Blue Square Bet Premier
Newport County 1 (0) Luton Town 1 (1)
A HEARTBREAKING 95th-minute penalty denied stubborn Hatters victory in south Wales tonight, writes Mark Wood.
Robbie Willmott had given Luton the lead on his full debut with his first goal for the club on 18 minutes when he stabbed home from close range and went on to miss two one-on-one chances to put the game behind doubt in the second half.
And just when it looked like Town had weathered a late Newport barrage the Exiles snatched a point when debutant Paul Carden fouled Paul Bignot in the box in the fourth minute of stoppage time and Jamie Collins calmly found the bottom corner to break Hatters hearts.
Town made four changes from the team that disappointingly went down 3-1 at home to Fleetwood Town on Saturday.
Carden made his debut following the completion of his loan from Cambridge United, Willmott overcame a hip injury to make his first start in a Luton shirt, Jason Walker was preferred up front and the dependable Freddie Murray came in at left-back after recovering from a hernia.
Jake Howells and Alex Lawless dropped to the bench, while Matthew Barnes-Homer and Amari Morgan-Smith were left out of the squad entirely.
A couple of early back headers just had enough power to elude Walker, while a ferocious Darryl Knights volley flew wide on six minutes.
Lloyd Owusu had a wayward effort from Keith Keane’s cross seconds later before Luton stunned the home crowd as they took the lead on 18 minutes.
Keane shaped up to take a long throw but cleverly linked with Carden before whipping in a brilliant cross that was flicked on and Willmott was lurking at the back post to stab home his first Hatters goal.
Walker was centimetres away from connecting with Willmott’s tantalising cross on 23 minutes while Newport struggled to deal with Murray’s long throw moments later.
Tom Miller was causing all kinds of problems with his long throws and after Town had struggled to clear one, Wayne Hatswell lobbed the ball over the bar.
The Exiles threatened with a series of corners and long throws with Zdenek Kroca putting in a great last-ditch challenge on the half-hour.
Town were looking to hit their hosts on the break with Willmott having his shot blocked on 33 minutes while Claude Gnakpa overhit a pass after the Hatters had developed a fine overlap.
Newport had a great chance to level three minutes before the break when Knights broke clear on the right but Charlie Griffin could only spoon his cut back well over.
At the other end Owusu headed wide from a Keane free-kick as the Hatters went into the break with a slender 1-0 lead.
Luke Graham came on for the struggling Dan Gleeson (back) at the break and Luton crafted another decent chance three minutes in when Murray’s long throw was teed up by Walker but Willmott could only balloon over.
At the other end Robbie Matthews laid a lovely ball into the path of Knights but Murray produced a super sliding tackle with the goal in his sights.
The Irishman then reacted stupidly after giving away a soft free-kick, pushing the grounded Bignot, and he was probably lucky to escape only with a yellow card.
Gnakpa was cruelly felled at the other end and Willmott’s 54th-minute free-kick deflected off the defensive wall and behind for Luton’s first corner of the game.
Substitute Yemi Odubade almost made an instant impact as he tumbled under Cardin’s challenge in the box seconds after coming on but referee Warren Atkin waved away the appeals for a penalty. Odubade then snatched at a chance and his effort was easily saved by Mark Tyler.
Town though should have doubled their on 68 minutes when Keane won the ball and Gnakpa slid Willmott clean through but Glyn Thompson saved well at his feet.
The lively Odubade then robbed George Pilkington but was rescued by a great challenge from Graham as the game became increasingly stretched.
Town continued to threaten on the break with Gnakpa again sending Willmott clean through but Thompson again saved well and an inviting Keane cross somehow eluded Owusu.
Gary Warren sent a header straight at Tyler before Danny Rose tumbled under an Owusu tackle in the box and good appeals for a penalty were again turned down much to the anger of the vociferous locals.
Odubade fired well over when well placed and Collins thrashed just wide, before Luton missed more good chances with eight minutes to go.
Gnakpa had a shot well blocked after good work by Willmott while neither Howells or Owusu were somehow able to turn home Murray’s dangerous cross.
Newport keeper Thompson joined the attack for a late free-kick where Tyler was almost bundled over the line by two Newport players.
But there was to be plenty of late drama in stoppage time. Kerry Morgan’s bouncing bomb looped across goal and rebounded off the far post and he somehow darted round to drill home the rebound, only to be flagged offside.
A Kroca flick dropped just over the bar three minutes into stoppage time and Tyler then pulled off a brilliant acrobatic stop to deny Graeme Montgomery whose shot from outside the area seemed to be destined for the top right-hand corner.
However, Newport grabbed a deserved equaliser in the fifth minute of injury time as Town were cruelly denied at the death. Carden felled Bignot in the box and this time Atkin pointed to the spot and Collins confidently stroked home into the bottom corner to deny Luton victory with virtually the last kick of the game.
Exiles (4-3-3): Glyn Thompson, Paul Bignot, Jamie Collins, Gary Warren (C), Danny Rose, Andrew Hughes, Robbie Matthews (Yemi Odubade 66), Darryl Knights (Graeme Montgomery 72), Wayne Hatswell, Tom Miller Kerry Morgan 78), Charlie Griffin. Substitutes not used: Sam Foley, Glyn Garner.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Dan Gleeson (Luke Graham 46), Freddie Murray, Keith Keane, George Pilkington (C), Robbie Willmott, Zdenek Kroca, Paul Carden, Claude Gnakpa, Jason Walker (Jake Howells 59), Lloyd Owusu. Substitutes not used: Alex Lawless, Danny Crow, Kevin Pilkington.
Referee: Warren Atkin (Crawley).
Assistant referees: Adam Matthews and Richard Hulme.
Fourth official: Andy Newell.
Bookings: Murray 50; Collins 52; Kroca 63.
Star Hatter: Zdenek Kroca. Tower of strength at the back throughout and didn’t deserve the cruel twist at the end.