FOREST GREEN 1
The Town were left to rue a missed penalty by Andre Gray as they were denied a ninth straight home win by promotion rivals Forest Green.
Gray had earlier put the Hatters 1-0 up with a fifth-minute header but his goal was cancelled out by Matt Taylor in a high tempo first period as both sides flushed their promotion contentions onto the field in an attempt to rack up maximum points.
The second half was a far more heated affair with Alex Lawless and Al Bangura dismissed as the game filled the middle of the pitch and gave away very few chances. Jon Shaw was denied multiple times by Sam Russell in the Forest Green goal and Gray blazed over from the spot as the Hatters were forced to settle for a frustrating point.
New signings Steve McNulty and Dave Martin were handed their Kenilworth Road débuts by Paul Buckle as the Hatters looked to end a run of two defeats. Lawless and Jonathan Smith were placed in the heart of the Hatters midfield with dangerous duo Gray and Shaw in attack.
The visitors named an attacking line up with Magno Vieira, James Norwood, Taylor and Yan Klukowski, who netted against the Hatters the last time the sides met back in October.
It took just five minutes for the Hatters to take the lead and it was Gray who nodded home for his 12th goal of the campaign. New signing Dave Martin whipped in a teasing cross from the left flank which goalkeeper Russell came thundering out to deal with. His attempted punch connected with mid air as Gray nipped in in front to loop a header over the keeper into the unguarded net.
The Hatters pressed on to enhance their advantage with Jon Shaw leading the charge. The front man dropped deep to receive the ball out wide from Scott Neilson before driving forward with purpose into the Forest Green half. Glancing up to see Gray racing into the middle, Shaw looked to pick him out but it cannoned off a Forest Green body. The referee waved away the appeals for a spot kick and pointed for a corner. A deep delivery toward the far post then picked out Shaw who's headed back across goal dropped agonisingly over the crossbar.
It was the visitors who found the net however and pulled the scoreline level. A free-kick just inside the Hatters half saw the Town box flooded with bodies. A swung in delivery was met at the front post by Matt Taylor who's glancing header brushed in off the upright to leave the Kenilworth Road crowd stunned.
The Hatters then were awarded a free-kick of their own in a similar position to their opponents. Lawless drilled the cross in towards the commanding figures of Janos Kovacs and McNulty. The latter rose highest, bullying the challenge off the nod goal wards but his header was comfortably claimed by Russell.
It was end to end stuff at Kenilworth Road as the visitors then launched an attack of their own. Another set-piece seemed to cause the hosts problems as Taylor again rose highest and flicked a header toward the back post which was watched wide by Tyler. Disgruntled murmurs greeted the header as the Town again seemed frail from the dead ball.
The Hatters needed a lift and the energetic goalscorer Gray lead by example. The ball was rolled into his path by Lawless who stepped over the ball and spun his marker. Toed out of play by the defender Eddie Oshodi which Howells jogged over to take. An in-swinging effort from Howells, right under the keeper's nose as he again flapped at the ball leaving Shaw to try and convert from an acute angle. Half of the crowd expected the net to bulge but Shaw's effort spilled behind and the score remained level.
It would have been advantage Luton again were it not for the finger tips of Russell who clawed out Shaw from close range. Gray's pace worked space for Neilson who was slid in by the goalscorer on the right hand corner of the box. Holding the ball up Neilson awaited reinforcements. Shaw obliged darting infield and flicked the ball first time toward the bottom corner. Russell was down early and by a combination of fingertips and post the ball squirmed wide.
10 minutes until the break and the Hatters were given a golden opportunity to reinstate their advantage. Gray again wreaking havoc In the final third was hauled down in the area by Jamie Turley and after a moments hesitation the referee granted the linesman's wishes and pointed to the spot. Confidently Gray stepped up, prepped to double his tally for the afternoon but blazed his effort over the crossbar.
Counter attacking stuff from the visitors nearly brought about their second through former Fleetwood hit-man Vieira. Calm and calculated build up from the Hatters saw Smith with a sighting at goal but after pinball like delirium in the Rovers half Klukowski retrieved and strode into the danger area. Faced by Kovacs, Klukowski shipped the ball to his left and Vieira jinked inside before sliding into the side netting.
The second half began with a flurry of Forest Green corners and the first sighting at goal. Norwood again threatened from out wide but with four second half minutes played but Neilson shut the cross down early to force the corner. Klukowski slipped a one-two short with Oshodi before curling into the area. Turley leapt higher than his marker to glance his header wide.
A response from the Hatters didn't take long as the wingers combined to work an opening. Neilson retained possession in the middle and slipped it through to Gray. Twisting and turning away from his ever-present marker Gray shifted the ball wide to Martin who galloped forward. Before anyone could close down Martin he looped a deep cross searching for Neilson scampering at the far. Neilson's acrobatic early effort soared over the bar as he looked to gloss off a phenomenal fluid Hatters move.
The Town task then got a whole lot harder as Lawless became acquainted with the referee. A late challenge on the half way line brought about the Welshman's booking and seconds later Mr Kinseley was reaching for a card again. Lawless dived into a second successive tackle in the corner and the man in the middle was less than hesitant in reaching for a second. Lawless trudged off the field in disbelief with the Hatters fans, players and bench infuriated by the tale of events.
Buoyed by the sense of injustice the Town went on the offensive with Martin. The winger hit the touchline early to make space for Howells who intern reversed the ball to him. Martin the darted down the left flank and forced the corner allowing McNulty and Kovacs to stride forward. Howells delivery was aimed towards the Hungarian but his attempted header was nipped away from danger.
A double change was made by Buckle as the hour mark surpassed. The energetic difference maker against Norwich, JJ O'Donnell replaced Martin and Arnaud Mendy came into the middle of midfield for Neilson.
Gray continued to harry the back line whenever in possession and on 67 minutes Gray's persistence caused Bangura to take exception to his physicality. Gray nipped in front of the former Watford man before being swung to the floor which infuriated the Hatters players. As Bangura lost his cool he was swarmed by a flurry of unhappy Hatters which ensued a heated barrage of bodies. The referee, again called into action dealt accordingly dismissing Bangura for his part in the melee and taking the name of O'Donnell for his reaction.
All square in all areas as the clock ticked every closer to another frustrating afternoon for the Hatters but Gray continued to lead by example and turn on the style whenever allowed. Capitalising on a defensive mix up Gray sprinted past his defender and lashed goal wards but after being shut down his shot was forced wide of the upright.
15 minutes remained and the Hatters made their final change with tireless runner Gray making way for former Rovers player Stuart Fleetwood. Welcomed by rapturous applause from the home fans and welcomed on the pitch by a hefty challenge from behind by Turley. A booking for Turley's troubles; Howells floated the cross into the area from the dead ball situation looking for Shaw. His header at the far post again forced Russell to bound down to his right to palm the ball to safety before being hooked away from the goalmouth.