Ten-man Hatters held by Chairboys
WYCOMBE WANDERERS 1
LUTON TOWN 1
Att: 5,387 (1,800)
The Hatters brought a hard-earned point back from this afternoon’s fifth versus sixth clash with Wycombe at Adams Park, after playing the last quarter-of-an-hour with ten men following the sending off of centre-half Johnny Mullins.
Nathan Jones’ boys were leading 1-0 at the time through Scott Cuthbert’s 57th minute header – the skipper’s first goal for the club – but Wycombe striker Adebayo Akinfenwa levelled within seven minutes of Mullins’ straight red for a foul on Chairboys’ substitute Scott Kashket, and the Town had to settle for a share of the spoils.
Jones made three changes to his team from last week’s win at Crewe. One was enforced, with Jack Senior coming in at left-back for his first EFL start after making his debut as a second-half substitute after Alan Sheehan had been sent off at Gresty Road.
Coming into midfield in place of Lawson D’Ath and Jordan Cook were Jonathan Smith and new signing Luke Gambin, who was making his Town debut following his switch from Barnet last Monday.
The Hatters started brightly, Smith slipping Hylton in behind the home defence in the second minute, but the stop scorer’s touch around keeper Jamal Blackman took him too wide and he could only find the side netting from the tightest of angles.
Wycombe’s first chance came on 11 minutes, but Akinfenwa’s deft touch on Sam Wood’s volley only diverted the ball straight at Christian Walton in the Town goal.
Gambin was looking lively at the tip of the midfield diamond and it was from his left-wing cross that Blackman spilled the ball behind for the corner that led to the next opportunity. Jake Gray’s delivery found Hylton, but Chairboys left-back Joe Jacobson was on the post to hack his glancing header clear.
It was end-to-end and although Cuthbert had won every header against Akinfenwa to that point, when James Justin was penalised for a foul on Paris Cowan-Hall to the left of the Hatters’ box, the Wycombe target man got his head on Jacobson’s free-kick, though his effort flew wide.
A minute later Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu harshly went into referee Mark Heywood’s book for what didn’t even look a foul on Jacobson right on the edge of the area. Thankfully Luke O’Nien’s free-kick flew safely over Walton’s bar.
Just before the half-hour Senior and Marriott combined to tee Mpanzu up for a 25-yard piledriver, but home centre-half Aaron Pierre blocked bravely, then Marriott looked to put Gray into the Chairboys’ box, only for Blackman to race quickly off his line to smother.
Smith soon joined Mpanzu in Heywood’s notepad for simulation as the Hatters appealed for a penalty, then – on 35 minutes – Marriott raced onto a fine lay-off on halfway from Hylton, and although his rising drive beat Blackman, it clipped the crossbar on its way into the home fans behind the goal.
Wycombe defender Pierre was next to be shown a yellow card for going through the back of Hylton as he popped another lovely lay-off for Gray as the Hatters broke down the left, only ending when the former Wanderers schoolboy looked to have been brought down in the box, only for Heywood to point for a goal-kick before dealing retrospectively with Pierre.
As an action-packed half drew to a close, Hylton picked up his tenth yellow card of the season – meaning he’ll miss the next two games – for a soft foul on Jacobson, before Gambin’s shot was deflected into Marriott’s path, only for the striker to drag his effort wide.
As in the first half, the Hatters started the second on the front foot and after Justin made good progress down the right, the ball was worked across the box to Gray, who tricked his way past Sido Jombati and pulled the trigger, but his effort smacked team-mate Smith full in the face.
Akinfenwa used his strength to create space on the edge of the box as Wycombe pumped another high-ball towards the Town goal, but the ex-AFC Wimbledon forward’s volley was too high.
A dangerous low cross from Hylton on the left was gathered in his six-yard box by Blackman, then Gambin tricked his way to the right byline and stood one up to the far post towards Hylton, but Wycombe looked to have cleared.
Some excellent pressing on the byline to the left corner flag by Mpanzu, however, forced O’Nien into conceding the corner that led to the Hatters’ breakthrough in the 57th minute.
Much has been made of the Town’s lack of goals from set-pieces, but captain Cuthbert stole a yard on his marker and met Gray’s left-wing corner with a firm header into the hosts’ net.
The Scot, immense throughout once again, wouldn’t have been too bothered by the yellow card that followed for celebrating his first goal for the club with the 1,800 travelling Hatters behind the goal!
On 65 minutes, Mpanzu’s deflected shot from 18 yards looked to cause Blackman further problems, then the home keeper had to save low at his near post as Marriott looked to get on the end of another low cross from Hylton.
Wycombe sub Scott Kashket came within a couple of inches of levelling with a rasping shot, seconds after the Hatters made a double substitution in the 73rd minute, Hylton leaving the pitch to a standing ovation from the Town fans, replaced by Isaac Vassell, and Glen Rea coming on for Gray.
With quarter of an hour to go, the Town were reduced to ten men for the third time in four matches when Mullins was shown a straight red card for a foul on Kashket.
Weathering the inevitable storm of high balls that followed, the Hatters were the next to threaten when a lovely move down the left saw Gambin play Vassell into the Wycombe area, but the ex-Truro forward’s shot flashed across the face of goal.
Wycombe drew level in the 82nd minute though when Jacobson sent a deep left-wing cross into the Town box and Akinfenwa directed a powerful header beyond Walton.
The England Under-21 keeper was at full stretch again in the 86th minute when Kashket drilled a low 20-yard shot just wide, then ditto in the last minute when the Wanderers top scorer cut in from the right and flashed a left-footer narrowly wide of the far post.
After looking comfortable with 11 men, Jones was understandably disappointed not to take all three points – but in the circumstances, saw it as another big one gained.
TOWN: Walton, Justin, Cuthbert, Mullins, Senior, Mpanzu, Smith, Gray (Rea 72), Gambin, Hylton (Vassell 72), Marriott (O’Donnell 88). Subs: Cook, Mackail-Smith, D’Ath, King (GK)
Yellows: Mpanzu, Smith, Hylton, Cuthbert, Gambin
WYCOMBE: Blackman, Jombati, Stewart, Pierre, Jacobson, O’Nien, Gape, Wood, Cowan-Hall (Kashket 66), Hayes (Saunders 66), Akinfenwa. Subs: Richardson (GK), Thompson, Bean, Weston, De Havilland.
Yellows: Pierre, O’Nien, Stewart