Mansfield Town were outplayed and outclassed in a 3-0 defeat at title favourites and old rivals Luton Town at Kenilworth Road today.
Stags barely had a sniff in a first half in which Luton still only led 1-0 through Paul Benson’s 19th minute goal, though Keiron Freeman did have to clear off the line.
Stags came back out and gave it a real go for 15 minutes, Vadaine Oliver only just too high with an overhead kick.
But classy Luton slammed up the gears and sealed it with two goals in four minutes by home man of the match Shaun Whalley, who gave Lee Beevers a torrid afternoon, on 59 minutes and 63 minutes.
It could have been more as Mark Collen headed against the bar and Jonathan Smith saw an effort deflect onto a post as Stags defended desperately with Ryan Tafazolli a real rock.
It was a first defeat for Adam Murray after two wins this week in what is likely to have been his final game as caretaker manager with chairman John Radford hoping to make an appointment by Thursday.
New loanee Junior Brown showed some good speed and skill in the second half.
But Luton, chalking up their seventh straight home League victory, looked every inch the machine ex-Hatter Murray had warned they were and seem destined for greater things.
For Stags now an appointment and some stability is needed ahead of next weekend’s FA Cup trip to Cambridge.
Loanees Vadaine Oliver and Keiron Freeman were restored to the line-up. The pair had missed out on the FA Cup tie at Concord Rangers in midweek as their parent clubs wanted to avoid them becoming cup-tied.
That meant caretaker manager Adam Murray put out the side that beat Plymouth 1-0 in his first match in charge last weekend.
Murray resisted the temptation to name himself on the bench against his old club.
But there was a place on the bench for new loanee Brown, who arrived from Oxford United on Thursday night.
Ollie Palmer, the midweek matchwinner at Concord, was also relegated back to the bench along with Liam Marsden.
A loose pass from Riley offered Luton possession in the game’s first threat of a frantic start, Drury’s run into the box going nowhere.
Taylor’s burst into the home box saw Franks across to dispossessed him before he could cross.
Freeman then did well to make space for a cross from the right which flew just too high for Oliver to meet.
Riley did well to get between Drury and the ball and pass back to Studer as Luton threatened again.
Studer then had to get down well to his right to parry Doyle’s 35-yard blast on 11 minutes, Tafazoli heading the corner clear.
Freeman was happy to see the yellow card stay in the referee’s pocket after taking both Benson’s legs as he went past him. Drury floated the free kick to the far post where Benson headed over.
On 17 minutes Whalley went down in the box, claiming he had been fouled by Beevers. But the referee gave him a yellow card for a dive instead of the penalty he was screaming for.
However, the Hatters were much happier two minutes later as they grabbed the lead.
It was a soft goal in the end after Stags looked to hve survived the best Luton chance.
Cullen got down the right and put in a cross to the near post where Benson’s flick was blocked by Studer.
Benson battled well to regain the ball and, with defenders behind him, he turned and somehow squeezed a soft low shot through everyone and just inside the post from 15 yards.
A superb long cross from the right by Doyle almost found Cullen right in front of goal on 24 minutes, Freeman in superbly with a last ditch challenge to nick the ball out for a corner.
Stags needed to hang on at this point as Luton had gone up a gear and a second goal would be game over.
Studer was caught by a challenge by Cullen as he tried to gather the ball, but the home fans did not appreciate his theatrical rolling around afterwards.
Then we had a real injury on 27 minutes as scorer Benson went down and waved to the bench with a likely muscle pull and his afternoon was over, though his impact had been significant.
He was stretchered off and replaced by Howells with 29 minutes on the watch.
A Stags attack on 35 minutes ended with a Taylor snapshot striking Franks.
Then another mistake from Riley saw his loose clearance reach Drury just inside the box and he skilfully turned and curled a great effort just over the angle.
Then Tafazolli had to get in the way of a Doyle shot after a superb hanging crossfield pass by Drury.
On 38 minutes, from a corner, Franks’ header was on target and it took a Freeman goal line clearance to keep his effort out.
A Franks header forward from 45 yards was so powerful that it went over everyone and bounced just in front of Studer and forced the keeper to stretch high to prevent a freak goal.
But the sides went in with Luton a goal up and looking good.
Brown replaced Taylor for the second half and immediately won a free kick.
Clements sent it in to the far post where Tafazolli nodded it back over and Oliver was only just too high with a spectacular overhead effort – Stags’ first real goal attempt with 47 minutes played.
However, on 49 minutes it was almost 2-0 as Cullen rose to guide a Harriman cross back over Studer and against the crossbar.
Brown was causing immediate problems and a good run between two defenders saw him get in a low cross that was blocked.
But Stags forced their first two corners of the day. The second of those on 52 minutes was floated to the far post by Clements where Riley directed his header straight at Tyler.
On 57 minutes Lambe found Brown on the left of the box and the new boy warmed Tyler’s hands with a vicious low shot.
However, Stags’ fine start to the second half received a kick in the teeth on 59 minutes as Luton doubled their lead with an element of luck.
Whalley got himself into a decent position tight on the right and whipped in what looked to be a cross only to see it loop over Studer and under the far angle.
Bell replaced Sendles-White on 61 minutes as Stags went in search of a goal.
But, with the home fans in full cry, Whalley found the net again just four minutes later, this time definitely meaning it.
In full flight on the right, he cut inside and, from the edge of the box, threaded a firm, low left-footed finish just inside the left post and the points were in the bag.
Stags almost pulled one back on 67 minutes as Lambe sent Brown to the by-line and his deep cross was met with a bundled volley by Clements that took a deflection for a corner.
Beevers was booked on 68 minutes for bringing down dangerman.
Oliver was struggling for Stags after hurting his ankle in trying not to run into advertising hoardings chasing the ball. But he was able to continue after eventual treatment.
A long Drury free kick saw Griffiths get his diving header on target at Studer as we reached the 70-minute mark.
Heslop wasn’t far off with a dipping 30-yard shot a minute later against his former club.
Then Tyler confidently clung onto a low Lambe cross with Oliver lurking.
With 15 minutes to go, Rhead replaced Lambe in the Stags attack.
The Hatters then forced four successive corners which the visitors survived.
After more good approach play from Whalley on 81 minutes, Smith saw his shot deflect against a post and out for another corner as Luton remained on the front foot.
A minute later Helsop drilled a low hopeful ball into the box that went harmlessly wide with no one able to get a touch on it to test Tyler.
An offside flag halted Oliver’s run on 88 minutes, the ball ending up in the net anyway to jeers from the home fans.
The four added minutes were simply routine as Luton went on a lap of honour to celebrate a largely one-sided victory.
LUTON: Tyler, Franks, Smith, McNulty, Drury, Benson (Howells 29), Griffiths, Cullen (Walker 82), Whalley (Justham 86), Harriman, Doyle. Subs not used: Lacey, Rooney, Mpanzu, Miller.
STAGS: Studer; Beevers, Riley, Tafazolli, Freeman; Clements, Sendles-White (Bell 61), Heslop; Lambe (Rhead 75), Oliver, Taylor (Brown HT). Subs not used: Bingham, Palmer, Marsden, Evtimov.
REFEREE: Gavin Ward of Surrey.
ATTENDANCE: 8,418 (294 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Ryan Tafazolli.
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