The Hatters had to settle for another hard-earned point on the road this afternoon as they emerged from a bruising battle at Lincoln with a clean sheet and another draw to follow last week’s comeback at Mansfield.
Boss Nathan Jones made two changes from that 2-2 draw along the A46 at the One Call Stadium, as the Hatters travelled in hope of becoming the first away team to take a maximum haul away from Sincil Bank for almost a year.
Luke Berry came into midfield for his first start having made his debut as a second-half substitute at Mansfield.
Another of previous week’s game changers, Glen Rea, also came into the line-up for his second league start of the season, with the Town boss switching to three centre-halves – captain Scott Cuthbert and Alan Sheehan the others – with Jack Stacey and Dan Potts as wing-backs.
A midfield three of Alan McCormack, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Berry were operating behind the front two of Danny Hylton and in-form James Collins, who was looking to build on his tally of five goals in four matches so far in a Luton shirt.
The Town started positively, Mpanzu sending a lovely ball down the left for Hylton to race on to, and the Hatters striker twisted and turned his way into the box on a 30-yard run that ended with a cross-shot Imps keeper Paul Farman did well to gather as Berry waited to pounce.
After weathering a couple of early corners and crosses into the box, the Hatters were soon on the attack again and in the sixth minute, Potts met an McCormack corner with a firm header, but Collins was penalised for a foot up in the six-yard box as Berry headed the loose ball over.
Three minutes later Stacey and Berry combined to switch the ball from right to left, where Potts delivered a low cross that Hylton steered just over the bar – just before the raiding left-back swung in another delicious centre for the centre-forward to chest and volley straight at Farman.
The Town had controlled much of the game to that point, but Collins – who had already received treatment – had to be replaced in the 27th minute after suffering a knock to his hip, with Harry Cornick coming on in his place.
Almost immediately Lincoln had their first attempt on goal, Billy Knott cutting in from the left and firing just wide of Marek Stech’s far post, the Hatters keeper only having had to punch crosses clear up to that point.
Cornick’s first involvement came on the half-hour when Michael Bostwick tripped him just outside the box, but Sheehan’s free-kick went straight into the wall before Lincoln threatened again at the other end, although Alex Woodyard’s shot from a half-cleared corner only troubled the corner flag.
Jones could be pleased with how his defence had handled the hosts’ aerial threat in the opening half, which almost finished with a real shot in the arm as Berry and Cornick engineered a chance on the left for Mpanzu, who unleashed a rocket of a shot that flew inches wide into the travelling 1,268 Town fans in the Stacey West Stand behind the goal.
Cornick was popping up all over the front line, and after sending in a terrific cross that Hylton couldn’t quite get his head on, the recent signing from Bournemouth had the final effort of the half, but he dragged his 20-yarder just wide of the post.
Lincoln came out brightly after the interval, captain Luke Waterfall heading wide from a corner and another causing concern in the Town six-yard box as Stech came under pressure.
But there was more worry for the health of captain Cuthbert as the Scot stayed down after a clash of heads with Rhead, but thankfully the centre-half did not need the stretcher that had been called and got to his feet to warm applause from the home fans, fit and able to continue.
With 55 minutes on the clock, Stech had to stoop low to his right to prevent a Nathan Arnold cut-back from the right byline finding its intended target.
The Town were presented with an unexpected opening in the 59th minute as Cornick closed down Sean Raggett as the centre-half attempted to clear on the edge of the Lincoln box.
The loose ball rolled left to Hylton, and although the striker bided his time to round Farman, Berry nor Cornick could capitalise on his cut-back and Lincoln survived.
The same duo combined moments later, with Cornick’s pass setting Hylton clear to the left of the area once again, but Waterfall came across to produce a timely block as the Town striker pulled the trigger.
Jordan Cook came on for McCormack in the 67th minute, and after a lull in terms of attacking intent, Lincoln had the game’s next batch of chances – Knott firing just wide from 25 yards on 73 minutes, then Arnold being denied firstly by a great challenge by Potts, then a Stech tip onto the outside of the post.
From the resulting corner, the Czech keeper produced another fine save to push a Waterfall header around the far post – and the Town continued to defend stubbornly to keep the Imps out.
As the Hatters went in search of a goal at the other end, a flowing move from left to right ended with Hylton pushing the ball just too far ahead of Stacey as he looked to get him in on the right.
Then, with three minutes of normal time to go, Berry caught hold of a right-footed volley as a right-wing corner was cleared to the edge of the box, but his effort was blocked and the Town had to settle for another point from what boss Jones described as a “very ugly game”.
TOWN: Stech, Stacey, Cuthbert ©, Sheehan, Potts, Rea, McCormack (Cook 67), Mpanzu, Berry, Hylton, Collins (Cornick 27). Subs: Mullins, O Lee, Shinnie, E Lee, Shea (CK)
LINCOLN: Farman, Long, Waterfall ©, Raggett, Eardley, Arnold, Woodyard, Bostwick, Knott (Whitehouse 87), Rhead (Anderson 69), Green (Palmer 79). Subs: Habergham, Maguire-Drew, Dickie, Vickers.
ATT: 9,332 (1,268 Hatters)