The Town were made to rue a number of missed chances as they started the New Year with defeat at Woking.
Striker Jon Shaw hit the woodwork twice with the score at 1-1 - and that proved costly as two goals in the final 16 minutes gave the hosts all three points.
In the first half a fabulous strike from Andre Gray had levelled for the Hatters after Billy Knott had put the Cards in front as early as the third minute.
But, after spurning a string of opportunities, the Town were punished twice in the final stages to swing the game in Woking’s favour. Knott got his second on 74 minutes before substitute Gavin McCullum set-up fellow sub Jayden Stockley for a third four minute later.
Buoyed by a strong away following on a glorious day new signing Scott Neilson was the only change to the side that beat Woking on Boxing Day. Neilson replaced Stuart Fleetwood in attack, but fellow new boy Jonathan Smith had to be content with a place on the bench.
The Hatters hordes, however, were cursing their luck when Woking took the lead after some early pressure. Mark Tyler tipped over a goal-bound effort from Adam Doyle after some pinball inside the penalty area and, after the resultant corner was played short, Knott send a sweet strike flying past the Town goalkeeper after just three minutes.
Hurt by going behind, Neilson almost fashioned a chance for Scott Rendell on seven minutes when wriggling free of his man down the left, but a minute later, a goal of real quality had the visitors level. On a bog of a pitch, only passed playable at 10am, Alex Lawless threaded a perfectly-weighted throughball for Gray who took one touch before smashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
While the Town had weathered the early storm from the hosts to get back into the game in truth both teams were struggling to copy on a very heavy pitch.
Woking, however, should have restored their lead on 23 minutes when a clever pass from Joe McNerney found Bradley Bubb free inside the penalty area but to the Town’s relief the Cards’ leading goalscorer fired wide with the goal at his mercy.
As both sides waded through the cut-up surface it was the hosts who looked the more likely to score but failed to test Tyler.
But as half-time approached the Hatters upped the ante and came mighty close to taking the lead for the first time a minute before the break. Gray sped down the right to swing in a low cross that found Neilson who saw a shot blocked. The ball then broke to Jon Shaw on the edge of the box who took aim and saw his effort deflected onto the crossbar.
Still the pressure continued. Howe did well to cling onto a high cross into the box before a right-wing raid from Ronnie Henry saw half-hearted penalty appeals waved away.
Two added minutes were added by the officials at the end of the half Shaw came close with two chances, firstly denied at the back-post when left unmarked before seeing a shot on the turn blocked behind for a corner.
The Hatters had a chance 50 seconds after the restart when Howells and Neilson combined for the former to hang up a left-wing cross that Rendell headed over from eight yards. Neilson then did well two minutes later to hang up a cross that Shaw couldn’t quite turn home.
Still the Town continued to press as the game swung from end-to-end in an exciting first 10 minutes but neither goalkeeper were forced into any serious action.
That changed, though, on 62 minutes when Shaw was denied by the woodwork once more when Howe somehow got some part of his body to the striker’s towering header to deflect the ball onto the bar following Henry’s pin-point cross. The ball bounced down off the underside of the crossbar and away to safety to the Town’s frustration.
It was all the Hatters as they penned Woking into their own half and Shaw came agonisingly close once more on 68 minutes when his header was turned around the post by Howe following Howells’ free-kick.
From almost 2-1 at one end the Town were lucky they didn’t fall behind a minute later when substitute McCallum raced clear with only Tyler to beat but he could only float an effort onto the top of the crossbar.
But the Hatters weren’t so lucky on 74 minutes when Woking got their noses in front once more through that man Knott. Shaw was dispossessed by Bubb and although Tyler got a hand to his shot, it escaped his grasp and Knott couldn’t miss from two yards to make it 2-1.
If Town fans thought that was bad it was to get a whole lot worse four minutes later when another Woking sub, Stockley made it 3-1. McCallum hung a perfect ball up from the left and Stockley rose to plant a header past Tyler.
It was a long road back for the Hatters if they were to get anything from the game in the final few minutes. Stuart Fleetwood, Smith and Lathaniel Rowe-Turner were all sent on but it was Woking who looked most likely to score again. Indeed a late save from Tyler from Kevin Betsy prevented the Cards from making it four.