Muddy marvellous Hatters hold on for victory to go second

Luton Town's Paul Benson celebrates his goal against Braintree Town. Photo by Liam Smith. wk 46.Luton Town's Paul Benson celebrates his goal against Braintree Town. Photo by Liam Smith. wk 46.
Luton Town's Paul Benson celebrates his goal against Braintree Town. Photo by Liam Smith. wk 46.
Skrill Premier: Braintree Town 1 (0) Luton Town 2 (1)

A dogged performance bursting with endeavour and spirit saw Hatters scrap their way to a first-ever win at Braintree tonight, writes Mike Simmonds.

Goals from Paul Benson and Andy Parry did the damage, but it was Town’s passion, work-rate and willingness to fight that were the most impressive factors on what was a horrible playing surface.

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Hatters made five changes to the side that lost in the FA Cup to Welling on Saturday, with Alex Lawless, Andre Gray, Ronnie Henry, Mark Tyler and Scott Griffiths coming in.

Gray served notice of his intentions early on as he put on the afterburners to speed on to his own chip forward, but keeper Nik Hamann came sliding out of his area to block at the striker’s feet.

The pitch almost played up midway through the half as Jordan Cox’s low shot took an almighty bobble, but luckily Tyler was right behind it.

Hatters had the lead on 30 minutes with a goal that owed much to the superb tenacity of Gray.

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He sprinted away on the right and with Hamann to beat, squared for Lawless, whose shot was cleared off the line by Dean Wells. Parry volleyed the follow up into the ground and it was met by the predatory Benson to divert it over the line for his second goal in successive games.

Iron should have been level shortly afterwards as a corner was missed by everyone and from virtually on the goal-line, Matt Paine somehow directed his header wide.

The hosts then served another warning as Cox fired into the night sky from a good position, but Town, led by a dominant display from Steve McNulty at the back, went into half time a goal to the good.

With backpasses not the order of the evening, Town almost got themselves in an almighty tangle through McNulty and Tyler, but the keeper recovered to slide the ball away from the onrushing Cox.

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Hatters were getting drawn into a real old fashioned battle, and they were dealt a huge blow on the hour as the magnificent McNulty picked up a knock and had to be replaced by Jim Stevenson, with Parry dropping to centre-half.

Gray then produced another moment of magic, sending over a cross that got stuck in the mud, only for the forward to reach it first, but he saw his shot deflected behind.

The first corner was cleared away for another and, from Lawless’ delivery, Benson’s full stretch shot was blocked, but Parry was quickest to react as he slammed the ball home from close range on 66 minutes.

Barely had Luton had time to finish celebrating though and the Iron were back in the match as substitute Dan Holman’s deflected 30-yard effort swerved wickedly past a shocked Tyler.

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It was the tricky Holman who went close again as he wriggled clear of a few weak Town challenges, but Tyler was down smartly to parry.

Paine and Wells put almost identical headers over as the last five minutes saw Town defend for their lives, with the visiting fans lapping up their side’s efforts.

Twice Hatters’ hearts were in their mouths as Luke Daley cut in and arrowed a shot that Tyler did well to grab and then, on the whistle, Alex Lacey made a stunning sliding intervention to deny Iron a certain goal.

The result was made even more sweeter with news of a late goal for Macclesfield earning them a draw with Kidderminster, meaning Town travel to Chester this weekend in second place.

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Iron: Nick Hamann, Ryan Peters, Newman Carney, Dean Wells (C), Matt Paine, Chez Isaac, Dan Sparkes (Luke Daley 61), Kenny Davis, James Mulley (Liam Enver-Marum 85), Sean Marks, Jordan Cox (Dan Holman 61). Substitutes not used: Nathan McDonald, Sam Griffiths.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Jonathan Smith, Steve McNulty (Jim Stevenson 61), Alex Lawless, Scott Griffiths, Andy Parry, Jake Howells, Ronnie Henry (C), Paul Benson (Mark Cullen 72), Andre Gray, Alex Lacey. Substitutes not used: Luke Guttridge, Elliot Justham, Shaun Whalley.

Referee: Justin Amey.

Assistant Referees: Jonathan Burridge and Andrew Tonks.

Fourth official: George Sprague.

Booked: Parry 65.

Attendance: 1,518 (728 Luton).

Star Hatter: Jonathan Smith. Gave everything for the cause throughout the evening.

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