MATCH ANALYSIS: Luton Town v Mansfield Town
It said it all for Mansfield Town when Luton Town keeper Mark Tyler was named man of the match in the Hatters’ 1-0 win at Kenilworth Road on Saturday.
It underlined just how much Adam Murray’s men gave it a go on an afternoon when they were seen as underdogs and provided a perfect yardstick how far they had come since the comprehensive 3-0 defeat there last season.
After Craig Mackail-Smith had bagged the winner from the spot on 59 minutes, Mansfield might have crumbled and allowed Luton a killer second.
Instead they fought back powerfully, dominated possession and created the better chances.
So, while Adam Murray and his men were certainly not all smiles on the journey home, there was some feelings of satisfaction at the strides the club are making.
Stags deserved at least a point, but Tyler made crucial saves to deny Matt Green, Nathan Thomas and Jack Thomas while Adi Yussuf also let a great opportunity roll away from him.
Green looked like he would pounce from close range after a rare mistake from home skipper Steve McNulty saw him fail to clear Nathan Thomas’ ball in. But Tyler was there to parry.
Both Jack Thomas and Westcarr saw Tyler extend himself to keep out their shots while Yussuf, just five minutes after coming off their bench, saw his first touch let him down as he was played through one-on-one.
The winning goal, which gave Luton only their second win of the campaign and their first at home was netted by former Scottish international Mackail-Smith after he had been brought down by Ryan Tafazolli.
That Tafazolli was not sent off for the foul on Mackail-Smith was one of only two bits of luck the visitors had all afternoon, the other coming when Mackail-Smith had a spectacular scissor kick finish ruled out for offside just before the break.
But Mansfield, who had only lost once all season before this setback, were magnificent all afternoon, never throwing in the towel right to the end.
With the partisan home crowd every bit as streetwise as the Luton players, there were screams and shouts to pressure the officials from every part of the pressure cooker that is Kenilworth Road – and the officials did well at times to call most things correctly.
As expected, Luton came out on the attack from the first whistle and their passing and movement was sublime at times.
So it was huge credit to Mansfield that they went in all square and unbreached at the interval.
But there was expectation every time Paddy McCourt or Josh McQuiod got the ball and ran at the visitors. And it was from a brilliant slide rule pass down the centre that the Mansfield defence was split and Mackail-Smith raced through to win a penalty that he smashed home down the centre.
Mansfield’s fightback was heart-warming but in the end without reward as they also ended the afternoon with skipper Nicky Hunt set for a one-game ban for a fifth booking and midfield ace Matty Blair limping off with a groin strain.
However, a positive sight was the return to the bench of Matty Blair, out injured since January, and his timely return will lessen the blow of losing Clements.