A stirring second half performance from the Hatters saw substitute David Martin net his first Town goal late on to salvage Luton a point as they were held to a 1-1 home draw by Hereford United this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
A laboured first half performance from the hosts saw them trail to Marlon Jackson’s 23rd-minute goal, but Town were transformed after the break as they laid siege to the Bulls’ goal.
Jonathan Smith was controversially denied an equaliser when his drive was headed on to the bar by a defender and looked to have crossed the line, but Luton were not to be denied as Martin fired home from 20 yards with three minutes to go as Town probably deserved more than just a point come the final whistle.
Town made two changes from the team that were held to a goalless draw at Nuneaton Town on Tuesday night. Ex-Bull Stuart Fleetwood was left out of the squad and Lathaniel Rowe-Turner dropped to the bench as in came Greg Taylor at left-back and Scott Rendell up front. Hereford, meanwhile, named former Hatter Luke Graham in the heart of their defence.
Some nice passing play from the Hatters saw Alex Lawless’ dangerous driven cross turned behind on three minutes by Stefan Stam, but Hereford were given a great chance to have a shy at goal when home debutant Jake Goodman felled Chris Carruthers on the edge of the box.
However, Jackson’s effort was deflected over the bar and from the subsequent corner Stam’s close-range header was blocked as Town scrambled the ball away.
The visitors should have taken the lead on nine minutes when Steve McNulty could only touch a deep ball into the box on to Sam Clucas at the far post. He intelligently and unselfishly squared to Josh O’Keefe at the far post but, with just Goodman in the way, the on-loan Millwall defender somehow reacted to deflect his effort behind when he should have bulged the net.
It was a scrappy and incoherent start from the Hatters as Chris Sharp’s tame effort was easily saved by Mark Tyler.
Better play from Rendell and the impressive Jake Howells eventually saw the Town midfielder whistle wide on 20 minutes and Lawless had a powerful thump well blocked before the visitors took the lead with a piece of individual brilliance three minutes later.
Jackson surged his way forward from the halfway line as he outpaced Taylor and Goodman before confidently rolling past the exposed Tyler into the bottom left-hand corner to give the visitors a deserved lead.
Howells saw a driven cross headed away before doing well to tee Arnaud Mendy up, but his fizzing drive was straight at James Bittner.
Town proceeded to come into the game a bit more as Andre Gray’s clever chip to the back post was just too high for Howells who then had a low drive well fielded by the keeper.
The Bulls always looked dangerous going forward though as Jackson’s deflected effort flew just wide and Carruthers’ drive seemed to hit a Luton arm in a crowded box but nothing was given.
Jackson’s testing cross almost found Clucas as Town cleared behind with six minutes to go, while McNulty was booked for hauling Clucas down as he looked to skip away on 41 minutes.
Luton should have levelled a minute before the break when, after a spell of pressure on the edge of Hereford’s box, Gray slipped Rendell into space but his low drive from a narrow angle was well saved.
A number of disgruntled home fans voiced their disappointment as Luton went into the interval 1-0 down.
Sharp saw his shot deflected wide five minutes into the second half before controversy engulfed Kenilworth Road as Town seemed to be denied an equaliser seconds later.
Smith’s effort from the edge of the area took a wicked deflection and a defensive header crashed on to the bar and seemingly over the line as the officials failed to react and the Bulls were allowed to clear much to the anger of the Kenilworth Road end.
A powerful Lawless drive could only find the side netting by Bittner’s near post soon after before more poor officiating prevented Town from making a substitution as Alex Wall finally made his home debut in place of the injured Rendell.
Town well playing with greater urgency and tenacity as Smith forced his way through and Gray’s ball found Howells but his effort flashed just wide.
Wall’s header from Howells’ corner was cleared off the line by Stam with 20 minutes to go before Town appeals for a penalty for handball were waved away by the ref.
A double substitution for Luton saw JJ O’Donnell and Martin replace Mendy and Taylor and it almost made an immediate impact.
Wall beat two players before his cross found Smith at the back post. His touch let him down but he charged the clearance down as O’Donnell’s curler flew just over.
With Luton completely dominant the Bulls made a rare foray forward as Clucas rolled tamely at Tyler from Jackson’s pass on 77 minutes.
More Luton shouts for a penalty were denied when Gray’s cross seemed to hit Stam’s arm, while Hereford were denied a bizarre second when Martin slid on to a loose ball on the edge of the box and Tyler pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to turn the ball on to the bar as Town almost committed hara-kiri.
It was all Luton in the closing stages as Wall somehow failed to connect with Howells’ far post corner from a yard out on 86 minutes before Bittner superbly turned Smith’s low drive past the post seconds later.
But Luton deservedly levelled with three minute to go when the ball fell to Martin and his crisp drive from 20 yards found the bottom right-hand corner.
The hosts went to sleep immediately from the restart and McNulty had to be at his best to excellently block Clucas’ shot.
Martin and Lawless combined to release Gray in the last minute but his cracker took a touch as it flew behind and, despite playing four added minutes, neither team could find a winner as controversial referee Justin Amey was booed from the field at the final whistle.
The result leaves Luton 14 points of the play-offs as they outside chances of extending their season continue to diminish.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Greg Taylor (David Martin 73), Steve McNulty, Alex Lawless, Scott Rendell (Alex Wall 62), Jake Howells, Arnaud Mendy (JJ O’Donnell 73), Jonathan Smith, Ronnie Henry (C), Andre Gray, Jake Goodman. Substitutes not used: Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Dean Brill.
Bulls (4-3-3): James Bittner, Joe Connor, Luke Graham, Chris Carruthers (Joe Heath 76), Marlon Jackson, Chris Sharp (Brian Smikle 90), Stefan Stam (C), Kingsley James, Sam Clucas, Josh O’Keefe, James Musa. Substitutes not used: Andy Gallinagh, James McQuilkin, Rod McDonald.
Booked: McNulty 41; Musa 84; O’Keefe 87.
Referee: Justin Amey.
Assistant Referees: D Stobbart and M Potkins.
Fourth Official: S Purkiss.
Attendance: 6,001 (Hereford 220).
Star Hatter: Jake Howells. Gradually returning to something like his best.