Hatters held after as Alex hit back from Hylton opener
Luton Town 1
Crewe Alexandra 1
Att: 7,716 (254 away)
The Hatters endured a frustrating afternoon at Kenilworth Road as Crewe Alexandra came from a goal down to take what manager Nathan Jones admitted was a deserved share of the spoils.
Top scorer Danny Hylton netted his seventh goal of the season to put the Town ahead at the break, but veteran striker Ryan Lowe equalised with his own seventh strike of the campaign to level things during the second half.
Jones had made one change to his starting line-up from last Saturday's 1-1 draw at Cheltenham, with Jake Gray coming into the midfield in place of Jordan Cook, who has been ill.
Christian Walton was temporarily back from England Under-21 duty and in the Town goal after flying back from Kazakhstan yesterday afternoon.
In front of Walton was a back four of James Justin, Scott Cuthbert, Alan Sheehan and Dan Potts, with Olly Lee anchoring the midfield behind Gray, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Cameron McGeehan. Danny Hylton and Jack Marriott were up front.
Crewe had the first attempt at goal inside the opening minute, when Charlie Kirk’s left-foot drive rippled Walton’s net – but thankfully having passed the outside of the post and bounced back off an advertising board!
The Hatters were intent on attacking too, however, and Justin swung in a couple of dangerous crosses inside the opening three minutes that had the visitors’ defence on alert.
In the fifth minute Marriott had the ball in the Alex net, but the assistant’s flag was already raised for offside as he nicked Justin’s long pass in front of visiting keeper Ben Garratt for a cool finish.
Walton proved the flight back hadn’t affected him when he got down low to keep out a Chris Dagnall effort, and ahead of him, the outfield players were keeping plenty of possession without really hurting Crewe.
That might have change just after the quarter-hour when, after stringing at least 15 passes together from back to front and across the pitch, some great combination play between Justin and Hylton on the right have the latter opportunity to cross dangerously, but Crewe manager to clear the danger.
Hylton soon had Garratt back-pedalling to gather a looping header from just inside the area, but Walton was the next keeper called into action, having to turn away a stinging strike from Alex midfielder Billy Bingham.
McGeehan tested Garratt from outside the area in the 28th minute, the Crewe number one struggling to deal with the ball on the greasy surface and grabbing it at the second attempt in front of Marriott.
Gray came close to unlocking the door on the half-hour when he swapped passes from a short corner with Marriott, then whipped in a vicious cross that eluded everyone in the six-yard box and flashed past the far post.
The breakthrough came a minute before half-time when Sheehan strode out of the back four, into the Alex half and fed Potts on the left.
The full-back played inside to Mpanzu, whi clipped a beautiful ball over the defence for Gray to roll it across the six-yard box and invite Hylton to tap in from close range.
Crewe brought Tom Lowery into their midfield at the break, in place of Kirk, and it was the young sub who fired in the first effort of the second half, although a deflection took his edge-of-the-area shot well wide.
Bingham was next to try his luck from 25 yards, then – after Mpanzu had been booked for a foul on Zoumana Bakayogo just before the hour – George Cooper bent a free-kick that had Walton back-pedalling fast, but it landed safely on the roof of the Town net.
A minute later captain Cuthbert had to produce a tremendous covering tackle to deny the marauding Bakayogo, but Crewe were level on 64 minutes when Cooper picked out Ryan Lowe at the far post, and the veteran nodded past Walton with ease.
A couple of minutes earlier, Jones had brought Alex Gilliead on for Mpanzu, with the Newcastle loanee going to the tip of the midfield diamond and McGeehan dropping slightly deeper.
The substitute was involved in the most incisive passing move the Hatters put together in the second half when he and Lee combined to play in the flying Justin, whose run was cut short by Bakayogo on the right edge of the area.
The Crewe left-back received a yellow card for his troubles, but Sheehan couldn’t reproduce his set-piece magic from Hartlepool ten days ago, and his curling 74th-minute effort cleared Garratt’s crossbar.
With ten minutes to go, Jones brought on Glen Rea for Lee and Josh McQuoid for Marriott as the Town prepared to take a corner. When the delivery came in from Sheehan, his central defensive partner Cuthbert met it with his head, but Hylton couldn’t keep his effort down.
McQuoid was soon into the game after a quick turn on the edge of the box, he curled towards goal, but his shot similarly proved too high.
It wasn’t to be for the Hatters, who drop a place to fifth but remain unbeaten in four league matches.
Next up for goalkeeper Walton, who rejoins the national squad tonight, is Tuesday afternoon’s game against Bosnia & Herzegovina at Walsall (3pm kick-off) and the opportunity for a first cap at Under-21 level.
For the rest of the squad, it’s a free week to prepare for the trip to Leyton Orient next Saturday.
TOWN: Walton, Justin, Cuthbert (c), Sheehan, Potts, Lee (Rea 80), Gray, Mpanzu (Gilliead 62), McGeehan, Hylton, Marriott (McQuoid 80). Subs: O'Donnell, Smith, Vassell, King (GK)
Yellows: Lee, Mpanzu
CREWE: Garratt, Turton, Guthrie, Davis, Lowe (c), Dagnall, Cooper, Bakayogo, Bingham, Hollands, Kirk (Lowery 46). Subs: Nugent, Richards, Udoh, Wintle, Ng, Ainley.