The Hatters slip to an away goal to lose their three-game winning streak
Jack Marriott’s 14th goal of the season was not enough to give the Hatters three points after a frustrating home performance at the hands of Newport County AFC.
Marriott came off the bench to net with less than ten minutes remaining, nodding home Olly Lee’s cross after a quiet first half at Kenilworth Road.
But as the Town thought they had nicked three points, substitute Souleymane Coulibaly headed beyond Elliot Justham to keep Newport in the Football League, ending the Hatters’ slim play-off hopes.
Nathan Jones kept faith in the XI that won at Oxford and Carlisle as Alan Sheehan once again wore the captain’s armband in the absence of Scott Cuthbert, expected to be back next week.
Josh McQuoid came close after just two minutes for the Hatters, meeting Danny Green’s deflected cross but only nodding wide in a bright start for both sides.
County came back into the game however, Medy Elito first testing Justham from range prior to the visitors getting a brace of corners dealt with by the Hatters defence.
Stephen O’Donnell’s raking diagonal was just out of reach of Joe Pigott’s head, while the striker also steered Pelly Ruddock’s pull-back inches wide of the far post in a truncated and “energyless” half according to the gaffer.
It was a frustrating half for the Town with opportunities at a premium, with Sheehan required to make a trio of pin-point, last-ditch tackles to keep the game goalless.
The hosts were lacking the clinical edge that saw them accrue maximum points from their last three outings, and Nathan Jones looked to change things around with Cameron McGeehan coming on for Alex Lawless just before the half-hour mark.
Despite having the better of the ball, Newport were only able to test Justham on a few occasions, the best of those coming from an Elito drive which the Hatters keeper had to fumble round the post.
Pigott, fresh from three goals in his last two outings, came close to adding to his tally, but from Lee’s cross the striker was forced to stretch after ‘keeper Joe Day slipped, nodding over without being able to force any direction.
And the best chance came on the stroke of the break. McGeehan and Ruddock linked up well down the inside-left channel, and when Ruddock out-muscled his defender and fired a shot, he looked certain to net only for Day to pull off an excellent save and keep the game goalless at the interval.
The Town came out firing for the second period, coming close to breaking the deadlock when Pigott’s near-post effort from Ruddock’s dancing was touched just wide.
Ruddock was instrumental in all the Hatters’ early attacks, feeding Pigott on the edge of the area with back to goal. The Charlton loanee somehow managed to get a shot away, with his looping effort almost foxing Day but clipping the crossbar on its way out.
The manager introduced Zane Banton to inject some pace to the fore, with the promising youngster given 30 minutes to strut his stuff and attempt to win the Town the game, while Marriott came on seven minutes later.
And those introductions gave the Town some extra impetus with O’Donnell bursting through with regularity, although there were some nervy moments when ex-Hatter Dean Morgan was clean on goal, yet he could only fire past the far post.
But the Town breakthrough did come just nine minutes from time. Super work down the right-hand side led to Lee having time to pick his cross, finding the run of Marriott at the front post to nod past Day and give the Hatters the lead.
But the hosts switched off just five minutes later to concede the lead. Alex Rodman was allowed time to get his ball in the box, and substitute Coulibaly was on hand to nod past Justham and confirm Newport’s stay in League 2 for another season.
Hatters: Justham, O’Donnell, Potts, Rea, Sheehan, Lawless (sub McGeehan 29), Lee, Green (sub Banton 59), Ruddock, McQuoid (sub Marriott 68), Pigott
Subs not used: King, Benson, Howells, Musonda
Attendance: 7,606, with 140 following Newport County AFC