Luton Town 3 Rushden & Diamonds 1

By Steven Dove

Despite Onandi Lowe giving Diamonds a first-half lead, Brian Talbot’s side slipped to an opening day defeat against Luton Town at Kenilworth Road.

Lowe struck midway through the first-half but a double strike from Tony Thorpe and a late header from Matthew Spring wrapped up a fourth win for the Hatters over Diamonds.

Diamonds boss Brian Talbot named the same starting line-up which started in last season’s title decider game against Hartlepool United.

It meant there was no place for new signing Rodney Jack, as he started on the bench. Stuart Gray was passed fit to play and began on the left side of midfield. Lowe and Duane Darby started proceedings in attack

Luton boss Mike Newell, the former Hartlepool manager, gave a club debut to midfielder Courtney Pitt, who signed on Friday evening from Portsmouth after the Football League relaxed its transfer embargo on the club.

Young defender Kevin Foley was also given an unexpected starting role whilst Steve Howard shrugged off a niggling injury to partner Thorpe in attack.

Diamonds started positively and carved open their first opportunity on six minutes when Lowe’s header from Marcus Bignot’s cross flew straight into the arms of Luton’s rookie goalkeeper Robert Beckwith.

Chances were few and far between in an even opening. Luton had plenty of the ball but were failing to turn possession into chances and test Billy Turley in the Diamonds goal.

Thorpe went close for Luton on 14 minutes but was penalised for an infringement in the penalty area as he connected with a Matthew Spring corner.

Beckwith was called into action moments later when Lowe’s powerful drive from an acute angle was blocked by the Luton teenager.

After 15 minutes: Luton Town 0 Diamonds 0

Howard’s miss-timed effort on 18 minutes caused Turley little trouble as the home side slowly began to put Diamonds on the back foot.

Luton were soon beginning to take control and Pitt’s ambitious lob on 21 minutes was cause for concern to Diamonds.

Hall’s long range effort failed to trouble Beckwith on 25 minutes and Darby went close moments later with a shot which flew wide of the target.

After 30 minutes: Luton Town 0 Diamonds 0

Lowe was adjudged to be in an offside position when the Jamaican international’s flying header flew into the arms of Beckwith on 31 minutes.

But Lowe finally got on the score sheet when Hall’s through ball found his international team-mate on 37 minutes who calmly slotted past Beckwith into the corner of the net.

Luton soon stepped up their pressure on Diamonds with the home-side playing some attractive football in the sweltering heat.

However, they couldn’t find a way past the steady Diamonds defence, who had limited Luton to few chances in the first-half.

AT HALF-TIME: LUTON TOWN 0 DIAMONDS 1

Luton nearly responded immediately in the second half when Spring drilled a low shot on 48 minutes which was well saved by Turley.

But Luton were back on level terms four minutes into the half when Pitt’s delightful through ball paved way for Thorpe to side foot a shot past Turley and into the corner of the net.

It was the least Luton deserved after starting the second-half strongly. Pitt was causing problems for Hall and Gray down the flank as Diamonds were put on the back foot.

Luton doubled their advantage in bizarre circumstances on 59 minutes. Turley was forced to kick the ball out for a corner after being pressurised by Thorpe in the corner of the pitch.

As Turley protested to the linesman that he was being impeded, Howard’s quick thinking from the corner resulted in Thorpe guiding a header into the back of the net before Turley could return to his goal.

After 60 minutes: Luton Town 2 Diamonds 1

On two occasions, Lowe failed to hit the target from long range free-kicks but Hall should have got Diamonds back on level terms when he was denied by Beckwith’s onrushing save.

Jack and Gary Mills were introduced to the action on 67 minutes. Jack replaced Darby in attack, whilst Bell switched out to the left flank, with Mills partnering Burgess in the centre.

Burgess nearly caught Beckwith napping with a cross-cum-shot on 71 minutes and Lowe nearly guided a header into the net moments later when Beckwith failed to reach a Diamonds corner.

After 75 minutes: Luton Town 2 Diamonds 1

Diamonds began to push bodies forward in the closing stages and Underwood’s cross on 77 minutes only needed a Diamonds body to poke it home.

Howard nearly added a third for Luton on 85 minutes when Thorpe’s cross caught Turley napping but the former Northampton striker was denied on the goal line by Barry Hunter.

Bell’s curling free-kick brushed the outside of the Luton post on 86 minutes as Diamonds tried to salvage something from the game.

And as Diamonds pushed forward to salvage a point, they were hit on the break as Spring headed past Turley from close range.

AT FULL TIME: LUTON 3 DIAMONDS 1

Luton Town: Beckwith, Neilson, Spring, Nicholls, Thorpe, Coyne, Pitt (Brkovic 87), Boyce, Howard, Hughes, Foley.

Subs not used: Bayliss, Brill, Crowe, Okai.

Bookings: Foley (41), Spring (52), Boyce (86)

Diamonds: Turley, Bignot, Underwood, Hunter, Edwards, Bell, Burgess, Hall, Gray (Mills 67), Darby (Jack 67), Lowe

Subs not used: Sambrook, Dempster, Talbot.

Bookings:

Referee: Iain Williamson (Berkshire)

Attendance: 6,878 (922 from Diamonds)

Diamonds’ MOTM: Barry Hunter

Date Published: 9th August 2003

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