Skipper's free-kick earns Town a point
Hartlepool United 1
Luton Town 1
Att: 3,533 (311 Hatters)
The Hatters moved back up to second place in the Sky Bet League Two table after a brilliant second-half free-kick from captain Alan Sheehan earned a deserved point at Hartlepool tonight.
On a night when manager Nathan Jones fielded what is believed to be the youngest starting XI in the Town’s League history at 21 years and seven months, the Hatters might have taken all three after seeing a host of chances go begging after the hosts had been reduced to ten men in the second half.
But Sheehan's 79th-minute strike, after Alex Gilliead had been fouled on the edge of the Hartlepool area, was ultimately all the Town could manage after Nathan Thomas had given Hartlepool the lead on the stroke of half-time.
Jones made four changes to the team that beat Doncaster Rovers on Saturday, with 17-year-old Akin Famewo coming in for his first Football League start alongside captain Sheehan, who started on the bench last time out.
As did Jake Gray, who came into the line-up for a start at the club where he enjoyed a loan spell last season from Crystal Palace, with Newcastle loanee Alex Gilliead making his full debut for the Town.
The Town’s first clear chance of the night came in the 14th minutes as Olly Lee put Jack Marriott clear with a ball over the top, but home defender Liam Donnelly raced back to tackle him on the edge of the box and Mpanzu’s follow-up was saved by Trevor Carson in the Monkey Hangers’ goal.
Within seconds the Hatters had created another good chance, as Marriott drove to the byline on right side of the area and cut the ball back for Pelly, but his first time effort was blocked.
Josh Laurent went close for Hartlepool on 20 minutes, but his effort meeting a Lewis Alessandra right-wing cross was too high and the Hatters could breathe a sigh of relief.
The Town were enjoying plenty of possession across the back four and into midfield, with Famewo and Justin looking extremely comfortable on the ball and fully settled into first-team action.
Goalmouth action was proving hard to come by, however, with an object thrown into Christian Walton’s six-yard box as the Town defended a long throw as lively as it got until the dying seconds of the half.
With one extra minute signalled, Hartlepool worked the ball in from the right flank and although Walton was equal to the initial shot from the edge of the box, Thomas was racing in to steer the follow-up home from close range to give the hosts the lead.
With no changes at the break, Hartlepool started in the ascendancy again and had an early chance as Sheehan headed a cross from the right clear, but Thomas fired in an effort from the edge of the box that was blocked and cleared.
Gilliead soon found space in midfield and fired in a shot that was blocked, but it landed at Marriott's feet, although the striker couldn’t direct his effort on target.
The Hatters were starting to make progress and Lee drove into the box and fired in low cross-shot that McGeehan tried to get on the end of inside the six-yard box, but couldn’t quite get his toe to it and Hartlepool smuggled the ball clear.
The hosts went straight up the other end and Walton produced a brilliant fingertip save to tip Amond’s effort onto the post and Thomas hit the rebound into the side-netting.
Within seconds, Hartlepool were down to ten men as their captain Nicky Featherstone was shown a straight red for a foul on Lee in midfield, and the Town started to pile on the pressure.
Just before the hour, Mpanzu skipped past his man into the box and chipped a lovely cross to Marriott, but his volley was just too high.
In the 61st minute the Town rattled the woodwork as Mpanzu gathered a pass from Lee, but Hartlepool centre-half Toto Nsiala managed to get his head on the former West Ham man’s shot and glanced it onto the post.
It was all the Town as Jones’ men probed for an equaliser, and the manager withdrew Gray on 65 minutes to throw Isaac Vassell into the attack.
Famewo was soon in ref Seb Stockbridge’s notebook for connecting with a Hartlepool defender's head as he attempted an overhead kick inside the home penalty area.
Then intricate play around the edge of the home penalty box with 20 minutes to go saw McGeehan tee up Mpanzu for a shot, but it proved easy for Carson to collect before Thomas reminded the Hatters that Pools still had a threat at the other end, although his long-range effort was off target.
McGeehan was next to try his luck from fully 30 yards, but the equaliser came in the 79th minute when Gilliead’s driving run was halted by a defender’s shove on the edge of the box, to the right hand side.
It was Sheehan’s territory and the Irish defender stepped up to curl a brilliant left-footed free-kick over the wall and inside the near post.
With ten minutes to go it was game on, and Jordan Cook came on for Gilliead in the immediate aftermath of the goal, but Hartlepool were soon on the break again with Thomas, as ever, the threat. Walton saved comfortably though.
Cook soon cut in from the left and bent in a brilliant right-footed effort that Carson pushed away for a corner, then – with six minutes time added on announced – the Hatters continued to search for a winner.
Four minutes into that period, Mpanzu drove into the box, laid back to Lee who found Marriott - but the striker’s 20-yard shot on the turn was held by Carson.
Then, a minute later, Lee’s deflected shot from 20 yards was saved by Carson with his feet, and Marriott couldn’t divert the rebound on target – and a share of the spoils was all the Town could take on the 228-mile journey home.
TOWN: Walton, Justin, Sheehan, Famewo, Potts, Lee, Gray (Vassell 65), McGeehan, Gilliead (Cook 80), Mpanzu, Marriott. Subs: O'Donnell, Smith, McQuoid, King (GK), Musonda
Yellows: Gilliead, Famewo
HARTLEPOOL: Carson, Richards, Nsiala, Donnelly, Carroll, Featherstone, Laurent, Hawkins, Alessandra (Deverdics 73), Amond (Heardman 84), Thomas (Fewster 87). Subs: Bartlett (GK), Paynter, Pollock, Martin.
Yellows: Reds: Featherstone