Lincoln City started 2018 with a defeat as Luton Town ran out 4-2 winners in an action-packed encounter at Kenilworth Road.
2017 was a year of unprecedented highs for the Imps, but their opening game of the new year always looked a tough task with a trip to the league leaders.
The game was even at the break after a pulsating yet controversial first 45 minutes which saw four goals and two red cards evenly shared among the sides.
Alan Sheehan and Harry Anderson saw red for their respective teams, while twice took the lead through Michael Bostwick and Matt Green but were pulled back both times by their hosts.
With the game in the balance, Danny Hylton and Harry Cornick struck the decisive blows to condemn Lincoln to defeat as their six match unbeaten run came to an end.
Manager Danny Cowley was forced into changes from Saturday’s win over Forest Green. A tight calf ruled Neal Eardley out, Sean Long came in for him, while Luke Waterfall and Elliott Whitehouse returned.
And it took little time for the game to burst into life, with just three minutes on the clock when the first moment of controversy occurred. Matt Rhead and Sheehan battled for a high ball, but the battle continued after Sheehan won the header. The Luton skipper swung an arm off the ball which caught Rhead, and he was sent off.
To make Lincoln’s start even better, Bostwick drilled the resulting 20 yard free kick powerfully through the hands of Marek Stech to put the Imps a goal up.
Despite their double setback, Luton were urged on by more than 8,000 riled home fans and responded well to the goal. Josh Vickers had to be alert to deny James Collins’ close range header as the Hatters tried to gain a stronghold.
But though Luton saw more of the play, they were largely restricted to long range efforts and it was the Imps who went close next when Sean Raggett’s header was tipped over.
Lincoln didn’t make use of their extra man though, and Luton levelled just after the half hour as the game sparked into action again.
Controversy reigned again when Hylton and Long battled for the ball in Luton’s left channel. The ball bounced down off Hylton’s arm but play continued and he squared for his strike partner Collins to drill home the equaliser.
Lincoln were fuming that the handball was missed by the referee, but channelled their frustrations into their performance, restoring their lead just to minutes later when Green bundled home from close range despite Stech getting a good hand to the ball again.
The drama didn’t end there and referee Nicholas Kinseley showed his second red card of the afternoon shortly afterwards. Anderson, already on a booking, slid into an over-exuberant challenge in midfield and he, like Sheehan before him, was sent for an early shower.
With the numbers now level, Luton sensed their opportunity and equalised for a second time two minutes before the break. A corner was headed only as far as James Justin 25 yards out, whose well-struck shot was deflected on its way past Vickers and into the corner.
That meant Luton took the momentum into half time, but Lincoln kept their hosts quiet in the opening stages of the second period.
Indeed, it was City who had the best chance before the hour, but substitute Josh Ginnelly couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet when a good touch would have seen him through on goal. It allowed Luton to recover, and when they regained possession they broke forward but Hylton dragged wide of the target.
City had the better of the play during the early stages of the half, but couldn’t make it count. They came close, but Green, who worked tirelessly as a lone striker, saw a 20 yard effort on the turn strike the post in the closest chance.
And Luton made them pay with 18 minutes left, when a cross from the left was deflected into Hylton’s path, the striker stooping to head beyond Vickers from inside the six yard box.
Vickers then had to be alert to keep Lincoln within a goal as the hosts turned the screw, at full stretch to parry away from Luke Berry’s deflected strike.
The Imps were very much on the back foot at this point, and the hosts secured all three points with eight minutes left when substitute Harry Cornick drilled home a fourth after cutting in from the left.
That proved to kill the game as a spectacle, Luton comfortable enough to show off their skills as the game came to a conclusion. Collins came close to a fifth when he struck the woodwork as Lincoln were unable to threaten in the closing stages, their unbeaten run coming to an end.
Luton: Marek Stech, James Justin, Johnny Mullins, Jack Stacey, Olly Lee, Danny Hylton, Andrew Shinnie (Harry Cornick 71), Glen Rea, Luke Berry, James Collins, Alan Sheehan. Subs not used: Jordan Cook, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Luke Gambin, James Shea, Elliot Lee, Akin Famewo
Goals: James Collins (32), James Justin (43), Danny Hylton (72), Harry Cornick (82)
Lincoln: Josh Vickers, Sean Long (Billy Knott 80), Sam Habergham, Elliott Whitehouse, Luke Waterfall, Matt Rhead (Josh Ginnelly 46), Matt Green (Rob Dickie 85), Michael Bostwick, Sean Raggett, Harry Anderson, Alex Woodyard. Subs not used: Paul Farman, Ollie Palmer, Nathan Arnold, Cameron Stewart
Goals: Michael Bostwick (4), Matt Green (34)
Attendance: 9,659 (1,044 Imps)Tweet