Luton ran out comfortable 2-0 winners at Kenilworth Road as a much-changed Stevenage suffered defeat in their final game of the regular League 2 season this afternoon.
First half goals from Mark Cullen and Michael Harriman did the damage for the Hatters who could, in truth have scored more in the second half, despite late Stevenage chances.
With one eye on the forthcoming play-offs Graham Westley made eight changes to his side with only Chris Day, Tom Conlon and Dave Martin surviving from last weekend’s 1-0 win over Carlisle. Harry Worley and Jon Ashton started at centre-half with Ronnie Henry and Roarie Deacon returning from injury to occupy the full-back positions. Simon Walton and Jack Jebb came into midfield with Charlie Lee operating up top.
Calvin Zola and Dave McAllister joined youngsters Richens, Johnson, Kennedy and Okenabirhie on the bench, alongside the not-so-young Dave Beasant.
With so many changes it was likely to take Boro time to settle and that proved to be the case as Luton took the lead inside five minutes in their first real chance of the game. Elliot Lee found space and fired in a shot and although Day saved, there was Mark Cullen following up to fire home the rebound into the top corner.
Buoyed with that lead, the hosts looked to take advantage of any more hesitancy from Stevenage and won a number of corners, as they’d continue to do regularly throughout the half. The visitors stood up to the test though and were able to defend
The first real opportunity of the half for Stevenage came on the counter attack on 20 minutes. Breaking from a Luton corner Andrade found Walton, who took a touch before playing a perfect ball through for Martin. The winger looked to be away but he had his heels clipped by the retreating Doyle, handing Boro a free-kick and the midfielder a caution. Walton’s initial delivery came to nothing but Luton ‘keeper Elliot Justham just about managed to keep hold of Ronnie Henry’s cross as Boro recycled possession.
Indeed Stevenage were slowly coming into the game but all too often the offside flag denied Boro or McNulty and Wilkinson were first to the ball, setting up chances for the hosts on the counter with Cullen and Lee looking lively up top.
With five minutes of the half remaining Town had a great chance for 2-0 when Smith ran at goal with team-mate Howells unmarked in the middle - fortunately for Boro he opted to shoot himself and Day made the save. However just as it seemed the hosts would take a single goal into the break, they doubled their advantage in spectacular style during injury time when Michael Harriman half-volleyed into the top far corner with Day beaten. It gave the much-changed visitors a mountain to climb in the second half.
Unsurprisingly it was the Hatters with the opening chance of the half when Lee wriggled clear deep in the box and passes across for Cullen to flick just wide of the near post on 51 minutes.
McGeehan had a close range shot blocked, Howells blasted over and Lee fired wide as the Boro goal continued to lead a charmed life, with the Hatters creating chances around the hour mark.
Ben Kennedy and Dave McAllister came on for Ronnie Henry and Harry Worley as Stevenage’s backline became even more makeshift with Charlie Lee dropping in alongside Ashton and McAllister initially moving to right-back. The Irishman soon found himself back in midfield as Deacon shuffled across to take his place and Martin dropped to full-back.
Chances continued to come and go for the free-flowing Hatters although Stevenage finally played themselves into the Luton half and created opportunities of their own in the final stages of the game.
With 18 minutes remaining Boro won themselves a corner with a rare foray forward from Andrade. Jebb took possession and took aim but his shot was comfortable for Justham.
Jebb again tested Justham, sub Calvin Zola fired straight at the ‘keeper after good work by Andrade and Lee headed over a Jebb corner as Stevenage piled on late pressure. The Hatters ‘keeper again denied Zola’s attempted lob in injury time as he played well for his clean sheet.
With no obvious injuries sustained and some match time obtained for returning Boro players the game will have served its purpose ahead of the forthcoming playoffs, despite the disappointing result.
Wycombe’s last gasp win at Northampton, combined with a 3-1 defeat for Southend at Morecambe, mean Stevenage will face Phil Brown’s men in the semi-finals. The first leg is next Sunday 10th May (6.35pm) and you can find ticket news here
Luton: Justham, Smith, McNulty, Howells (Guttridge 75), Griffiths (Kinsella 78), Cullen, Harriman, Doyle (Hall 73), Wilkinson, Lee, McGeehan
Subs not used: Lacey, Wall, Oduwa, King
Stevenage: Day, Henry (Kennedy 55), Worley (McAllister 55), Ashton, Deacon (Zola 76), Walton, Conlon, Jebb, Andrade, Martin, Lee
Subs not used: D.Beasant, Richens, Johnson, Okenabirhie
Referee: Nigel Miller
Attendance: 10,054 (1,032 away)