Town’s problems aren’t Iron-ed out as Braintree power to victory

Blue Square Bet Premier: Braintree Town 3 (1) Luton Town 1 (1)

FRAIL Hatters were outmuscled and outbattled by physical Braintree who triumphed 3-1 at the Amlin Stadium this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.

Town struggled all afternoon against the home side’s direct and combative approach and, although Andre Gray cancelled out an early Adam Bailey-Dennis header with his opportunistic strike, the Iron sealed victory with Sean Marks’ second half header and Billy Gibson’s injury-time penalty.

The defeat leaves Luton seventh, three points behind York, Kidderminster and Southport and without a win in eight games as their play-off hopes continue to dwindle.

Luton made three changes from the team that lost 2-1 at home to York City last week, with Godfrey Poku moving to the bench and Danny Crow and Robbie Willmott dropping out of the squad entirely as in came Shane Blackett, Aaron O’Connor and Andre Boucaud for the first game of the post-Gary Brabin era.

Over-policing and ridiculous security initially saw new Town boss Paul Buckle refused entry as his ‘name wasn’t on the list,’ but he did eventually make his way into the Amlin Stadium to watch his new charges from the stands.

And Luton made a dreadful start, falling behind inside five minutes. Gray gave away a silly free-kick on the halfway line and Mark Tyler came for a cross he was never going to get to and centre-half Adam Bailey-Dennis nipped in ahead of him to glance into the unguarded net.

But that lead lasted just two minutes as the ball broke kindly to Gray in the box and he side-footed home his third goal in three games past the exposed Nathan McDonald.

The Iron were causing the visitors problems every time they pumped the ball into the box but Marks’ 12th-minute header drifted just over the bar.

Braintree’s burly forward line were causing Town issues as the Hatters were guilty overplaying on an unforgiving surface.

Ex-Hatter Ben Wright got the better of George Pilkington but could only fire into the side netting, while at the other end O’Connor could only head Alex Lawless’ free-kick over the bar.

Braintree were looking the more likely and twice went close in a matter of moments on 19 minutes. Gibson’s effort from Jai Reason’s cross was deflected to Wright at the far post but, with the goal gaping, he could only volley well over.

The Iron had the ball in the back of the net again seconds later when Marks glanced home a near-post cross and was midway through his celebrations before realising referee Justin Amey had ruled out the strike for a push.

O’Connor bounced in a tame effort at McDonald before Braintree had more calls for a penalty turned down on the half hour when Boucaud felled Aswad Thomas, but the referee deemed it was on the edge of the box rather than in much to the incredulity of the home players and Wright’s free-kick deflected off the wall and over.

Goalscorers Gray and Bailey-Dennis were booked on 39 minutes for an altercation as the officials proceeded to lose control of the encounter.

Kenny Davis’ phenomenal 30-yard effort was brilliantly touched on to a post by Tyler, but a goal-kick was given, before Reason’s threaded pass found Thomas but could only spiral over from inside the box as the sides went in all-square at the break.

Matt Paine rained in an early effort for the hosts as they continued with their strong-armed tactics, while Luton reverted to a 4-4-2 formation.

And Luton wasted a glorious chance to take the lead on 52 when a poor back-header fell to O’Connor at the back post but, with just McDonald to beat, the keeper pulled off a fine one-handed save to turn the ball behind.

The visitors appeared to have more purpose, but the game was being dominated by the referee’s whistle.

Marks was allowed a free header from a free-kick but flicked at Tyler before target man Craig McAllister replaced O’Connor on the hour.

Gibson’s long-range free-kick was superbly grabbed by Tyler before Keith Keane fired well wide of the mark.

The Iron grabbed the lead back on 70 minutes from another set-piece when a deep free-kick found Marks unmarked at the back post as he glanced his header home.

Marks then rolled in a tame effort from distance as Luton progressively ran out of ideas against their physical hosts.

Wright got in behind with a few minutes left and forced a fine save from Tyler, before Town almost grabbed a point with a minute to go when Curtis Osano’s low effort was spilled by McDonald, but Gray was just unable to force the rebound home.

And the misery was complete in the 90th-minute when Osano felled Marks in the box, who hobbled off, and Gibson blasted past the despairing dive of Tyler to complete a horrible day for Luton’s fans who made up over half the gate at the Amlin Stadium.

Iron (4-4-2): Nathan McDonald, Aswad Thomas, Adam Bailey-Dennis, Matt Paine, Jai Reason, Kenny Davis (C), Sean Marks (Ryan Peters 90+3), Ben Wright (Brad Quinton 88), Pat O’Connor, Billy Gibson, Dean Wells. Substitutes not used: Pete Haxell, Matt Pooley, Joel Appiah-Kubi.

Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Keith Keane, George Pikington (C), Alex Lawless (Stuart Fleetwood 76), Shane Blackett, Aaron O’Connor (Craig McAllister 60), Jake Howells, Andre Boucaud (Godfrey Poku 66), Curtis Osano, Andre Gray, Janos Kovacs. Substitutes not used: John Paul Kissock, Adam Watkins.

Bookings: Gray 39; Bailey-Dennis 39; Osano 90+1.

Referee: Justin Amey.

Assistant Referees: Mark Derrien and Ian Parsons.

Fourth Official: Jonathan Pickford.

Star Hatter: Andre Gray. His goals should be counting for more.

Attendance: 1,703 (Luton 882).