Hatters blow the chance to go up with Brewers defeat
League One: Burton Albion 2 Luton Town 1
Luton Town blew a massive chance to seal promotion to the Championship this afternoon, going down to a 2-1 defeat at Burton Albion.
With an hour gone, it had looked so, so much different for the Hatters, leading 1-0 through James Collins' 25th of the season and on their way up, as Barnsley were drawing at home to Blackpool, Sunderland all square with Portsmouth.
However, the visitors couldn't hold their nerve for the final 30 minutes, conceding two soft goals to the Brewers, Lucas Akins scoring both, to ensure a nerve-jangling weekend at home to Oxford United next weekend.
Luton boss Mick Harford made one change, recalling goalkeeper James Shea for Marek Stech, while on the bench, Alan McCormack was fit enough to return.
The hosts made the better start, looking by far the more dangerous early on, with Akins putting a header over the top.
Luton did finally create an opening, Andrew Shinnie finding his partner in crime Jack Stacey on the right, his cross nodded wide at the back post by Luke Berry.
With 19 minutes gone, the Hatters were indebted to the woodwork for keeping them level, as a clever free kick routine saw Marcus Harness hammer goalwards and Shea got just enough to deflect his shot on to the crossbar and away.
Kazenga LuaLua tried his luck from 25 yards, Stephen Bywater claiming easily, with Town severely hampered by the wind during the first period, any clearance from defence being swept straight back to them or out of play.
Despite barely threatening, Town then took the lead on the half hour when Elliot Lee did superbly to trick his way past John Brayford inside the area.
His low shot was saved by the legs of Bywater, but there was Collins lurking to fire home from close range and give Luton a crucial opener.
They were fortunate to remain in front when Scott Fraser went over Matty Pearson's challenge in the area, referee Peter Wright not awarding a penalty, while Shea was then at full stretch to claw away Kyle McFadzean's 30-yarder.
With Luton guilty of playing the ball around unnecessarily at the back at times with the elements against then, they gave possession away, Shea required to make a sprawling stop from range.
Town still had the odd moment, Mpanzu bursting from inside his own half to release Kazenga LuaLua on his left, the winger's cross blocked and Mpanzu picking up the rebound, only to slam over the top.
To get to the interval ahead was a major feather in the Hatters' cap, as they would have taken remaining on level terms such was the strength of the wind facing them.
It should have led to far easier second half with conditions finally in their favour, and Town did appear far more comfortable during the opening stages, Lee almost doubling the advantage, his effort blocked.
However, Burton were still looking positive, Colin Daniel's attempt straight at Shea who gathered well.
Town had the ball in the net on 57 minutes when the visitors won four corners in a row, the last seeing Matty Pearson bundle over the line, but the whistle had already gone for an apparent infringement.
Albion were level just after the hour when a silly free kick given away by Stacey led to the ball being swung in and headed back across goal for Akins to convert from on the line.
Buoyed by that goal, the Brewers hunted a second, Jamie Allen scuffing off target and them Harness putting a great opportunity wide as Luton couldn't clear their lines.
The occasion was appearing to get to the Hatters, second to every loose ball and lacking the urgency and desire to go for a second goal which could have sealed the deal.
Harford's men then found themselves behind on 73 minutes, as Brayford was given far too much time on the right hand side to send over a low cross that was tapped home by Akins.
Luton threw on Jason Cummings and Harry Cornick, but they created precious little in a hugely frustrating final 15 minutes, Mpanzu's wayward blast from the edge of the box the closest they came to ever beating Bywater for a second time.
The result means Town are now level on points with Barnsley at the top, with the Tykes defeating Blackpool 2-1.
However, Portsmouth's 1-1 draw at Sunderland means that the Hatters can still go up on Tuesday night, if Pompey lose at home to Peterborough and Sunderland fail to beat Fleetwood.
A draw for Portsmouth would still be enough on paper, due to Luton's superior goal difference, but it has suddenly become a lot more nervier than boss Harford would have wanted.
Brewers: Stephen Bywater, John Brayford (C), Jamie Allen, Kyle McFadzean, Scott Fraser (Reece Hutchinson 84), Lucas Akins, Ben Fox (Damien McCrory 88), Marcus Harness, Kieran Wallace, Stephen Wallace, Colin Daniel.
Subs not used: Callum Hawkins, Josh Clarke, Harry Campbell, Will Miller.
Hatters: James Shea, Jack Stacey, James Justin, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Andrew Shinnie, Luke Berry (Jason Cummings 78), Elliot Lee (Harry Cornick 78), James Collins, Kazenga LuaLua (George Moncur 72).
Subs not used: Marek Stech, Alan McCormack, Alex Baptiste, Aaron Connolly.
Referee: Peter Wright.