Wonder Wall breaks his Hatters duck to fire Town to victory
Blue Square Bet Premier: Luton Town 2 (1) Ebbsfleet United 0 (0)
Town striker Alex Wall broke his Hatters duck with a well-taken brace as Luton sunk 10-man Ebbsfleet in their last game of the season at Kenilworth Road this evening, writes Mark Wood.
A largely dull encounter never really truly came to life as Luton laboured for long periods, but Town had more than enough to see off already-relegated Ebbsfleet who had Stefan Payne sent off late in the first half for an X-rated challenge on Welsh U21 midfielder Jake Howells.
Town made seven changes from the team that drew 2-2 with Newport County at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday night. Mark Tyler, Scott Rendell, Howells, JJ O’Donnell, Wall, Dan Walker and Dan Goodman came into the starting 11 and Solomon Taiwo, Dean Brill and Scott Griffiths dropped to the bench, with all the others who missed out being given a rest.
It was the Howells and Wall show at the start as the Hatters took the lead after just four minutes. Wall’s pass released Howells on the left and, although Wall’s shot from Howells’ initial cross was deflected upwards, Howells was on hand to head back across for Wall to dive in and head home from a couple of yards.
Liam Enver-Marum lashed wildly over in reply moments later, but it was Town who were well on top and threatened again on 10 minutes when O’Donnell found Walker and Howells thumped his cross goalwards, but a block took the sting out of his effort as rumoured Town target Preston Edwards easily gathered.
Two minutes later and the Hatters should have doubled their lead when Howells broke free and Rendell teed the unmarked and onrushing Walker up in the box but he wastefully dragged just wide.
Enver-Marum looked Fleet’s most likely source of a goal as he pulled a shot harmlessly wide, while the offside Goodman should have done better with his header from Howells’ free-kick midway through the half.
The game lulled as O’Donnell’s lob from the edge of the box was easy for Edwards before he just failed to slide Howells in.
Luton looked slightly lackadaisical at the back and were in trouble when the overlapping Payne looked to be in but Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, playing at left-back again, slid in to get a good block in.
Payne was at the centre of things again moments later as he flew in with a horrible scissor tackle to leave Howells, celebrating his 22nd birthday, in agony in a heap on the floor. Town’s incandescent players reacted angrily with O’Donnell and Rendell leaping to Howells’ defence and baying for blood as Payne was shown a straight red five minutes before the break.
Luton continued to threaten in patches as Edwards did well to cut out Wall’s cross with Rendell lurking, while Tyler held on to Tom Phipp’s long-range curler on the stroke of half time.
And in stoppage-time Rowe-Turner could only head wide from O’Donnell’s corner as Town went into the break with a deserved lead.
Griffiths and Jake Woolley came on at the break for Steve McNulty and Howells as Rendell took the captain’s armband.
Despite being a man down it was Fleet who started the second half the brighter of the two teams with former Town trialist Nathan Elder skewing a good chance wide five minutes in.
And he went close again moments later when he beat Griffiths in the air to Phipp’s cross but his header flashed over from six yards out.
Luton laboured to make their extra man tell as Wall and Walker fired in crosses, before Paul Lorraine’s underhit backpass almost let Wall in on 57 minutes before he drilled tamely at Edwards from range.
Fleet made light work of being a man down although Woolley floated a great ball into the far post on 65 minutes which Walker was unable to capitalise on.
Simon Ainge replaced Matt Robinson on 68 minutes before Wall thundered a vicious free-kick into Fleet’s defensive wall from the edge of the area as a dull match continued to stutter without sparking into life.
Out of nothing Luton doubled their lead on 77 minutes when a lack of communication between keeper Edwards and defender Ubay Luzardo allowed Wall to steal on to Goodman’s long ball over the top and his first-time effort sailed over the stranded keeper and dipped in under the bar.
Phipp lashed an opening well over the bar from the edge of the box with 11 minutes to go before Walker picked out Rendell with a fine raking cross but his firm header was straight at the keeper.
Liam Bellamy’s mishit shot was easy for Tyler with five minutes to go after a good break by Enver-Marum.
Wall missed out on a hat-trick as he curled well wide with a minute to go and Rendell’s low drive was easy for Edwards.
Town’s players were applauded off the field at the end and did a lap of honour at the end as an ultimately disappointing home season ended on a contented note.
Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Steve McNulty (C, Scott Griffiths 46), Scott Rendell, Jake Howells (Jake Woolley 46), JJ O’Donnell, Matt Robinson (Simon Ainge 68), Jonathan Smith, Alex Wall, Dan Walker, Jake Goodman. Substitutes not used: Solomon Taiwo, Dean Brill.
Fleet (4-4-2): Preston Edwards, Ryan Blake, Paul Lorraine (C, Jack Saville 73), Liam Enver-Marum, Nathan Elder (Moses Ashikodi 86), Tom Phipp, Joe Howe, Neil Barrett, Liam Bellamy, Stefan Payne, Ubay Luzardo. Substitutes not used: Lucas Menz, Lanre Azeez, David Azin.
Booked: Luzardo 83.
Sent off: Payne 40.
Referee: P Rees.
Assistant Referees: C Francis and L Wood.
Fourth Official: A Serrano.
Attendance: 5,934 (21 Ebbsfleet).
Star Hatter: Alex Wall. Decent all-round performance and his goals proved the difference on the night.