The Town let a two-goal lead slip to sink to their seventh successive defeat as an injury-time goal from Exeter’s David Wheeler stunned Kenilworth Road.
First half goals from Luke Guttridge and Mark Cullen had the Hatters in control at half-time – but it was a different story in the second half.
Exeter halved the deficit six minutes after the restart when Ryan Harley hooked past Elliot Justham, and with 14 minutes left on the clock the Grecians levelled when Jordan Moore-Taylor poked home.
And just when it seemed the Town would hold on for a point to stop the rot, Wheeler popped up at the back post to divert the loose ball home after Christian Ribeiro’s header had come back off the post.
Kenilworth Road was left thunderstruck as the Hatters contemplated yet another defeat – their ninth in 10 League 2 games.
That dramatic finale seemed a million miles away at half-time when the Hatters confidently went off the park after the first 45 minutes with a 2-0 lead.
In fairness their advantage was harsh on the Grecians, who had bossed possession and chances in the first half. The Grecians’ shoot-on-sight policy was giving the Town defence a few nervous moments but the closest the visitors came to beating Elliot Justham in the first half was when the Hatters keeper held onto Graham Cummins’ header.
But it’s fair to say that luck – something that John Still doesn’t believe in – has alluded the Town in recent weeks, but there was, thankfully, some good fortune about the goal that led to the Hatters taking the lead on 21 minutes. The ball bounced at the feet of Guttridge 12 yards out and his shot took a deflection off an Exeter defender and rolled home to the delight of the home crowd.
As the rain teemed down, Exeter continued to pour forward in search of a goal but without seriously concerning the Hatters’ goal.
Exeter upped the ante as half-time approached but the Hatters had other ideas and, against the run of play, they made it 2-0. The Town did superbly to win the ball back off the visitors in the final third and Jonathan Smith’s pass sent Cullen through. The Hatters’ leading goalscorer still had plenty to do, but shrugged off his would-be-marker and thrasher a cool, low finish under the dive of James Hamon for his 13th of the season.
Ahead at the break the last thing the Town wanted was to concede an early goal at the start of the second half, but the visitors reduced arrears on 51 minutes when Harley was found alone six yards out and his volley flew past the exposed Justham.
Back came the Town, Alex Lawless flashing a shot wide of the target two minutes later, but it was the visitors that looked the more likely to score next. Justham was tested on 56 minutes when Arron Davies arrowed a shot from a corner routine before the Town keeper then pawed away Liam Sercombe’s shot six minutes later.
Exeter were beginning to turn the screw and a minute after Jayden Stockley was introduced for Cullen, the visitors levelled when the Town failed to clear their lines on the edge of the penalty area and Moore-Taylor slid home a shot into the bottom corner to make it 2-2.
The Town were looking tired as the visitors now pressed for a winner. But the Hatters to their credit were still hunting a winner themselves as the game continued to swing up and down the soggy Kenilworth Road pitch.
Both sides went for the win as time ticked down. Substitute Cameron McGeehan’s goal-bound shot was blocked with two minutes left and Sercombe saw a shot blocked by Paul Benson in the final minute of the 90 for the visitors.
It was hearts in mouths for the Town two minutes into injury time when Exeter had the ball in the net a third time but to the Hatters’ relief Davies’ back-post header wad ruled out for offside.
However, the Hatters weren’t so lucky in the final minute of stoppage time when the visitors won it. Ribeiro’s header from a right-wing cross kissed the post but Wheeler was first to the loose ball, pouncing quickest in the six-yard box to leave Kenilworth Road absolutely stunned.
The Hatters had one last chance from a corner but the visitors were able to clear and the Town players fell to their feet knowing they had lost for a seventh straight game.
Town: Justham, Harriman, Kinsella (sub Lacey 77), Wilkinson, McNulty, Lawless, Doyle, Smith (sub McGeehan 71), Guttridge, Cullen (sub Stockley 75), Benson.
Subs not used: Miller, Hall, Oduwa, King.
Attendance: 8,755, including 429 supporting Exeter.