Collins scores late leveller as Town hold Boro in six-goal thriller

James Collins celebrates making it 3-3 this evening
James Collins celebrates making it 3-3 this evening

Championship: Luton Town 3 Middlesbrough 3

Striker James Collins scored a late equaliser to earn the Hatters a well-deserved point during their thrilling return to the Championship this evening.

The Hatters looked like they might be staring down the barrel at a first home league defeat since March 2018, before Collins swept home with five minutes to go, to make it 3-3.

He might have even won it, denied in stunning fashion by Darren Randolph after what was a truly tumultuous and absorbing night of football at Kenilworth Road.

Town boss Graeme Jones handed debuts to four of his summer signings, with Simon Sluga, Callum McManaman, Martin Cranie and Ryan Tunnicliffe all starting in what looked like a 4-3-3 formation.

The Hatters made a bright and busy start, looking to capitalise on the wonderful carnival-like atmosphere that had enveloped a packed Kenilwirth Road.

Collins almost broke on to a long punt forward by record signing Sluga, only for his Irish international team-mate Darren Randolph to meet the danger.

A mistake by Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu saw his pass easily picked off, with Ashley Fletcher not missing the bottom corner by much.

However, from the visitors next attack on seven minutes, the former Manchester United and West Ham attacker, who cost Boro £6.5million in July 2017, was to have much better luck, as Mpanzu gave Marvin Johnson too much time to deliver a cross that Fletcher nodded beyond Sluga.

Lewis Wing then fired at Sluga from 22 yards as Boro looked to hammer their advantage home.

But it was Luton who were to score next, and what a stunner it was, almost bringing the roof off Kenilworth Road.

Captain Sonny Bradley, who could not hit the target for love or money last season, nailed an early candidate for goal of the season.

Bringing a clearance out of the sky from a corner, he proceeded to chest the ball down and fairly thwack a glorious volley beyond Randolph and into the roof of the net for a wonder strike, his first goal since February 2018.

Boro tried to hit back, Johnson shooting straight at Sluga and then Paddy McNair's effort flying just the wrong side of the post.

But Luton were giving as good as they got, McManaman beating two players, just unable to pick out a team-mate, with another cross sliced over the bar.

From the corner on 24 minutes, Town were then in front, Shinnie swinging over a cross and full back Martin Cranie there to cushion his header into the top corner and make it 2-1.

There was no surprise that Cranie looked a bit bemused about how to celebrate, as that was his first goal since a little under five years ago, when at Barnsley he scored against Crewe on August 16, 2014.

In fact it was only the third goal of his 15-year career, his first coming in September 2009, then at Coventry.

Sluga then showed just why the Hatters were so keen to make him their record addition as he somehow stuck out a paw to tip Johnson's wonderful bending attempt that was destined for the top corner behind.

But the Croatian went from the sublime to the ridiculous moments later as with eight minutes to go until the break, Shinnie badly lost possession just outside his area, Britt Assombalonga was teed up and his weak effort was somehow fumbled in by the keeper.

A breathless first half saw Luton miss a great chance to go back in front as Collins did brilliantly to dig out a cross on the left and McManaman missed a volley at the far post when he should have hit the target at least.

The goal clearly took some of the stuffing out of Town for the final knockings of the first period, as Boro grabbed the upper hand once more, with Jones' men glad to hear the whistle and regroup.

The hosts thought they had an immediate lead at the start of the second period, Collins bundling in a wonderful cross from McManaman.

Referee Oliver Langford adjudged Town's frontman to have used his hand, booking the striker as well.

McNair saw his cross-shot clip the bar and rebound to safety, as Luton started to crank up the pressure, finding their second wind.

McManaman almost picked out Collins, a covering defender just clearing over his own bar, before Dan Potts thought he had won a penalty after being tripped in the box, Langford giving nothing.

Jones brought on new addition Jacob Butterfield for his first appearance, replacing Lee, with the impressive Tunnicliffe moving further forward.

It was Boro who gained the upper hand though, showing some clever and intricate link-up play around Town's box, before Wing decided to pull the trigger, blasting a swerving bullet beyond Sluga's outstretched grasp and into the net in the 69th minute.

Harry Cornick and George Moncur were introduced for the final stages in a bid to engineer an equaliser, the pair eventually doing just that.

Sluga made partial amends for his earlier error though, bundling Daniel Sanchez Ayala close-range header away and then sliding out with his feet to prevent Assombalonga from walking the ball in after Fletcher's clever flick.

Town were fortunate to not concede a fourth on 81 minute though, Cranie giving a penalty away after tripping Hayden Coulson in the area, Assombalonga blasting way over the bar.

Sluga redeemed himself with two brave saves at the feet of the Boro striker, while Luton made the most of the miss with five to go, Cornick picking out Potts, his shot was blocked, and Collins was there to sweep home the rebound.

In stoppage time, Luton thought they had won it, Moncur bursting into the box and teeing up Collins whose blast was wonderfully repelled by his Irish team-mate Randolph.

The point was good enough for Town to maintain their unbeaten home record since March 2018, while they also sit on top of the Championship ahead of tomorrow's round of matches.

Hatters: Simon Sluga, Martin Cranie, Dan Potts, Sonny Bradley, Matty Pearson, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Andrew Shinnie (Harry Cornick 69), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Elliot Lee (Jacob Butterfield 60) Callum McManaman (George Moncur 73), James Collins.

Subs not used: James Shea, Luke Berry, Brendan Galloway, Lloyd Jones.

Boro: Darren Randolph, Daniel Sanchez Ayala (C), Ryan Shotton, Adam Clayton, Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher, Jonny Howson, Paddy McNair (George Saville 86), Marvin Johnson (Marcus Browne 70), Lewis Wing, Hayden Coulson.

Subs not used: Marcus Tavernier, Rudy Gestede, Nathan Wood, Marc Bola, Aynsley Pears.

Booked: Fletcher 38, Mpanzu 45, Collins 50, Wing 61.

Referee: Oliver Langford.

Attendance: 10,053 (Boro 960).