Hatters Under-18s 2-2 Gillingham Under-18s
The Hatters Under-18s' pursuit of the Youth Alliance title took a blow as they were twice pegged back by Gillingham in an entertaining 2-2 draw at Ely Way on Saturday.
Boss Paul Driver was forced into a number of changes to the regular line up that had taken the field in the previous five games with Ben Barnes and Brett Longden travelling with the first team to face Gateshead and Jemale McKenzie-Lowe falling ill just prior to the game. In came Under-18s Development Squad keeper Adam Whybrow to replace Barnes whilst Lee Hawkes and Arel Amu replaced Longden and McKenzie-Lowe respectively.
An even first half ended that way at 1-1 with the Hatters taking the lead at the midway point when a Charlie Smith free kick was headed back across the box and bundled home by Amu.
Gillingham's principle threat came from long throws and their equaliser came from one of these in the last few minutes of the half when the referee didn't feel the nudge on Whybrow was sufficient to call a foul as the keeper looked to catch the ball which ended up in the net.
Despite losing Smith in the early stages of the second half - with the midfielder replaced by another Development Squad player in Lucas Kirkpatrick - the Hatters were the dominant side for good parts of the remainder of the game and were unlucky not to take the lead when a quick counter attack saw Jerome Jibodu break into the Gillingham half and cross for Zane Banton but his shot was parried away by the visiting goaleeper.
Both Tinashe Chabata and Tuki Tayali (a replacement for Amu) had headers fly just over the bar from a corner before the lead was regained. Ian Rees broke wide and his perfect cross to Banton was despatched into the net by the striker from 15 yards with just under 20 minutes to go.
Undeterred, Gillingham struck back within 10 minutes from a close range header from a corner.
The final period of the game again saw the Hatters push hard for the winner and the three points needed to keep the pressure up on Leyton Orient at the top of the table.
The best chance came to Banton but the visiting keeper pulled off an excellent save to deny him.
Paul Driver told lutontown.co.uk: "On one hand, given the changes to the team in vital areas, the late adjustments we had to make to our preparations and the general level of the performance, I am delighted with the players.
“On the other, we had the chances towards the end to get all of the points from the game and keep up maximum pressure on Orient.
“On the development side of things, Lee Hawkes and Tuki Tayali from the 16s had their best games for me which in encouraging going forward as is the fact that only Jerome (Jibodu) from the start line up cannot play in the league next season.”
Team: Whybrow, Jibodu, Hawkes, Rees, Chabata, Jules, Trottmann, Smith (sub Kirkpatrick 54), Amu (sub Tayali 69), Banton, Maguraushe. Subs not used: Allman, Ngwala.