Hatters hand out a Hyde-ing in Jekyll and Hyde showing
Hat-trick hero Andre Gray helped inspire the Hatters to a 4-1 victory over rock-bottom Hyde at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
Ten-man Tigers proved to be no pushover, dominating the second period of the first half as they levelled through a catastrophic Steve McNulty own goal as Hyde registered their first goal in 11 hours of football.
But Luton richly deserved their victory as Luke Guttridge got his sixth of the season to restore Town’s lead in the middle of Gray’s first Town treble, while Tigers defender Luke Ashworth was sent off for a professional foul on the lively striker midway through the second half.
And Cambridge’s goalless draw at Chester saw Luton close the gap at the top to eight points as they rose to third place.
Town made just one change from the team that drew 3-3 at Aldershot during the week, Alex Lawless coming in for Jake Howells who dropped out of the squad entirely.
Luton were afforded a warm reception by the home faithful who were in all fours sides of the ground, with Hatters supporters packing out the Oak Road end as they were given sole use of the stand for the first time in 22 years.
A great atmosphere ensued as a result with fans in the Oak Road end and Main Stand singing at each other as they made their own entertainment.
Town made a bright start as Andre Gray had his second minute strike ruled out for offside.
It was all Luton in the early stages with the Tigers looking every inch a side who hadn’t won this season.
And Town should have take the lead on nine minutes when Guttridge’s brilliant crossfield pass released Andre Gray, who cut inside and stepped inside his man, only for David Carnell to get down quickly and save well at his feet,
Andre Gray got in behind again moments later but found no takers for his chipped cross to the back post.
But the Tigers still looked a danger going forward and almost snatched the lead out of the blue on 14 minutes when Reece Gray was allowed time and space as his 25-yard effort forced a fine flying stop out of Mark Tyler.
However, it was Town who took the lead two minutes later when Andre Gray did brilliantly to control Scott Griffiths’ cross and, despite being held as he drove into the box, the powerful striker wriggled free to find the bottom corner.
Deep-lying Hyde were finding plenty of space when they did get forward and a long ball released Louis Almond on 21 minutes. He managed to cut back across Griffiths but his drive rebounded off Alex Lacey and away to safety.
But if Luton thought the job was already done they were wrong indeed as the Tigers fought back. Lacey allowed himself to be caught in possession on halfway as Hyde broke in numbers. McNulty did well to get the faintest of headers to take the ball away from Tim Collins and push him wide.
And his cross caused all kinds of problems as it beat Tyler and almost caused Griffiths to turn into his own net before clearing the danger.
Josh Brizell’s effort from the edge of the area then caused Tyler to parry behind as Hyde grew in confidence against sloppy Luton despite being a goal down.
Ashworth flashed a powerful header just wide from a corner on 25 minutes, before Reece Gray was booked for a late challenge Guttridge.
And Town should have extended their lead from the subsequent free-kick when McNulty sent a powerful header just over from Guttidge’s delivery.
Remarkably Hyde proceeded to dominate and Town almost gifted them an equaliser on the half hour when Andy Parry’s terrible backpass went straight to Almond and left Luton three-against-three at the back. His ball released Collins who was unable to get a shot away and Reece Gray was then just unable to get a telling touch to Brizzell’s driven cross-cum-shot.
The bumper home crowd grew increasingly restless, but Luton almost made it 2-0 against the run of play when Paul Benson’s low cross found Guttridge and his first-time effort flashed just wide.
A downward Benson header then ran just past the far post as Town finally started to come back into the game.
But the Tigers got a deserved equaliser on the stroke of half time when Brizell’s raking cross from the halfway line swerved wickedly and under pressure McNulty could only divert his header past Tyler and into the bottom corner as Hyde netted their first goal in 660 minutes.
Guttridge ended the half by curling wide as Town walked off to a slight murmur of boos.
Luton showed more intent at the start of the second half as an Andre Gray cross was almost spilled by the keeper before he poked just wide from Ronnie Henry’s cross.
The hosts continued to press and reclaimed the lead on 51 minutes. Benson headed down for Guttridge to release Andre Gray and the striker’s cross was perfect for Guttridge to turn home from only a couple of yards for his sixth goal of the season.
And it was 3-1 four minutes later when Benson flicked on a long ball from the back for Gray to run on to and the in-form striker unleashed a thunderous left-foot drive into the right-hand top corner, which left Carnell no chance.
Suddenly it was all Luton as Lacey’s header from Guttridge’s corner was easy for Carnell.
The action lulled and Reece Gray almost got away as McNulty failed to deal with a ball through, but Henry got back to help his team-mate out as Luton cleared.
And Town’s victory was all but assured as Hyde were reduced to 10 men on 68 minutes. Hyde’s defence misjudged Parry’s long ball forward and, as Andre Gray looked to race clean through, he was pulled down by last man Ashworth who was shown a straight red card by referee D Treleaven.
Shaun Whalley was introduced for Guttridge with 18 minutes to go and Town were denied a fourth when Carnell cut out Andre Gray’s dangerous cross with birthday boy Benson lurking.
But the fourth did arrive on 78 minutes when Whalley’s header picked out the unmarked Lacey at the far post and his deflected header fell perfectly for Andre Gray to ram home his first Hatters hat-trick as he volleyed home through a crowded six-yard box.
The hosts proceeded to play keep-ball late on as Matt Robinson and Mark Cullen were introduced for Parry and Lawless.
Five minutes of injury time were added, but Town couldn’t add to their tally as they eased to a straightforward victory.
Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Jonathan Smith, Steve McNulty, Alex Lawless (Mark Cullen 87), Scott Griffiths, Andy Parry (Matt Robinson 82), Luke Guttridge (Shaun Whalley 72), Ronnie Henry (C), Paul Benson, Andre Gray, Alex Lacey. Substitutes not used: Anthony Charles, Elliot Justham.
Tigers (4-4-2): David Carnell, Josh Brizell, Will Haining (C), Luke Ashworth, Liam Tomsett, David Poole, Tom Collins (Scott Spencer 66), Matty Mainwaring, Louis Almond, Adam Blakeman, Reece Gray (Martin Devaney 67). Substitutes not used: Connor Hughes, David McNiven, Emmanuel Dieseruvwe.
Booked: R Gray 26.
Sent Off: Ashworth 68.
Referee: D Treleaven.
Assistant Referees: M Potkins and P Burnham.
Fourth Official: N Evans.
Attendance: 7,081 (Hyde 30).
Star Hatter: Andre Gray. You can’t look past Hatters’ hat-trick hero.