Cook on target again as Hatters held by Rovers
DONCASTER ROVERS 1
LUTON TOWN 1
Att: 7,506 (1,619 Hatters)
The Hatters remain fourth in Sky Bet League Two after taking a deserved point from their visit to table-topping Doncaster Rovers, who had trailed for more than a quarter of the game following Jordan Cook’s fourth goal of the season early in the second half.
The Town had dug deep at times to keep the Yorkshiremen at bay, but Cook’s third goal in his last six matches had given them a lead they did not look like surrendering on an afternoon when chances were few and far between.
Ultimately, however, Darren Ferguson’s Rovers maintained their unbeaten record at the Keepmoat Stadium thanks to substitute Alfie May’s contentious goal ten minutes from time, with Hatters boss Nathan Jones and Cook believing the midfielder was fouled in the build-up.
Jones made three changes from Tuesday night’s 3-0 win over Hartlepool, with captain Scott Cuthbert and midfielder Jonathan Smith, who were both rested in midweek, returning while Cook also came back into the side after missing the 3-0 win over the Monkey Hangers while recovering from the neck injury that led to him being carried off on a stretcher in last Saturday’s win over Crawley.
The hosts had the first chance with just two minutes on the clock when Matty Blair sent in a deep cross from the right, but Tommy Rowe couldn’t direct his far-post header on target.
Rowe was next to register his interest too, seconds after a promising Town break had broken down as Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu tried to play Isaac Vassell into the box. Rovers broke swiftly and as the Hatters struggled to clear a dangerous ball in from the left, Rowe’s shot was deflected over the angle of post and bar for a corner.
Macey gathered Conor Grant’s set-piece under pressure low down on his goal-line as Andy Williams looked to pounce, then – soon after Rovers centre-half Andy Butler had been shown a yellow card for his second foul on Vassell as he turned on the halfway line – Sheehan had to clear a dangerous ball in from Rowe at full stretch.
The Hatters were growing into the game in on 18 minutes Danny Hylton and Mpanzu linked well to the left of the Rovers area, with the latter jinking his way to the byline and standing up a cross aimed for Vassell – as has become his trademark in recent games – but Doncaster defender Niall Mason headed clear.
An end to end game was developing, and a minute later it Donny captain James Coppinger fired one low past Macey’s left-hand post, then Cuthbert dived full length to head behind a right-wing cross from Blair, just ahead of Williams, who was soon heading another delivery from Grant just over.
Sheehan and Cuthbert were standing up strong to the early bombardment and after Hylton had danced through a pack of defenders to fire in a shot that was blocked, Cook hit a volleyed pass into the box for Vassell, who was always stretching to get any power in his effort as he lifted the ball over Rovers keeper Ian Lawlor, but wide of his goal as the half-hour approached.
As tackles flew in and Hylton fought a running battle with the home central defenders, the Town’s top scorer was alive to a clip over the top from Sheehan and floated a deep cross from the right byline, but Vassell – again having to stretch – couldn’t generate any power in his looping header.
With no changes made at the break, it was Doncaster who had the first attempt on goal in the second period with Coppinger teeing up Williams, whose curling 50th-minute shot flew wide of Macey’s left post.
The Hatters were giving as good as they got on the front foot too, and when Vassell controlled Jack Senior’s ball into the box, Hylton sent a volley goalwards, but Lawlor managed to punch clear over Smith, who was flagged offside.
The breakthrough came in the 54th minute, and Hylton – inevitably – was at the heart of it, winning the ball on the touchline in the left-back area level with the edge of his own penalty area and emerging with possession to run away from two men, despite being grounded initially.
The striker rolled the ball loosely into Vassell, who managed to regain control and play a great throughball to Cook on the right, who finished unerringly past Lawlor into the bottom corner from just inside the box.
Rovers tried to respond immediately, but Rowe’s left foot shot from 25 yards was well wide, and Cuthbert again shepherded the ball away from danger when Williams looked to get in on the left, then his equally immense centre-half partner Sheehan cleared a low cross as Blair looked to probe down the right.
Mpanzu and O’Donnell took the threat to the hosts with long runs down the right, then Jones brought Palmer on to give the Town another dimension up front.
Doncaster were level, however, on 80 minutes when a sub of their own, May, latched onto a through ball from Grant and raced clear to slip his shot past the onrushing Macey.
The Hatters regrouped and Palmer, not for the first time, worked his way into the right side of the Rovers area and looked to get a shot off, winning a corner.
With five minutes of added time indicated, the Town continued to probe and after Luke Gambin – on as an 87th-minute sub for goalscorer Cook – crossed from the left, Smith laid the ball back for Rea to strike at goal from 18 yards, but his effort flew wide.
Rovers substitute Gary McSheffrey raced clear but fired well over the bar two minutes into injury time, then Macey comfortably held a shot from their other sub, Harry Middleton, moments later as the Town saw the game out to pick up a valuable point and make it four games unbeaten in the league.
Including the Checkatrade Trophy, it’s now one defeat in ten for the Town, who can take great heart from another game unbeaten against a side at the top of the table having beaten Donny at Kenilworth Road earlier in the season.
Next up it’s Plymouth – beaten 3-0 in Devon on the opening day but currently three points behind Doncaster in second – as Jones’ men look to close the gap on third-placed Carlisle, who are five points ahead after their 2-1 victory at Wycombe.
TOWN: Macey, O’Donnell, Cuthbert ©, Sheehan, Senior, Rea, Smith, Mpanzu, Cook (Gambin 87), Hylton, Vassell (Palmer 76). Subs: Marriott, Lee, D’Ath, Justin, Moore (GK)
ROVERS: Lawlor, Alcock, Butler, Mason (McSheffrey 77), Blair, Houghton (Middleton 60), Grant, Rowe, Coppinger ©, Williams (May 72), Marquis. Subs: Wright, Keegan, Evina, Etheridge (GK)
REFEREE: Darren Deadman