Luton Town 1
McHugh 17, Brunt 90
By Rick Cowdery
NEVER. Say. Die.
A goal in the last minute of added time from Ryan Brunt gave Argyle a hard-earned victory at Kenilworth Road and put then four points clear at the top of Sky Bet League 2.
The Pilgrims took the lead midway through a first half which they dominated when midfielder Carl McHugh nodded home Craig Tanner’s cross.
They were almost left to regret not converting their early superiority into further goals when Luton rallied after the interval to make more of a match of things, and levelled with 14 minutes to play through substitute Josh McQuoid.
However, Brunt epitomised the team spirit and belief at Home Park right now by bludgeoning home from close range at the death, after Oscar Threlkeld and Craig Tanner combined to get the ball into the middle.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had made two personnel changes to the starting 11 that lost for only the third time this season four days previously at Oxford United.
He named Jake Jervis as a substitute for the first time, preferring Brunt in the role of pivotal forward. With Reuben Reid injured, the Pilgrims therefore went into the game without their two leading scorers in the campaign so far.
Tanner was also whistled up from the bench, swapping places with Josh Simpson, as Adams tweaked Argyle’s shape to a 4-2-3-1 from the 4-1-4-1 employed at the Kassam, with Tanner and Gregg Wylde on the flanks and playmaker Graham Carey back in the hole.
Luton went like for like, with former West Ham midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu given a first start of the season following injury. Another ex Hammer, Olly Lee, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Home Park, was on the Hatters’ bench.
Argyle certainly seemed to be set up to work the ball wide and get it into the box, and the early stages indicated this would indeed be part of the afternoon’s plans. One raid down the Luton left saw Tanner find Wylde for a header that the Scotsman sent just wide.
Tanner had found his range, though, and, as Argyle effortlessly cranked up through the gears, provided the ball from which McHugh claimed his first league goal of the season. The Reading loanee delivered a sumptuous little chip into the space ahead of McHugh, to where the Irishman galloped to deliver a deft header that carried the ball out of the reach of flat-footed goalkeeper Mark Tyler.
The goal was greeted by an eerie silence – apart, of course, from behind the goal where McHugh had scored and where he and his team-mates were celebrating with the Green Army. Mind you, that was better than the shellacking they received from some home fans mad at the way the Hatters were being outperformed.
They had cause to be worried. With Hiram Boateng a major presence in a dominant midfield, their team was often starved of possession and frequently back-pedalling. Carey sent in a couple of shots that Tyler did well to parry, with Brunt close to capitalising on the second of the spillages.
On the rare occasions when Luton did exert some pressure on the Pilgrims, the defence showed necessary steel to complement the silkiness of their attacking play, most notably Peter Hartley’s body-on-the-line block of Mpanzu’s full-bloodied drive.
Mainly, though, the tide was a lilac one and, in time added on at the end of a most satisfying 45 minutes, Carey went close to extending the Pilgrims’ advantage when he extended Tyler with another cracking shot after cutting in off the right flank.
Within three minutes of the start of the second half, Luton had used all three of their permitted substitutions. Two were because of injury – to Dan Potts and Mpanzu – but the third was tactical and looked something of a risk, with captain Scott Cuthbert having already received lengthy treatment for what looked like an arm injury.
Adversity appeared to suit the Hatters, though, and they carried the game to Argyle. Cameron McGeehan beat Luke McCormick to a looping right-wing cross but could not direct his header on target, before the Pilgrims’ custodian was obliged to beat out a powerful shot from Nathan Doyle.
Adams sent on Simpson for Boateng to help squash the orange resurgence, and the experienced head helped the Pilgrims achieve some needed calm moments of possession.
Peter Hartley gave way to injury midway through a more even second half, replaced, nominally, by Lee Cox, with McHugh dropping back for a rare stint this season at centre-back.
Luton’s persistence nearly paid off when Kelvin Mellor nicked the ball off McQuoid’s toes after the ball broke kindly for the Luton substitute.
The writing was on the wall, though, and McQuoid was the right man in the right place to head home after a blocked shot loped up kindly to him, unmarked and with an empty net in front of him.
Argyle responded positively and quickly, forcing a few corners before Tanner went on one of his seemingly unstoppable runs which ended with a low shot across goal shot that was tipped wide.
Luton were reduced to ten men with five minutes to play when half-time substitute Ryan Hall received his second yellow card. It looked like Luton might hang on without him.
But that reckoned without the power of Brunt.
Luton Town (4-2-3-1): 1 Mark Tyler; 20 Sean Long (10 Ryan Hall half-time), 6 Scott Cuthbert (capt), 30 Luke Wilkinson, 3 Dan Potts (7 Alex Lawless 28); 4 Jonathan Smith, 26 Nathan Doyle; 17 Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (23 Josh McQuoid 48), 21 Luke Gutteridge, 8 Cameron McGeehan; 14 Jack Marriott. Substitutes (not used): 15 Paddy McCourt, 16 Elliot Justham (gk), 19 Olly Lee, 25 Mark O’Brien.
Sent off: Hall 85.
Booked: Doyle 42, Hall 81.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley (7 Lee Cox 76), 3 Gary Sawyer; 4 Carl McHugh; 20 Hiram Boateng (8 Josh Simpson 57); 27 Craig Tanner, 10 Graham Carey, 11 Gregg Wylde (26 Oscar Threlkeld 83); 17 Ryan Brunt. Substitutes (not used): 14 Jake Jervis, 15 Tyler Harvey, 16 Ben Purrington, 21 James Bittner (gk).
Referee: Ross Joyce.
Attendance: 8,703 (745 away).