Steve McNulty’s first half header saw Luton Town end their four-game winless run at Kenilworth Road with a battling 1-0 victory over Stockport County tonight, writes Mike Simmonds.
The defender popped up unmarked in the closing stages of the first half to nod home Dave Martin’s corner and cap a solid display from the centre-half who is swiftly becoming a firm crowd favourite.
Hatters boss John Still made three changes to his side, bringing in Jon Shaw and Andre Gray up front, while Solomon Taiwo impressed as he made his full debut with Arnaud Mendy suspended.
As a result Scott Rendell dropped to the bench and Alex Wall missed out of the squad entirely.
Town showed flickers of promise in the opening moments as Martin skipped away from a challenge and teed up Shaw who fired just wide.
Jonathan Smith then had three chances in quick succession with one volley dipping just over, before stabbing another attempt off target.
Precious little happened from then in a desperately quiet first half as it wasn’t until the 34th minute when Simon Hackney curled over from distance for Stockport.
Martin was easily the standout player for Town in the first half with some lovely jinking runs, including one burst to the byline, but Luton failed to utilise him as much as they should have, going long far too often.
Out of nothing though, Town took the lead on 44 minutes when Martin’s flat corner was met by the unmarked McNulty and his powerful header gave Richard O’Donnell no chance.
Town started the second half in lively fashion as Gray beat the offside trap and his low left-footed drive was smartly parried by O’Donnell.
The keeper then clutched Taiwo’s swerving free kick at the second attempt and Jake Goodman nodded another pinpoint Martin corner over.
Martin, who was having without doubt his best game for Town, went close with a rasping half-volley as the game started to open up.
The visiting Hatters then had their best spell, as midfielder Lee Bullock volleyed at Mark Tyler, who was then extended by Mark Cullen’s daisycutter before pouncing on substitute Jon Macken’s close-range effort.
Simon Ainge saw a low drive cannon off the near post from the edge of the box after good vision from Gray, while Cullen always carried a threat for the visitors, as Tyler tipped his drive over.
The forward was at it again, bringing a courageous block out of Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, before Town’s hearts were in their mouths with Sean Newton’s half-volley flew marginally wide.
Luton could and should have made their margin of victory greater in the final moments, but substitute Dan Walker chose the wrong option twice, but thankfully it didn’t matter.
The result leaves Luton in eighth place and still well adrift of the play-offs, with Grimsby 10 points ahead and with a far superior goal difference.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Steve McNulty (C), Jon Shaw, Jake Howells, Simon Ainge, David Martin, Jonathan Smith, Andre Gray (Dan Walker 77), Jake Goodman, Solomon Taiwo. Substitutes not used: Scott Rendell, Wayne Thomas, Matt Robinson, Dean Brill.
Hatters: Richard O’Donnell, Sean Newton, Javan Vidal (James Tunnicliffe 20), Alex Kenyon, Mark Cullen, Jordan Fagbola, Matty Mainwaring (Adnan Cirak 82), Simon Hackney, Kieran Charnock (C), Danny Schofield (Jonathan Macken 58), Lee Bullock. Substitutes not used: Ian Ormson, Greg McDermott.
Booked: Vidal 14, Tunnicliffe 59.
Referee: D Treleaven.
Assistant Referees: N Wilde, G Kane.
Fourth official: J Paterson.
Attendance: 5, 106 (83 Stockport).
Star Hatter: Steve McNulty. Pushed close by Dave Martin, but the defender scored and shut the door effectively at the other end.