Hatters held to a 2-2 draw by relegation-threatened O's
LUTON TOWN 2
LEYTON ORIENT 2
Kelly (pen) 55
Att: 8,601 (380 away)
The Hatters were held to a 2-2 draw by relegation-threatened Leyton Orient at Kenilworth Road this afternoon as Nathan Jones’ side failed to record a third successive league win for the first time this season.
Danny Hylton had given the Town a first-half lead with his 25th goal of the campaign just after the half-hour, but the bottom-of-the-table side put their off-field problems to one side to take a 2-1 lead by the 61st minute with Liam Kelly’s penalty and substitute Tristan Abrahams’ neat finish.
The Hatters maintained fourth position in the table, however, and a six-point cushion above the play-off chasing pack thanks to a 73rd-minute equaliser by a sub of their own, Isaac Vassell, and – just as crucially – a point-saving challenge by James Justin as Orient’s Josh Koroma raced clear in injury-time.
Looking to build on successive 1-0 wins at home to Blackpool and away at Barnet last week, Jones made two changes to the starting line-up, recalling fit-again midfielder Jordan Cook and striker Jack Marriott, with Stephen O’Donnell and Vassell dropping to bench.
With the young Orient side starting in defensive mode, it was always going to be a case of trying to prise the openings and after a cagey first ten minutes, both Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Cook flashed balls across the six-yard box, Lawson D’Ath heading off target in between when Hylton was steaming in behind him.
The O’s strung an attacking move together in the 14th minute when Michael Collins sent in a right-wing cross that Victor Adeboyejo – who scored against the Hatters’ development squad earlier in the season – headed well over the bar.
But the action soon swung to the other end, and captain Scott Cuthbert – playing against his former club – had a double effort deflected over the bar from a right-wing corner, then Glen Rea met the next one with a firm header that keeper Sam Sargeant did well to keep out.
Taking those corners would be virtually Cook’s last involvement, the ex-Walsall man suffering an injury as he attempted to whip another right-wing cross in midway through the first half, eventually to be replaced by Luke Gambin.
With the half-hour mark approaching, Sheehan and Olly Lee attempted something different from a left-wing corner, the Irishman drilling the ball to last week’s winning goalscorer on the edge of the penalty area, but his volleyed attempt flew well wide.
By the 33rd minute, Lee had impacted the game even more – winning the ball halfway inside the Town half by the left touchline, then picking Hylton out with a beautiful clip over the top of the Orient defence.
The Hatters’ top scorer doesn’t need any second invitations to race clear, and just as the Orient centre-half Aron Pollock looked to be catching him, Hylton slipped the ball past the onrushing Sargeant left-footed, into the bottom far corner of the net to give Town the lead.
Sargeant prevented the lead being doubled in the 41st minute when D’Ath and Marriott combined on the right to tee up Gambin, who let fly with a rocket that Sargeant turned over the bar.
Two minutes later the visiting keeper produced another fine save to deny Gambin, this time a left-footed volley from a Hylton knock-down, before Marriott let a flick-on from D’Ath run across his body, but couldn’t keep his 15-yard shot on the turn down with the half-time whistle about to be blown.
Orient had the first shot on goal in the second period, Michael Collins’ 20-yard free-kick, after Cuthbert had brought Adeboyejo down, curled low around the wall, but Stuart Moore equal to it after being a virtual spectator for the first 50 minutes.
Seconds later the on-loan Reading keeper had to get his body right behind a piledriver from Adeboyejo, then – with 54 minutes on the clock – he was picking the ball out of his net.
The Hatters failed to clear the danger from the left and Henry Ochieng’s 25-yar shot struck Rea on the arm – the centre-half booked for his troubles – and captain Liam Kelly despatched the spot-kick into the top corner.
The Hatters looked to regain the advantage and in the 59th minute Lee found Hylton with another raking pass over the top, and when the striker laid the ball back for the marauding Sheehan, another low cross-shot flew across the six-yard box and beyond the far post.
Orient’s tails were up, however, and they had the lead when Abrahams tricked his way into the Town area and slipped the ball low past Moore for 2-1.
Jones threw Vassell on for Marriott in the 66th minute, and seven minutes later the ex-Truro man raced onto Hylton’s flick around the corner and coolly slotted home past the onrushing Sargeant for the equaliser.
Soon after the restart the front duo almost combined to great effect again, Hylton heading a deep cross back across goal but the climbing Cornishman couldn’t keep his own header down from close range.
Just after Jones had withdrawn Mpanzu and thrown Jake Gray into the fray, Rea tried to get on the end of a Vassell knock-down from Sheehan’s cross in the 86th minute, but Sargeant gathered, then James Justin headed a centre from Gambin over the bar as he looked to end a move he’d started in the middle of the Orient half.
With a minute to go, D’Ath tried his luck from distance but dragged his right-footed shot wide, then the Town had two huge shouts for a penalty when Isaac Vassell went down under challenges from Mezague and Pollock, but both times referee Brett Huxtable waved the appeals away.
The Town might still have lost it when substitute Josh Koroma raced clear in injury-time, but Justin got back to produce a point-saving tackle and keep things as they were points-wise – third-placed Portsmouth still eight points above the Hatters and the play-off chasers six points behind.
Now it’s on to face one of them, Mansfield Town, on Monday.
TOWN: Moore, Justin, Cuthbert ©, Rea, Sheehan, Lee, Mpanzu (Gray 85), D’Ath, Cook (Gambin 24), Hylton, Marriott (Vassell 66). Subs: O’Donnell, Potts, Smith, King (GK)
Yellows: Gambin, Cuthbert
ORIENT: Sargeant, Kelly ©, Collins, Mezague, Semedo, Pollock, Adeboyejo, Dalby (Abrahams 46), Alzate (Koroma 80), Ochieng (Moncur 88), Clark. Subs: Grainger, Liburd, Alderson, Happe
Yellows: Ochieng, Sargeant
REFEREE: Brett Huxtable