Hatters secure a play-off place with late Morris equaliser as Royals striker Andy Carroll sees red
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Carlton Morris's 19th goal of the season saw Luton secure a Championship play-off place for the second year running with a 1-1 draw at Reading this evening.The forward bundled home an equaliser with nine minutes to go against a Royals side who had striker Andy Carroll sent off early in the second half to ensure the Hatters picked up the point they needed to make sure of a top six berth and extend their season beyond May 8.
Luton really should have been celebrating another three points on the road such was their dominance in the contest, finishing with 68% possession, but they missed a hatful of chances as their slim hopes of catching Sheffield United in second were realistically ended.
The visitors made just one change for the contest, Alfie Doughty replacing the injured Reece Burke, meaning Amari'i Bell reverted to defence, Tom Lockyer moving over to the right of the back three, while Jordan Clark and Elijah Adebayo were among the substitutes.
The visitors should have been behind inside two minutes when they were carved open with uncharacteristic ease on their left by winger Femi Azeez.
His ball picked out the completely unmarked Carroll just a few yards from goal, the ex-Newcastle and Liverpool forward somehow sidefooting woefully over the bar in what was a real let-off.
It was Woodrow who tried his luck first for the Hatters, having a crack from fully 30 yards after a marauding run by Bell, but it failed to test keeper Joe Lumley.
As Luton started to get a grip on their counterparts, they had another decent opportunity on 14 minutes, the ball dropping to midfielder Allan Campbell, who scored at this venue last term, only to send his potshot straight at Lumley.
The Reading keeper was then beaten all ends up moments later, when a clever free kick routine saw Doughty unleash a terrific daisycutter that the home stopper was fortunate to see crash against his post and out.
With 20 gone, Town almost came a cropper from Nesta Guinness-Walker's long throw, as the defence made a mess of dealing with it, Ethan Horvath out bravely to punch away, Tom Holmes sending his volley harmlessly over when the ball dropped invitingly to him outside the box.
Woodrow had better luck with his own effort from range midway through the half, forcing Lumley to parry away, while he sized up another curler with 35 minutes gone, this time the home keeper able to hold on.
With Doughty's left foot a real source of creativity for the Hatters, fellow wing back Cody Drahem then showed he was just as dangerous, with a terrific cross that was touched back by Morris to Woodrow, whose close range blast would have been in, but for a last-ditch block.
The rest of the first period then saw Luton absolute dominate, as Reading simply couldn't get out of their half at times.
Toying with their opponents at times, the only cause of frustration was Luton unable to create that clear-cut goalscoring opportunity that they required to unlock an increasingly desperate home defence.
It all changed after the break though as despite the Royals starting poorly, with Luton not clearing their lines properly, it led to Lucas Joao curling a shot that Hovath clawed behind.
Reading then had the lead from the corner on 52 minutes when Carroll was criminally left unmarked to meet Azeez's delivery and head past an exposed Horvath.
Just four minutes later and the game changed on its head as it looked like the forward had doubled the Royals advantage from another set-piece, wheeling away to celebrate.
However, as Town screamed for handball, replays showed that the striker had clearly punched the ball into the net, which earned him a booking from referee Tim Robinson, and as he had already been cautioned in the first half for an ill-advised sliding challenge, was dismissed.
It was met with boos from the Royal supporters, but they didn't have the benefit of the second look and Carroll's head shaking as he trudged off could only have been in disappointment that his indiscretion was picked up by the officials.
With Town still dominating the ball but unable to manufacture that definitive chance, Edwards made a triple change with 20 left, showing just how strong a squad Luton have at this stage of the season, Adebayo, Clark and Luke Berry all on for Lockyer, Campbell and Mpanzu.
Berry almost immediately set up a leveller when his cross was parried out by Lumley for Woodrow's volley to be blocked once more.
You sensed it wasn't going to be Woodrow's or Luton's night when with 15 minutes left, Doughty's searching ball forward was nodded back by Morris for the striker to hit first time from 20 yards, only narrowly dragging wide of the target.
He picked up a knock when unleashing his effort, eventually taken off for Luke Freeman, as Luton then had their best chance when Bell got away on the left to pick out Clark, only for the substitute to sidefoot glaringly wide from eight yards.
However, the Hatters were level in the 81st minute when two subs did combine, Berry with a terrific cross that saw Adebayo bravely go up with Lumley, the keeper's punch rebounding off his head and looping goalwards, Morris making sure it did cross the line hook or by crook.
The final stages saw Luton unsurprisingly with all the pressure, but as had proved the case for the majority of the evening, couldn't ever find that one chance required.
Royals sub Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan fired over the top in a rare counter, before the hosts, with keeper Lumley running through all the tricks, including telling the home fans to keep the ball in the stands, and unnecessarily sprinting to the corner of his box before diving over, held on for a precious point in their battle to stay up.
Royals: Joe Lumley, Andy Carroll, Tom Holmes, Jeff Hendrick, Lucas Joao (Kelvin Ehibhatiomham 82), Femi Azeez (Kelvin Abrefa 70), Andy Yiadom ©, Nesta Guiness-Walker, Tyrese Fornah (Mamadia Camara 70), Cesare Casadei, Naby Sarr.
Subs not used: Coniah Boyce-Clarke, Scott Dann, Mamadou Loum, Amadou Mbengue.
Hatters: Ethan Horvath, Cody Drameh, Tom Lockyer (Luke Berry 68), Sonny Bradley (C), Amari'i Bell, Alfie Doughty, Marvelous Nakamba, Allan Campbell (Elijah Adebayo 68), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu (Jordan Clark 68), Cauley Woodrow (Luke Freeman 80), Carlton Morris.
Subs not used: James Shea, Henri Lansbury, Joe Taylor.
Bookings: Carroll 16, Hendrick 33, Doughty 60, Lumley 79, Holmes 89.
Sent off: Carroll 56.
Referee: Tim Robinson.