Paul Benson’s red card soured a strong second-half performance as the Hatters were held to a 0-0 draw from their trip to Stevenage.
The Town striker lunged in on Tom Conlon close to the touchline, and despite making no contact with the player, Benson’s intent was enough for him to see red in the final 10 minutes.
The Hatters hit the bar twice in the second half through Danny Green and Josh McQuoid after a quiet opening period, and were much the better side of the break.
But they couldn’t force the winner to claim just a share of the spoils at the Lamex Stadium to keep in touch with the League 2 play-off places.
After a decent performance in victory at home to Barnet last week, John Still elected to keep the same XI on the park as Benson and McQuoid continued their partnership at the tip of the Hatters attack.
But the pair were unable to click in the early stages amidst a very quiet opening period which the hosts just about shaded thanks to a scuffed Armand Gnanduillet shot, leaving Jonathan Smith on the floor before dragging wide of Mark Tyler’s post.
The Town got their first sniff midway through the period when Green launched a counter attack down the right flank, but his fizzing cross was too fast for Cameron McGeehan to tap in and the chance was lost.
Both sides were limited to half-chances, with Tyler more than up to Schumacher’s 30-yard free kick, while Smith at the other end couldn’t hit the target from range in a bid for his fifth goal of the campaign.
The Hatters boss talked about the “niggly” nature of the local derby earlier in the week, and that almost came to fruition when Green and Ben Kennedy eyed each other up, but the referee kept his cards firmly in his pockets on this occasion.
The visitors opted for a change of formation as the half wore on, with McQuoid moved to the flank to allow McGeehan to support lone striker Benson, a move which provided the Town with more attacking ambition down the left hand side.
The switch almost proved dividends for the Town’s best attack of the half. First McQuoid had a low shot well dealt with by Chris Day, and with McGeehan looking destined to score, Dean Wells was on hand to clear off the line while Green could only find the keeper’s gloves following up.
The turgid first half was replaced with a far better second period, although the Hatters were still limited to half-chances when Smith once again arrowed a shot to the keeper after good work by McQuoid down the left.
A speculative through ball caught Benson offside, but he was played through by a back header with just the keeper to beat, yet was snuffed out when Day spread himself to smother the opportunity.
The introduction of Jack Marriott for McGeehan seemed to give the Hatters a new dimension, and a 15-minute wave of attacks somehow still kept the game goalless, but not before Tyler had to have his wits about him to deny ex-Hatter Fraser Franks from seemingly point blank range.
Marriott came close to making his mark immediately, forcing an under pressure Wells to handle back to the keeper, but the defender only saw yellow to give the Hatters a free-kick in a threatening position.
And it was from that that Green hit the crossbar, crashing his free-kick onto the woodwork from a curling effort that was just inches from opening the scoring after beating Day all ends up to launch the Lamex into a rip-roaring finale.
The Town were well on top, despite some half-chances for the hosts, and some exquisite skill from Olly Lee with a pirouette on the edge of the area allowed the midfielder to launch a wonderful strike with the outside of his boot which Day did well to tip away for a corner, while Benson was unable to nod home Green’s cross as the game entered its final ten minutes.
And moments later Benson saw red. Conlon was looking to bring the ball out of the Stevenage defence, but Benson’s intervention saw the Town man shown a straight red for his two-footed challenge, even though no contact was made on the player.
The dismissal led to a switch in the Town’s mentality, with Sean Long and Mark O’Brien thrown on, but the visitors were still a danger, as shown by McQuoid heading against the bar as the game ticked into injury time. The striker met Alex Lawless’ excellent right-wing cross, craning his neck to glance the header onto the frame of the goal.
Stevenage looked to capitalise on the man advantage, but Scott Cuthbert was on hand with an excellent late challenge, earning the Hatters a point and a third league clean sheet in succession.
Town: Tyler, Lawless, Cuthbert, Wilkinson, Griffiths, Green (sub Long 87), Smith, Lee (sub O’Brien 89), McGeehan (sub Marriott 66), Benson (red card 84), McQuoid.
Subs not used: Justham, McCourt, Guttridge, Mackail-Smith.
Attendance: 4,782, with 1,892 following the Hatters.