Late heartbreak for Hatters in a six-goal Christmas cracker at Kenilworth Road
Luton suffered late heartbreak as Bobby Decordova-Reid denied them a hard-fought victory after they took the lead three times against Fulham but could only take a point.
On a day of so many positives for Town, the heartbreaker, coupled with a late winner for Stoke against Sheffield Wednesday, sent them into the Championship bottom three on goal difference.
Kazenga LuaLua and James Collins put the Hatters ahead by the break while a lapse in defensive concentration had allowed the Cottagers to equalise quickly through Decordova-Reid after a lightning Luton start.
Aleksander Mitrovic levelled in the 77th minute, all too easily from a corner. And, at that point, the visitors had been dominating so there only looked one winner, but Luton, as they had for LuaLua’s opener, profited from Fulham’s propensity to play out from the back, with Harry Cornick nudging them in front again.
The forward had another golden one-on-one chance to seal victory, but he missed and Fulham struck late to take a point.
Cornick was one of three changes to the starting line-up, having to make do with a place on the bench, alongside Andrew Shinnie and Jacob Butterfield. In their place was Ryan Tunnicliffe, Callum McManaman and LuaLua. The latter took the opportunity with both hands, with a man-of-the-match performance.
In the fifth minute, he closed down Alfie Mawson in the six-yard box, his block ricocheted to Collins and the striker’s heavy first touch came back to the winger who poked in, despite Marek Rodak getting a glove on it.
By that point Fulham hard barely been in Town’s half, but the first time they got in the final third, four minutes later, it was far too easy for them.
Cyrus Christie lofted a cross into the box and there was not a Town shirt within ten yards of Decordova-Reid who headed past the otherwise outstanding Simon Sluga to level the scores.
The keeper had no chance with that but he made his mark with three fabulous interventions, first racing quickly off his line to deny Ivan Cavaleiro with his legs after a Luke Bolton mistake allowed the forward to run at goal. Then he palmed over Joe Bryan’s rasper before diving low to keep out a Tom Cairney curler.
And just for good measure the Croat got clattered by Decordova-Reid and needed Bolton to cover and hack clear after the ricochet threatened to gift Fulham an open goal.
But after the visitors looked to have gained a foothold, Town took the lead again. James Bree threw himself at a deep Luke Berry free-kick and the ball hit Collins. There was a hint of handball, but the linesman didn’t flag and the striker smashed into the top corner from close range for his eighth of the season.
He thought he’d had a ninth soon after from another Berry free-kick, when he converted in off the post, but this time the flag was raised for offside.
Yet the Hatters went into the half time interval, deservedly in the lead.
Fulham increased the pressure from the restart though misplaced passes and some fine defending, most notably from Luke Bolton to deny Decordova-Reid, kept them at relatively at arm’s length until the hour mark.
But they kept coming and the Cottagers’ forward twice fizzled curlers just off target after being allowed to cut across the 18-yard line, with Sluga adjudged to have tipped over the first. Town’s record signing then acrobatically beat away a Bryan’s blast.
Having been camped in their own half for most of the second session, Town almost scored on a breakaway when substitute Cornick found LuaLua. Ryan Tunnicliffe got in on goal and fired across the six-yard line, despite the attentions of Rodak, to Cornick whose shot was blocked and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu ballooned his follow-up.
It was the last action for LuaLua, however, who was replaced by defender Lloyd Jones, with the intention of holding on to their lead. It lasted one minute.
Again, Fulham didn’t have to work hard for it as, from an Anthony Knockeart corner Mitrovic headed in from close range.
It was set-up for late disappointment but then Luton inflicted the kind of cock-up others have of them, all too often this term. Bryan and Ream conspired to overplay in their own box, Berry tackled and Cornick slid ball past Rodak.
The forward had a golden chance to seal the victory as the clocked ticked to 90 minutes when he robbed last man Ream to close in on goal but he fired wide.
It proved costly as, deep into a bewildering five minutes of time added on - for a game that yielded no cards, despite Fulham kicking LuaLua all over Kenilworth Road - Decordova-Reid pounced on the rebound after Sluga had kept out Aboubakar Kamara’s point-blank header.
Luton: Sluga, Tunnicliffe, Bradley, Pearson, McManaman (Cornick, 65), Berry, Mpanzu, Collins, Bolton, LuaLua (Jones, 75), Bree
Unused subs: Stech, Shinnie, Moncur, Butterfield, Sheehan
Fulham: Rodak, Mawson, Mitrovic, Cairney, Ream, Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro (Kebanao, 76), Reed (Knockeart, 70), Christie, Bryan (Kamara, 89), Onomah
Unused subs: Bettinelli, Johansen, O’Riley, Sessegnon,
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Attendance: 10,068 (1,032)