The Hatters’ opening October match saw them secure, under the Edgeley Park lights, a fifth straight victory in their inaugural Football League meeting with struggling Forest Green Rovers.
First-half goals from Tanto Oalofe and Antoni Sarcevic put County in control of proceedings – and, as it turned out, in possession of maximum points from a match that finished with some early autumn rain, and with the visitors down to 10 men for the final half-hour following Marcel Lavinier’s dismissal.
The Hatters took to the field on an overcast Tuesday evening, and with the same line-up as that at Accrington three days earlier – including central defender Fraser Horsfall, undertaking his 50th outing for the club, and goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe, who by virtue of a 339th game between the sticks, got himself on to the list of County’s all-time top 10 individual player appearances.
For the first time in the current campaign, not only the Hatters’ starters but also their substitutes were unchanged – and the visitors’ 11 included their player-coach, and one-time Premier League forward whilst at Watford, Troy Deeney.
With a couple of minutes on the clock, a good County move on the left and into the box, involving Odin Bailey, Louie Barry and Sarcevic, looked set to lead to the evening’s first concerted attempt on goal – but the eventual shot by Barry was blocked in defence, and then comfortably gathered up by emergency-loan ‘keeper, James Belshaw.
Forest Green’s initial shot of the night, just under 10 minutes later, came courtesy of Tyrese Omotoye, whose low effort from the edge of the area Hinchliffe dived to smother. But shortly afterwards at the other end, it was a case of ‘cometh the quarter-hour, cometh the man’, as Oalofe, for the third successive League Two game, opened the scoring for County – this time, with a header from beyond the back post following Will Collar’s cross from the right.
The Hatters continued to press – with Barry darting into the box from the left before firing low across the goalmouth, and Macauley Southam-Hales seeing his cross from the right deflected beyond the far side of goal by Charlie McCann. In between, Deeney had the ball in County’s net – albeit to no avail, as a flag was already raised for offside.
Another electrifying run by Barry on the left culminated in a delivery that just lacked a final touch from any of the Hatters in attendance around the six-yard box – but the next attacking move, from the opposite flank, produced the required end-product, as Sarcevic converted Olaofe’s low cutback to double County’s advantage 10 minutes ahead of the break.
Bailey went close to making it three a few minutes later, when he fired narrowly wide of the far post after being fed a short free-kick on the right by Sarcevic.
HALF-TIME: County 2 (Olaofe, 15; Sarcevic, 35), Forest Green 0.
Three minutes after the resumption, a third County goal again looked very much in the offing before Belshaw brilliantly tipped a well-struck Sarcevic half-volley from 12 yards up on to the underside of the Cheadle End crossbar. And shortly afterwards, Bailey drilled just beyond the far post after latching on to Collar’s cross from the right.
The visitors earned their first corner of the night, followed by another in quick succession, as they looked to reduce the arrears – but their cause was made all the more difficult just after the hour, when Lavinier received a second yellow card, and his consequential marching orders, for a foul on Southam-Hales.
Ethan Pye headed over another cross by Collar on the right, before Belshaw executed a double-save from Collar and substitute Paddy Madden – whose replacement of Barry had heralded, with acclaim, the end of the Aston Villa loanee’s remarkable post-war, record-breaking scoring run over seven consecutive County matches.
The Hatters’ triumph saw them break into the play-off positions, with a rise of four places to fourth – three points off the top spot.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Olaofe, 15; Sarcevic, 35), Forest Green 0.
Team (4-1-2-1-2): Hinchliffe; Southam-Hales, Wright, Horsfall, Pye; Croasdale (Capt.); Collar (Richardson, 87), Sarcevic (Johnson, 72); Bailey; Olaofe (Cotterill, 87), Barry (Madden, 72).
Unused Subs: Smith, Pond, Mee.
Man of the Match: Barry.
Attendance: 7,517 (125 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.