The Hatters were forced to settle for a draw at Morecambe tonight as they made it four games unbeaten in Sky Bet League Two, but were denied a victory by some excellent goalkeeping from Shrimps keeper Barry Roche.
The Town were looking for a fourth win in a row following after Saturday’s home success over Chesterfield lifted them up to third in the table, and both Harry Cornick – making his first start for the club – and Dan Potts went close in an dominant first half display, but found Roche blocking the way.
By the end, Morecambe had created a couple of excellent chances themselves that could have seen them nick all three points, but goalkeeper Marek Stech and his stubborn back four could claim a fifth clean sheet of the season to ensure they made the long trip back from Lancashire with something.
Boss Nathan Jones made two changes to his starting line-up, both enforced with Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu serving the first game of a three-match suspension for his straight red card at the weekend, and Andrew Shinnie missing out with the ankle injury that forced him off in the first half of that game at Kenilworth Road.
Coming into the starting XI in their place were Glen Rea and Cornick, who was handed his first league start in a Hatters shirt after seven appearances as a substitute since his August move from Bournemouth.
The Hatters started like a train, especially Cornick, who had the first of a series of early attempts on goal in the fifth minute when he gathered a loose ball and shot on the turn from just outside the area, but his effort fizzed just wide of Roche’s post.
As the Town attacked at will, Collins fired in a seventh-minute shot that flew just past the other post, before Potts nicked the ball in front of his man and let fly from 25 yards, but his left-foot shot flew just over.
The defence had to be on their guard at the other end, captain Scott Cuthbert and Alan Sheehan making several excellent clearances and blocks as Morecambe attacked, while Danny Hylton had a shot from 20 yards that was too high.
Stech gathered a Patrick Brough free-kick comfortably before he had to react smartly to tip a 33rd-minute effort from Adam Campbell, cutting in from the left onto his right foot, over the bar.
Two minutes later, Roche pulled off his first crucial stop, beating away Cornick’s blast from inside the box after Hylton had seen a shot blocked.
The Town had played some lovely football in an open first half, and Collins was next to have a go, hitting the side-netting, before Roche produced his best save of the night to keep out Potts’ half-volley from eight yards out after a spell of head tennis in the box and keep the score goalless at the break.
The Hatters came out of the blocks quickly again after the interval, a flurry of corners in the opening couple of minutes leading to Collins having a half-chance and Olly Lee seeing a shot blocked
The Town survived a penalty shout in the 49th minute when Lee challenged Campbell in the box, but referee Darren Handley waved the hosts’ appeals away before showing the Town midfielder a yellow card for an earlier foul on the halfway line as Morecambe broke.
Alan Sheehan made a terrific interception at one end, then set the Town on another lightning quick break which ended in Luke Gambin bending one towards the top corner from 25 yards, but it was just off target.
With the hour-mark approaching, Town were asking all the questions here as Gambin sent another deep cross to the far post, but Cornick couldn’t quite get anything on it, before a good passing move from left to right saw Stacey and Gambin set Collins up for a shot that was saved by Roche.
Almost immediately Stech had to make a terrific save to deny Morecambe sub Kevin Ellison, and then Campbell, who was trying to get on the rebound, before an inswinging free-kick from Rose caused consternation in the box as Steve Old volleyed over, and Lee and Rea combined to block a shot from Andrew Fleming.
The Hatters were still posing the most threats, however, and a lightning quick break from Cornick and Hylton saw the striker feeding Collins in the box, but the ex-Crawley man’s shot was deflected behind.
Cornick created another chance for Collins, whose shot was too high, before the forward’s had to succumb to cramp and his energetic full debut came to an early end in the 81st minute, the 326 travelling fans giving him a great reception as he made way for Jordan Cook.
Within a minute came arguably Morecambe’s best chance, Callum Lang heading a right-wing cross from Fleming onto the roof of the net before Jones handed recent signing from Basingstoke Town, Aaron Jarvis, his professional debut as an 87th-minute sub for Collins.
The 19-year-old didn’t get an opportunity in front of goal, but Rea did after a late corner was only half-cleared by Ellison and the midfielder, who’d had an excellent game in the holding role, sent in a left-footed half-volley that flashed inches past the far post.
It wasn’t to be the Town’s night in front of goal and the result saw them drop down to fifth, but it’s another game unbeaten – and third clean sheet in that run – before Newport County visit Kenilworth Road in four days’ time.
TOWN: Stech, Stacey, Cuthbert ©, Sheehan, Potts, Rea, O Lee, Gambin, Cornick (Cook 81), Hylton, Collins (Jarvis 87). Subs: Justin, Senior, Musonda, Famewo, Shea
MORECAMBE: Roche, Brough, Old, Thompson, Oliver, Campbell (Lang 76), Wildig (Ellison 38), Lund, Osborne (Fleming 61), Muller, Rose. Subs: Nizic (GK), McGowan, Kenyon, Lavelle
REFEREE: Darren Handley
ATT: 1,354 (326 Hatters)