The Hatters returned to winning ways in National League North at in-form Spennymoor Town.
First-half goals from Matty Warburton and Sam Walker set them on their way during a cold and misty night in County Durham – while a third in the dying seconds by substitute Nyal Bell allowed them breathing space after Walker had been dismissed for a second bookable offence three minutes from time.
County took to the field in a 3-4-3 formation, showing two changes from the starting line-up against Chester at Edgeley Park three days previously – with Paul Turnbull regaining the captain’s armband and Jake Kirby going straight into the team following a recall from his loan-spell at Warrington Town. Sam Minihan and Elliot Osborne made way to be named among the substitutes.
Despite facing hosts who, remarkably, had netted no fewer than 15 times in their last two matches, County, kicking up the pronounced Brewery Field slope, looked the livelier side from the outset.
And Warburton, naturally keen to exorcise the memory of a missed penalty at the ground on the opening day of the previous season, displayed particular attacking intent early on – courtesy of one shot that deflected off home skipper James Curtis into the arms of goalkeeper Matt Gould and another two that flew well over and fizzed just shy of the right post.
Warburton’s two fellow strikers also appeared sharp as Kirby swivelled to connect with a low Scott Duxbury cross from the left and fired narrowly past the near upright, before Frank Mulhern saw an attempt take a deflection behind.
Ten minutes ahead of the interval, the Hatters made the breakthrough their efforts merited.
Jordan Keane teed up Warburton, whose rocket of a shot from the edge of the box flew past Gould and into the top-left corner – not only giving County the lead, but also nudging Warburton up to 10 goals, and ahead of Mulhern, as leading scorer for the season in all competitions.
The Moors, for their part, had to wait until the 39th minute before creating an opportunity – and, even then, a glancing header by Adam Boyes, from Stephen Brogan’s cross on the left, cleared the crossbar without causing undue alarm.
And two minutes later, County doubled the advantage when Walker’s 25-yard free-kick deceived Gould as it curled into the middle of the net for the midfielder’s second goal in as many games.
Spennymoor emerged after the break looking to re-ignite an attack that had been so potent of late, but the hosts often found themselves stifled by County’s three-man defence – effectively supplemented, as necessary, by wing-backs Duxbury and Adam Thomas.
And when the Moors did find a way through, they still had to contend with Ben Hinchliffe, who tipped around the left post a well-struck shot from the edge of the area by Rob Ramshaw.
With 69 minutes on the clock, the arrears were halved – and by means of another successful free-kick from 25 yards out at the slope’s higher end, as Brogan curled his delivery into the top left.
After 87 minutes, Walker received his second yellow card for a foul on Jake Hibbs – although the dismissal was rather extraordinary on two levels.
The midfielder’s departure from the pitch was without any accompanying fuss or ceremony, which led many present initially to assume that his involvement was cut short by injury. And he was also the first Hatter to see red since Lewis Montrose’s sending-off at Brackley Town as long ago as 20 February 2016.
Reference could be made to a happier landmark, also involving an away-match with Brackley, at the game’s end, which signalled a first midweek league victory for the Hatters since their Tuesday night success in Northamptonshire on 31 January 2017.
By that time, the three points from Spennymoor were well and truly safe – after Bell, in the fifth minute of added time, had taken advantage of a mix-up between Gould and Curtis to latch on to a long Hinchliffe clearance and finish cleanly for his fifth goal of the campaign.