A SERIES of missed chances late in the first half cost Luton dear as they were held to a goalless draw by physical Alfreton at the Impact Arena this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
Three times in-form forward Andre Gray went close, while also rolling a cross just out of the reach of strike partner Stuart Fleetwood.
The Reds dominated the second half but the Hatters almost snatched victory at the death only to see substitute Andre Boucaud’s last-gasp header cleared off the line by Josh Law as Town missed another golden opportunity to make up ground in the race for the play-offs.
Town named an unchanged team from the side that triumphed 4-2 against Hayes & Yeading on Monday as Dan Gleeson and Boucaud came on to the bench at the expense of Adam Watkins and John Paul Kissock.
The visitors started brightly enough but were given an early scare when a header into the box hit a divot and Mark Tyler had to be alert to grab hold.
And Luton were inches away from taking the lead with a great effort on 10 minutes. Janos Kovacs led the charge from the back and his pass found Fleetwood on the left and his curling 20-yard effort whistled just wide.
Alfreton responded with a good effort of their own moments later when Darren Kempson beat George Pilkington in the air to a free-kick and striker Adam Cunnington fired straight into Tyler’s midriff.
Having soaked up some pressure Luton finally began to dominate possession with Fleetwood steering Curtis Osano’s cross into the path of the offside Robbie Willmott who was just unable to prod home.
The hulking Reds looked dangerous from set pieces with the manager’s son, Josh Law, curling a well-placed free-kick just over on 26 minutes.
Town then proceeded to carve Alfreton open three times in a matter of minutes as the visitors should have edged ahead.
First Gray forced a stop out of Jon Stewart from a narrow angle with Willmott unable to get hold of the follow-up.
Keith Keane’s marauding run through the middle then provided Gray with a great opportunity, but he dragged his shot across the face of goal before the striker then missed the best chance of the lot on 29 minutes.
Law’s clearance looped into his own box and Gray muscled Connor Franklin off the ball to leave himself with just Stewart to beat but thundered against the outside of the post when he should have bulged the net.
More good play from the Hatters saw Keane thread Gray away down the right but, caught in two minds, his cross was too far ahead of Fleetwood careering in at the far post as the chance again went begging.
Appeals for an Alfreton penalty were waved away on 33 minutes when Nathan Arnold tamely tumbled under Kovacs challenge.
An open encounter saw both sides press for an opener with the Reds looking most likely from set pieces and when a free-kick fell to Anton Brown Town were thankful to see it deflected behind.
Willmott then whizzed well wide in the closing moments as the sides went in deadlocked at the break.
Luton went for the jugular straight from the kick-off, forcing two corners, with the second falling to Godfrey Poku on the edge of the box but he spiralled over when he should have hit the target.
Jake Howells had to scrap hard to prevent Law getting a shooting chance at the expense of a corner as both sides continued to threaten.
Alfreton should have made hay on 54 minutes when Daniel Meadow robbed the lax Osano and cut inside but thrashed over the bar with Tyler to beat.
Meadows curled well wide before the Hatters made a triple substitution on the hour as Gleeson, Boucaud and Aaron O’Connor replaced Osano, Poku and Willmott.
The Reds’ Arnold almost crept in seconds later but was thwarted by a combination Tyler, Kovacs and Gleeson before Luton had good claims for a penalty waved away from a corner as Pilkington seemed to be felled by the impressive Darran Kempson.
With free-kick-after-free-kick going the way of the hosts Luton were given a massive let-off on 68 minutes when the unmarked Nathan Jarman was picked out at the near post but sent his header against the upright as Town survived.
Alfreton were completely on top as Town struggled to get into the game and Jarman wasted another great chance with 16 minutes when a long throw ran to Jarman at the far post and his shot squirmed wide.
Kovacs was grounded by what appeared to be an elbow to the head before getting booked by another referee that looked hopelessly out of his depth.
Town were again being bullied out of the encounter and when Boucaud looked to take a late free-kick quickly he found nobody as Luton struggled to make any impression.
Cries of handball were again denied on 88 minutes when Gray fired in a cross that hit Kempson and Luton should have snatched victory with virtually the last kick of the game as Kovacs jinked his way to the byline and teased it to the back where Boucaud 93rd-minute header beat Stewart but Law was in the right place at the right time to hack off the line and deny Luton three much-needed points.
Reds (4-4-2): Jon Stewart, Josh Law, Connor Franklin, Anton Brown, Nathan Arnold (Paul Clayton 63), Leigh Franks, Nathan Jarman, Nicky Deverdics (Theo Streete 84), Daniel Meadows, Darran Kempson (C), Adam Cunnington (Anthony Wilson 63). Substitutes not used: Jamie Mullan, Seamus Conneely.
Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Keith Keane, George Pilkington (C), Alex Lawless, Robbie Willmott (Aaron O’Connor 60), Stuart Fleetwood, Jake Howells, Curtis Osano (Dan Gleeson 60), Godfrey Poku (Andre Boucaud 60), Andre Gray, Janos Kovacs. Substitutes not used: Craig McAllister, Shane Blackett.
Bookings: Poku 40; Kovacs 79; Lawless 84; Franks 90+1; Meadows 90+2.
Referee: Ross Joyce (Middlesbrough).
Assistant Referees: Matthew Diciccio (Middlesbrough) and Stuart Campbell (Middlesbrough).
Fourth Official: Mark Hutchinson (Bingham).
Attendance: 1,654 (Luton 889).
Star Hatter: Keith Keane. Held the midfield together almost single-handedly second half.