Hylton nets his 14th of the season in action-packed encounter
LUTON TOWN 1
CARLISLE UNITED 1
Att: 7,953 (380)
Danny Hylton scored his 14th goal of the season as the Hatters came from behind for the third time in a week after conceding early, but had to settle for a point in a 1-1 draw with promotion rivals Carlisle at Kenilworth Road this afternoon.
The Hatters went toe-to-toe with the Cumbrians, who played the last 18 minutes with ten men after centre-half Michael Raynes was sent off for apparently catching Hylton – who had cancelled out Jason Kennedy’s early opener – with an elbow on the edge of the area.
Town pressed for a winner, having already had several good opportunities to put daylight between themselves and the team who were second in the Sky Bet League Two table at kick-off.
But ultimately they had goalkeeper Christian Walton to thank for a brilliant save from Shaun Miller, five minutes into ten added on at the end of the game, to preserve a share of the spoils and fifth place.
Hatters boss Nathan Jones made three changes to his starting line-up from that which kicked off last week’s 6-2 FA Cup win over Solihull Moors.
In from the start were Stephen O’Donnell, who scored twice after coming on as a half-time sub last Saturday, and Dan Potts, who played at centre-half in the midweek Checkatrade Trophy win at Swindon, as wing-backs as Jones abandoned the diamond formation and went for three central defenders and three strikers, with Isaac Vassell - who netted the winner in Tuesday’s 3-2 victory - also back in from the kick-off after being on the bench for the Solihull game.
Glen Rea was booked inside the opening two minutes for a foul on Nicky Adams, and things went from bad to worse for the Town a couple of minutes later when Kennedy put the visitors in front, tapping in from close range after Christian Walton could only parry Shaun Miller’s header at goal.
The Hatters tried to respond immediately, and after Vassell was fouled 30 yards out, Alan Sheehan whipped in a free-kick that Scott Cuthbert met with a powerful header, but the skipper couldn’t keep his effort down.
The equaliser wasn’t long in coming, however, and it was everything that Jones wants his side to be. In a patient move that started on the left with Potts, went across to O’Donnell at right-back via Glen Rea, back along the three centre-halves and out to the left-back again, the Hatters made steady progress.
Then Vassell took over from Potts to the left of the Carlisle box and fed the ball low inside to Jack Marriott, who zipped the ball along the six-yard line for Hylton to control and spin on a sixpence for his 14th goal of the season.
Sheehan was next to try his luck in a really open encounter, cutting inside and rifling an 18th-minute shot that skidded off the greasy surface, but was well held by Mark Gillespie in the visitors’ goal.
Walton had to be on his guard at the near post to tip over Adams’ fierce drive, but the Town were breaking with great pace to support the front three, and Marriott met a wonderful cross from O’Donnell at the far post, but directed his header straight into the ground and Gillespie collected.
With the Hatters pressing high and thundering into challenges – one charge from O’Donnell and a full-blooded tackle from Potts earning applause from the crowd – the tempo was set.
Hylton and Marriott linked up well to draw a foul from Michael Raynes on the latter, but ref Mark Heywood did well to wave play on to allow Hylton to send another 25 yarder goalwards, but this one was well off target.
Vassell was chasing down Carlisle defenders, and the Cornishman’s work-rate and trickery created two shooting opportunities for himself inside a minute.
By the 41st minute, he was creating them for others – laying it off for Marriott to the right side of the area, and the ex-Ipswich man’s curling effort with his left foot was only inches away from finding the stanchion with Gillespie rooted to the spot.
With the final attack of the first half, Hylton saw a shot deflected over the bar after Marriott had wrestled control of the ball from Raynes and wriggled free to tee him up, but it was all square at the interval.
Three minutes after the restart, Rea had the Town’s first effort of the second half, unleashing a 25-yard drive that Gillespie held well.
Referee Heywood was busy scribbling in his notepad early in the half again, as Mullins was booked for a foul on Adams, and the Cumbrians’ Shaun Brisley soon saw yellow too for bringing down Hylton in full flow as he carried the ball clear from defending a corner.
Almost immediately, Brisley fouled the Town top scorer again at the other end, but Heywood resisted temptation to produce red and within seconds Shaun Miller was stretching the Hatters’ defence, firing wide from the edge of the box with his left foot.
Alex Gilliead, who spent most of last season on loan at Carlisle, came on just after the hour to replace the injured Sheehan, with Jones reverting to a back four.
Cameron McGeehan went close in the 66th minute, bursting onto a Vassell knock-down to drive past three defenders in the box, but as he looked to scramble the ball over the line, a combination of goalkeeper Gillespie and United captain Danny Grainger halted his progress in the six-yard box.
Jones stiffened the midfield up with Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu coming on for Marriott, and the former West Ham man and Gilliead probed right and left for an opening as Town looked for a winner.
Carlisle were next to register an attempt on goal though, with goalscorer Kennedy pulling off an ambitious overhead kick that Walton held comfortably under his crossbar.
Then, in the 78th minute, Hatters captain Cuthbert rose to meet a Gilliead corner, but his bullet header bounced back off the advertising boards behind the goal at the Kenilworth Road end.
Carlisle were reduced to ten men in the 82nd minute when, on the advice of one of his assistants, Heywood showed Raynes a straight red after tangling with Hylton on the edge of the box.
After a lengthy hold-up, in which Carlisle goalkeeper coach Simon Tracey was also dismissed, Gillespie parried McGeehan’s powerful free-kick, then Rea fired over from 20 yards as the Cumbrians struggled to clear.
After all the hold-ups, it was little surprise that the fourth official indicated there would be nine minutes of time added on – but as there was a Carlisle player receiving treatment at the time, there’d be more than that.
Walton produced a wonderful save with his legs in the 95th minute, just after Jordan Cook had come on against his former loan club for Vassell, to deny Shaun Miller as Carlisle mounted a rare second-half attack.
Into the tenth minute of injury time, Gilliead drove at the visitors’ defence and rolled the ball to McGeehan, but the midfielder’s shot went high into the Kenilworth Road stand and with it went the Town’s last hope of taking maximum points.
TOWN: Walton, O’Donnell, Potts, Mullins, Cuthbert ©, Sheehan (Gilliead 62), Rea, McGeehan, Hylton, Vassell (Cook 90+5), Marriott (Mpanzu 67). Subs: Smith, Lee, McQuoid, King (GK)
Yellows: Rea, Mullins
CARLISLE: Gillespie, Grainger © (Gillesphey 70), Joyce, Raynes, Kennedy, Jones (Lambe 34), Wyke, Adams, Brisley, S Miller (Devitt 81), T Miller. Subs: Ellis, Asamoah, Crocombe (GK), McQueen
Yellows: Brisley, Gillespie