MANSFIELD TOWN 1
LUTON TOWN 1
Hylton (pen) 51
Att: 4,632 (892 Hatters)
The Hatters had to settle for a 17th draw of the season at play-off challenging Mansfield this afternoon as top scorer Danny Hylton netted from the penalty spot to cancel out Alfie Potter’s first-half opener for the Stags.
The Town's 13th 1-1 stalemate, combined with Portsmouth’s win at Notts County, means Nathan Jones’ side will have to go via the play-offs if the season is going to end with promotion to Sky Bet League One, with three games left to confirm a place in the end-of-season shoot-out.
Jones made two changes to the team that drew 2-2 with Leyton Orient on Friday, with left-back Dan Potts – missing for a month since suffering concussion in the goalless draw at Carlisle – and Isaac Vassell, who came off the bench to score the equaliser against the O's, returning to the starting XI.
The Hatters started relatively brightly, Hylton producing a couple of majestic pieces of control to try and get his team-mates into dangerous areas, without a clear-cut chance being created.
A huge shout for as penalty was waved away in the eighth minute when Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu tricked his way into the area and fired in a shot from a tight angle that appeared to striker Stags captain Krystian Pearce’s hand.
Then, with a quarter-of-an-hour on the clock, Vassell raced onto a ball down the right and centred for Hylton, who on this occasion couldn’t quite get his touch right.
Mansfield were enjoying as much possession as the Hatters though, and they had what was probably a deserved lead midway through the half.
Hylton had just cleared a George Taft header off the line, as he guarded the right post, when a long-throw on the left was hurled in the centre-half’s direction.
Taft connected once more, this time heading it back for Potter, whose first volley was blocked by Potts, but the former Oxford and Northampton man made no mistake with his second from 15 yards.
The Town gathered themselves and began to get hold of the ball again, James Justin digging out a terrific right-wing cross that looked destined for Potts’ head before a combination of Hylton and Pearce managed to divert it away as they stretched to get to it in the six-yard box.
But it was mainly a period of both sides cancelling each other out as the Stags preserved the advantage until half-time.
As in the first half, the Hatters came out brightly and D’Ath met a Mpanzu right-wing cross with a header that Vassell looked to get on the end of, but couldn’t outmuscle Taft, then Mal Benning ventured up to the other end and cracked a left-footer that flew just over Stuart Moore’s bar.
By the 51st minute the Town were back on terms, Hylton attempting to flick a Justin cross past Taft, who could only halt his progress with the use of a hand. Ref Brown correctly pointed to the spot, and the Town top scorer stepped up to chip his effort nonchalantly down the centre of the goal as Stags keeper Jake Kean dived to his right.
Six minutes later the Hatters almost took the lead when Alan Sheehan traded passes on a short corner routine with D’Ath, and created space for a low left-footed shot that Vassell hurdled, but a defender blocked in the six-yard box, Glen Rea unable to keep his stabbed effort down from the rebound.
Town were in the ascendancy by this point and Mpanzu raced to the byline and clipped a lovely ball to the far post where Potts was denied by some calm defending by Rhys Bennett, before two chances arrived in the space of a minute.
First, on 65 minutes, Hylton crossed from the left but D’Ath couldn’t bend his neck enough to direct his header on target. Then, seconds later, Ollie Palmer – on as a substitute for Vassell – burst between two defenders on the Town right and whipped in a delicious cross that Hylton met with a firm header, but sadly it was too high.
Palmer was having an impact on the ground where he first experienced League football during two years as a Mansfield player, and in the 69th minute it was a foul on him to the left of the penalty area that led to Sheehan bending in another set piece, but the striker couldn’t find the finish inside the six-yard box.
The Stags got a foothold in the game again and Potts had to be alert to block a long-range shot from Taft, before making good progress up the left flank and crossing for Hylton, whose control let him down as he looked to spin Taft in the area.
Mansfield had brought top scorer Matt Green on with ten minutes to go and the former Birmingham frontman almost connected with a low cross from fellow sub Alex MacDonald, then Hylton did meet a right-wing corner from Lee with another header, but again it drifted the wrong side of the woodwork.
Moore had to turn away a powerful shot from MacDonald a minute into time added on, then Bennett headed over from the resulting corner and soon whipped a dangerous low ball across the six-yard box as the Town held on for a point.
TOWN: Moore, Justin, Rea, Cuthbert (c), Sheehan, Potts (O'Donnell 84), Mpanzu, Lee, D'Ath, Hylton, Vassell (Palmer 64). Subs: Smith, Gray, Marriott, Gambin, King (GK)
STAGS: Kean, Bennett, Benning, Pearce (c), Taft, Coulthirst, Potter (Hamilton 77), White (MacDonald 60), Byrom, Whiteman, Rose (Green 80). Subs: Jensen (GK), Collins, Howkins, Arquin
Yellows: Rose, Kean
REFEREE: Mark Brown