Gray 12, 78
Newport County AFC 2
Jolley 52, 84
An Andre Gray brace was not enough for the Town to earn all three points as a late Christian Jolley equaliser denied the Hatters victory.
Gray's cushioned volley put the Hatters in front at the break before substitute Jolley netted to bring the sides level. Gray then put his side back in front with just over 10 minutes remaining when his venomous volley crashed into the roof of the County net.
But just over five minutes remained when Jolley popped up for the second time at the far post to head home and nab a point for Justin Edinburgh's men.
John Still named the same starting eleven that battled out the 1-1 draw with Grimsby on Friday evening. Jonathan Smith continued at right back whilst Matt Robinson partnered Solomon Taiwo in the centre of midfield.
Edinburgh named two former Hatters in his starting eleven as Aaron O'Connor and Robbie Willmott made their first returns to Kenilworth Road since their departures in the summer. Another ex-Lutonian Danny Crow was confirmed as a County substitute.
The opening minutes were played out with very little sightings at goal until Alex Lawless snuffed the ball off the toes of Tony James before slashing the ball into the side netting of Lenny Pidgeley's goal.
Newport were briefly down to 10 men when O'Connor pulled up sharply after darting away from McNulty and headed to the touchline for treatment. His absence was not felt by his team mates however as Willmott teased inside before driving the ball into the torso of Dean Brill in the Town goal.
The visitors seemed to gain confidence from their first sighting at goal through Willmott who then turned provider for a sniff at goal from Conor Washington. The former Hatter clipped the ball into Washington who caught the ball on his thigh before volleying just wide.
Shortly after the 10-minute mark the Hatters broke the deadlock through the Town’s top scorer Gray. A menacing attack seemed to had broken down when Lawless' through ball to Smith seemed to have been intercepted by James who prodded the ball out for a corner. Dave Martin stood over it before swapping possession with Taiwo who returned the favour to Martin to swing a ball into the mix. Gray peeled of his marker and found himself in acres of space at the far post before stroking his volley into the far corner.
The visitors set about overturning that deficit and thought they had found their response when Washington raced through on goal. A long searching pass over the back-line found the forward before he calmly rounded the keeper and rolled the ball towards an unguarded net. Lathaniel Rowe-Turner had other ideas and after his dogged attempt to track down the forward swept the ball off the line to maintain his side's slender advantage.
Wonderful build up once again from the Hatters on the 20 minute mark passed with Shaw, Lawless and Martin linking up superbly to weave their way through the County defence. A long pass forward by Rowe-Turner found Shaw who cushioned the ball into the pass of Lawless. The Welshman then flicked the ball with the outside of his boot round the corner to Martin who scampered clear of Pipe. Gray was haring down at the far post but Martin's cross could only find the gloves of Pidgeley without giving the finish the glossy move deserved.
It was almost a nightmare return to Bedfordshire for O'Connor when his callous back pass saw Gray speed after it and nip in front of the centre half to race clear on goal. Only Pidgeley to beat for Gray who went for the highlight reel chip over the keeper but a bobble before contact saw the ball blaze into the stand.
With 10 minutes until the interval and the confidence oozing through the Hatters team was clear to see. Shrugging off the challenge from Donnelly in the middle of the park, Shaw coiled up a 35-yard volley which looped towards goal. With Pidgeley beaten and back peddling rapidly, the crossbar came to the Exiles’ rescue as the ball cannoned off the woodwork and over.
It was far from straightforward for the Hatters as the Exiles continued to show their attacking threat with Washington leading the charge. A hook-and-hope pass forward from Pipe had Washington underneath it and as he slipped past Rowe-Turner he looked to whip the ball into the far post but Brill was equal to it.
There was one change at half time for the visitors as former Hatter O'Connor departed for another attacking prophecy in Jolley.
The Exiles started the second half brightly with Jolley's physical presence allowing Edinburgh's men to play more direct. The long pass towards Jolley was glanced out of play by Rowe-Turner for the first corner of the second period on 48 minutes. An in-swinging delivery caused confusion in the box as pinball like scenes which eventually was cleared by Shaw.
The substitute’s impact was immediate and his willingness to chase down and harry the Hatters back line paid dividends on the 50th minute mark. A long ball forward by Hughes saw Jolley creep round the back of Rowe-Turner who, under pressure from the baring down Brill, hoisted the ball into the air. Jolley was underneath it and his first touch control brought him onto his right foot before he toed the ball into the far corner from the acutest of angles.
Newport continued in their ascendancy as they peppered the Hatters back line with a flurry of attacks culminating in Brill's superb point-blank save from Lee Minshull's stabbed effort from six-yards.
Gray however had different ideas as he drove his fellow team mates on twisting and turning his way into the penalty area before his goal bound effort saw a deflection prevent him from adding to his earlier strike.
65 minutes on the clock when Still made a double change for the Hatters as Shaw and Lawless took their seat on the bench with Jake Howells and Alex Wall entering the fray.
Howells, filling into the attacking midfield role began to display his lavish array of passing as he sprayed a ball wide to Gray who stepped over the ball and turned into the space. Racing away he picked his head up and teed up Taiwo on the edge of the area but the midfielder's miscued effort scuppered kindly into Pidgeley's arms.
Brill, who was relatively quiet in the first half, was called into action yet again on 75 minutes when substitute Michael Flynn let fly from range to warm the gloves of the Hatters stopper who parried the effort out of danger from under the nose of the lurking Crow.
It was the Hatters substitute, however, who had the more telling effect on 78 minutes when Wall's driving run and set back eventually fell to Gray who thundered the ball into the top corner from inside the area. It was a ferocious strike from Gray to put the Hatters back in front and rack up his 18th goal of the campaign.
Seconds later Wall looked to put his name on the score sheet for the first time in Town colours when he ducked inside and fired from range. His low drive seemed destined to find the bottom corner but Pidgeley was down early to tip the ball round the post.
From finding themselves inches away from a two-goal lead the Hatters were then pegged back to level terms by Jolley's acrobatic header. A deep cross was whipped in but Brill bounded out to fist the ball away only for the ball to be hooked back in to the far post where Jolley was lurking and he sprang in front of his marker to nod the ball home.
There was still drama to unfold however as in the dying seconds Robinson swung a volley towards goal. Unsighted by the bodies in front of him he watched it drop onto his right foot before swooping it at goal. The ball clipped the top of the crossbar on its way over and the game concluded with the both sides sharing the points.