League Two: Luton Town 2 Oxford United 2
Luton Town threw away a 2-0 lead as they were held to a draw by fellow promotion hopefuls Oxford United in a pulsating encounter at Kenilworth Road this afternoon.
With just seven minutes to go, it looked for all the world as if Hatters would be celebrating their opening League Two victory of the campaign courtesy of goals from Luke Wilkinson and Cameron McGeehan.
However, the U’s pulled one back through Keemar Roofe’s deflected shot, before a rare error from recalled keeper Mark Tyler, saw Oxford’s forwards react first, with sub Pat Hoban turning the ball over the line at the second attempt.
The hosts had made four changes to the side that knocked Bristol City out of the Capital One Cup, with Scott Griffiths, Paddy McCourt, Nathan Doyle and Craig Mackail-Smith all restored to the starting line-up.
Retaining the 3-5-2 formation that had served them so well in miweek, Hatters made a superb, all-action start as a burst by Mackail-Smith saw McGeehan shoot over from 18 yards and keeper Sam Slocombe then kept out Stephen O’Donnell’s low effort from a short corner.
McCourt was clearly given license at the point of Town’s midfield three, a role he had plenty of joy in early on, delaying and delaying until unleashing an inch-perfect through ball to Mackail-Smith, but Slocombe was off his line quickly to save at the striker’s feet.
Scott Cuthbert then nodded a corner over, while Wilkinson. after another lung-busting charge back to blunt an Oxford attack, hammered over from 25 yards.
The visitors, who themselves are fancied by many for promotion after making some stand out summer signings, began to show just why that was the case, as they took a foothold in the game.
After weathering the storm, the impressive Roofe finally started to find some pockets of space along with Liam Sercombe, while Danny Rose’s corners caused concern, with Tyler having to palm one over the bar.
As Oxford enjoyed the better of proceedings, Luton struggled to continue their free-flowing football, forced on to the back foot, with Alex MacDonald firing at Tyler after a clever corner routine.
The Luton stopper then had to rush out to parry at the feet of Sercombe, but Town got their second wind, with Mackail-Smith burying McNulty’s wonderful free kick delivered from inside his own half, only for the offside flag to be raised.
However, Hatters weren’t to be denied for long as on 43 minutes, McCourt’s lofted corner was nodded beyond Slocombe by Wilkinson, with the defender having also opened the scoring in this fixture last season.
The visitors almost levelled immediately, but Cuthbert, who is quickly becoming an integral part of the Town defence, throwing himself in front of Roofe’s goalbound shot.
McGeehan nearly embarrassed Slocombe after a driving run saw the keeper fumble behind as Town’s tried and tested corner routine almost worked once more. Wilkinson again met McCourt’s delivery, only for Danny Hylton to clear off the line, with Benson’s rebound coming back off the post.
After the break, Oxford thought they had a leveller when MacDonald headed beyond Tyler, but he was adjudged to have climbed on O’Donnell and the goal was dubiously chalked off.
On the hour mark, Hatters swapped O’Donnell for Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, moving to a 4-1-3-2 formation, but the move couldn’t stop Still’s side conceding ground and possession to their opponents, with Danny Rose sending a peach of a drive inches wide.
As they had done in the first half though, Luton had a second out of absolutely nothing as from Tyler’s long punt forward, the ball broke to McGeehan who showed great determination and plenty of skill to pick his way through and find the bottom corner.
However, once Hatters have moved 2-0 in front, they then sat back once more, with centre half Johnny Mullins seeing his instinctive volley cannon back off the bar, with Roofe narrowly off target too.
With Jonathan Smith and Jack Marriott on for McCourt and Mackail-Smith, Roofe then upped the tension, taking aim from 25 yards, with his shot deflecting past the wrong-footed Tyler.
Hylton glanced wide too, as Luton then had a superb chance to finish the game off as Slocombe could only parry Smith’s low drive back out, but McGeehan could only blast the loose ball high into the stands.
He was made to pay for his profligacy too in stoppage time, as with Luton wasting endless chances to clear the danger, a cross was swung in from the left and with Tyler failing to gather, Hoban struck the killer blow.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Scott Cuthbert, Steve McNulty, Luke Wilkinson, Stephen O’Donnell (Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu 59), Cameron McGeehan, Nathan Doyle, Paddy McCourt (Jonathan Smith 81), Scott Griffiths, Paul Benson, Craig Mackail-Smith (Jack Marriott 81).
Subs not used: Dan Potts, Alex Lawless, Elliot Justham, Josh McQuoid.
Robins: Sam Slocombe, George Baldock, Joe Skarz, Kemar Roofe, Johnny Mullins, Jake Wright (C), Danny Rose, Liam Sercombe, Danny Hylton, Alex MacDonald (Callum O’Dowda 72), Ryan Taylor (Pat Hoban 72).
Subs not used: Josh Ruffels, Sam Long, Josh Ashby, Cheyenne Dunkley.
Referee: Mark Brown.
Booked: MadDonald 34.
Attendance: 8,877 (781 Oxford).
Hatters MOM: Luke Wilkinson - great leap for the first goal and looks back to his best in the centre of defence once more.