Hatters held as 95th-minute penalty is saved
GRIMSBY TOWN 1
LUTON TOWN 1
Att: 5,114 (468 Hatters)
The Hatters passed up another glorious opportunity to close the gap on the automatic promotion places in Sky Bet League Two when Danny Hylton saw a 95th-minute penalty saved – and subsequent goal from the rebound ruled out for a foul – as Grimsby held on for a point at Blundell Park.
Nathan Jones’ men had fallen behind to a 56th-minute header from Mariners’ debutant Chris Clements after a disappointing opening period of the game, but hit back strongly in the final half-hour and looked the most likely winners.
With 13 minutes to go, Isaac Vassell netted his third goal in as many matches to set up a grandstand finish with Jones having already thrown on former Grimsby loanee Ollie Palmer on for his debut as part of a three-man forward line in the immediate of the hosts’ goal.
The golden chance came when referee Mark Haywood penalised Grimsby defender Gavin Gunning for handball as Palmer looked to steal in front of him and get on the end of a cross from fellow sub Jack Marriott, but keeper James McKeown saved Hylton’s effort from 12 yards.
Then, as the striker rose to nod the rebound into the bottom corner from six yards out, Haywood awarded a free-kick, apparently for pushing, and the Cleethorpes-based side could breather a sign of relief.
Jones had made two changes from the team that started Tuesday's home defeat by Cheltenham as the Town sought revenge for the 3-1 loss Grimsby inflicted on the Hatters at Kenilworth Road earlier this season.
Into midfield in place of the injured Jonathan Smith came Jake Gray, while Hylton - for the first time not sporting the mask he has worn since fracturing his cheekbone against the Mariners in September - returned immediately from his two-game ban in place of Marriott up front.
Stuart Moore continued in goal after making his debut against Cheltenham a few hours after signing on loan until the end of the season from Reading, with fellow loan keeper Matt Macey – who also joined on deadline day from Arsenal, in the wake of Christian Walton’s recall by Brighton – on the bench.
In a hugely forgettable first half, the 22-year-old goalie had to be alert in the tenth minute to push a 35-yard free-kick from Danny Andrew around the post, when many were expecting the home left wing-back to chip it into the box.
The Hatters had started quite brightly, with Hylton’s near-post flick on from a Luke Gambin corner causing mayhem at the back stick as captain Scott Cuthbert looked to pounce, and Vassell breaking down the left and firing in a dangerous cross, but no-one was on the end of it.
Cuthbert and Glen Rea did well at the other end to repel a bombardment of Grimsby balls into the Town penalty area, and in the 17th minute Rea stepped out of the back four and fed Jordan Cook halfway inside the Grimsby half, but the midfielder’s shot ended up well wide.
Calum Dyson headed Grimsby’s best chance of the half over on 27 minutes, before Ben Davies and Jamey Osborne – who had scored twice against the Town for Solihull Moors earlier this season – sent shots just wide.
Jake Gray was off target with a 20-yarder at the end of the good spell of Town possession five minutes before half-time, but in truth, the half-time whistle was welcomed by all.
The war of midfield attrition continued for the first ten minutes of the second half, but Jones’ side had just had their best two chances – Hylton’s low shot cleared off the line by Pearson and Vassell set clear by Gray, but denied by the onrushing McKeown – when they fell behind on 56 minutes.
Grimsby looked to get a shot off several times in a spell of penalty box pinball, but the Town defended stoutly, until right-back Ben Davies stood up a lovely ball to the far post where Clements – signed on deadline day from Mansfield – was steaming in to head home.
Jones had been about to make the change anyway, but almost immediately Palmer came on for Gambin and centre-half Alan Sheehan for Gray, with Rea moving into a three-man midfield and the big man signed on loan from Leyton Orient in between Hylton and Vassell up top.
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu started to drive at the home defence in a more advanced role and immediately won a free-kick on the right edge of the box, but Jack Senior and Cuthbert had to produce perfectly-timed challenged at the other end to keep the score down to one.
With 20 minutes to go Hylton looked to get on the end of a chip into the Grimsby area by James Justin and went down under a challenge, but referee Haywood gave a goal-kick.
Then Moore had to be alert once again as Dyson tried his luck from 20 yards on 74 minutes, but the on-loan keeper was looking assured behind the Town defence.
Within three minutes, Vassell had levelled things up. The ex-Truro City man’s initial right-wing cross flew right across the face of goal, but Mpanzu retrieved the ball on the left and skipped past Davies before teeing up a lovely cross for Vassell to power home a header for his sixth of the season.
The Town were well on top by this stage, and Vassell met a cross from Senior with another header that was blocked, then Cook fired over the bar after a Hylton shot ricocheted off a defender.
With three minutes of normal time to go Cook had a double effort saved first by McKeown, then his follow-up by a combination of the long-serving Grimsby keeper and centre-half Pearson, then – a minute later – the ex-Walsall man saw a thunderous left-footed volley blocked.
Then came the dramatic finale when Marriott tricked his way past his man on the right on crossed low for Palmer, whose first touch looked to take him past Gunning, but the home centre-half fell on the ball and stopped it with his hand.
Hylton stepped up right in front of 468 travelling Town fans who’d have put their mortgages on a 15th goal of the season for the Hatters’ top scorer.
Unfortunately McKeown pulled off yet another big save and even though Hylton met the rebound with a firm header into the bottom corner, ref Haywood had his whistle in his mouth to deny the Town an extra two points and kept them fifth, six points adrift of third-placed Carlisle.
TOWN: Moore, Justin, Cuthbert (c), Rea, Senior, Mpanzu, Gambin (Palmer 57), Gray (Sheehan 57), Cook, Hylton, Marriott. Subs: O'Donnell, Marriott, Lee, D'Ath, Macey (GK)
Yellows: Vassell, Hylton, Senior
GRIMSBY: McKeown, Davies, Pearson, Gunning, Collins, Andrew, Comley, Clements (Jones 83), Osborne, Dyson (Vernon 84), Yussuf (Asante 83). Subs: Disley, Vose, Mills, Boyce, Jones
Yellows: Collins, Pearson