Lawless strikes earns Hatters deserved point
Grimsby Town 1
It was honours even on an enthralling night at Kenilworth Road with Alex Lawless 76th-minute strike earning the Hatters of the spoils.
A dominant first half of flowing football from the Hatters had the Town fans in attendance on their feet but just missed that cutting edge as they headed into the break with the game still goalless. Dayle Southwell finally broke the deadlock for the visitors against the run of play but Lawless' late strike ensured a deserving point for the hosts.
As the TV cameras rolled into town John Still selected Jonathan Smith to fill in at full back in replace of Ronnie Henry who had surgery in the week. Matt Robinson was joined in the heart of the Hatters midfield by Solomon Taiwo who was invited to rejoin the starting eleven.
An early start from the Hatters as Dave Martin continued his scintillating form on the left hand side racing clear of the challenge before whipping an inviting cross into the area for Andre Gray to attack. The pull back passed Gray and Jon Shaw was unable to connect at the far before the ball bobbled out to Smith who tried his luck from range.
The Hatters continued to race out of the traps and gave the game an energetic start with a good old fashioned goal mouth scramble preventing the opening goal. Lawless' deep corner found Gray at the far who's goal bound header was slammed away by McKeown in the Grimsby net but only as far as Steve McNulty. The Town skipper drilled the effort immediately back at goal before another goal line clearance forced Shaw to stab a deflected effort wide.
Five corners in the first six minutes for the Hatters with Lawless' coming closest to breaking the deadlock after his scuffed set-piece ricocheted off the post and back to the Welshman who saw his ferocious drive skip wide.
Gray and Shaw had been the target of the Hatters attacking threat and on eight minutes once more broke through the Mariners back line. Gray's fizzed pass found Shaw who saw his first touch take him inside and hit an early strike at goal which carrier over the crossbar.
A superb opening 20 minutes from the hosts with a wonderful array of style and substance as they carved their way through the Mariners defence with a precise passing move culminating in Shaw's half volley forcing McKeown to bound to his left to prevent a team goal of the season contender with Smith, Robinson, Martin, Gray and Taiwo all instrumentally involved in the move.
Another close shave for the hosts as Lawless' driven cross found Shaw lunging in at the far but couldn't connect. It was Lawless' corner that was headed back to him before his cross-shot attempt nearly had Shaw nodding home the opener.
The Hatters front-line was beginning to flourish with Shaw and Gray allowed to drop off and join in earlier on in the attacking phases. Shaw peeled off to the right hand side and as Lawless slid him in the forward picked his head up and found Taiwo in the area. Taiwo's controlled volley was slammed against Miller to prevent another Hatters attempt on target.
Seconds later and it was Shaw again peeling off at the far post causing the Mariners havoc. Martin's deep cross found Shaw who drove a volley into the ground. The strike looped up and dropped inches wide of the far post with a real heart in mouth moment for the Grimsby keeper.
A first half dominated by the Hatters in sense of possession and chances but as the referee glanced at his watch nearing the half time interval Dean Brill was thrust into action by Andi Thanoj. There seemed to be very little on the cards for the Mariners midfielder but as he dipped inside he unleashed a venomous swerving shot that nearly caught Brill unawares. The Hatters stopper tracked the movement and threw himself to the floor before gloving the ball wide.
The second half started with the same fast paced tempo from both sides. Another Hatters corner was duly defended by Grimsby before Thanoj lead the charge into the penalty area. Prodding the ball wide it fell to Southwell who smashed his effort over the crossbar from ten yards out.
The visitors were in the ascendancy and the travelling fans behind Brill's goal were celebrating what they thought was the opener on 51 minutes. Thanoj wound up from range before thundering a right footed driver over Brill's head which crashed off the bar, bounced on the goal line and out. As Grimsby appealed the ball was lashed clear from danger.
Their pain was to be short-lived however as Southwell turned home from close range on 55 minutes. A deep cross in found Miller at the far post who nodded the ball down to Southwell. He delayed the shot and the opportunity seemed to have passed but he somehow toed the ball through a barrage of players and over the line before Lawless could scramble clear but the official on the far side had his flag waving ferociously to indicate a goal and the visitors had an unassuming 1-0 lead.
An instant response arrived from the Hatters with Scott Griffiths nodding just wide after an in-swinging Lawless delivery that almost had the hosts back on level terms.
The game opened up further and chances became apparent for both sides as the hour mark passed with Liam Hearn coming closest to changing the scoreline. Winning the ball back in midfield after a rushed clearance from Brill the ball was played into Hearn inside the area where he produced two neat step-overs before shifting the ball inside and rifling over.
The first change of the night for the Hatters saw Shaw depart for Alex Wall who received a warm welcome from the five thousand inside Kenilworth Road as Still looked to his tactical options to overturn the deficit.
Wall nearly made an instant impact as yet another corner was chalked up for the hosts. The drilled in delivery, aimed at Wall, saw the tall forward glance the ball into the path of Griffiths who, from six yards out, blazed over the bar.
The Town finally found the equaliser they duly deserved when Lawless half-volleyed home on 76 minutes. The move started when Robinson retained possession inside the Grimsby half and sprayed a wonderful pass wide to Martin. The winger then drifted outside and curled a deep cross in towards the far post. The cross evaded Wall at the far but was picked up by Taiwo who drilled the ball back into the danger area. Lawless' first touch control brought the ball down perfectly and allowed him to crash the ball into the far corner.
The goal buoyed the support and players alike as Martin continued to drive his side forward by carrying the ball deep into the Grimsby area. This time he aimed his cross at the near post where Gray had leapt into position before glancing a header goal wards. The ball flew past the wrong side of the upright to the disgust of Gray as the score stayed level.
Yet another corner for the Hatters as the clock wound down with Lawless again pinging the ball into the far post area. Grimsby's half clearance dropped kindly to Robinson who whipped a teasing cross back into the front post where Wall was lurking. The substitute darted in front of his man and flung his acute header off the upright and out of play.
In the dying stages the Hatters were at it again. Wonderful build up play from Smith, Lawless and eventually Wall clipped the ball into the path of Gray who hammered an effort at goal, forcing McKeown to fling up a strong right hand at the last second to prevent a fitting finish to another dazzling Hatters move.
Applause from all four corners of the ground as the Hatters efforts were rewarded with a deserving standing ovation at full time after the referee concluded what was a magnificent match-up.