The ten-man Hatters came from behind to claim another crucial point against Blackpool this afternoon to become record-breakers once more by stretching their unbeaten run to 28 league matches – the best run in the club’s history and the best in one season in the third tier of English football!
Mick Harford's men began the game strongest and looked to be heading for another three points when James Collins opened the scoring after just six minutes.
However, the Seasiders were level with their first shot on target on the half-hour, a fine volley by Nya Kirby, to go in at half-time on terms.
The dismissal of Collins just after the hour, for a second yellow card in as many minutes, was made worse a minute later when Matty Virtue put the visitors ahead from a corner.
But sub Jason Cummings soon cancelled this out near the end to keep the home side unbeaten at Kenilworth Road all season with his first goal for the club.
The whole team battled to the very end, a lot of the playersfalling to the floor at the final whistle, exhausted after one of the toughest matches of the season so far.
Harford picked an unchanged from the side that won away at Bristol Rovers last weekend, and it didn’t take the Town long to assert their dominance on the match and show exactly why they’re top of the league.
Bursting forward, Kazenga LuaLua skipped past his man confidently and placed a well-timed pass into Collins who was never going to miss from six yards, calmly slotting the ball past Chris Mafoumbi to notch his 22nd of the campaign.
Matty Pearson went close moments later from a Town corner, instinctively heading the ball down, but his effort was blocked by Armand Gnanduillet and put out for another corner as the Hatters piled on the pressure, roared on by another sell-out home crowd.
The Seasiders struggled to get into the game with 15 minutes gone, trying their best to slow this free-flowing Luton side down. Both LuaLua and Luke Berry provided some early entertainment with some smart link-up play, involving a couple of little flicks and back heels to find space away from the defenders.
The Hatters were more than in control mid-way through the first period, Justin with some fantastic deliveries to inspire more danger for the visitors to deal with. Berry took advantage of one of these crosses; his half volley blocked by a sea of Blackpool shirts. The next chance falling to Andrew Shinnie, the Scot doing everything right, cutting inside and firing another shot at goal.
The Tangerines found an unlikely way back into the contest though, proving why they can be a real force on the road, only losing six away all season. Matty Virtue burst through on the receiving end of a through ball, beating James Shea for pace and taking it wide of the keeper to the by-line. His mis-hit cross eluded the home defence and found Kirby on the edge of the area, rifling his strike into the bottom right corner.
From here, the visitors played their way back into the match, frustrating the Hatters who were looking to push themselves in front again. Marc Bola used his pace to slice his way through the Hatters backline to win a corner, which was eventually claimed by Shea who had hardly made a save all match.
The keeper was forced into a brave catch just before the break though, rising highest to pluck the ball from the sky after a Blackpool free-kick. On the way down he was clipped but still clung tight to the ball.
The final chance of the first 45 went to the Hatters, Pearson clipping a cross-come shot that had Mafoumbi sprawling backwards, just about pushing the ball over the bar to keep the scores all square going into the dressing rooms.
The seasiders began the second period strong, Gnanduillet using his height well and nodding a decent header towards goal. Shea got down quickly to his left and made the ball his. The Tangerines were in the ascendency after the restart, Bola also going on another marauding run only to be stopped and his penalty appeal waved away.
Justin produced another Luton chance, courtesy of a free-kick on the far-left side of the pitch. Another delightful cross from the full-back was met by Shinnie’s boot but again his strike was blocked, this time bravely by Curtis Tilt. The resulting corner fell to Collins who swiped at it early to power a short against the roof of the Kenilworth Road end.
This was to be the striker’s last action of the match, as he soon picked up two yellows in as many minutes to leave the home side to see out the remaining half-an-hour a man light.
The visitors rubbed salt into the wounds within a minute, when they went ahead after winning a corner from pumping the free-kick into the box. A manic scramble followed, the Hatters’ defenders not dealing with the danger, allowing Virtue to slash a shot into the top of net and put the Hatters in the unfamiliar position of being behind.
The Town responded well though, Matty Pearson getting on the end of another Justin corner, just about glancing his header wide of the mark. The home side had a mountain to climb being a man and a goal down. Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu stepped up too, generating a tantalising performance in the middle of the park, mopping up any spillages that leaked their way past this resilient Luton side.
Pearson was robbed by Virtue, stealing the ball in the 70th minute, leaving the Hatters short at the back. Virtue brought it forward and played the ball wide to Nathan Delfouneso. The striker cleverly picked out Gnanduillet who had the whole goal to aim at. Shea made himself big and somehow kept the ball out to keep the visitors at bay, this ended up being a critical moment in the match.
The game changers worked hard when they arrived. George Moncur fizzed a shot wide and Harry Cornick battled his way past the defenders, who were now sitting back and inviting the home side forward in search of an equaliser. Shea continued to play as the sweeper, collecting every loose pass to force the Town up the pitch. Eventually their patience paid off.
Cummings, four minutes after coming on as an 82nd-minute substitute, battled his way into some space, receiving the ball from Mpanzu who had been outstanding. He quickly swivelled, taking a small touch and placed his effort into the bottom right corner, leaving Mafoumbi rooted to the spot.
The Town dug deep until the final whistle and could have won it, in what turned out to be the final action of the matchC; ornick and Moncur working together again to exploit a gap in the Seasiders' defence. The latter did well to beat his man and sting the palms of Mafoumbi but alas, the points were shared.
The Hatters moved eight points clear of second-placed Barnsley and Sunderland, who are now level with the Tykes in third with two games in hand, and will now look to return to winning ways when they take on Charlton in next weekend’s clash at the Valley, roared on by a 3,000-plus away contingent of Hatters.
TOWN: Shea, Stacey, Pearson, Bradley ©, Justin, Mpanzu, Shinnie, Berry (Cornick 74), Lee (Cummings 82), LuaLua (Moncur 59), Collins. Subs: Baptiste, Thorne, Sheehan, Isted
Goals: Collins 6, Cummings 86
BLACKPOOL: Mafoumbi, Heneghan, Delfouneso (Long 88), Spearing ©, Tilt, Virtue, Turton, Gnanduillet, Kirby (Thompson 68), Feeney (Pritchard 82), Bola. Subs: Daniels, Evans, Nottingham, Thompson, Shaw.
Goals: Kirby 30
Yellows: Delfouneso, Turton, Kirby, Long
REFEREE: Lee Collins
ATT: 10,028 (346 away)