A spirited second-half display from the Exiles couldn’t prevent them from suffering defeat at Kenilworth Road, as they went down 3-1 at Luton Town.
And the home side grabbed all their goals in a frantic first-half.
First, Alan Sheehan’s 35-yard free-kick found a way through a crowded area to creep into the far post on 12 minutes, before Danny Hylton doubled the advantage ten minutes later with a backheeled finish.
The Luton frontman grabbed his second on 36 minutes, to take his tally for the season up to three, as he chipped a clever penalty down the middle as the Hatters really took control of the game.
But a spirited display looked like it may get something for the Exiles, Joss Labadie reducing the arrears on 55 minutes with a calm finish through the legs of the goalkeeper to get them back in the game.
The Exiles fought really hard to further danger the Luton lead, Mike Flynn throwing on several strikers towards the end of the game, but Luton resisted the attacks to condemn County to a third defeat of the league season.
Mike Flynn elected to name an unchanged team for the third game in succession after positive victories over Grimsby Town and Crawley Town this past week.
That meant the Exiles again set up in a 4-4-2 formation, with the added options of being able to change the system throughout the game should they deem fit.
Flynn’s decision to stick to the same team saw Robbie Willmott and Mark O’Brien face their former employer.
Willmott spent the end of the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons with the Hatters, scoring 15 goals in the process from 67 appearances in all competitions.
O’Brien meanwhile made nine appearances at Kenilworth Road in 2015/16 before moving to the Exiles from the Hatters in January 2017.
Luton Town manager Nathan Jones also named an unchanged starting team at Kenilworth Road.
That saw them stick to the 4-1-3-2 system chosen last time out, with Danny Hylton and James Collins leading the line up-front.
And Hylton was the target for the first Luton attack in the opening 60 seconds, but Joe Day confidently read the cross from Jack Stacey to collect.
County fans only had to wait a further 30 seconds to see their first opportunity of the afternoon, as Ben Tozer had a shot blocked wide. The resulting corner came to nothing as home goalkeeper Marek Stech gathered assuredly.
The first real save of the afternoon came on six minutes. And it was very much an instinctive one from Day that prevented Collins from having the simple task of heading home.
Hylton’s delivery looked destined for the head of the striker, only for Day to sense the danger and block the cross which potentially could have snuck in at the far-post without a touch.
That was all for the first ten minutes of entertainment in Bedfordshire, both sides looking assured, the midfields of the two teams controlling the tempo early-on.
But on 12 minutes, Luton took the lead from a 35-yard free-kick. Alan Sheehan took it, with the defender claiming the ball went straight in to Day’s far-post, although it may have taken a nick off Mickey Demetriou’s head before going in.
That goal seemed to really spark Luton into action, with the home side putting together some intricate passing plays, and they nearly extended the lead four minutes later.
After being found in the centre, Harry Cornick turned his man and unleashed a low shot that forced Day into a magnificent finger-tip save to stop it nestling in the bottom corner.
The writing was on the wall for County and the Hatters didn’t need another opportunity to make it two.
After Demetriou had uncharacteristically slipped in the area, Collins made his way to the by-line with ease and unselfishly played it across for Hylton to backheel home on 22 minutes.
Labadie came inches away from connecting to a Demetriou header in what could have halved the deficit just three minutes later, as the Exiles were being found guilty of losing possession in the midfield too cheaply.
As the game approached the half-hour mark, it would be a fair reflection to say that Frank Nouble was providing the greatest resistance for the Exiles.
The front-man was at his menacing best down the left-side, causing havoc to Scott Cuthbert and Jack Stacey, although couldn’t find the right ball to get County back in the game.
But just as the Exiles and in particular Nouble were starting to gather a foothold in the game, the referee pointed to the spot at the other end after Tozer was adjudged to have felled Glen Rea in the area on 36 minutes.
Danny Hylton coolly dispatched the penalty down the middle to treble the lead, as Luton made sure that the Exiles glimmer of hope was truly extinguished.
In the ensuing moments after the spot-kick was given, it appeared that County assistant manager Wayne Hatswell was aggrieved at the decision, and was promptly sent back to the dressing room by referee Mark Heywood for his protests.
And it wasn’t long after that incident that Heywood was distributing the first yellow card of the afternoon, Ben White the offender, for a late challenge on Harry Cornick.
The Hatters may have even made it four with two minutes of the first-half remaining, as Jack Stacey rattled the post with a thunderous drive, before Rea headed just wide from a corner.
Collins headed just over as two minutes additional time was indicated, as Luton really were tormenting the Exiles in the first-half.
Hylton flashed a shot wide right at the end as the referee blew the whistle for half-time.
Nouble and Tozer were looking particularly sharp in the first-half for County, Tozer winning a lot of headers in the middle-of-the-park, but the Exiles were struggling against a ruthless Luton attack.
Collins was booked for diving in the 49th minute as the home side looked to continue where they left off, the striker curling over moments later when found in space outside the area.
Nouble had started brightly again for the Exiles, and had a major part to play in County getting one back.
An inviting delivery from Willmott was flicked on by Nouble into Labadie’s path, with the Exiles captain rifling a strike through Stech’s legs to give the side some hope on 55 minutes.
And the Exiles could have further reduced the lead just 60 seconds later, only to see Demetriou’s shot clip the post on the way out, as you could really sense that the momentum was changing inside Kenilworth Road.
Luton could have got another on the break as the game ticked past the hour-mark, County lucky to see White had retreated to block Gambin’s shot as the Exiles poured forward up-front.
Mark O’Brien was booked on 68 minutes for stopping a counter attack, mere moments after Dan Potts was also cautioned by Heywood for a handball.
And shortly after, the Exiles again came close to getting another. After three shots were blocked by the Hatters, the ball eventually found its way to Robbie Willmott, only for Cuthbert to get something in the way of it.
Remarkably, it took until the 72nd minute to see either manager make a change, with both managers making one at the same time.
Lamar Reynolds replaced Willmott for County, while Jordan Cook came on for Gambin.
Hylton came inches away from a hat-trick just after, his shot saved well by the legs of Day, as Luton wanted a penalty for a potential handball in the build-up from White.
Joe Quigley came on for County’s second substitution, as Amond made way after a tireless display.
Both Lee and Hylton fired wide as the game approached 78 minutes, Flynn deciding to really go for it with the final substitution, as Shawn McCoulsky replaced his captain Labadie.
County continued to press the home side, the indication of four additional minutes clearly giving them the license to further push forward, but the Luton rear-guard held firm to secure a deserved victory.
The Exiles could be encouraged by their second-half efforts, as Luton’s ruthless streak in the first-half saw them suffer defeat in Bedfordshire.
County: Day, Pipe, Demetriou, O’Brien, White, Rigg, Tozer, Labadie (C) (McCoulsky 78’), Willmott (Reynolds 72’), Amond (Quigley 76’), Nouble
Subs not used: Bittner, Butler, Dolan, Bennett
Luton: Stech, Stacey, Cuthbert (C), Sheehan, Potts, Rea, O Lee, Gambin (Cook 72’), Cornick (Justin 85’), Hylton, Collins.
Subs not used: Shea, Mullins, Jarvis, Lee, Famewo
Referee: Mark Heywood
Attendance: 7,681 (296 away)
Next up for County: Yeovil Town (7th October) HOME