Livewire striker Andre Gray’s brace was only good enough for a draw as Hatters’ Field Mill hoodoo struck again this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
Town had fought back from a goal down to lead with five minutes to go but substitute Matt Green pounced to net a late leveller from close range, meaning the Hatters are still to record a league win at Field Mill.
Town made two changes from the team that triumphed 2-0 at Nuneaton in their FA Cup replay on Tuesday. Ineligible loan men Simon Ainge and Jonathan Smith returned to the starting line-up as JJ O’Donnell dropped to the bench and Dan Walker missed out entirely as boss Paul Buckle stuck with the same 4-4-2 formation.
After another bizarre set of results the day before meant it was a great chance for the Hatters to make up ground on those at the top.
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Alex Lawless did well to seize on a loose pass on six minutes but Gray’s effort was blocked and Shane Redmond easily grasped the ball.
However, the Stags took the lead two minutes later as Town’s set-piece susceptibility again reared its ugly head. Giant centre-half Exodus Geohaghon hurled the ball into the box and Ben Hutchinson’s near-post flick looped over the helpless Mark Tyler and nestled inside the far post.
Chris Clement had a good effort from the edge of the box deflected behind as Mansfield continuously threatened from set-pieces with Luton’s defence at sixes and sevens.
Neat play from Jake Howells and Gray almost created something for the Hatters who were very much on the back foot, before the pacey striker was just unable to take advantage of some hesitation in the home defence.
Lathaniel Rowe-Turner allowed Louis Briscoe to get the wrong side of him on 19 minutes but the Stags winger dragged his cross-shot just wide of the far post.
Mansfield’s tackles had more bite as Town were surrendering possession far too easily with Geohaghon’s long throws a constant menace.
Nick Wright dragged wide from Geohaghon’s cross on 25 minutes and seconds later the Hatters were level. Janos Kovacs powered his header out of defence as Gray broke clear. His touch seemed to have taken him too wide but, from an acute angle, he fired home his shot shot inside Redmond’s near post to level the scores.
Buoyed by that strike Town began to play with far more verve as it was now the Stags’ turn to struggle. Ronnie Henry’s cross picked out Howells in the box but his downward header was easy for the keeper.
Arnaud Mendy got away with a just a warning for a late challenge on Anthony Howell on 33 minutes and Luton should have taken the lead five minutes before the break when Howells drove in a great cross but Gray somehow contrived to put it wide from just a couple of yards out.
Town again started the second half slowly as the Stags had Wright’s header ruled out for offside two minutes in.
Some kamikaze defending from the Hatters almost handed the hosts the lead on 49 minutes when Tyler’s weak clearance went straight to Hutchinson but his first-time effort from 45 yards ran harmlessly wide when he had time to do far better.
Another Geohaghon long throw caused consternation in the Luton defence on 53 minutes and as it bounced across the box Howell scooped wastefully over.
Lawless’ dangerous free-kick was only half cleared on 57 minutes and from the edge of the area his low drive ran just wide, while Wright scuffed a good opportunity tamely at Tyler.
Despite all Mansfield’s pressure it was Luton who should have taken the lead on 63 minutes when Lawless’ corner picked out the unmarked Kovacs at the far post but his powerful downward header was somehow scrambled off the line.
Striker Green was introduced as the Stags pushed for another with Lindon Meikle spiralling over.
With Mansfield pouring forward for another long throw Town caught them with a classic counter-attacking goal on 67 minutes. Breaking at pace Howells slipped through the perfect ball for Gray and, one-on-one with the keeper, he stabbed through Redmond’s legs to put the Hatters ahead with his fifth goal of the season.
Mansfield threw on all three of their strikers from the bench as they sought a way back into the game, while another quicksilver Hatters break saw Howells feed Gray but his dangerous cross toward Mendy was cut out.
Luton were looking extremely dangerous on the counter and went close again with 11 minutes to go when Gray again skipped down the right and intelligently found Smith. He passed to the onrushing Howells but the Wales U21 international saw his shot from the of the box beaten away by Redmond.
And it was Luton’s turn to have a goal ruled out for offside with six minutes to go when Smith fed Scott Rendell and, although he swivelled and curled home, the linesman’s flag was already up.
The hosts though equalised seconds later though when a free-kick was arrowed into the far post and substitute Matt Rhead headed back across goal for fellow replacement Green to force home from close range.
Four minutes of stoppage time were added and Gray almost created the winner at the death when he got to the byline and pulled the ball back, but John Thompson dived in to clear in the nick of time as honours finished even.
Stags (4-4-2): Shane Redmond, Ritchie Sutton, John Thompson, Lindon Meikle (Matt Rhead 76), Louis Briscoe, Nick Wright (Matt Green 65), Anthony Howell, Chris Clements, Lee Beavers, Ben Hutchinson (Jake Speight 69), Exodus Geohaghon. Substitutes not used: Adam Murray, Colin Daniel.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Janos Kovacs, Alex Lawless, Scott Rendell, Jake Howells, Simon Ainge, Arnaud Mendy, Jonathan Smith, Ronnie Henry, Andre Gray (Stuart Fleetwood 90+5). Substitutes not used: Dean Beckwith, JJ O’Donnell, Matt Robinson, Dean Brill.
Referee: Ross Joyce (Billingham).
Bookings: Geohaghon 70; Beevers 75; Ainge 81.
Assistant Referees: Tom Nield and Ian Johnston.
Fourth Official: Thomas Bramall.
Star Hatter: Andre Gray. By far Luton’s liveliest performer, scored twice and could have had more.
Attendance: 2,619 (Luton 522).