A rousing Hatters finale saw them net a late equaliser as Grimsby Town held on to claim a 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road tonight, writes Mark Wood.
Town played some of their best football of the season for long spells and murdered the Mariners in a first half that somehow ended goalless.
Grimsby enjoyed a purple patch either side of half time as Dayle Southwell scrambled home the softest of goals to give them the lead, but the Hatters finished strongly and, after equalising through Alex Lawless’ net-buster, they were desperately unlucky not to go on and claim victory against promotion hopefuls Grimsby as they laid siege to the visitors’ goal in the closing stage.
Town made two changes from the team that beat Lincoln City 3-0 on Tuesday night, bringing Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Solomon Taiwo into the starting 11 as Simon Ainge dropped to the bench and Ronnie Henry missed out after his hernia operation.
Playing in front of the Premier Sport cameras Luton made a bright start, David Martin turning Bradley Wood inside out as Jon Shaw was just denied by a defender inside 30 seconds before Jonathan Smith, playing at right-back, fired straight at James McKeown.
And Town should have take the lead on three minutes when Andre Gray;s header from Lawless’ corner was cleared off the line by Ian Miller, as Steve McNulty and Shaw both saw shots repulsed off the line.
The Hatters were causing the visitors no end of problems and went close again from Martin’s mishit near-post corner on five minutes which Bradley Wood skewed against the near post as Lawless’ effort was deflected wide.
It was all Luton as Gray fed Shaw who whistled over from range and Lawless’ flick was easy for the keeper from Gray’s cross.
Playing with real verve and freedom it was the best opening Town had made all season, although Grimsby forced their way back into the game with a series of corners, one of which was allowed to run across the six-yard box.
Taiwo was booked for an impetuous tackle on Andi Thanoj, before a wonderful passing move from the Hatters was cruelly ended when Gray strayed offside on to Shaw’s pass.
Great vision from Taiwo set Gray free on 23 minutes and, although a slightly too heavy a touch forced Gray wide, he stepped back inside only to be denied by a great block from Wood as Shaw’s tame effort was simple for McKeown.
A Lawless cross-shot fizzed right across the face of goal with Shaw just unable to get on the end of it as a brief lull followed.
But Town were at it again on 34 minutes when Scott Griffiths’ clearance was chested into Martin’s path by Lawless and his cross was volleyed across goal by Shaw.
Luton calls for a foul were waved away moments later when Wood blocked off Gray in the box, but they continued to play with real creativity and inventiveness as the Kenilworth Road faithful responded warmly.
Out of nowhere the Mariners almost snatched the lead on 43 minutes when Thanoj got clear in the middle and his swinging low drive from 30 yards forced a fine diving stop from Dean Brill.
And the visitors threatened again in stoppage time when Lenell John-Lewis was allowed space on the edge of the area and he corkscrewed goalwards, but straight at Brill.
The Mariners continued in the same vein at the start of the second half as Thanoj’s jinking run ended in him teeing up Southwell who drilled over before John-Lewis raced down the left wing and his cross was turned over the bar by Liam Hearn.
Grimsby were enjoying a purple patch and the Hatters were given a big let-off on 52 minutes when Thanoj crashed against the underside of the bar and out as John-Lewis misjudged his follow-up header and Cleveland Taylor’s subsequent shot was well blocked.
On a booking, Taiwo argued with the referee following a foul on Thanoj and captain McNulty was summoned as both were given a talking to.
And the visitors did take the lead on 54 minutes as the resulting free-kick was headed back across goal by Simon Ford and, having missed his first swing at the ball, Southwell somehow scrambled the ball barely over the line before Luton were able to clear.
Trailing 1-0 the Hatters should have levelled two minutes later when Lawless’ free-kick picked out Griffiths in the six-yard box and he speared his header just wide.
Gray’s pass and Martin’s surging run ended in a corner as Town tried to respond, but the Mariners always looked dangerous offensively and Hearn should have done better than blasting wide after dancing his way into the box.
Both teams made changes and Alex Wall almost had an instant impact when he flicked Martin’s corner on but, having chested the ball down, Griffiths fired over the bar.
An opportunistic effort by Lawless with McKeown off his line was straight at the recovering keeper, but Luton did level on 76 minutes when Taiwo’s driven cross was controlled by Lawless in the box and he crashed home an unstoppable drive past the keeper.
A lung-busting overlapping run by Smith was spurned by Wall moments later whose long-range curler was right at the keeper, before Gray headed wide from Martin’s cross as the game reached a rousing finish.
Town went mightily close again with eight minutes to go, the stretching Wall stabbing Matt Robinson’s near-post cross just wide and Lawless then blasting past the post.
The hosts were finishing strongly and, after more good play, Gray’s powerful drive was parried over the bar by the keeper before he teed up Wall and his shot was blocked.
It was all Luton at the death as they forced their 17th corner of the night, but they couldn’t find a killer blow as Grimsby clung on for a point.
Hatters (4-4-2): Dean Brill, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Steve McNulty (C), Alex Lawless, Jon Shaw (Alex Wall 67), David Martin, Matt Robinson, Jonathan Smith, Andre Gray, Solomon Taiwo, Scott Griffiths. Substitutes not used: Simon Ainge, JJ O’Donnell, Dan Walker, Ben McFarlane-Barnes.
Mariners (4-4-2): James McKeown, Aswad Thomas (Sam Hatton 68), Ian Miller (C), Liam Hearn, Frankie Artus, Simon Ford, Bradley Wood, Dayle Southwell, Andi Thanoj, Lenell John-Lewis, Cleveland Taylor (Derek Niven 68). Substitutes not used: Greg Fleming, Ross Hannah, Tom Naylor.
Booked: Taiwo 20; Taylor 60; Robinson 65; McKeown 77.
Referee: S Stockbridge.
Assistant Referees: B Rogers and S Brown.
Fourth Official: A Coggins.
Attendance: 5,662 (Grimsby 290).
Star Hatter: David Martin. Energy, pace and plenty of end product.