League Two: Luton Town 1 Newport County 1
Luton Town’s distant play-off hopes were finally ended this afternoon after they suffered further home disappointment, conceding a late equaliser against struggling Newport County.
Even had Luton won, with AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth both emerging victorious as well, then the top seven would have been realistically out of reach anyway, due to a vastly inferior goal difference.
The game had more importance on it for the visitors though, as Newport needed a mere point to ensure League Two survival, although that became largely irrelevant once second bottom York City were hammered 3-0 at Accrington Stanley, sending the Minstermen down.
Hatters boss Nathan Jones named an unchanged side for the third game running after away wins at Oxford and Carlisle, with the hosts going close to grabbing an early lead when Danny Green’s deflected cross was met by Josh McQuoid, but he could only glance narrowly wide.
However, it was County who looked by far the greater threat early on, easily having the better of the opening 10 minutes as Alex Rodman wasted a good break, curling over, while after Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu gave the ball away cheaply, Medy Elito shot straight at Elliot Justham.
On-loan Charlton striker Joe Pigott displayed the confidence gleaned from his three goals in two games, taking on Ruddock Mpanzu’s pass first time, dragging off target.
But any fluence and momentum taken from three wins on the spin never materialised on the pitch, with Luton second to the ball on almost every occasion as the visitors looked nothing like a side at the wrong end of the table.
County continued to look the more likely, Scott Barrow’s free kick striking the wall, with his second attempt flicking off Lenell John-Lewis’ boot and missing the bottom corner by inches.
As Luton continued to look insipid at best, Ruddock Mpanzu particularly struggling to get anywhere near the level of his previous performances, boss Jones opted to make an early substitution, bringing off Alex Lawless for Cameron McGeehan.
It was harsh on the midfielder with any number of Luton’s outfield players deserving the ignomy of being hauled before the half hour mark.
The anger in the departing Welshman was clear to see too, punching the dug out in disgust as he took his place on the bench.
Justham had to be alert to shovel Elito’s potshot behind, while the Luton stopper was called upon from range once more from John-Lewis’ deflected shot before Hatters managed to finish the half in something of the ascendancy.
They created the best two chances in quick succession as Olly Lee’s cross saw keeper Joe Day lose his footing, with Pigott stretching his neck to head over.
The Newport custodian then redeemed himself, with a strong left hand to deny Ruddock Mpanzu, who had out-muscled his opponent in a rare moment of power.
With the words of Jones ringing in their ear, Town started the second period as they should have the first, Ruddock Mpanzu’s direct run and cross side-footed narrowly wide by Pigott.
Scott Boden flicked a header just over as the game looked like it might open up, with Pigott unlucky to see his instinctive 20-yarder beat Day only to clip the top of the bar.
John-Lewis put another presentable header wide as County kept their attacking side of the bargain, while Jones made another two earlier than normal changes, with Zane Banton and Jack Marriott introduced.
The alterations allowed Luton to finally build a head of steam as it was they who were first to the loose ball, dominating territory for the first time.
A flurry of action saw McGeehan test Day, who again stood firm, before the keeper punched clear from Marriott too, with Ruddock Mpanzu dragging badly wide and McGeehan’s header simple for the keeper.
The visitors then had a marvellous chance to break the deadlock on 75 minutes when ex-Hatter Dean Morgan, the recipient of boos with his every touch, racing into the box only to slice wide.
Town made their former charge pay too six minutes later as Lee swung over a cross from the right and Marriott escaped his marker to neatly head home at the near post for a 14th of an impressive first full season.
From the moment they were in front though, Hatters appeared to clock off and with the MOM vote being read out, Rodman’s excellent cross from the right saw sub Souleymane Coulibaly rise highest to head beyond Justham in the 88th minute.
Pigott almost won it, seeing a low effort turned behind by Day, but it wasn’t to be as Hatters were left with that all-too familiar feeling of frustration at the final whistle once more.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Stephen O’Donnell, Dan Potts, Alan Sheehan, Glen Rea, Alex Lawless (Cameron McGeehan 29), Olly Lee, Danny Green (Zane Banton 59), Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Josh McQuoid (Jack Marriott 68), Joe Pigott.
Subs not used: Jake Howells, Craig King, Frankie Musonda, Paul Benson.
Exiles: Joe Day, Danny Holmes, Scott Barrow (Tommy O’Sullivan 86), Darren Jones, Ben Davies, Medy Elito, Lenell John-Lewis (Dean Morgan 64), Andrew Hughes, Scott Boden (Souleymane Coulibaly 83), Alex Rodman, Mark Byrne (C).
Subs not used: Joe Green, Tom Owen-Evans, Matt Partridge, Kieran Parselle.
Attendance: 7,606 (140 Newport).
Booked: Davies 39, McQuoid 40.
Referee: Fred Graham.