Town denied first league win by United late-show
The Hatters let a two-goal lead slip in the final seven minutes as they were held to a 2-2 draw with Oxford United at Kenilworth Road.
The Town looked set to collect all three points in their first home league match of the campaign as goals from Luke Wilkinson and Cameron McGeehan put John Still’s side in control.
But on 83 minutes the visitors halved the deficit when Kemar Roofe struck, and just when it looked as though the Hatters had done enough, substitute Patrick Hoban poked home from close range at the end of stoppage time to stun the Town and the points were shared.
It all began with the Hatters showing four changes to the side that beat Bristol City in the week with Nathan Doyle, Scott Griffiths, Paddy McCourt and Craig Makcial-Smith restored the starting line-up.
And backed by a 9,000-strong crowd, the Town started on the front foot with McGeehan shooting high and wide inside the opening 30 seconds, and Paul Benson was then unable to turn home a chance when gifted the ball by Oxford keeper Sam Slocombe on three minutes.
The Hatters were dominating the opening exchanges, as they searched for an early lead, and they almost got it on seven minutes. McCourt waited and waited to play the perfect pass through to Mackail-Smith but the striker was denied by the quick-thinking for Slocombe.
Still the Town pushed as the visitors found it difficult to get the ball off McCourt, and his cross on 13 minutes led to Wilkinson firing a shot from 20 yards just over the crossbar.
Oxford, fresh from a 4-0 win over Brentford in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday, were slowly edging their way in the game and the Town defence did well to charge down a shot from Alex Macdonald on 16 minutes before Mark Tyler held onto Roofe’s dangerous cross five minutes later.
Back came the Hatters, Mackail-Smith’s dipping half-volley was deflected over the crossbar as the game began to swing from end to end.
Then it was Oxford’s turn to push the Town back. Tyler’s first real save of the game came on the half-hour when he pounced on a low volley from Macdonald before Roofe then went down claiming a penalty but was ignored by the referee.
The Hatters had the ball in the United goal on 35 minutes when Mackail-Smith thundered home from Stephen McNulty’s free-kick but the effort was chalked off for offside.
But, as the break approached, the Town went up a gear and took the lead through Wilkinson. McCourt floated over a corner from the right and the centre-half leapt highest in the crowded penalty area to plant a precise header in the net.
Hurt by going behind the visitors almost levelled immediately but the Hatters had Scott Cuthbert to thank when charging down Roofe’s goal-bound blast from eight yards.
However, the Hatters came close to going in at half-time two goals to the good when Benson nodded against the post from close range after Wilkinson’s header from another McCourt corner was cleared off the line.
Like he did in the first half, McGeehan tried his luck from distance in the opening minute of the second period but saw his shot stopped by the boot of Joe Skarz.
But Oxford were beginning to find their rhythm and the visitors thought they had found an equaliser on 52 minutes but Macdonald’s header was ruled out for a push on Stephen O’Donnell at the back post.
Shortly before the hour John Still made his first change of the game, introducing Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu for O’Donnell as the Hatters reverted to a flat-back four.
The visitors continued to have more of the ball, however, and Danny Rose wasn’t far away from levelling the score on 66 minutes when his sweetly-struck shot from the edge of the box whistled inches wide of the target.
After that near miss, however, the Town doubled their lead through McGeehan’s first goal since arriving permanently. The midfielder could not at first control a bouncing ball in the Oxford penalty area but he eventually tamed it, held off the attentions of several defenders and guided a low left-foot shot into the corner of the net to make it 2-0.
With the Hatters two goals up with 10 minutes to go, Still introduced Jonathan Smith and Jack Marriott for McCourt and Mackail-Smith – but moments later the visitors halved the deficit. There seemed little danger on when Roofe rifled a shot goalwards but the ball took a wicked deflection off Stephen McNulty and bounced past Tyler.
The Town were holding on as time ticked down but United were in the hunt for a late leveller.
As four minutes were added at the end of the 90 the Hatters came close to making it 3-1 when Smith’s low shot was parried by Slocombe – but McGeehan blazed the follow-up way over the crossbar.
But just when the Town thought they’d done enough, Oxford grabbed an equaliser deep into injury time. A left-wing cross was only half-cleared by Tyler and, after a brief scramble in the six-yard box, Hoban poked home to send the United support into raptures and leave the majority inside Kenilworth Road stunned.
There was no time left for the Town to mount one last chance for a winner and that was that.
Town: Tyler; McNulty, Cuthbert, Wilkinson, O’Donnell (sub Ruddock 58), Griffiths; Doyle, McGeehan, McCourt (sub Smith 81); Benson, Mackail-Smith (sub Marriott 81).
Attendance: 8,877, including 781 from Oxford.