WHEN it comes to facing Steve Howard, you would think Hartlepool United would appreciate and understand the danger.

The striker left Pool in 1999 and since then he's regularly scored against his former club, much to the chagrin of his best friend, Pool skipper Micky Barron.

Last night's first-half effort was the seventh goal he's bagged when facing Pool.

It was all the more galling for the visitors because it was a carbon copy of the goal he scored at Victoria Park last season.

A corner fired in dangerously towards the far post and the big man, who started his career at Tow Law, bundled the ball over the line.

And if facing Howard isn't a hard enough pill to swallow, Luton are, of course, managed by former Pool boss Mike Newell.

Newell is something of a darling of the Kenilworth Road fans; he certainly didn't have the same rapport with the Victoria Park faithful.

But he has expertly steered Luton to a healthy ten-point lead at the top of the table after 12 unbeaten League One games this season.

They are already talking of promotion and championships in Bedfordshire, pretty much like they were at Victoria Park under Newell's tenure in 2003.

While Neale Cooper's side sit on the edge of the play-off zone, questions remain about their away form.

Last season it was so good, this season it is so poor - last night was their fifth away defeat in six trips.

Yet it started promisingly, with Pool having the better of the first-half chances.

Pool had the ball in the danger area in the opening stages and Eifion Williams looked poised to score, but the ball spun off the greasy surface and away from the marauding left winger.

It was a bright start from both sides, Luton buzzing with the confidence of a superb start to the season, Pool matching the league leaders for both effort and workrate.

Luton had midfielder and skipper Kevin Nicholls working as the home side's enforcer in midfield to try to halt Pool's progress.

But it was Nicholls' midfield partner Steve Robinson who worried Pool on 20 minutes. He broke forward as Gavin Strachan's corner was cleared and, with only Provett between him and the goal, he suffered the same fate as Williams earlier and the ball bounced out of his path.

Boyd and Porter were again linking up well up front for Pool and only the outstretched leg of big defender Chris Coyne stopped the Aussie striker from shooting.

Then Williams cut inside and his low, curling shot from the left looked destined for the far corner before Coyne again intercepted.

Pool were well on top and Porter should have put them in front on the half-hour mark. Williams fired in a cross from the left and the striker took the ball first time on the turn.

Last week against Hull his crisp strike ended in the back of the net; this one ended high in the stand.

And minutes later, Pool paid the price.

Howard won a header on halfway and raced forward to collect the next pass, but Pouton got in the way to deflect the ball away for a corner.

Luton had already shown their set-pieces were a dangerous part of their game and when it was floated over to the far post, Howard forced it in.

But Pool went close to snatching a leveller. Strachan's corner at the near post was nodded towards goal and keeper Dino Seremet blocked the ball with his chest, without knowing too much about it.

The keeper then went AWOL again, racing aimlessly off his line and, with him nowhere near the ruck of players challenging for the ball, it landed invitingly for Williams but his first-time shot at an open goal was angled wide.

Five minutes into the second half, Pool were two down.

Pouton tried to clear but was outmuscled and, when Nicholls' shot was superbly kept out by Provett, the Pool defence was asleep and Ahmet Brkovic had the simple task of tapping in from six yards.

Just as at Milton Keynes Dons two weeks ago, Pool started the second-half terribly.

Boyd was threaded in by Williams, only for defender Davies to slide in and win possession with a well-timed tackle.

The same defender then denied Porter after the SoccerRoo teed up a shot from the edge of the area.

But that was just about it as far as Pool's attacking game went.

With five minutes to go, substitute Gary McSheffrey made the most of the Pool defence opening up and slotted the ball under Provett for Luton's third.

Result: Luton Town 3 Hartlepool United 0.

Read more about Hartlepool here.