by Rob McNichol
A SOLITARY goal by Jack Marriott gave play-off seeking Luton three points in their quest to finish in the play-off positions - and in doing so put Argyle back among them for the first time since the end of September.
Marriott's killer goal came just before the half-hour mark, as he took advantage of the space afforded him to slot past Luke McCormick. After their opener, Luton sat back, content with their lead, and defended it manfully - and successfully - throughout the afternoon.
Before the game, Derek Adams drafted in loan striker Jamille Matt to play the lone front-man role, with Reuben Reid dropping to the bench. Craig Tanner and Ben Purrington returned to the starting line-up, with Tanner a straight replacement for Jake Jervis on the right flank, and Purrington coming into the centre of midfield, as Oscar Threlkeld shifted to right-back to fill the gap left by the suspended Kelvin Mellor.
Former Argyle loanees Olly Lee and Scott Griffiths did not make Luton's squad, but new signing Glen Rea, signed on loan from Brighton during the week, came straight into the side.
Rea is mostly described as a defender wherever information is available, but Luton manager Nathan Jones - a one-time front-runner for the vacant Home Park manager's job - knows him well, having been his coach at Brighton. Rea was deployed at the rear of a midfield diamond, the front of which stood Paddy McCourt, a former Celtic maverick who likes to create mischief from just off the front.
Argyle, too, have one of those, in the form of Graham Carey, but it was the Irishman's compadres in the attacking support, Gregg Wylde and Craig Tanner, who forged the first real chance of the game.
On ten minutes, Wylde zipped past his full-back with ease, and clipped a far post cross to where Tanner was creeping. Having scored an important headed goal the last time Argyle played at Home Park, there was a sense that Tanner might repeat the dose. The close attention of Dan Potts, who deflected the ball wide, put paid to that.
Luton's first big chance came from a corner, following a lengthy period where Argyle simply could not escape their own penalty area. A dummy routine from the corner kick led to the ball reaching Jack Marriott, who controlled a low effort, but pushed it just wide.
The customary check to see what time the chance had occurred yielded a surprise - we were already haflway through the opening period. There had not been a plethora of chances or notable moments, but nonetheless the opening 22 minutes had been entertaining.
Before the half-hour mark, though, it was the Luton fans who were feeling the most entertained. McCourt drifted infield from the left and clipped a ball through for Jack Marriott, who stroked low beyond Luke McCormick to give the visitors something to hang their hats on.
And something to defend. It would be unfair to say Luton had 'shut up shop' after going in front, but they clearly saw their single-goal lead as a precious commodity, and sought to protect it as such. Argyle needed locksmiths rather than midfielders as they tried to unlock the adamantine door Luton had hastily erected.
Carey came closest, before the break. A neat headed knock-down by Matt gave Carey a chance to shoot, right-footed, from 20 yards. Luton keeper Jon Mitchell held that one, but had to unconvincingly flip one over his bar when Carey let fly from further out, but with his wand-like left foot.
From a later corner, Luton spurned several efforts to clear, and were almost punished when Curtis Nelson struck a shot well from 12 yards, only to see a brave block by Alan Sheehan halt the ball's swift progress.
At half-time, Luton lost McCourt to an injury previously sustained, and he was replaced Danny Green. Within a couple of minutes of the restart Luton had a glorious chance to extend their lead. McCormick initially did superbly to spring through a crowd and claim a cross, but the ball was spilled. McCormick felt he was fouled, but whether or not the officials called it correctly, the more glaring error was Rea shooting wide with the goal unattended.
Despite that heart-in-(goal)mouth moment, Argyle did start the half well, spurred on by a reinvigorated Green Army, who enjoyed the chance to see some heroes of a Wembley victory 20 years ago. Several balls pinged around Luton's area, with Wylde's low effort being pushed around the near post by Mitchell.
Argyle continued to press, playing all the football but failing to breach Luton where it mattered. The Hatters lost another player to injury when Dan Potts exited, replaced by Magnus Okuonghae, and by the time I had finished typing his name, Adams had replaced both the loanees that signed just over a week ago, as Houghton and Matt made way for Jake Jervis and Reuben Reid.
The danger was always that Luton could damage Argyle on the break, and on virtually the only two occasions they got beyond the halfway line in the second half they nearly did. If the ball had fallen to anyone other than full-back Stephen O'Donnell Luton's break from a corner may have seen their lead double, and then Marriott's fast break down the left drew a good save from McCormick, but also left his team-mate Benson apoplectic that the ball had not been squared to him - unmarked - in the middle.
Adams sent on Carl McHugh in the closing stages, shifting the formation of the team to 3-5-2 and trying to surprise Luton with a late twist, but it was not to be.
The team beloved by comedian Eric Morecambe ensured a miserable weekend for Argyle. We now hope that a visit to his birthplace will bring us some much needed sunshine.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 26 Oscar Threlkeld, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 32 Jordan Houghton (14 Jake Jervis 73), 16 Ben Purrington; 27 Craig Tanner, 10 Graham Carey, 11 Gregg Wylde (4 Carl McHugh 83), 19 Jamille Matt (9 Reuben Reid 73). Substitutes (not used): 8 Josh Simpson, 24 Louis Rooney, 28 Jordon Forster, 31 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Booked: Purrington 86.
Luton Town (4-4-2): 21 Jon Mitchell; 2 Stephen O'Donnell, 6 Scott Cuthbert (capt), 44 Alan Sheehan, 3 Dan Potts (18 Magnus Okuonghae 69); 8 Cameron McGeehan, 5 Glen Rea, 15 Paddy McCourt (11 Danny Green half-time), 4 Jonathan Smith; 22 Craig Mackail-Smith (9 Paul Benson 15), 14 Jack Marriott. Substitutes (not used): 7 Alex Lawless, 16 Elliot Justham (gk), 17 Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, 45 Joe Pigott.
Booked: Smith 59, McGeehan 76, Rea 88.
Referee: Darren Bond.
Attendance: 7,973 (554 away).