LUTON TOWN 3 QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1
Friday, August 5, 2011
If ever the term meaningless friendly counted for nothing it was as Luton Town came from behind to beat Premier League new boys Queens Park Rangers, getting the feel good factor flowing ahead of new Blue Square Bet Premier campaign.
The Hatters had the worst possible start as it took just 30 seconds for QPR’s new £1.25 million signing DJ Campbell to register his first goal for the club.
But a promising performance that lead to a second half salvo from Gary Brabin’s men saw substitutes Matthew Barnes-Homer, Amari Morgan-Smith and Adam Watkins give the manager a delightful selection headache come next Saturday’s Conference curtain-raiser at AFC Telford United.
It was a victory that kept up Luton’s record of never having lost to QPR in a pre-season friendly while evoking memories of the last time these two met. That was in the heady days of the Championship – a mere five years ago when Town won 2-0. Back then, such a victory was a regular occurrence but of course, fortune these days sees the two clubs four divisions apart and so the measure of the performance, let alone the victory, will have Hatters fans in high spirits.
Complementing the contribution of the Hatters’ half time replacements, was the continued development of Jake Howells who produced a man-of-the-match display that more than justified his first ever call-up to the Wales Under-21 side.
There will need to be some work done however, as a defence weakened by the continued absence of Freddie Murray and captain George Pilkington showed early on a nervous disposition.
It was this that led to the almost instantaneous opener for the visitors when Dean Beckwith failed to deal with a weak Adel Taarabt’s cross, leaving former Blackpool striker Campbell with the kind of space and time to finish from six yards out that – an opportunity he’ll rarely find in the Premier League.
Howells and then Aaron O’Connor tested keeper Paddy Kenny as Town sought to register an instant reply.
Beckwith should have atoned on eight minutes when he ghosted in at the back stick but Kenny saved with his legs and Will Antwi followed up the rebound only to see it deflected for a corner. From the set piece, O’Connor found himself unmarked at the back post only to slash at his effort wide.
The response was hearty from the hosts while Rangers, with former England international Kieron Dyer at the back, were exhibiting the kind of defensive prowess that will see their visit to the top tier of English football a short one.
But worrying for the Hatters were their own lapses at the back, the kind that saw former Watford man Tommy Smith thread a ball to Jay Bothroyd without the slightest hint of a marker tracking him. And the ex-Cardiff forward should have done better than to drag wide with only Mark Tyler to beat.
In attack however, Luton were causing Neil Warnock’s side some problems with Howells proving the vital link between midfield and the danger zone.
A matter of inches were the difference between the 20-year-old executing a Hollywood pass to Danny Crow, but minutes later a reverse ball to the striker found its mark before the number ten’s strike from distance forced Kenny to scramble low to block.
Town’s backline were second to the mark again on the half hour mark when Alejandro Faurlin’s cross found Smith virtually unmarked to flash a header across Tyler’s goalmouth.
But while Curtis Osano’s partners in defence had been left occasionally wanting, the full back displayed an ambitious eye for a mazy dribble, so much so that he made it all the way from the halfway line to the 18-yard area and only narrowly shot wide.
For a player that had scored 19 goals and been voted Championship player of the season last term, Taarabt had been particularly quiet. But the Rangers captain showed the class that had Paris St Germain briefly interested when he drew a full stretch save from Tyler with a Ronaldo-esque free-kick from 30 yards.
It was the final say of the Moroccan international and seven of his team-mates as Warnock made wholesale changes at the interval.
Akos Buzsaky, affectionately dubbed the ‘white Pele’ by QPR fans, produced the first effort of the second period, shooting wide from distance before Heider Helguson found the net only to ruled offside.
For what was effectively a second string Rs side, they instantly showed more vim than their first half counterparts.
Luton livened up just past the hour mark when Crow almost connected with an O’Connor cross and Alex Lawless followed up but fired straight at replacement keeper Radek Cerny.
The leveller came on 74 minutes as substitutes Morgan-Smith and Barnes-Homer combined with last season’s top goalscorer confidently ramming a header home.
It was not something Watkins could replicate straight from the restart as Morgan-Smith again caused havoc on the wing to pick out the unmarked youngster, only for him to head wide when he should have edged Town in front.
The teenager then flashed wide a shot on the turn immediately after James Dance had smashed the underside of the bar.
It may only have been a pre-season friendly but the mood in the ground veered towards electric as Luton, orchestrated by Howells, Morgan-Smith and Watkins, looked dangerous with every push up field.
Barnes-Homer, clearly keen to prove a point after being used as a bit part player for much of the summer programme, tried his luck from distance.
Equally eager to impress, it was Morgan-Smith’s persistence that saw Town take a deserved lead when the England C international chased down a backpass, challenging Cerny and seeing the ball ricochet into the net.
Watkins then extended the lead via a deflection after Dance had pulled back to him. The tannoy announcer called the young prospect the ‘Little Magician’ and if he and his team-mates can conjure up anything like this showing when the action starts from real in just over a week, the Conference title will be a far more realistic proposition at the third time of asking.
LUTON: Tyler, Gleeson (Asafu-Adjaye, 64), Osano, Keane, Beckwith, Antwi (Watkins, 64), Lawless (Lacey, 90), Dance, O’Connor (Morgan-Smith, 72), Crow (Barnes-Homer, 64), Howells (Poku, 90)
Unused subs: Elder, K.Pilkington
QPR: Kenny (Cerny,), Dyer (Doughty, 72), Hill (Andrado, 81), Derry (Buzsaky, 45), Hall (Peroni, 45), Gabbidon (Connelly, 45), Taarabt (Vaagen Moen, 45), Smith (Ephraim, 45), Campbell (Helguson, 45, Hewitt, 82), Bothroyd (Agyemang, 45), Faurlin
Unused subs: Orr,
ATTENDANCE: 3,710 (621)