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REPORT | LUTON TOWN 3 FULHAM 3

Hatters lead three times but Cottagers hit back to grab a late point

26 December 2019

The Hatters ended a decade of home matches with a 3-3 draw against Sky Bet Championship promotion chasers Fulham this afternoon in a brilliant Boxing Day encounter.

Luton led three times with goals from Kazenga LuaLua, top scorer James Collins and substitute Harry Cornick, but each time the Cottagers hit back, levelling through Bobby Decordova-Reid and Aleksandar Mitrovic before the former broke Town hearts with a third equaliser four minutes into injury-time.

Jones made three changes to his starting line-up, with Ryan Tunnicliffe, Callum McManaman and LuaLua all returning to the starting XI in place of Jacob Butterfield, Andrew Shinnie and Harry Cornick.

The Town made a dream start on four minutes when Collins LuaLua pressed Fulham as they tried to play out in their own six-yard box. LuaLua won the ball from Ream bang in the centre of the goal, it rolled to Collins who controlled it back into LuaLua's path to stab home past Rodak, who got a touch but couldn't keep it out.

The visitors were level within five minutes when Ivan Cavaleiro crossed from the right and Decordova-Reid was allowed the freedom of the Hatters' penalty area to head past Simon Sluga.

Collins soon sent a glancing header just wide as Town continued in a positive vein, but they had to call on Sluga to race off his line and clear with his feet when Bolton's short backpass put Cavaleiro in the clear. 

The Croatian keeper was soon turning a Joe Bryan 20-yarder over the bar before making a terrific one-handed save low to his right to keep out a Tom Cairney drive.

LuaLua was enjoying himself up against Cyrus Christie and in the 2st minute he sent one of several low crosses dangerously across the six-yard box that went begging.

Cairney tried his luck again in the 25th minute, but Sluga gathered on the skiddy surface at the second attempt.

The Town's lead was restored just before the half-hour when Berry's free-kick from deep on the right found James Bree challenging Alfie Mawson, and the ball spurted out to Collins, who controlled and finished into the top corner from eight yards out.

Collins thought he had his ninth of the season on 36 minutes when he met another Berry free-kick, this time from the left, and turned it in off a post, but a linesman's flag ruled this one out.

It was the best 45 minutes of the season from the Hatters at Kenilworth Road, and Jones side deservedly headed in at the break with a 2-1 lead.

Sluga had to be alert inside the first minute of the second half to first keep out Decordova-Reid and then a scramble from the resulting corner, before Bolton produced a timely block as the former Cardiff forward looked to get on the end of a cross into the box.
 
The Town keeper was soon tipping over another shot from Decordova-Reid, before Jones made his first change of the afternoon, Cornick coming on for McManaman in the 65th minute.
 
Within two minutes Decordova-Reid was repeating the same trick, this time bending a low effort wide of Sluga's far post, before Cairney fired from distance and the Hatters' stopper gathered once more.
 
Sluga was proving in brilliant form, pushing a Bryan piledriver away as Fulham cranked up the pressure with 20 minutes to go.
 
Town had a great chance to extend their lead in the 74th minute when Cornick set LuaLua free on the left from inside his own half. The forward checked back and sent in a low cross that just eluded Berry, but ran to Tunnicliffe beyond the far post. The midfielder bided his time and rounded Rodak, but his cut-back went right through the box and Cornick's effort was blocked.
 
Fulham were back in front in the 77th minute when, seconds after Lloyd Jones had been introduced for LuaLua, Mitrovic found a pocket of space in front of goal and headed in from close range.
 
The Hatters were back in front with six minutes left. Collins won the ball on the edge of his own box after a couple of scuffed clearances had gone straight to Fulham players. He laid it back for Pearson, who clipped it into the channel and Mpanzu put pressure on Ream. The Fulham centre-half's pass inside saw Berry putting pressure on the Cottagers defender, and his loose pass went straight to Cornick who slotted in his sixth goal of the season for 3-2.
 
Collins went close a minute later when, after Berry had produced an outrageous bit of skill on the left, he cut in and attempted a curler that just missed the top corner.

We were into the 90th minute when Cornick pounced on another mistake by Ream and raced clear, but his shot across Rodak also beat the far post.

Fulham would deal that late blow when Cordova-Reid followed up and turned in the rebound from another Sluga save to salvage a point for the visitors.

Coupled with Stoke's win at home to Sheffield Wednesday, it meant the Town dropped into the relegation zone on goal difference.

But as the final home game of a decade that kick-off here at Kenilworth Road with a 3-2 defeat to Ebbsfleet United in the Conference, the reality is that we go into that cherished year of 2020 with so much to be hopeful - and thankful - for.

 

TOWN: Sluga, Bolton, Pearson, Bradley (c), Bree, Tunnicliffe, Mpanzu, Berry, McManaman (Cornick 65), LuaLua (Jones 76), Collins.

Subs: Shinnie, Moncur, Butterfield, Sheehan, Stech.

Goals: LuaLua 4, Collins 28, Cornick 84

 

FULHAM: Rodak, Mawson, Mitrovic, Cairney (c), Ream, Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro (Kebano 76), Reed (Knockaert 69), Christie, Bryan (Kamara 89), Onomah.

Subs: Bettinelli (GK), Johansen, O'Riley, Sessegnon.

Goals: Decordova-Reid 9, 90+5, Mitrovic 77

 

REFEREE: Dean Whitestone


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