Crewe: Garratt, Ng, Nolan, Ray, Pickering, Green (Dagnall, 77), Wintle, Jones, Kirk (Ainley, 57), Miller (Porter, 57), Bowery
Unused Subs: Richards, Walker, Lowery, Sterry
Goals: Bowery (35)
Attendance: 9,202 (189)
Luton Town remain right on course for automatic promotion following their 3-1 win over Crewe Alexandra this afternoon, but Nathan Jones’ side were made to work exceedingly hard for the points after Jordan Bowery had given us a 35th minute lead. The club’s now leading scorer raced through on goal before confidently dispatching it past James Shea.
Nathan Jones’ strong side showed great character to hit back through their own leading scorer Danny Hylton just four minutes later before Elliott Lee, the son of the former England International Rob, curled home a splendid second goal in first half stoppage time.
If Lee’s goal was good, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu’s was even better just five minutes into the second half. A Luton corner was cleared to him some 25 yards from goal and the Luton midfielder drilled it straight into Ben Garratt’s top corner.
Chasing two goals in the second half against one of the outstanding sides in our division was difficult but substitute Chris Porter and Eddie Nolan both had half chances with headers.
David Artell made one change from the side that won a seven-goal thriller at Mansfield Town last weekend. A fully fit again Perry Ng returned to the starting line-up at right-back ahead of Jamie Sterry.
There were also a couple of changes on the substitutes’ bench with Brad Walker and Tom Lowery returning in place of the injured Michael Raynes and Harry McKirdy.
As expected, the home side made a fast-paced start to the game and they pressed in the opening minutes looking to take an early lead. Danny Hylton had an early half chance at the far post, but after taking a touch, his shot was blocked by three Crewe bodies. After interchanging passes with Hylton, Ollie Lee also had an early drive blocked by the well placed Eddie Nolan.
Crewe’s first real venture into the Luton half of the field saw a promising cross from Paul Green just clear the head of the anticipating Jordan Bowery.
The first effort on goal arrived just ahead of the 10th minute. After some neat passing from the Hatters down the Crewe left hand side, James Collins’ accurate cross was headed into the hands of Ben Garratt by Jack Stacey. Soon after that effort, the lively Hylton whistled one just wide of the right hand post.
From our first corner of the game, taken by Jones, there was a pull by Hylton on Nolan and after being spotted by an alert referee, Ben Toner, a free-kick was awarded on the edge of the penalty area. Hylton protested his innocent but he had certainly impeded Nolan’s advancement into the box. From the resultant free-kick, James Shea in the Luton goal, had to be set to push Pickering’s shot away.
Luton also went close to scoring the opener on 17 minutes. Hylton did superbly well to leave three Crewe players trailing in his wake and he intelligently found Elliott Lee some 20 yards from goal. His powerful shot was just wide of the target. It was too close for comfort.
From our second corner, we were unlucky not to take the lead. Jones’ deep cross was kept alive, first by captain George Ray and then by Shaun Miller. The forward’s cross was not collected with any real conviction by Shea and the loose ball looked like it was going to fall at the feet of Bowery for him to tap home. Following a melee inside the six-yard box, a covering Luton defender prevented Bowery from applying a decisive touch after he rather fortunately, struck the ball against his own teammate and it squirmed wide for another corner.
From their own corners, Luton were conjuring up chances of their own and a well worked one from Alan Sheehan saw Olly Lee connect beautifully on the volley, but Crewe stood firm once again to deflect it behind for another one. Lee’s controlled volley was certainly travelling at pace towards Garratt’s goal.
On the half an hour mark, Crewe were presented with a possible break but we couldn’t take full advantage when Bowery was halted in his tracks on the edge of the Luton penalty area. When Green threatened to launch a counter attack moments later, Alan McCormack was booked for an obvious foul on the Crewe midfielder.
After what had been a fairly open affair, Crewe took the lead on 35 minutes. After a clever header from Miller, Bowery did superbly to flick the ball around Glen Rea and after the Luton defender slipped in his pursuit of the Crewe forward, Bowery was through on goal.
The in-form number 10 kept his composure in a one on one situation with Shea. He confidently slipped it through his legs for his 13th goal of the season.
Luton tried to respond almost immediately, and Garratt was forced into a smart save to deny Sheehan from a free-kick and there was also a block to deny Stacey a clean shot on goal.
But after Ray had put his head in where it hurts to prevent another cross going into the six yard, a Luton corner paid off with Hatters’ leading scorer Hylton hooking in at the far post for 1-1. Our lead had lasted just four minutes.
On 41 minutes, Green was booked for a foul on Hylton and Sheehan’s shot from 20 yards was straight at Garratt.
More Luton pressure before the half time interval saw Elliott Lee denied by Garratt after he was involved in a scramble on the floor with Ray. Garratt stood up well to make a save from close range.
The pressure on the Crewe goal finally told in first half stoppage time but only after we had a half chance.
Crewe had been rather unfortunate that neither Bowery or Miller could get a clean shot off inside the Luton penalty area and the Hatters swiftly broke down our right hand side.
Although he was pursued by Green and Ng, Olly Lee cut in from the touchline and curled a splendid shot past Garratt to make sure it was the Hatters going in at the break ahead.
After altering the system to operate with three across the back, Crewe made a bright start to the second half and after good work from Green, Bowery helped his shot towards the Luton goal but it was blocked before it could really test Shea.
All that good work was undone inside the first five minutes of the second half. A Sheehan corner was cleared out of the Crewe box with real conviction, but the Luton midfielder Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu returned it with real purpose. He struck it superbly and it rocketed over everyone and into Garratt’s top right hand corner. It was a stunning strike that gave Garratt no chance.
Such was his confidence, Mpanzu even tried another long range effort from even further out but this one sailed over the Crewe crossbar!
The Crewe boss made his first change on 56 minutes, with Porter replacing Miller. That was soon followed by Ainley replacing Kirk. Porter had an early half chance but he couldn’t quite warp is foot around his shot after Bowery had flicked the ball down into the six yard box.
Jack Stacey had a wonderful chance to make it 4-1 on 63 minutes but he floated his shot wide of the target when perhaps he should have picked out a supportive teammate in the shape of Hylton or Lee.
Nathan Jones’ first substitution of the afternoon saw Elliott Lee make way for Harry Cornick.
Some good approach play from Ainley saw him whip over a cross but after coming too quickly into a crowd of bodies, Porter couldn’t quite adjust his body to direct his header on goal.
At the other end, James Collins had a really good chance blocked and diverted away for a corner.
Crewe needed the next goal to make a real fist of it in the closing stages but it was Sheehan’s wonderful left foot that went close again from a free kick. His well struck effort clipped the Crewe post on it way out.
Nolan also went close to heading us a lifeline from an Ainley corner, but the consistent Irishman couldn’t quite keep it down enough to really test Shea.
With five minutes left, Hylton was rested for Jonny Mullins.
Luton’s other sub Cornick had a great chance to get his name on the scoresheet but he dragged his finish wastefully wide from a good position. Ray had done well to get across and put him under some pressure as he pulled the trigger.
In the closing minutes, Dagnall was booked for catching McCormack, but the Railwaymen went close to possibly making it 3-2 but the advanced Ray was denied twice late on.