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Football: Five star Luton slay Dragons; LUTON TOWN 5 WREXHAM 1.

Byline: MARK CURRIE Chief Sports Writer at Kenilworth Road

WREXHAM'S seven-match unbeaten run was ruthlessly and emphatically brought to an end by League One pace-setters Luton Town on Saturday.

The Kenilworth Road faithful were treated to a champagne first-half performance from Mike Newell's powerful side, who all but settled the contest by scoring three well-worked goals in the opening 22 minutes.

It took just nine minutes, in fact, for the gulf between the sides to be established as the recently solid Dragons' defence was time and again prised apart with apparent ease, Luton continuing where they had left off the previous weekend when they romped to an equally easy victory over Bradford City.

There were, of course, mitigating factors because Wrexham went into the match without six seasoned profesionals who might all -- if fit -- have expected a place in the starting line-up.

But Newell, who acknowledged the problems confronting his Racecourse counterpart Den is Smith, praised his players' professional display.

``We were really pleased again, because the first-half performance was very similar to that against Bradford and the goals were the icing on the cake, '' he said afterwards.

``Wrexham have had a lot of injuries and they had key players missing from their team, but you can only play what you are up against and my lads have gone about it in the right manner.

``They played some decent football, they worked hard and they had the desire to keep another clean sheet. ``We weren't able to do that and Wrexham had a few chances in the second half. But that was only to be expected, because with the best will in the world it was obvious the lads would take their foot off the gas when they were 5-0 up. ''

The biggest difference between the teams was the clinical manner in which the home side converted the chances that came their way -- a facet of the game in which the Dragons were distinctly second-best. Anyone who watches Wrexham regularly will know that since the departure of Andy Morrell and Lee Trundle, the lack of a consistent goals corer has cost them on numerous occasions.

The direction of Saturday's events might have taken a very different turn had the first genuine opportunity of the game been taken by the visitors.

A poorly-struck back-pass in the seventh minute was chased down by Chris Llewellyn, who beat goalkeeper Simon Royce to the ball but was forced wide. Looking up, he picked out Chris Armstrong with an inviting cross but the ring-rusty striker's shot looped agonisingly wide of the unguarded goal.

Even at this stage the chance had come against the general run of play and Luton, their confidence undamaged, stepped up a gear to demonstrate exactly how it should be done. With 13 minutes on the clock Kevin Foley's centre was headed back from the far post by Steve Howard, and midfielder Steve Robinson ran unhindered into the penalty area to nod the ball past Matt Baker.

The Foley-Howard combination was to prove a constant menace throughout to the Dragons, who found themselves 2-0 down in the 17th minute.

Croatian midfielder Ahmet Brkovic, who scored against Bradford with a superb overhead kick, dug out another gem with a dinked pass on the edge of the area to veteran defender Sol Davis, who drilled a low shot into the net to register the first goal of his career.

The home fans had barely completed their celebrations when they were brought to their feet again in the 22nd minute. Rowan Vine, a burly striker in the mould of the traditional centre-forward, muscled his way pastDennis Lawrence on the right and his cross was crisply converted by Stephen O'Leary. It might have been even worse for Wrexham but Howard, once again benefiting from Foley's accuracy, put a diving header the wrong side of a post. As Luton relaxed their grip on the game, the visitors, to their credit, did their best to play their way back into contention, passing the ball through midfield and deploying wing-backs Andy Holt and Simon Spender wherever possible. But another opening went begging as Armstrong failed even to test Royce with what would once have been a bread-and-butter chance for him. It marked the beginning of a better spell in which the home defence were at least given some work to do. A Lawrence effort was blocked, and when Armstrong got the ball back into the vicinity of the goal the big centre-back went close with a second header. But the rally was short-lived and Howard compounded a miserable 45 minutes for the Dragons, connecting with Foley's cross for a fourth goal a minute before the break. Baker, who had been given no chance with any of the goals, turned a Brkovic header over the bar in the 48th minute, and Wrexham's bad luck continued when the crossbar denied Lawrence before Armstrong's attempt to force home the rebound was blocked on the line.

Royce then made a fine save from Holt, turning his powerful shot for a corner from which Lawrence again went close to breaking Wrexham's duck. But the home side made it 5-0 on 62 minutes. Once more Howard was the pivotal figure, testing Baker with another powerful header. The keeper did well to parry the ball but Brkovic was on hand to complete the nap hand. That was the signal for Wrexham changes, Juan Ugarte replacing Armstrong and teenager Levi Mackin coming on for Alex Smith. Within five minutes the Spaniard almost caught out Royce with a well-crafted lob that the keeper only just managed to hold. The Dragons' third substitute Hector Sam made a more immediate impact after taking over from Llewellyn in the 72nd minute. Within 60 seconds he scored his sixth goal of the season after the towering Lawrence had been first to Darren Ferguson's corner, but it was scant consolation. Wrexham boss Smith was philosophical in defeat, saying: ``With only 12 fit players it is asking a lot to come here and get a result.

``We tried hard, we had a few chances -- nearly as many as Luton in fact -- but we finished up with a noncontract player and two apprentices on the field. You can't be doing that against a team that's top of the league and expect to win. '' The travelling fans -- all 259 of them -- obviously took the same view. Their support for the beleaguered Dragons was superb throughout and they could be forgiven for devoting their energies to a second-half conga instead of watching what was happen-ing on the field.

MAN OF THE MATCH. . . Simon Spender Stuck grimly to his task and battled throughout

HOWLER OF THE DAY. . . Chris ArmstrongFully-fit, he would have scored

LUTON TOWN: Royce; Foley, Underwood, Vine (Showunmi 81), Robinson (Leary 57), Coyne, O'Leary, Brkovic, Joward, Davies, Davis. Subs: Perrett, Keane, Seremet.

WREXHAM: Baker; Pejic, Roberts, Lawrence; Spender, Crowell, Ferguson, Smith (Mackin 63), Holt; Llewellyn (Sam 72), Armstrong (Ugarte 63). Subs: Jones, Evans.

BOOKED: Ugarte. REFEREE: Mike Thorpe ATT: 7, 144


Chris Armstrong attempts a header (main) before Hector Sam scores a scant; consolation for the Dragons (above)
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 8, 2004
Previous Article:Football: Latics slip as Ipswich close gap at the top; CHAMPIONSHIP/LEAGUE ONE Round-up.
Next Article:Football: YOUR VIEW. . . What the fans had to say; LUTON TOWN 5 WREXHAM 1.

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