It was labelled the first big test of their promotion credentials but Doncaster Rovers failed in the most frustrating fashion.
Promotion rivals Luton Town should have been dead and buried inside the first quarter of the game when Rovers’ brilliant high press caused all manner of problems and created numerous chances.
But Rovers failed to twist the knife and were all too vulnerable, with James Coppinger’s fifth goal of the season all to show from an opening period of dominance. Coppinger lashed in from a tight angle on 21 minutes for his third goal in as many games.
Luton roared back after a lengthy break for a serious injury to skipper Scott Cuthbert suffered in the scramble for Coppinger’s goal. The hosts settled and delivered a lesson in ruthlessness as they turned the game on its head with their first two efforts on goal.
First, the superb Cameron McGeehan darted into the box to meet Olly Lee’s cross and power a shot past Marko Marosi.
And five minutes later Jack Marriott had the freedom of Kenilworth Road to slot through Marosi’s legs.
Rovers were shellshocked and Luton grew in strength, rarely threatened after the break by a Doncaster side lacking ideas.
The game was put to bed nine minutes from time when Joe Wright’s rash challenge on Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu saw a penalty awarded which McGeehan smashed into the roof of the net.
There was still time for more from a game which had 19 minutes of added time in total. Luton striker Danny Hylton was sent off after picking up a second booking due to the more strict dissent laws.
But it is unlikely Hylton left the ground as frustrated as Rovers did.
A LESSON IN RUTHLESSNESS
Not for the first time this season, Rovers failed to turn domination into goals.
But for the first time this season, it cost them.
They should have been at least a goal up after two minutes.
John Marquis needed the slightest of touches to turn home Frazer Richardson’s cross-field pass but his contact with the ball was even slighter.
And Andy Williams landed a free header on top of the bar from 12 yards with all the goal to play with.
Marquis had an effort ruled out for offside before Rovers finally scored.
Luton were severely rattled in the first 20 minutes, troubled greatly by Rovers’ high press.
They could not clear their lines, their defence narrowed and they made countless errors.
Had Rovers scored a couple in that opening period, it would not too fanciful to suggest they could have gone on to replicate the scoreline from Morecambe.
But to the hosts’ credit, they used the break for Cuthbert’s injury to settle themselves and start again.
Rovers on the other hand lost all their rhythm over those ten minutes and would barely threaten again.
The drop from having an iron grip on the game was made all the more frustrating as Luton showed them how to be truly ruthless, netting their first two efforts on goal.
It would be wrong to put the failures on Marquis and Williams alone but their killer touch is not present enough.
WORRYINGLY FORCED OUT
The biggest concern for Rovers was not the lack of ruthlessness but the way in which they were shut out of the game.
After falling behind they lacked in ideas and, more worrying, physicality to break down an organised and robust Luton outfit.
Even a switch to 3-5-2 with Mathieu Baudry coming off the bench for his Rovers debut failed to trouble the comfortable hosts.
STILL A GOOD START
One defeat does not ruin a season, particularly when it comes against a promotion rival.
Rovers have, after all, won five of their last seven matches in League Two.
They have shown themselves capable of using their superior might to pick up the wins that will keep them in touch at the top.
But they must learn thip to the lessons from the t heir trip to Kenilworth Road if they are to secure a top-three spot.