League Two: Accrington Stanley 1 Luton Town 1
Midfielder Jonathan Smith went from zero to hero as he rescued an injury time point for Hatters in their opening game at Accrington Stanley this afternoon.
It was Smith who had been the culprit on the hour mark, needlessly bringing down Josh Windass in the area, for the midfielder to convert the resulting penalty.
However, with seconds left, Smith then deflected in Craig Mackail-Smith’s volley to earn Hatters a draw they hadn’t completely deserved after what was a scratchy display at times.
Town boss John Still named five debutantes in his starting line-up as Craig Mackail-Smith began upfront alongside Josh McQuoid, with Danny Green and Paddy McCourt on the flanks and Scott Cuthbert preferred to Stephen O’Donnell at right back
However, as is always the case, it will take time for the new sigings to fully bed in to the league campaign, with Still admitting afterwards, his team are notoriously slow starters.
A quiet opening saw Town occasionally show flashes of intent whenever Green and McCourt turned to face their opponents.
The hosts created the first meaningful chance on 22 minutes though as Josh Windass found some space to tee up Terry Gornell, with the striker scuffing straight at Elliot Justham.
Hatters then immediately had their best opening, as Mackail-Smith backed into his defender, before laying the ball into the onrushing Smith whose well-struck shot was snaffled by Jason Mooney.
As neither side could fully gain the ascendancy, it was Accrington, who improved towards the end of the half, impressive midfielder Matt Crooks nodding tamely wide when well placed.
Hatters ended the first period on the front foot though, Nathan Doyle advancing from his midfield role to skim wide from 20 yards.
In the second period, Luke Wilkinson rose highest to head over at the back post from Green’s deep free kick, before full back Scott Griffiths made a crucial intervention at the other end from Windass’s cut back.
Green then rounded his man impishly after being picked out by Wilkinson’s glorious crossfield pass, finding Mackail-Smith whose blast was blocked.
The game finally began to open up, with Sean McConville scooping over the top, while Hatters looked to have finally gained a semblance of ascendancy, winning a host of corners with Griffiths and Mackail-Smiths seeing efforts deflected.
However, a clearance then saw Stanley launch a counter attack, as Windass made his way into the area, only to be felled by a rash diving challenge from Smith.
Windass dusted himself down to arrow in the bottom corner despite Justham going the right way, as Still started to ring the changes, with McCourt replaced by Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu.
Paul Benson came on for McQuoid and immediately looked to link up with Mackail-Smith, in a partnership forged at Dagenham earlier in their careers, with Jack Marriott taking Green’s place.
With Luton leaving gaps in midfield, Accrington looked to be finishing stronger, a lovely move seeing Crooks’ downward header easy for Justham
The keeper then had to be alert to parry Anthony Barry’s low free kick, while Piero Mingoia might have settled the fixture, turning McNulty but side-footing straight at Justham.
However, Marriott, Benson and Ruddock Mpanzu’s introductions all pepped up Luton’s attack in the closing stages, with Marriot in particular looking a tricky proposition for the hosts defence.
With time running out, the visitors were level as a long throw was flicked on and Mackail-Smith’s volley hammered off Smith’s chest to beat the wrong-footed Jason Mooney.
Town could have somehow won it too as Marriot’s drive was parried by Mooney, with Benson’s follow up hitting Mackail-Smith and rebounding to safety.
Accrington: Jason Mooney, Adam Buxton (Joe Wright 88), Dean Winnard, Tom Davies, Piero Mingoia, Josh Windass (Anthony Barry 73), Terry Gornell, Sean McConville (Billy Kee 63), Matty Pearson, Matt Crooks, Seamus Conneely.
Subs not used: Ross Etheridge, Andrew Procter, Gerardo Bruna, Adam Morgan.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Scott Cuthbert, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty, Luke Wilkinson, Danny Green (Jack Marriott 75), Jonathan Smith, Nathan Doyle, Paddy McCourt (Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu 60), Josh McQuoid (Paul Benson 65), Craig Mackail-Smith.
Subs not used: Mark Tyler, Dan Potts, Cameron McGeehan, Luke Guttridge.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham.
Bookings: Crooks 50.
Attendance: 2,359 (1,176 Luton).