The Hatters’ conceded another last-minute goal as they fell to a fourth defeat this season despite rallying from two goals down to level on a dramatic afternoon at Meadow Lane.
With 20 minutes to play the Town looked down and out after two goals from Notts striker Izale McLeod had given County a 2-0 lead.
But substitute Cameron McGeehan halved the deficit on 71 minutes and five minutes later Jonathan Smith’s stunning low effort completed the comeback to restore parity.
However, for the fourth time this term, the Town were sunk by a late goal when, after Scott Cuthbert was sent-off for bringing down McLeod in injury time, Liam Noble curled home the resultant free-kick to break Hatters hearts and secure all three points for County.
It all began with the Town unchanged from last weekend’s 3-1 win at Cambridge, with McGeehan and Paddy McCourt returning to the squad to take their places on the bench. There was no Elliot Justham either, the goalkeeper suffering an injury in training on Thursday, which meant Craig King was named as a substitute.
An entertaining first 45 minutes started with the Town controlling the opening minutes, with Luke Wilkinson not far away from giving the Hatters the lead when attempting to get on the end of a dangerous corner from Danny Green.
Back came County, Mark Tyler holding McLeod’s shot from the edge of the box before the home striker was then booked for diving in the box on nine minutes when sent to ground by Stephen O’Donnell.
Green then tested home goalkeeper and captain Roy Carroll with a firm free-kick from the left-hand edge of the penalty box following super play from Craig Mackail-Smith to win the foul.
Still the Town pressed. Some neat one-touch football led to a long-range effort from Olly Lee deflected with the Hatters claiming handball.
The game, however, continued to swing from end to end and the Magpies came close to breaking the deadlock on 22 minutes when Graham Burke shot from 25 yards flew over the bar.
County then thought they had the lead on 26 minutes when the home side bundled the ball over the line following a right-wing free-kick only for the effort to be chalked off for a foul on Tyler – much to the Magpies’ frustration.
But the home side were not to be denied six minutes later when, after holding firm against a flurry of Town set-pieces, they took the lead. Burke was the creator, bending in an inch-perfect cross from the left and McLeod did the rest, directing a well-placed header beyond Tyler.
With their tails up, County pressed for a quickfire second, Genaro Snijders sliding a shot inches wide of the target on 40 minutes.
At the other end, Luke Wilkinson nodded a free header well wide from a right-wing corner before the hosts thought they should have had a penalty when Snijders fell to the floor under the slightest nudge from Wilkinson in the penalty area.
Behind at the break the Town fell further behind just three minutes after the restart when McLeod raced through and finished expertly past Tyler with a sublime clipped finish.
The Hatters made a change immediately after County’s second with Ryan Hall replacing Green, but the hosts weren’t far away from making it 3-0 on 52 minutes when Adam Campbell curled a shot from the edge of the box over the bar as the home side threatened to kill of the Town.
John Still then made his second change of the second period on 55 minutes, introducing McGeehan for Luke Guttridge, but the Hatters were struggling to create chances and test Carroll in the County goal.
The hosts missed a decent chance to make it 3-0 shortly after the hour when Campbell ghosted into the Town box but he could only flash a shot high and wide and that miss would almost prove costly for County.
With 19 minutes left on the clock the Town halved the deficit when McGeehan finished a fine move to make it 2-1. Scott Griffiths burst down the left to deliver a low cross into the box that was helped on by Josh McQuoid and Craig Mackail-Smith to McGeehan at the back post and the 20-year-old thumped a finish high into the net for his ninth goal in Luton goals.
Tyler then kept it 2-1 with a fine sprawling save to deny Campbell after the County man had skipped through the Town back-line on 75 minutes.
But a minute later the Hatters hordes were celebrating a second goal as Smith struck to bring the Town level. The Town patiently moved the ball into substitute Hall’s path and he teed up Smith to rifle a low finish beyond the reach of Carroll from 25 yards.
Level, you sensed a Town winner was just around the corner. County were on their feet and the Hatters almost eked out a third goal on 82 minutes when McQuoid and McGeehan both saw shots blocked in a frantic goalmouth melee.
As the game swung from end to end as time ticked down, the Town were relieved to see the flag of the linesman on 86 minutes after the hosts had the ball in the net.
Then the Hatters came close once more, Mackail-Smith millimetres away from putting the Town in front moments later with a low angled effort that zoomed across goal but just past the post.
But then, in the final minute, disaster struck. The Town defence was caught out by a long ball forward, allowing McLeod to race goalwards. His run was ended by Cuthbert who was shown a straight red card. From the resulting free-kick on the edge of the box, Noble stepped up and curled a beauty into the top corner to send the hosts into delirium.
County came close to adding a fourth when Julian Jenner’s shot struck the inside of the post in the fifth added minute but the Town could not find a late, late answer – the points stayed in Nottingham and the Hatters players fell to their feet knowing they had been knocked out by another late sucker punch.
Town: Tyler; O’Donnell, Griffiths, Cuthbert, Wilkinson; Smith, Lee, Guttridge (sub McGeehan 55), Green (sub Hall 51 (sub McNulty 90)), McQuoid, Mackail-Smith.
Subs not used: McCourt, Ruddock, Williams, King.
Attendance: 5,820, including a magnificent 1,689 backing the Hatters.