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29 October 2016

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Walton's late penalty save earns Hatters a point



Att: 6,313 (2,033 Hatters)

Christian Walton pulled off a brilliant late penalty save to preserve the Hatters’ eight-game unbeaten run with a goalless draw at Notts County this afternoon.

The England Under-21 international goalkeeper turned Vadaine Oliver’s spot-kick away, after captain Scott Cuthbert was penalised for holding at a corner, to ensure the Town kept a clean sheet in the league for the first time since late August in front of more than 2,000 travelling supporters at Meadow Lane.

Manager Nathan Jones described that following as “Championship class”, and his on-loan Brighton goalkeeper’s save was certainly worthy of that level or above as the point kept the Town in fourth place in the Sky Bet League Two table – two places ahead of their hosts.

Jones made two changes to his starting line-up from last week’s draw with Mansfield, with Johnny Mullins coming back into defence for the first time in a month at the expense of Dan Potts, while his former Oxford team-mate Danny Hylton returned to the frontline alongside Jack Marriott after serving a one-match suspension.

After a scrappy opening period in which referee Michael Salisbury was the busiest man inside Meadow Lane, awarding a number of free-kicks, the Town had their first sight of the Magpies goal on 12 minutes.

Alex Gilliead was the architect, picking the ball up just outside his own penalty area and carrying it, after trading passes with Cameron McGeehan, to the edge of the County box where he found Marriott.

The Hatters striker tried to fashion an opening to shoot, but his blocked attempt landed at Jordan Cook’s feet, and the ex-Walsall man couldn’t get enough purchase on his effort to trouble home keeper Adam Collin.

County had their first half-chance just after the quarter-of-an-hour mark but Cuthbert did well to clock Adam Campbell’s 20-yard shot, then Hylton raced clear at the other end but his attempted chip from just outside the area didn’t catch Collin off guard.

Walton had to be alert in the 18th minute when County broke quickly from a short free-kick inside their own half. Rob Milsom played Jonathan Forte in on the left and his low cross was intercepted by Mullins, but Hatters keeper Walton had to react quickly to prevent Aaron Collins from tapping in.

Just before the half-hour the Town had another chance, and this time it fell to Gilliead, who was looking the Hatters’ biggest threat. Stephen O’Donnell crossed from the right and Hylton flicked on, but Collin was equal to the Newcastle loanee’s low shot from 15 yards.

The Hatters had a let off in the 35th minute when Collins’ looping header looked destined for the top corner, but somehow Cuthbert managed to usher it away from the far post.

Then, a minute later, Gilliead was at the heart of the Town’s best chance so far, once again driving at the home defence from the left and drifting side to set Marriott free into the area, but the striker’s left-foot shot found only the side netting.

County fashioned a couple of chances in the 42nd minute, first Sheehan producing a great block to deny Alex Rodman just inside the area, before Milsom let fly from outside the box, although his left-footed effort was always rising above the frame of Walton’s goal.

A minute before the break Marriott fired another warning shot to the hosts after more incisive build-up play involving Gilliead and McGeehan, but his 20-yarder unfortunately fizzed the wrong side of Collin’s right-hand post again.

Another great chance arrived in injury-time when Sheehan’s left wing free-kick found Mullins at the far post. His header back across goal landed at Hylton’s feet, but he couldn’t get his shot away inside the six-yard box.

County had the first attempt on goal in the second half, Rodman firing straight at Walton in the 51st minute.

The Hatters were soon on the attack however and Hylton was appealing for a penalty for handball against Haydn Hollis as he looked to spin the centre-half, latching onto Sheehan’s low cross, but referee Salisbury remained unmoved.

The hosts sounded another warning on the hour when their captain, Carl Dickinson, crossed from the left and sub Michael O’Connor blazed over, seconds before Forte flashed a left-footed shot just wide of Walton’s right-hand post from 20 yards.

McGeehan led a 63rd-minute counter-attack, picking the ball up inside his own half and carrying it to the Magpies’ 18-yard line, but his attempt to play Marriott in sent the striker too wide, although his cut back to the edge of the box and curled a right footer just wide of the stanchion.

McGeehan was at the heart of the Town’s next chance too, teeing up Glen Rea for a long-range drive that was too high, but with 70 minutes on the clock, Forte had County’s best chance, although Walton was once again up to the test, saving his low shot comfortably. 

With just over a quarter-of-an-hour to go Jones introduced Olly Lee for Marriott, but with seven minutes left the hosts were presented with a great chance to open the scoring when ref Salisbury penalised Cuthbert for holding at a corner.

Walton pulled off a brilliant save to keep Oliver’s penalty out, however, diving to his right and sticking up a strong left hand to push the striker’s effort away emphatically.

The danger wasn’t over completely, with Dickinson heading against the crossbar from the resulting corner, but the Hatters could eventually breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu had been waiting to come on at the time, and after the midfielder had been introduced for Gilliead - who had produced "as good a performance as you'll find in League Two", according to his manager - he was at the centre of the next controversial moment involving Salisbury. 

Lee was fouled right in front of the technical area as he played a ball down the right for his fellow sub to flick around his full-back and race clear. Ref Salisury had other ideas, however, and blew up for the foul by Milsom – much to Jones and the Hatters’ bench’s irritation – when Mpanzu was in full flow and heading towards the County penalty area.

The yellow card for the home midfielder didn’t help the Hatters, who ultimately had to settle for the fifth draw of their impressive recent run and take a useful point back down the M1.

TOWN: Walton, O'Donnell, Cuthbert, Mullins, Sheehan, Rea, McGeehan (Vassell 90+2), Gilliead (Mpanzu 85), Cook, Hylton, Marriott (Lee 74). Subs: Potts, Smith, Gray, King (GK)
Yellows: Rea, Hylton

COUNTY: Collin, Dickinson, Duffy, Hollis, Forte, Milsom, Laing, Richards, Rodman, Campbell (O'Connor 57), Collins (Oliver 57). Subs: Loach (GK), Tootle, Smith, Hewitt, Burke.
Yellows: Duffy, Hollis, Milsom

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