Hatters battle back from the brink thanks to goals from Shaw and Fleetwood

Blue Square Bet Premier: Luton Town 2 (0) Gateshead 2 (2)

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 11th August 2012, 5:32 pm

OLD boys from both sides came back to haunt their former clubs as Luton Town battled back from two goals down at the break to salvage a 2-2 draw against Gateshead at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.

A dire first half performance from the Hatters allowed the Heed to surge into the lead as ex-Hatter Liam Hatch headed home from a corner before Yemi Odubade nipped in to put them 2-0 up.

Town seemed devoid of ideas but a double change at the interval breathed new life back into them as former Tynesiders striker Jon Shaw pounced to net on his Hatters debut before Stuart Fleetwood drove home to level the scores.

The visitors almost grabbed a late winner when Hatch’s header clipped the bar, but Town clung on for a valuable draw to avoid a disastrous start to the season.

Ex-Heed striker Shaw had to make do with a place on the bench as Scott Rendell, Andre Gray and Fleetwood started up front, while JJ O’Donnell won the battle for the midfield berth as he started alongside Yaser Kasim and Jake Howells. Gateshead, meanwhile, named ex-Luton target man Hatch up front.

Town started brightly and had their first effort just three minutes in when O’Donnell found space on the edge of the box but his low drive was saved by Adam Bartlett.

The home side were playing some nice stuff but finding chances hard to come by against the well-drilled Heed.

And the Tynesiders, who’d looked good from set-pieces all afternoon, stunned the Hatters on 25 minutes when a corner was whipped into the six-yard box and Hatch stooped to head home via a Luton leg.

The Heed were then allowed to tear a swathe through the middle and, with Town’s defence at sixes and sevens, Hatch could only lash wide.

And things went from bad to worse on 35 minutes when Odubade was slipped through a static defence and he kept his cool to finish confidently past the exposed Tyler.

Shell-shocked Luton were struggling to find their men as the crowd started to make their frustrations known.

Odubade almost skipped past Janos Kovacs but the Hungarian recovered well to put in a telling block, while at the other end Fleetwood’s pass was too strong for Gray.

With Town on the ropes Heed looked to press home their advantage and Hatch’s knockdown five minute before the break found Josh Gillies but his low effort was well snaffled by Tyler.

Town were chasing shadows and losing their battles all over the pitch and even when they won a free-kick in a good place just before the break the delivery was overcooked.

And in injury time James Chandler was rightfully booked when his terrible lunging challenge curtailed Howells’ burst forward.

Boss Paul Buckle made a double substitution at the break as Town looked to get back into the game, bringing on Shaw for the disappointing Greg Taylor and Alex Lawless for the defensive-minded Kasim.

O’Donnell’s lofted pass found Gray early in the second half but his volley was miles wide.

The Hatters were struggling top cope with a swirling wind and, although a canny Howells free-kick picked out Fleetwood, he could only whistle well wide.

But Town got themselves right back into the game on the hour when they worked a lovely move on the left of the box and Shaw was there to force home Fleetwood’s byline pull-back

Gray’s dangerous cross was just cut out seconds later as Kenilworth Road suddenly came to life with reborn belief.

Gillies curled wide before being replaced and Odubade looked in but could only kick the ground in the box as he looked to pull the trigger.

And Luton were back level with 19 minutes to play when O’Donnell’s ball into the box was headed back across goal by Rendell to the completely unmarked Fleetwood who rammed home an unstoppable effort from acute angle.

Gateshead though should have retaken the lead just seconds later when they broke with numbers and Mick Cummins was teed up on the edge of the box but he could only spiral over when he should have at least hit the target.

Substitute James Marwood almost made an instant impact for the visitors as he crossed to the far post, but Lathaniel Rowe-Turner’s barest of touches seemed to put Hatch off as he could only glance wide.

With five minute to go substitute Adam Watkins burst on to Shaw’s knock down, but having bulldozed his way into the box he could only drag a left-footed effort wide with just the keeper to beat.

The Heed almost grabbed a winner with just a minute to go when another corner was whipped into the box and Hatch’s header clipped the bar on its way over as four minutes were added.

Town pushed for a winner but there were to be no more chances as the Hatters had to settle for an opening day draw.

Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Greg Taylor (Jon Shaw 46), Janos Kovacs, Scott Rendell, Jake Howells, Stuart Fleetwood, JJ O’Donnell, Yaser Kasim (Alex Lawless 46), Ronnie Henry (C), Andre Gray (Adam Watkins 69). Substitutes not used: Dean Beckwith, Dean Brill.

Tynesiders (4-4-2): Adam Bartlett, Carl Magnay, Jamie Chandler, James Curtis, Ben Clark (C

Odubad), Josh Gillies (James Marwood 67), Phil Turnbull, Liam Hatch, Yemi Odubade (, Micky Cummins (Patrick Boyle 78), Chris Bush. Substitutes not used: Gleen Wilson, James Nixon.

Booked: James Chandler (45+5).

Referee: N Kinseley.

Assistant Referees: S Freerick and S Pawley.

Fourth Official: A Degnarain.

Attendance: 6,743 (76 Gateshead).

Star Hatter: Jon Shaw. His introduction brought the Hatters back to life.