Swansea City maintained their charge on the Championship’s automatic promotion places as Conor Hourihane’s early strike earned them a hard-fought 1-0 win over Luton Town.
The Aston Villa loanee struck his fifth Swansea goal after just three minutes at Kenilworth Road following good play from Yan Dhanda.
However, Nathan Jones’ men caused plenty of problems and had a goal ruled out for offside, while Freddie Woodman was tested on numerous occasions in what was a gruelling encounter for the Swans.
But Steve Cooper’s men kept their 18th league clean sheet of the campaign to earn all three points and are now level on points with second-placed Watford in the Championship table with what could prove to be a vital victory.
Following a turgid display at Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday night, Cooper made five changes for the game in Luton.
Ryan Bennett, Joel Latibeaudiere, Ryan Manning, Korey Smith and Dhanda came in for Ben Cabango, Jake Bidwell, Jay Fulton and Jamal Lowe, while Marc Guehi missed out altogether due to a groin injury.
Swansea knew they would climb into the Championship’s top two with a positive result – albeit only temporarily given Watford’s win over Cardiff City later in the day.
And they made a dream start in blustery conditions as Dhanda found space on the left flank before pulling the ball back to Hourihane, who fired beyond Simon Sluga inside three minutes to put Swansea ahead.
It came just seconds after Matt Grimes made a vital clearance off his own line from a corner.
The Hatters had clearly identified Woodman as something of a weak link, and they were targeting the Newcastle United loanee at every opportunity.
To their credit, Jones’ men responded remarkably well to falling behind, and after Jordan Clark curled an effort just wide, Dan Potts headed beyond Woodman from close range.
However, the offside flag had already been raised – but the warning signs were well and truly there for the Swans.
Elijah Adebayo caused plenty of problems with his physicality, and Woodman adjusted well to clear the attacker’s driven cross with his legs.
But the 24-year-old looked nervy when put under the cosh, and his poor clearance fell to Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu who very nearly lobbed the Englishman, although Woodman reacted well to atone for his error.
Swansea desperately struggled to retain possession, and it allowed the Hatters to keep launching attacks.
They spurned another opportunity to level proceedings on the half hour mark as Harry Cornick’s header sailed well wide from Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s cross.
The visitors’ deliveries into the Luton box left much to be desired, and when Hourihane sent Andre Ayew into the final third, the Ghanaian was horribly isolated which ensured the Swans couldn’t test Sluga.
There was a significant break in play late on in the first half as Potts had to be carried off on a stretcher after a collision with Hourihane.
And after Luton’s penalty appeal for a handball against Manning was waved away, Swansea were able to take a one-goal advantage into the break, despite having been second best in the opening half.
Despite having the chance to regroup, the start of the second half followed the same pattern as the majority of the opening 45, with Kal Naismith firing over from a free-kick after Cornick came within a whisker of converting Adebayo’s cross.
Swansea remained wasteful when they did get into the final third, although after Luton gifted the away side possession, Grimes brilliantly picked out Hourihane, although he was unable to curl his effort beyond Sluga on the hour mark.
Luton then should have levelled from what was an awful Swansea corner routine as Cornick crossed to Clark after a swift counter attack, but his header skimmed the outside of Woodman’s post as the visitors’ goal continued to live a charmed life.
Cooper responded by sending on Fulton and Lowe for Hourihane and Dhanda respectively with 25 minutes left on the clock.
Having seen Ayew convert from the penalty spot in four successive matches, the away bench were calling for another spot-kick as Manning went down under a challenge from Sluga after latching on to Grimes’ perfectly weighted through ball, although referee Darren Bond saw nothing wrong with the goalkeeper’s efforts.
Swansea did finally manage to get a grip on the game though, and they started to carry more of a threat in the final quarter of the game after the double substitution.
They also continued to defend resolutely when needed too, as Manning demonstrated with a vital challenge to thwart Mpanzu on the edge of his own box.
The hosts were livid after the referee failed to award them a spot-kick when Adebayo went down in the box with 10 minutes left.
Lowe and Grimes both drilled well over from distance as Swansea pushed for a second goal late on, before Naismith rifled well wide at the other end.
But Hourihane’s early effort proved enough for the Swans who are now unbeaten in four matches since losing to Bristol City.
Luton Town: Sluga; Bree, Pearson (C) (LuaLua 83), Naismith, Potts (Cranie 45+1); Tunnicliffe, Mpanzu, Dewsbury-Hall; Clark, Cornick (Collins 70), Adebayo.
Subs not used: Shea, Berry, Rea, Nombe, Morrell, Ince.
Swansea City: Woodman; Naughton, Bennett, Latibeaudiere; Roberts, Grimes (C), Smith, Manning; Dhanda (Lowe 65), Hourihane (Fulton 65); Ayew.
Subs not used: Hamer, Cabango, B Cooper, Bidwell, Freeman, Routledge, Whittaker.
Goal: Hourihane 3
Yellow cards: Naughton 28, Bennett 45+7, Woodman 56, Roberts 64
Referee: Darren Bond
You can re-live the match updates in full below: