Luton 3-2 Portsmouth

Pompey lost their heavyweight battle with Luton to concede ground on their rivals in the League One title race.

Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 9:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:42 pm
Ronan Curtis celebrates his strike in the second half Picture: Joe Pepler

The Hatters gained an upper hand at the top of the table by securing a hard-earned 3-2 win over Kenny Jackett’s brave side.

Pompey had no right to be in the contest after playing second fiddle to the league leaders in the first half.

Yet, James Collins’ 39th-minute opener was all that separated the teams at the break - and the Blues suddenly found themselves back in the game when Ronan Curtis fired home on 52 minutes.

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In a pulsating second half, Collins restored Luton’s advantage from the penalty spot on 77 minutes.

Substitute Omar Bogle looked to have handed Pompey a share of the spoils with a goal on his debut on 79 minutes.

But Luton had the last laugh when sub George Moncur fired home a winner from a free-kick with five minutes remaining.

There’s no denying, the first half was all Luton, with Mick Hartord’s side laying seize on the Blues’ goal.

While Hatters keeper James Shea was untested throughout the opening 45 minutes, opposite number Craig MacGillivray had his hands kept warm in the wintry conditions as the home side peppered his goal with shots.

Jack Stacey’s shot was blocked by the alert Jack Whatmough on five minutes as Luton started to quickly turn up the heat in the freezing conditions.

The unsuspecting Collins took the ball off the onrushing James Justin as he raced in on goal four minutes later, before MacGillivray was called into action moments later when Jamal Lowe lost possession in midfield.

Justin, on this occasion, did have the goal in his sights, but the Blues shot-stopper saved at the second attempt.

By this stage it was clear that Pompey had reverted to a 3-5-2 formation, and with Luton pressing forward at every opportunity extra defensive covere was deployed with Lowe and Lee Brown tucking into assist Anton Walkes, Whatmough and Matt Clarke.

Whatmough stuck his head in where it hurts to prevent Alan McCormack’s pile-driver from travelling far.

Then MacGillivray reacted well to Kazenga Lualua’s turn and shot on 20 minutes.

The keeper was scrambling when Luke Berry fired wide two minutes later - and the midfielder missed another opportunity on 28 minutes when he headed wide from 12 yards out.

Pompey managed to win a corner one minute later when Lowe pushed forward.

But nothing came from it and Luton were quickly back on the attack.

Andrew Shinnie tried his luck from 30 yards - but MacGillivray was able to match it all the way.

McCormack also attempted to break the deadlock with another shot from long range - moments after Ronan Curtis was crowded out in the opposition box.

Then Lualua was punished for delaying his effort when he was put clear, with MacGillivray mopping up the danger.

A Hatters goal was coming and it duly arrived on 39 minutes when  Lualua made up for his previous error by setting up Collins, who fired home.

The Blues were lucky to go into the break just a goal down - and at the start of the second half Jackett saw the need for changes, bringing on Bogle for his debut and Dion Donohue.

They replaced Brett Pitman and Gareth Evans respectfully.

The changes had the desired affect, with Donohue firing straight at Shea one minute after the restart.

And with Bogle making his presence felt, it was Luton suddenly on the back foot.

Indeed, on 52 minutes, the Blues found themselves back on level terms when Curits kept his cool to place his shot into the corner of the Luton net.

From looking out of the game, the visitors suddenly found themselves right back in the contest.

Bryn Morris, making his full debut, was denied on 54 minutes when Shea reacted well to deny him at his near post.

Then Curtis had the chance to put the Blues in front just after the hour mark.

Brown played him in down the left, but again Shea stood strong and denied him a second goal of the game.

The Blues were given a timely reminder that the hosts were in no mood to roll over when Justin took aim from 25 yards on 65 minutes.

But once more MacGillivray showed his worth by flicking the ball over the crossbar.

Pompey’s confidence was clearly growing, but they were dealt a blow on 76 minutes when Whatmough’s tackle on Lualua was deemed illegal and referee Simon Hooper had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Collins stepped up to take the spot-kick, and he made no mistake by drilling the ball home into the right-hand corner of MacGillivray’s net.

The home fans were in raptures.

But they were soon silenced when two minutes later Bogle stamped his authority on the game.

Lowe’s scuffed shot eluded the Luton defence and Shea, and there was the on-loan Cardiff striker to fire home.

The giant front man was then handed a golden opportunity to make it a double when he was played through on goal minutes later.

However, his effort was somehow parried away by Shea as the home side breathed a huge sigh of relief.

That missed opportunity came back to haunt Pompey on 85 minutes when the visitors had a free-kick awarded against them on the edge of the box.

Walkes’ challenge on substitute Moncur looked good, but the referee had other ideas and awarded the foul.

Moncur then did the damage by firing past the Blues wall and into the bottom corner.

Pompey battled hard to find a third equaliser.

However, their luck had run out, handing Luton a five-point lead at the top of the table.

Luton: Shea, Justin, McCormack, Bradley, Pearson, Stacey, Berry, Shinnie, Mpanzu, Collins, Lualua. Subs: Potts, Moncur, Jones, Read, Isted, Sheehan, Tomlinson.

Pompey: MacGillivray, Walkes, Whatmough, Clarke, Brown, Morris, Naylor, Lowe, Evans, Curtis, Pitman. Subs: Bass, Burgess, Haunstrup, May, Donohue, Dennis, Bogle.