League Two: Luton Town 2 Cheltenham Town 2
Skipper Alan Sheehan scored in stoppage time to rescue the Hatters as they fought back from 2-0 down to salvage a point against Cheltenham Town at Kenilworth Road this afternoon.
Luton were looking like they were going to suffer another home defeat to the Robins, who won 3-2 last term, during a hugely controversial second half, which saw official Mark Heywood take centre stage.
First, he chalked off Olly Lee’s perfectly good strike on 50 minutes, blowing for a foul on striker James Collins a millisecond beforehand when he should have played advantage, to give Hatters a penalty, which Collins saw saved by Robins keeper Scott Flinders.
Mohammed Eisa then doubled Cheltenham’s advantage before Luke Berry hauled Town back into the game.
Sheehan struck at the far post to ensure a point, with Heywood then booking sub Danny Hylton for diving in the area with seconds remaining as Town had to make do with a point.
Hatters boss Nathan Jones named an unchanged side for the clash from their 4-1 victory over Crawley Town last time out, although Hylton and Lloyd Jones returned to the bench, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Jordan Cook missing out.
The visitors had made a bright start, Joe Morrell glancing a header wide, while on-loan Flynn Downes once again had to walk a disciplinary tight rope from the early stages, booked for shoulder barging his opponent to the ground.
Kevin Dawson followed him into the book, before Heywood opted to keep his cards in his pocket after that, letting a number of other challenges, that were similar if not worse, go by the wayside.
The journalist’s nightmare, Ilias Chatzitheodoridis, then skewed wide as Cheltenham didn’t look like they had come to defend, but Luton fashioned a great chance as Andrew Shinnie released Berry whose cross was side-footed over by Collins.
Olly Lee fired tamely at Flinders from a good position, while Collins then turned provider for Berry with a clever flick, the midfielder’s angled drive held by the opposing keeper.
Town upped the ante, forcing three corners in quick succession and they should have led midway through the half, as Collins did excellently on the left, crossing low only for Harry Cornick to completely miss his kick from close range.
Sheehan’s numerous corners continued to cause danger, one half cleared to Lee who once again didn’t have his shooting boots on, scuffing wide.
Hatters keeper Marek Stech ensured it remained goalless, standing up well to deny Dawson who was clean through, play swiftly switching to the other end, where Cornick chose the wrong option with Collins free to his left.
Out of nowhere, Luton were a goal down though when Morrell took aim for fully 30 yards, his shot flying past Stech, who would have been disappointed in being beaten from such a distance, with no deflection apparent.
After the break, Luton looked to make a high tempo start and did just that, Cornick’s snapshot not missing by much, before Heywood’s big moment.
James Justin sent over a cross that Lee volleyed past Flinders to appear to make it 1-1, only for the official to point to the spot, penalising Will Boyle
for pulling back Collins inside the area, failing to send the defender off as well.
Collins stepped up, his low effort repelled by Flinders, with the striker’s rebound somehow being deflected over the bar by the prostrate keeper.
The Robins took full advantage of their let-off, instantly doubling their advantage, Eisa given the freedom of Bedfordshire to nod home a second on 55 minutes.
Jones raided his bench instantly, sending Hylton and Jake Jervis on, with Hylton immediately causing a nuisance in the area from Jack Stacey’s cross allowing Berry to slam home and crucially halve the deficit within 60 seconds.
Lee once again was disappointingly off target as a corner fell to him on the volley, with Hylton trying his luck from 20 yards, narrowly wide.
Luke Gambin was also introduced with 13 minutes to go, and he threaded a ball through to Hylton whose effort was beaten away by Flinders.
The Maltese international was to play an instrumental role as the Hatters did find a way through in stoppage time though, grabbing the corner, with Sheehan in the area this time and stooping at the far post to head home.
Hylton then thought he had won another penalty at the death, going down in the area, but Heywood rushed over to show the Luton forward yellow for what he deemed simulation.
Results elsewhere were kind to the hosts as although Accrington cut the gap to three points at the top, they remain seven points in front of fourth, now Notts County, who beat Stevenage 2-0.
Hatters: Marek Stech, Jack Stacey, James Justin, Glen Rea, Alan Sheehan (C), Flynn Downes, Olly Lee (Luke Gambin 77), Luke Berry, Andrew Shinnie (Jake Jervis 57), Harry Cornick, James Collins (Danny Hylton 57).
Subs not used: James Shea, Johnny Mullins, Lloyd Jones, Lawson D’Ath.
Cheltenham: Scott Flinders, Jamie Grimes, Nigel Atangana, Harry Pell, Kevin Dawson (Emmanuel Onariase 90), Carl Winchester (C), Will Boyle, Mohamed Eisa (Sanmi Odelusi 81) , Joe Morrell, Taylor Moore, Ilias Chatzitheodoridis (Joe Rodon 78).
Subs not used: Danny Wright, Jerell Sellars, Brian Graham, Rhys Lovett.
Referee: Mark Heywood.
Booked: Downes 6, Dawson 9, Boyle 50, Pell 77, Sheehan 90.
Attendance: 8,453 (142 Cheltenham).
Hatters MOM: Luke Berry – his goal gave Luton a chance of getting back into it.