At last, Luton conquered the Black kit hoodoo, and, at the same time, ended a four-month wait for another away win, with a stirring performance at Hillsborough, against Sheffield Wednesday. Luton?s last success on their travels was at Cardiff City way back at the beginning of October, and before last night had only managed one draw, at Derby, while wearing the dreaded black strip.
Against the consensus of opinion on the message boards, Mike Newell persisted with Enoch Showunmi in midfield, in an unchanged side from the one which won, 10 days earlier, against QPR. Enoch confounded his critics with another solid performance.
Once the Town had settled down, they played some very good football and defended well. However, they could have been two down in the opening two minutes when recent signing Marcus Tudgay was given too much space and should have done better than to drive the ball wide. Less than a minute later, another recent capture, Deon Burton, headed over the bar from six yards.
Luton were not being outplayed, though, and Paul Underwood had a shot cleared off the line, and two surging runs from Carlos Edwards led to crosses, one of which was cleared by Coughlan and the other just slipping behind the onrushing Vine and Howard.
Wood shot wide for Wednesday, as they began to pressurise the Town defence, and a shot from O?Brien hit Heikkinen and looped dangerously goalwards, but the alert Beresford managed to change direction and clamber back to recover the situation.
Despite the excitement of these opening exchanges, the game settled down to a midfield battle, of which Luton seemed to have the better control, but just before the break, Burton had the best chance of the latter stages of the first half, but saw the ball bend agonisingly wide. Both teams seemed to be happy to go in at half time at 0-0.
The second half began with some Wednesday pressure, but it was Luton who struck first, when the ever-busy Steve Howard played Vine though on the left, only for Wood to clip his heels and Vine went down in a heap. Wood was perhaps lucky not to see red, but he escaped with no punishment other than the penalty kick. Captain Kevin Nicholls stepped once more into the breach to send Lucas one way and the ball crashing into the roof of the net on the other, on 52 minutes, for his sixth goal of the season, four of which have come from the spot.
On 54 minutes, Howard played Rowan Vine in again, but the lively striker somehow got the ball stuck between his feet and the chance was lost. However, less than a minute later, Howard slipped the ball to Vine, once more, and he bore down on the penalty area. The defence backed off and watched him lash the ball into the net from 20 yards.
From that point, Luton did not look like relinquishing their hold on the three points, and Steve Howard was as effective defensively as he had been in attack. His positioning was immaculate to head a fierce shot from O?Brien off the line, before getting forward again to set up Vine for another good chance, but the ex-Portsmouth forward saw Lucas make the save of the match to deny him.
Luton ran the clock down without too much problem, bringing Feeney on for the hard worked Vine, and Newell repeated the tactical change he made against QPR by bringing central defender Barnett on to play a defensive midfield role, in place of Showunmi?s attacking midfield play. Dean Morgan saw the last three minutes of normal time plus injury time on the field, in place of Underwood, who appeared to have a problem.
These three hard-earned points leave Luton in 8th place, and they now look forward to the visit of last year?s runners?up Hull City.
Mike Newell – Luton Town 9: Master stroke getting the lads away for a sunny break ahead of this match. The players looked refreshed and up for the game. Sound tactical approach. Less abandondoned attacking and more measured approach than of late.
Paul Sturrock – Sheffield Wednesday 7: Will need time for his new signings to gel but they played some good football at times. Obviously fearful of Howard’s firepower, the tactics to ‘double mark’ him whenever possible did not work as he laid on numerous chances for Vine who took advantage of the space created by the out of position central defenders.