By Conrad Leach
By Conrad Leach
Good Friday? Not for Luton Town it wasn't, as Mike Newell's men surrendered the initiative at the top of League One in losing to a mid-table Barnsley side with precisely nothing to play for.
The Hatters, however, have promotion back to the Championship in their sights, a level of football they have not contested for nine years. Despite this abject performance, especially in the first half, they are still likely to have to wait only six more weeks to clinch promotion.
This was only Luton's second home defeat of the season but, with an 11-point lead over third-placed Tranmere and games running out, they have at least left it late in the day to get the promotion jitters.
It is Hull, lying second, only a point behind Luton and playing today, who will now feel that the League One title could be theirs but that is a secondary issue. Finishing second would still make the Bedfordshire side feel flushed with success after so long in the league's lower reaches.
The match was lost beyond virtually all hope when the visitors, still in the early stages of Andy Ritchie's caretaker management, scored three times in nine first-half minutes through a combination of expert marksmanship and slack defending.
With 33 minutes gone and Barnsley having already hit the post through Anthony Kay's 10th-minute header, they took the lead by going at the heart of Luton's defence. Jacob Burns found Michael Chopra, whose shot was saved, but the rebound was easily tucked away by Chris Shuker, once of Manchester City.
Chopra himself is on a season's loan from Newcastle United and his Premiership vision and pace were the keys for the next two goals. Eight minutes before the break he held the ball up long enough for Shuker to join the fray and his shot was deflected past Marlon Beresford by Curtis Davies.
The hapless Davies was to the fore once more five minutes later when Chopra escaped the centre-half's attentions, ran on to Simon Johnson's flick-on and found Beresford's net.
Things got briefly better before they got worse again. When, after 67 minutes, Enoch Showunmi turned and scored from 10 yards to reduce the deficit there was some hope for the home team, but that was extinguished when Chris Coyne was sent off five minutes later for his foul on Chopra, as the forward homed in on goal.
The home crowd were then chanting "3-1 to the referee" just as the official awarded a penalty eight minutes from time which Chopra took and Beresford saved. That was no consolation for Newell, who admitted his men were second best.
He said: "We weren't at it today, competing or football-wise. It was the worst we've played at home all season. It was a bad day for us."
Luton Town (4-4-2): Beresford; Keane, Coyne, Davies, Davis; Underwood, Nicholls, Holmes (Leary, 56), Showunmi (Andrew, 72); Howard, Vine. Substitutes not used: Seremet (gk), Perrett, Mansell.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Flinders; Tonge, Kay, Hassell, T Williams (R Williams, 80); Shuker, Wroe, Burns, McPhail; Chopra, Johnson (Nardiello, 75) Substitutes not used: Scarsella (gk), Austin, Baker.
Referee: P Joslin (Nottinghamshire).
* Southend moved up to second in League Two with a 3-0 victory over Rochdale. Freddy Eastwood put Southend ahead when he pounced to convert after Wayne Gray's shot was parried. Eastwood then set up Mark Bentley to score on 55 minutes before Gray got the third five minutes later - again after work by Eastwood.Reuse content