Vassell salvages a point for Hatters as Orient cling on to league status
League Two: Luton Town 2 Leyton Orient 2
Luton Town's consistently inconsistent season continued once more as they were held to a draw against relegation certainties Leyton Orient this afternoon.
Going into the match, everything pointed towards a comfortable 90 minutes' work for Nathan Jones' side, who were looking to win a third game in succession for the first time this campaign, against a team clinging on to their League Two status by a thread.
The O's, who are besieged for off-field problems, turned up on the back of a six match losing streak with pretty much their youth team, as a run of 13 defeats from 16 in the new year has put them on the precipice at the bottom of the table.
The east London side could have been relegated this afternoon too, had results gone against them, and it looked like would hold up their end of the bargain, once Danny Hylton put the hosts in front.
However, the inability to notch a second, coupled with a desperately poor start after the break cost Luton dearly, as O's scored twice to threaten a shock win, with Town having to rely on a leveller from substitute Isaac Vassell to ensure a point.
The hosts made two changes for the clash from last weeks' 1-0 win at Barnet, Jack Marriott and Jordan Cook in for Stephen O'Donnell and Vassell who dropped to the bench.
Although Town bossed possession and territory early on, they struggled to create anything of a clear-cut nature, Lawson D'Ath's header drifting wide and Cook's cross flashing across the six yard box.
Despite being under the cosh, it was Orient who manufactured the best opportunity, Victor Adeboyejo directing a header over the top.
Unusually, it was from a corner that Hatters looked the most likely to score from, Scott Cuthbert's attempt bravely deflected over by Liam Kelly, while from D'Ath's second delivery, Glen Rea's header was well handled by Sam Sargeant.
Midway through the first half, Cook's return was cut short, as he stayed down after a full blooded sliding challenge and had to hobble off, with Luke Gambin on in his place.
Town then went ahead with a wonderful goal on 33 minutes, made possible by a superb piece of play from the resurgent Olly Lee.
The midfielder won the ball back in his own half, looked up, and sent Hylton clear with an inch-perfect pass over the top.
Hatters' leading scorer still had plenty to do, but as he has done all season, he did it with aplomb, taking the ball out of the sky instantly, and racing away to coolly Sargeant for his 25th in all competitions.
It also meant Hylton become the first Luton player to reach the milestone of 20 goals in a Football League season since Steve Howard managed the feat in the 2002-03 campaign.
Town looked for an immediate second, Sheehan's free kick blocked by the wall, with Lawson D'Ath's follow up easy for Sargeant.
Luton then finally upped their tempo, looking like a side hungry for more, as Gambin powered an effort goalwards, a startled Sargeant turning his left-footer over more by luck than judgement.
Sheehan's set-pieces were causing constant problems, with one almost turned into their own net by the visiting defenders, while from another, Gambin was denied again, his strike drawing an excellent block from Sargeant.
Marriott then almost had his first goal since January, using his body well to spin his man, inside the area, only to miss the top corner.
After the break, Os looked like they might make Town pay for their late first half profligacy, with Michael Collins free kick pounced on by Stuart Moore, who then had to handle Adeboyejo's fierce 20-yarder.
Town just couldn't awake from their slumbers and O's were level on 53 minutes, when a poor throw by Hylton just over the half way line was the catalyst to some calamitous defending.
Lee's hooked clearance didn't get enough distance and Collins' fierce drive flew into Rea, whom referee Brett Huxtable adjudged to have used his hands with which to repel the shot, awarding a penalty.
Kelly stepped up and rifled beyond Moore for his side's first goal in three games as they sensed an unlikely victory.
Sheehan's angled attempt flew inches wide, before Hatters went to sleep at the back once more, and although Rea's block was this time deemed legal, they were sliced open moments later, with half time sub Tristan Abrahams beating Moore from close range.
Jones responded by bringing on Vassell for Marriott after 66 minutes and it was the replacement who did the trick within five minutes, latching on to Hylton's header to show a cool head and slot beyond Sargeant.
That gave Luton 16 minutes to force a winner in their bid to apply even more pressure on Portsmouth, who had been held by Plymouth, D'Ath cutting in from the flank to miss the target from 20 yards.
Late on, Vassell had two huge shouts for a penalty, both against Teddy Mezague, with the second looking a clear-cut spot kick as Town's game-changer was tripped, only for the officials to award a corner.
Orient could, and should have then won it in stoppage time, when Josh Koroma burst clear from half way, only for James Justin to sprint back and time his challenge to perfection, ensuring the damage was just a corner.
Results elsewhere saw Town maintain their six point buffer over eighth-placed Blackpool with four matches to go, a gap they will be hoping to increase or at the very least maintain, when visiting Mansfield on Easter Monday.
Hatters: Stuart Moore, James Justin, Scott Cuthbert, Glen Rea, Alan Sheehan, Olly Lee, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu (Jake Gray 85), Lawson D'Ath, Jordan Cook (Luke Gambin 24), Jack Marriott (Isaac Vassell 66), Danny Hylton.
Subs not used: Craig King, Jonathan Smith, Stephen O'Donnell, Dan Potts.
Orient: Sam Sargeant, Liam Kelly (C), Michael Collins, Teddy Mezague, Sandro Semedo, Aron Pollock, Victor Adeboyejo, Sam Dalby (Tristan Abrahams 46), Steven Alzate (Josh Koroma 80), Henry Ochieng (Freddy Moncur 88), Michael Clark.
Subs not used: Charlie Grainger, Rowan Liburd, Sam Alderson, Dan Happe.
Booked: Gambin 44, Rea 54, Ochieng 67, Sargeant 73, Cuthbert 81.
Attendance: 8,601 (380 Orient).
Referee: Brett Huxtable.