The Town fell agonisingly to their first home defeat in six months as a late Luke Wilkinson own goal handed Morecambe all three points on a dramatic afternoon at Kenilworth Road.
The Hatters were 2-0 down to goals from Jack Redshaw and Laurence Wilson inside a first half-hour that the Shrimps completely dominated.
But as half-time approached the Town halved the deficit when Cameron McGeehan headed home Michael Harriman’s right-wing cross.
After the break the Hatters rallied and after Lawless, Elliot Lee and Wilkinson came close to levelling Lawless did find an equaliser with a low shot with 14 minutes left to play.
And there only looked like one winner when, with 10 minutes left, Morecambe’s Ryan Edwards was sent-off for a second bookable offence.
However, as the Town went in search of a winner there was a late, cruel twist when Wilkinson diverted Kevin Ellison’s cross past Elliot Justham to stun Kenilworth Road and hand the visitors all the points.
The Hatters, though, were ultimately left to pay for a poor first half showing that saw the Shrimps race into an uncontested two-goal advantage.
Redshaw came close after just 90 seconds when his shot was held by Justham, but the forward did have the visitors in front on 19 minutes when he showed quick feet in the penalty area to drive a left-foot finish into the far bottom corner of the net.
And before the Hatters could muster a response it was 2-0 on the half-hour mark when Redshaw sped down the right and crossed for Wilson who, lurking on the edge of the penalty area, swept home a stunning strike beyond Justham.
Two goals behind, John Still made a change on 33 minutes, introducing Lawless for Scott Griffiths, but the Hatters came close to going further behind when Redshaw waltzed through the Town defence to shoot at Justham before Wilson came close with another long range effort on 40 minutes.
But the Town were handed a lifeline two minutes before the break when Harriman raced into oceans of space down the right to swing in a cross for McGeehan 15 yards out to get up and nod past Andreas Arestidou.
The Town ended the first half on top, sensing a quickfire second, and Harriman set-up a header for Cullen to nod wide at the near post.
After the interval the Hatters upped the ante. Lawless shot wide from just inside the box on 50 minutes before the resultant corner hit the back of McGeehan and struck the foot of the post.
Shaun Whalley warmed the gloves of Arestidou before Lawless came close once more, this time with a left-foot shot which looked destined for the bottom corner on 67 minutes.
Still introduced Elliot Lee on 68 minutes, but two minutes later Justham kept the Hatters in the game when making a fine block to keep out Redshaw after the forward had seized on a mistake from Wilkinson to race clear on goal.
But it was the Town that were on top as time ticked down and on 74 minutes the Hatters came mighty close to levelling when Lee’s header from Guttridge’s corner came back off the post before Wilkinson blazed a volley over the bar from eight yards out.
However over 8,500 Hatters fans finally celebrated an equaliser just two minutes later when Lawless levelled. Stephen McNulty’s looping header from a right-wing corner came back off the crossbar and, after the visitors failed to clear, Lawless rammed home a lot shot into the corner of the net to make it two apiece.
On level terms the Hatters now sensed a winner and their pursuit of three points was made a little easier when the visitors were reduced to 10 men when Edwards was shown a second yellow card for a challenge on McGeehan which sparked a 15-man brawl between the two sets of players.
With a man advantage the Hatters continued to up the ante and McGeehan curled over on 83 minutes.
But the fine margins in the game were painfully illustrated in the 86th minute. Harriman’s cross for Cullen was flicked on into Lawless’ path and his header from close range was somehow touched onto the post by Arestidou. The 10-man Shrimps then broke downfield and Ellison’s left-wing cross was met by Wilkinson, sliding in attempting to clear. You could hear a pin drop inside a gobsmacked Kenilworth Road.
That sucker punch knocked the stuffing out of the Hatters as six minutes of added time was shown, during which Cullen forced Arestidou into a save following Nathan Oduwa’s cross and that, sadly, was that.
Three defeats on the spin leaves the Town fifth in League 2, six points behind the final automatic promotion place.
Portsmouth away next Saturday with almost 3,000 Hatters in attendance. Join us, won’t you? #COYH
Town: Justham; Harriman, Griffiths (sub Lawless), McNulty, Wilkinson; Smith (sub Lee), McGeehan, Whalley (sub Oduwa), Howells, Guttridge, Cullen.
Subs not used: King, Lee, Drury, Stockley.
Attendance: 8,667, including 94 from Morecambe.