Collins off as Hatters are held by Cambridge
League Two: Cambridge United 1 Luton Town 1
Yet another lack of discipline proved costly for Luton as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Cambridge this afternoon.
The Hatters had looked well on course for a crucial victory which would have seen them move clear in the race for the League Two title, until goalscorer James Collins was booked twice in the space of four minutes.
The first for trying to handball Jake Jervis's cross over the line was silly, while the second, appearing to say something to referee John Brooks after a corner went against the Hatters, saw Town down to 10 men for the eighth time this season.
That left Luton with 13 minutes to hold on to their lead given to them by Collins rather than search for a second, and they managed just six of them, sub Jabo Ibehre powering a header past Marek Stech from Brad Halliday's cross with virtually his first touch.
Town then withstood an aerial onslaught at the death to make their point, moving four clear of the non-playing Accrington, plus eight in front of fourth placed Notts County.
The visitors made three changes for the match, one of only two that went ahead in the division, Cambridge's groundsmen deserving plenty of praise for their efforts to beat the 'Beast from the East' and get the game on.
Danny Hylton, Dan Potts and Lawson D'Ath came into the side in place of Andrew Shinnie, James Justin and Harry Cornick, who missed out completely, striker Elliot Lee and club captain Scott Cuthbert on the bench as well.
The hosts had all the early pressure with Luton barely able to get out of their half in the opening five minutes, Gary Deegan's low shot easy for Stech, while the keeper stopped Uche Ikpeazu's instinctive turn and shot from 20 yards.
D'Ath's afternoon was unfortunately ended early after just 19 minutes, as he took a knock after going in with a challenge on Ikpeazu and couldn't continue, Luke Gambin on after just 19 minutes.
Town started to weather the pressure they were under, with Flynn Downes beginning to get the visitors ticking as they wrested control of the game away from their hosts, Luke Berry, booed mercilessly on his return to his former club, standing out as well.
Gambin looked impressive from the moment he came on, with one run from inside his own half, seeing a low ball miss Hylton but fall perfectly for Lee, whose low shot beat David Forde, only to glance the outside of the post.
It was 1-0 on 33 minutes as Hylton used Jack Stacey's overlap to good effect and tried his luck from 25 yards, Forde's parry pounced upon by Collins, who slid in his 17th of the season.
Hylton went close again in first half stoppage time, displaying excellent control, to have a go with his left foot, not missing the target by much.
Town were then indebted to the head of Potts as after Ikpeazu battered his way through both Lee and Jack Stacey, Jonah Lomu-style, his pull back met by Jevani Brown, the left back getting a vital headed block in.
In the second period, a magnificent Town move started by Gambin saw Stacey's cross met by Berry, Gary Deegan blocking behind for a corner.
Town kept pressing for that second, Hylton's lovely low cross just beyond Collins, while the striker could have found the unmarked Lee, but opted to go alone, where he ran into traffic.
That led to a break by the hosts, with Glen Rea doing superbly to stand up Billy Waters, Stech also saving at his near post from Brad Halliday as United tried to ramp up some pressure.
Rea's header easy for Forde, although the keeper might have been picking the ball out of the net had Potts hit the target from Sheehan's pinpoint free kick.
Hylton went off on the hour mark for Jake Jervis, as with Ikpeazu upfront, U's were a threat, the striker heading wide and then skying woefully over from 20 yards.
The game then turned when Collins was cautioned twice and had to leave the field, clearly furious with the decision.
Cuthbert came on for Lee as Luton tried to shore things up, but Ibehre used his height to bring the scores level with a thumping header,
Then it was all about Town trying to preserve a point as they were a different side without either Hylton and Collins upfront.
United almost snatched a winner, Stech showing sharp reactions late on, with Town's defenders throwing their bodies on the line, Ibehre slamming wide too, as the visitors just about held on.
United: David Forde, Bradley Halliday, Gary Deegan (C), Greg Taylor, Billy Waters (Jabo Ibehre 80), Uche Ikpeazu, Harrison Dunk, George Taft, Liam O'Neil (George Maris 64), Jevani Brown, Medy Elito (David Amoo 64).
Subs not used: Dimitar Mitov, Jake Carroll, Leon Legge, Paul Lewis.
Hatters: Marek Stech, Jack Stacey, Dan Potts, Alan Sheehan (C), Glen Rea, Flynn Downes, Olly Lee (Scott Cuthbert 79), Lawson D'Ath (Luke Gambin 19), Luke Berry, James Collins, Danny Hylton (Jake Jervis 66).
Subs not used: James Shea, James Justin, Andrew Shinnie, Elliot Lee.
Referee: John Brooks.
Booked: Deegan 34, Downes 57, Collins 73, Potts 79.
Sent off: Collins 77.
Attendance: 6,722 (Luton 2,405).
Hatters MOM: Luke Berry - kept a calm head against his former side.