Town eyeing final flourish to season

IRISH eyes were smiling on St Patrick's Day, along with Dutch, Canadian, Welsh and English, as Jim Magilton's team produced a battling performance to take all three points at Luton.

By Derek Davis

IRISH eyes were smiling on St Patrick's Day, along with Dutch, Canadian, Welsh and English, as Jim Magilton's team produced a battling performance to take all three points at Luton.

The only thing lacking for the Blues on a day where they managed to win, keep a clean sheet and not pick up any bookings, all at the same time for the first time under Magilton's stewardship, was real quality.

But given the circumstances, the atrocious pitch and Luton's ferocious approach, that can be just about forgiven.

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What the 1,500 travelling Town supporters did get was a gritty display by their team, who dug out a result that keeps them nine points clear of the drop zone with just seven games of the season left.

The Blues will look to finish this campaign strongly, with finishing above Norwich a priority and doing better than the 15th place where Town ended last season, which was their lowest finish in 40 years and if they dip below that it could be the worst since 1958. They won't want to be saddled with that label.

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While no one will get carried away with this win over a side that look doomed, had lost their manager 48 hours earlier and distracted by a mad Hatters crowd baying for blood from their board, it was easy to see why Magilton was so pleased with his team.

They had to play for 10 minutes without skipper Jason De Vos, who was off having four stitches to a mouth wound, they lost anchorman Sylvain Legwinski to a full-blooded but fair tackle by Luton skipper Steve Robinson, and contend with a pitch where the ball never ran true.

That could explain why both sides had trouble finding their own men and all too often the ball was given away and then given back.

The Blues were forced into a couple of changes, with Dan Harding missing out with a ankle injury and new fatherhood after his partner gave birth to a girl in the early hours of Saturday morning.

That meant Fabian Wilnis installed at right-back and David Wright switched to the left.

The Dutchman was imperious, with tenacious defending and a willingness to gallop up the wing whenever possible.

It was one such excursion that led to Town's opener.

Wilnis was pole-axed and Gary Roberts delivered his free-kick to the far post. Owen Garvan acrobatically hooked a shot that rebounded back off the crossbar and Alan Lee followed up with a stooping header that ensured he would not have to buy a pint of Guinness on the night the Irish celebrate St Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland.

It was Lee's 15th goal of a disrupted season, which is a good return in a struggling side. He might have added to that but Marlon Beresford was down well to save.

The Luton crowd that had been largely supportive of the players started to get restless and, when Matt Richards finished from eight yards after a sublime cross from Wilnis that was flicked on by the industrious Jon Walters, they erupted.

Police and stewards moved in as hundreds of fans vented their fury towards the group of directors sat in the middle of the main stand.

The players carried on as best they could and, for the most part, it was Town who had to do all the defending but, inspired by the colossus that is De Vos, the Blues held firm and, when Luton twice got the ball in the net, the whistle had already gone for infringements, blown by a very unpopular Andy D'Urso.

Lewis Price made a good tip-over save early in the game from Clarke Carlisle and the attacking defender powered a free header over the bar late in the second half.

But, like the fire bell after the game had ended, it was a false alarm and the Blues comfortably saw out the game and started their own quiet celebrations.

The two-week break will give them a chance to rest up, enjoy some team bonding by going paintballing, and prepare for the run-in, where they have their own targets to meet.

They still have much work to do and good results against QPR, Hull and now Luton, coupled with a good performance at Preston, gives them something to build on.

The home games against Plymouth and Barnsley will be crucial, not only because they need points to try and overhaul the Canaries and finish 14th or better, but also need to convince the many waverers among potential season ticket holders that they are worth investing in once more before the April 13 deadline for discounted prices.

A good end to an otherwise indifferent season will mean many eyes will be smiling and not just the Irishmen.

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