Luton Town 1 Stoke City 2
The script had hinted that a happy ending to the season was not beyond Lennie Lawrence, the Luton manager and football's Mr Houdini, who saw his side threaten to run away from Stoke last night until two goals in the last four minutes seriously hindered their fight to avoid relegation.
The goals which left Luton five points from safety came first from Simon Sturridge, who retained a cool head to steer his shot beyond the giant frame of goalkeeper Ian Feuer after a strong run; then, deep into injury time, Mike Sheron nudged home a header for the unlikely victory that propels Stoke back into the play-off berths.
A possible area of profit for Stoke lay at the heart of the Luton defence where Steve Davis, who has added considerable steel to that department, was absent through suspension. Confirmation came early when Nigel Gleghorn's low pass was allowed to travel through to Sturridge, granted far too much room close to the penalty area. Thankfully for Luton, the reflexes of Feuer were alive to the fifth-minute threat.
It was the best we saw from Stoke for some time, Luton's more urgent demand for the points producing a concerted effort which put them firmly in control. Scott Oakes, returning to the side and eager to suggest he should never have been left out of it, engineered some worrying moments for the visitors close to the left touchline, but each time Stoke had enough numbers back to deal with it.
He spotted David Oldfield bursting through in the 18th minute and soon after attempted to find the same player again, only to direct his cross behind his colleague.
By this time Mark Prudhoe had required treatment for an injury and continued to look less than comfortable. The invitation was there for Luton, but in their efforts to test the goalkeeper they were wayward in their finishing. Oldfield, set up by Kim Grant, blazed one effort over as did Tony Thorpe when his confident run had promised something more.
Thorpe continued to demonstrate his inventive touches and it was his pass in injury time at the end of the first half which paved the way for Luton's goal. He sent Boncho Genchev bearing down on Prudhoe, and although the goalkeeper turned his shot aside, it fell handily for Grant to tuck away his third goal in four games following his transfer from Charlton.
On the hour the goalscorer escaped down the right and supplied a floated cross which Genchev, at full stretch, could not turn in. Both sides were now going at it full pelt. Genchev's clever back-heel gave Thorpe the opportunity to send an effort inches the wrong side of the post. Sturridge attempted a curler of his own but it met the same fate.
Luton Town (4-4-2): Feuer; Alexander, Patterson, Johnson, Thomas; Oldfield (Taylor, 89), Waddock, Oakes, Thorpe (Tomlinson, 77); Genchev, Grant. Substitute not used: K Davis (gk).
Stoke City (3-5-2): Prudhoe; Sigurdsson, Sandford, Whittle; Clarkson, Beeston (Carruthers, 85), Wallace, Gleghorn, Dreyer (Potter, 55); Sheron (Keen, 90), Sturridge.
Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).
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