McManaman hammers homes a late leveller to rescue Luton a point against Preston

Simon Sluga makes a crucial save from Sean Maguire as Town's game with Preston finished 1-1Simon Sluga makes a crucial save from Sean Maguire as Town's game with Preston finished 1-1
Simon Sluga makes a crucial save from Sean Maguire as Town's game with Preston finished 1-1
Championship: Luton Town 1 Preston North End 1

Substitute Callum McManaman scored a brilliant late equaliser to rescue Luton what could be a crucial point in their battle to stay up this season.

The winger, who had only been on the pitch for 10 minutes, picked his spot with unerring accuracy from 22 yards in what was the Hatters only shot on target, as he thundered past Declan Rudd and earn the hosts a share of the spoils, which had looked increasingly unlikely the longer the game wore on.

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In fact, Nathan Jones' first game back as Luton manager appeared to be ending in disappointment as the Hatters just never appeared capable of breaking through a solid Lilywhites back-line who showed just why they are going for a play-off position this term.

The visitors looked a well-drilled, well-oiled machine, but just couldn't create that killer second goal, allowing McManaman to finish off a flowing Town move with yet another late goal, his fourth of the season.

After 105 days away from the harsh realities of Championship football due to the coronavirus, Luton began their nine game mini-season to try and avoid relegation against a side who also needed the points for a very different reason, to hold on to their play-off place.

With a deserted Kenilworth Road apart from the players, coaching staff, journalists and club officials, it made for a difficult playing experience for both sets of players, despite the best efforts of the PA system, pumping crowd noise in for the duration of the 90 minutes.

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Plenty had changed since Town last took to the field, not least one Jones replacing another in the dugout, but the starting 11 was strikingly similar to that which ground out a 0-0 draw with Wigan on March 7, just the one change, Dan Potts in for Sonny Bradley, with Glen Rea taking the captain's armband.

Town had actually been in the better form of the two sides when the season was postponed, and made the brighter start, winning an early corner which saw Ryan Tunnicliffe swing in a deep cross for Matty Pearson to glance wide.

The visitors then began to dominate possession though, knocking it around with real confidence trying to pull Town out of position.

They did so with an element of fortune, Sean Maguire scuffing an attempted throughball, picking up the rebound to shoot low, his effort deflecting inches past the post.

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A drinks break seemed to reset Town as the ball started sticking upfield more, while they had a great chance on 25 minutes from Izzy Brown's corner.

It wasn't the best delivery, but a poor clearing header forced Rudd into a weak punch, the ball dropping invitingly for both Rea and Harry Cornick, the pair shaping to shoot and then frustratingly leaving it for each other.

Town were then indebted to some alert keeping from Simon Sluga, who was out quickly when a shot rebounded into the feet of the dangerous Maguire, spreading himself impressively to not only block the shot, but win a goal kick too.

Sluga's next work was far easier, comfortably gathering Paul Gallagher's 20 yarder that lacked any real power.

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After the break, the visitors had the breakthrough on 52 minutes when Town's defence were caught out on the right.

Martin Cranie was caught out of position, leaving the unmarked Scott Sinclair with acres of space to advance into the area and with Matty Pearson covering the runners instead of going out to him, the one-time £6m signing for Manchester City, smartly placed his shot into the bottom corner.

Preston looked to double their lead swiftly, Gallagher's free kick not catching out Sluga, who got two strong hands to palm it away.

The Lilywhites almost had that pressure relieving second with 15 to go, Ben Pearson thumping narrowly over from the edge of the box, as that would surely have been curtains for the hosts., who were struggling to ever impose themselves on the contest, sending nothing at keeper Rudd.

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Town responded with a triple substitution, McManaman, James Bree and George Moncur on for Rea, Cranie and Brown, but their introduction did little to immediately knock the visitors out of their stride.

Danny Hylton and Bradley then took to the field, with clubs now allowed to make five alterations in a bid to prevent player injury, and the changes finally had an effect with just three minutes to go.

Sluga's throw to the right was initially cut out, only for Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu to win the ball back and find Bree.

He set off before picking out McManaman, the winger cutting across the box and then unleash a wonderful angled drive that flew past Rudd.

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Luton almost had a second straight away, Tunnicliffe bending a delicious attempt that just didn't come down in time, with Rudd beaten.

Although the result saw Luton slip to the bottom, they did actually cut the gap to safety by a point, thanks to Middlesbrough's thumping defeat at home by Swansea City, who the Hatters now head to next weekend.

Hatters: Simon Sluga, Martin Cranie (James Bree 75), Dan Potts, Matty Pearson (Sonny Bradley 84), Cameron Carter-Vickers, Glen Rea (C George Moncur 75), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Izzy Brown (Callum McManaman 75), Harry Cornick, James Collins (Danny Hylton 84).

Subs not used: James Shea, Elliot Lee, Andrew Shinnie, Jacob Butterfield.

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Preston: Declan Rudd, Ben Pearson, Ben Davies, Alan Browne, Daniel Johnson (Jayden Stockley 90), Paul Gallagher (C Darnell Fisher 77), Andy Hughes, Patrick Bauer, Sean Maguire (David Nugent 65), Tom Barkhuizen (Billy Bodin 90), Scott Sinclair (Brad Potts 77).

Subs not used: Connor Ripley, Josh Harrop, Jordan Storey, Ryan Ledson, Jayden Stockley, Billy Bodin.

Booked: Rea 54.

Referee: John Brooks