The Hatters’ second home match in four days saw them make it two wins in a row, as two second-half John Rooney goals, either side of a strike from substitute Alex Reid, saw them overcome a stubborn Dover side to move up into the play-off positions.
County showed just one change from the midweek starting line-up in SK3 against Halifax, as some sunshine emerged after a morning’s drizzle to greet the teams on to the pitch. Captain Liam Hogan was recalled to the back three, while Sam Minihan moved up into the right wing-back slot – with Macauley Southam-Hales, who had made his debut four days previously, an absentee due to personal reasons.
The Hatters made much of the early running, albeit without making a telling impression in the final third – whilst, at their own end, they were temporarily deprived of Jamie Stott’s services after the defender’s nose fared worse in an aerial challenge and required half a dozen or so minutes of treatment to stem the bleeding.
County’s continued pressure earned a quartet of corners, but only five minutes were left of the half when chances began to arrive. First, Ash Palmer headed a Rooney free-kick into the arms of Josh Bexon, before the former Southend goalkeeper beat Connor Jennings at the near post to a low Minihan cross from the right.
The Hatters did have the ball in the net just ahead of the break, courtesy of Jennings – only for the forward to be adjudged offside. And, as added time ended, Lois Maynard headed another Minihan delivery straight at Bexon.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Dover 0.
Reid was introduced in place of Jennings upon the resumption, by way of a fresh attempt to break down the defensively-minded visitors – and eight minutes later, it paid off, at least indirectly, when the substitute was brought down in the area by Bexon.
Referee Marsden pointed to the spot without hesitation – giving the Hatters a first competitive penalty since that awarded to them over 18 months earlier at Chester during their late National League North days – and Rooney converted in similar fashion.
Eleven minutes later, Reid made an even more telling contribution to double the advantage – slotting past Bexon, after the ball had been well held up and laid off by Richie Bennett.
The visitors rallied briefly – with Steven Rigg heading their first chance of note at Ben Hinchliffe, and substitute Kurtis Cumberbatch drilling wide of the left post from distance.
At the other end, Bennett fired narrowly over from a Reid cross on the left – before Minihan squared from the right for Rooney to complete the scoring with a minute of normal time remaining.
FULL-TIME: County 3 (Rooney, 53 (penalty) and 89; Reid, 64), Dover 0.
Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Hogan (Capt.), Palmer, Stott; Minihan, Keane, Maynard, Kitching (J. Jennings, 65); Rooney; C. Jennings (Reid, 46), Bennett (Thomas, 87).
Unused Subs: Croasdale, Barnes.
Man of the Match: Reid.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.