Cardiff City 4 Luton Town 1: Cardiff back on top thanks to long arm of the law

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The Independent Football

It had been 25 years since Cardiff City last beat Luton Town, but quarter of a century's worth of hoodoo was wiped out by a single controversial refereeing decision. Or rather an assistant refereeing decision for, as the Luton manager Mike Newell was at incredulous pains to point out, it was the linesman rather than the referee who gave the crucial penalty.

Only eight minutes had gone when Ricardo Scimeca's header, having deflected off Sol Davis, was blocked on the line by Lewis Emanuel. The ball bounced clear from a combination of elbow and chest and the referee, Peter Melin, seemed inclined to let it go. However, a flagging linesman persuaded him it was an offence, and that meant both a penalty and a red card.

"When Riccy headed it, I jumped up and shouted hand-ball," said the Cardiff manager, Dave Jones. "My initial reaction was that he stuck his arm up, and the law states that he has to go off."

Newell's view, not surprisingly, was rather different. "There's no way the linesman can say that's a deliberate handball," he said. "It's not physically or humanly possible you can handle a ball that's been deflected from a yard away from you. Nobody's got reactions quick enough to deliberately handle a ball like that. If it's deliberate it's a sending-off, but there's so many things that are not deliberate."

Not that Cardiff were complaining, as they climbed back above Birmingham City to the top of the table. Darren Purse sent Marlon Beresford the wrong way from the spot, and that seemed to be that, particularly when Paul Parry added a second on the half-hour, shaping his finish just inside the post after being put through by Michael Chopra.

The memories of Tuesday's draw at Plymouth, though, when Cardiff let slip a three-goal lead, will take time to fade, and when Rowan Vine squeezed his third of the season in at Neil Alexander's near post on the stroke of half-time, there was a sense that panic was not far away. At least this time Jones had the interval to settle the nerves. "I just told them to stay big and stay brave and do the things that got them two goals in front," he said.

Luton, to their credit, continued to press, and Alexander made fine saves from Richard Langley and Kevin McNaughton, his own full-back, but inevitably they left space behind them and were twice punished by the lively Chopra, who has now scored five in his last three games.