The Hatters extended their unbeaten home start to the Sky Bet League One season to five matches with a 2-2 draw against Charlton Athletic – but they were only seconds away from it being an even better afternoon.
Harry Cornick, making his 50th appearance for the club, and James Collins had both netted their first goals of the campaign in the space of seven second-half minutes to turn around a half-time deficit inflicted by Tarique Fosu’s 23rd-minute penalty.
But with another big Kenilworth Road crowd getting set to celebrate a fourth home victory, Charlton defender Chris Solly popped up with a 95th-minute equaliser to extend last year’s beaten play-off semi-finalists’ unbeaten run to six matches and keep the Town in 12th place in the table.
Hatters boss Nathan Jones had named an unchanged side for the third successive game, with James Shea in goal behind a back four of Jack Stacey, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley and Dan Potts, a midfield containing captain Glen Rea, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Andrew Shinnie and Jorge Grant, with Collins and Elliot Lee up front.
The only changes came on the bench where new signing Kazenga LuaLua appeared, along with midfielder Alan McCormack, who is fit again after an ankle injury.
The Town were taking on a Charlton side who sat sixth at kick-off – just inside the play-off places having won four league games in a row.
Charlton had the game’s first attempt on goal, Ben Reeves finding space on the edge of the box and firing a left foot shot straight at Shea in the third minute, before Lee led a break down the Town left and attempted to curl one around Jed Steer, just off target.
Shea was in action again on five minutes, diving full length to push a Lyle Taylor shot around the post as Charlton impressed in the opening exchanges.
But it was the Town who put the next real attacking move together, Potts and Mpanzu linking up on the left to set Shinnie up for a go from the edge of the Addicks’ penalty area, but he dragged his right-footed shot wide of the near post.
The Hatters were starting to get a foothold in the game, stringing some fine passing moves together with a low Collins cross deflected behind for a corner, before Stacey and Lee linked up on the right in the 21st minute.
Stacey continued his run towards the byline – after starting the move inside his own half – and whipped an inviting cross in that just eluded Collins, before Shinnie’s effort from a tight angle was cleared off the line.
The visitors had the lead two minutes later, however, when – after a sloppy passage of play by the Hatters in their own left-back area – Collins was adjudged to have tripped Joe Aribo as he burst into the area, and Tarique Fosu tucked the penalty away.
The Hatters tried to respond and although Potts couldn’t get a clear header on a Grant free-kick just after the half-hour, space opened up in front of Shinnie to fire a deflected shot at goal in the 37th minutes, Addicks keeper Steer collecting the ball before it looped out of play.
Grant had the ball in the back of the net in first-half injury-time, but the assistant’s flag had long been in the air by the time he tapped in Rea’s downward header from Potts’ cross.
Charlton had the first shot again after the break, with Taylor firing high over the bar.
But the Town came within millimetres of equalising in the 57th minute when Grant played Lee into the right side of the area, and although Steer saved the striker’s initial effort, the ball went straight back to Lee, whose follow-up hit the outside of the post.
Jones brought Cornick on in place of Grant, in a bid to inject some pace into the attack, but it was the visitors who had the next attempt on goal, Ben Reeves swivelling on the right edge of the area and arrowing a left-footed shot that flew just past Shea’s far post.
Another golden chance for the Town to level came in the 72nd minute when Stacey skipped past Naby Sarr, as the giant centre-half dived in, and slipped the ball to his right, where Cornick pulled the trigger, but couldn’t keep his angled drive down.
Two minutes later – but in the very next phase of play after a Charlton player was down receiving treatment – the game changer equalised.
Steer’s goal-kick was headed forward by Pearson, Collins flicked on and Cornick was onto the loose ball in a flash, flicking it through the onrushing keeper’s legs from 18 yards out for his first goal since the 1-0 win over Exeter in February.
Soon after he was aiming a volley at goal from Lee’s deflected cross, this one blocked almost at source, before Lee – after trading passes on the left edge of the area with Shinnie – fired in another shot, only kept out by a strong arm from Steer as Collins looked to pounce.
A minute later Collins was in the right place at the right time to tuck in his first goal since the home win over Mansfield on April 2nd.
Man-of-the-match Mpanzu aimed a 20-yard shot towards the top corner, but ball came back off the inside of the post and Collins was there to tuck in the rebound from a tight angle and send the home sections of Kenilworth Road into raptures.
It should have been three when Cornick raced clear in the 90th minute, keeping his feet after having his heels clipped by Page, but the ex-Bournemouth man couldn’t find a finish and blazed over the bar.
That miss was to prove costly when Charlton piled forward in added time and forced a last-gasp equaliser. The Town had already survived a penalty shout by Lyle Taylor, who got goal side of Stacey in the box, before the Addicks were awarded a free-kick on the left edge of the box with four minutes of five already played.
Cullen whipped it in and Jason Pearce headed against the bar, with Rea heading Sarr’s follow-up off the line for a corner. This one was found the head of Aribo, who again rattled the bar.
The Hatters smuggled the ball behind again, but from the next corner, the Town could only clear as far as the edge of the box where Chris Solly lashed the ball into the corner of the net for the equaliser.
It felt like two points dropped, but there were plenty of positives to take to Oxford on Tuesday night as the Town look to record a first away win of the campaign.
TOWN: Shea, Stacey, Pearson, Bradley, Potts, Rea ©, Mpanzu, Shinnie (Justin 90), Grant (Cornick 66), Collins, Lee. Subs: McCormack, LuaLua, Jarvis, Sheehan, Isted (GK)
GOALS: Cornick 74, Collins 81
YELLOWS: Potts, Lee
CHARLTON: Steer, Page, Pearce ©, Taylor, Fosu (Ajose 85), Reeves (Lapslie 83), Vetokele, Aribo, Solly, Sarr, Cullen. Subs: Phillips (GK), Dijksteel, Marshall, Pratley, Grant
GOALS: Fosu (pen) 23, Solly 90+5
YELLOWS: Page, Cullen
REFEREE: Anthony Coggins
ATT: 9,502 (1,032 away)