised by rampant Hatters in Christmas cracker

Blue Square Bet Premier

By The Newsroom
Monday, 26th December 2011, 5:04 pm

Luton Town 5 (2) Kettering Town 0 (0)

CHRISTMAS came late to Kenilworth Road as the Hatters delivered a hatful of goal against beleaguered Kettering this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.

The Blue Square Bet Premier strugglers were knocked out by terrific Town’s all-action attacking display in this Boxing Day treat.

The second best crowd of the season at Kenilworth Road were dished up a festive feast as first half strikes from Jake Howells and Aaron O’Connor were improved by second half goals from Alex Lawless, Stuart Fleetwood and Robbie Willmott.

Rampant Town could have had many more as they created chances galore and O’Connor even missed a second half penalty as the Hatters dominated from start to finish.

Town were forced into one change for the visit of Kettering this afternoon as James Dance failed a late fitness test and was ruled out against his former club with a glute injury. As a result in came O’Connor to the starting XI as former Hatters Sol Davis and Stephen O’Leary started for the Poppies, who were only able to name two men on the bench.

The Hatters started brightly but it was Kettering who had the first effort on four minutes when Josh Dawkin’s tame long ranger was straight at Kevin Pilkington.

Some nice passing football from the Hatters saw them slice through Kettering at regular intervals and only a great save prevented them from taking the lead on six minutes. A clever short corner saw Dan Gleeson tease the ball into the box and Danny Crow’s acrobatic hooked effort drew a fine flying save from Laurie Walker.

Janos Kovacs and Adam Watkins proceeded to lash over from range before Jerel Ifil’s backpass resulted in a fluffed clearance by Walker and, although Watkins was first on to it, his effort lacked venom and was easily gathered by the fortunate keeper.

Luton continued to boss proceedings as Gleeson’s soft long range strike was right at Walker before Howells and Watkins fired just wide of the mark.

An injury forced Jerel Ifil off as the visitors dithered about making a substitution and a powerful run by O’Connor ended in him curling goalwards only for former Hatters favourite Davis to head off the line on 18 minutes.

A goal was definitely on the cards and Howells did superbly to burst through on to Keith Keane’s ball over the top moments later only to be felled by last man Davis on the edge of the box and, although a free-kick was given, remarkably no card followed.

But justice was done as Howells lashed home into the top corner to give Luton a 20th-minute lead before Djoumin Sangare, who eventually found his shirt, finally replaced Jerel Ifil.

Lawless fired high and wide before Howells and Greg Taylor combined beautifully but the left-back’s effort crept just wide.

O’Leary was the first man into the book for a foul on Howells, before Luton deservedly doubled their lead on 27 minutes when Keith Keane’s tantalising cross was expertly flicked home by O’Connor.

A knock forced the hugely impressive Howells off as he made way for Willmott, but Town continued to dominate.

O’Connor burst through the middle on 38 minutes and was felled by Jamie Navarro 25 yards from goal, but this time the last man defending saw yellow and Willmott’s resulting free-kick flew inches wide.

Dawkin briefly threatened at the other end, but in truth the Poppies offered virtually no resistance.

Creative Luton were carving apart Kettering like their Christmas turkey and were denied a third on the stroke of half time when O’Connor deftly finished Willmott’s canny pass, only for it to be ruled for a non-existent.

Walker then came to Kettering’s rescue in the second minute of stoppage time when Willmott’s teasing cross found Taylor at the back post only for the keeper to produce a fine scrambling stop.

Luton started the second half as they ended the first and, having seen one effort blocked, the ball fell to Lawless in the box who made no mistake with his second effort, curling into the bottom left-hand corner with the outside of his boot.

Watkins bashed another effort wide of the mark, while Kiernan Hughes-Mason tumbled in the Luton box but the visitors’ penalty appeals were waved away.

Seconds later Town were awarded a spot-kick when Taylor’s winding run ended with Ollie Jones clipping his heels, but O’Connor slammed his effort against the bar as Town missed their sixth penalty of the season.

O’Connor looked to redeem himself as he burst down the left and pulled the ball back to Willmott, but he could only sweep wide of the near post.

Miss of the season arrived on 70 minutes when Crow slipped Watkins clean through and, having rounded the keeper, he could only skew wide with the goal gaping.

Town opened them up again seconds later and Watkins created room for himself on the edge of the box only for Walker to just smother his effort after it almost crept under him.

Gleeson dragged an effort well wide as he looked for his first goal in a Luton shirt, before John Paul Kissock was introduced for the hard-working O’Connor.

Town finally managed to add a fourth as they bludgeoned the ball over the line with 10 minutes to go. Keane slipped Fleetwood through within seconds of coming on for Crow and his shot was spilled by Walker, who with the help of a defender repelled Watkins’ follow-up. After an air-kick Willmott pulled the ball back to Lawless, whose shot deflected into the path of Fleetwood to ram into the top corner.

The bar came to Kettering’s rescue with seven minutes to go when Willmott’s cross-cum-shot deflected off Navarro and the back-pedalling Walker managed to turn the ball on to the bar as the Poppies survived.

But a fifth did arrive two minutes later when Watkins teased the ball to the far post and Willmott buried an unstoppable volley into the net.

Rampant Luton looked for more in the closing stages but couldn’t find another as they travel to Nene Park for the return game on New Year’s Day.

Hatters (4-5-1): Kevin Pilkington, Dan Gleeson, Greg Taylor, Keith Keane, George Pilkington (C), Alex Lawless, Danny Crow (Stuart Fleetwood 79), Aaron O’Connor (John Paul Kissock 75), Jake Howells (Robbie Willmott 34), Adam Watkins, Janos Kovacs. Substitutes not used: Mark Tyler, Tommy Wright.

Poppies (4-3-3): Laurie Walker, Philip Ifil, Sol Davis (C), Jerel Ifil (Djoumin Sangare 20), David Bridges, Jamie Navarro, Kiernan Hughes-Mason, Mark Pryor (Patrick Noubissie 63), Stephen O’Leary, Josh Dawkin, Ollie Jones.

Bookings: O’Leary 24; Navarro 38; Sangare 69.

Referee: R Whitton.

Assistant Referees: K Kirkbride and A Gillett.

Fourth Official: A Serrano.

Attendance: 7,164 (Kettering 205).

Star Hatter: Alex Lawless. Looks to be rediscovering his form at an ideal moment.