League Two: Hartlepool United 1 Luton Town 1
Luton Town were held to a 1-1 draw by 10-man Hartlepool United yesterday evening, although they could and probably should have taken all three points away from Victoria Park.
After falling behind before the break, Luton then completely dominated proceedings once home skipper Nicky Featherstone had been sent off, drawing level through Alan Sheehan’s wonderful free kick.
Then, in stoppage time, Jack Marriott spurned a glorious chance, volleying over an open goal from a matter of yards as Luton had to make do with a point, although that was enough to see them climb above Portsmouth and into second place.
Hatters boss Nathan Jones sprung a number of surprises in his starting line-up, none more so than first year pro Akin Famewo in at centre half making his full league debut in place of the injured Johnny Mullins, in what was one of the youngest ever sides to take the field for Luton.
With Danny Hylton suspended, Scott Cuthbert injured and Jordan Cook on the bench, Town gave starts to Jake Gray, plus loanee Alex Gilliead, while Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu was moved into an unaccustomed striking role alongside Marriott.
Pools had the first opening as Nathan Thomas fired over, while Luton naturally took their time to grow into the game, eventually finding their passes during a neat period of play.
The visitors created a fine chance on 13 minutes when Marriott’s pace sent him scampering away, as he was just about caught up by the home defence, teeing up Mpanzu, whose shot was saved by Trevor Carson.
Marriott himself was then denied by a fine saving tackle from Liam Donnelly, while Pools were a threat too, Josh Laurent side-footing wastefully over from a good position.
Town were doing a good job of keeping their opponents at arm length in the opening half hour, Famewo looking particularly assured, as Lewis Alessandra was reduced to shooting from range.
However, the hosts were then in front on the very stroke of half time as Olly Lee carelessly gave the ball away in a dangerous position.
Pools broke forward and although Walton made a stunning stop from the hosts’ deflected shot, it fell invitingly for Nathan Thomas to crash home from close range.
If the first half lacked any real meaningful action, then the incident-packed second more than made up for it, with Marriott over the top and then Cameron McGeehan just unable to turn in Lee’s low cross.
Walton made a crucial save to turn Padraig Amond’s angled drive on to the post, with Thomas skewing the follow up wide, before Pools were reduced to 10 men on 55 minutes when Featherstone saw red for his sliding challenge on Lee.
That decision certainly livened up the contest as Mpanzu raced away on the right and crossed for Marriott, who got in a tangle and acrobatically volleyed over the bar from five yards out.
Mpanzu then went for goal himself, cutting in on his left before curling against the outside of the post as Pools’ lead somehow regained intact.
Hatters brought on Isaac Vassell for Gray, allowing Mpanzu to drop deeper, with the midfielder’s crossfield ball picking out Gilliead, his low cross turned tamely into Carson’s arms by Marriott.
With 12 minutes to go, Luton were deservedly level though in truly wonderful fashion as after winning free kick 20 yards from goal, Sheehan stepped up to magnificently curl his effort over the wall and into the top corner.
The goal appeared to breathe some life back into the hosts, although Hatters threw on Jordan Cook, and he almost made it 2-1, his effort bending into the far corner, until Carson spectacularly turned it behind.
Thomas also had a go, narrowly over, while somehow Marriott was prevented from winning it once more, his close range shot drawing a fine block from Toto Nsiala.
The striker then had the chance of the night in the final moments of injury time, after Lee set off on a York-like run from deep, his shot taking a deflection for Carson to kick away, with Marriott unable to apply the finishing touch.
Pools: Trevor Carson, Jordan Richards, Toto Nsiala, Liam Donnelly, Jake Carroll, Nicky Featherstone (C), Josh Laurent, Lewis Hawkins, Lewis Alessandra (Nicky Deverdics 73), Padraig Amond (Tom Heardman 84), Nathan Thomas (Bradley Fewster 87).
Subs not used: Adam Bartlett, Billy Paynter, Ben Pollock, James Martin.
Hatters: Christian Walton, James Justin, Dan Potts, Akin Famewo, Alan Sheehan, Olly Lee, Jake Gray (Isaac Vassell 65), Alex Gilliead, Cameron McGeehan, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jack Marriott.
Subs not used: Craig King, Jonathan Smith, Stephen O’Donnell, Jordan Cook, Josh McQuoid, Frankie Musonda.
Bookings: Gilliead 59, Famewo 67.
Sent off: Featherstone 55.
Attendance: 3,533 (311 Luton).