Table-topping Town were forced to work hard for their goalless draw at Salisbury City this afternoon as they stretched their lead at the head of the division to 15 points, writes Mark Wood.
Luton may have had to settle for a point, but it was still enough to see them extend their advantage at the top by another point after nearest rivals Cambridge United fell to a topsy-turvy 3-2 defeat at Forest Green Rovers.
The Whites enjoyed more of the play and had more efforts on the day, but it was the Hatters who went closest to breaking the deadlock as Town stretched their record unbeaten league run to 26 games.
Top scorer Andre Gray, on his 100th appearance for the club, saw his stunning first half long-range effort thud against a post, while strike partner Paul Benson almost grabbed victory in injury time but somehow poked just over the bar.
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HATTERS RATED: Luton Town 2 Newport County 3
Town made just the one enforced change from last weekend’s 3-0 victory over Alfreton Town as the injured Luke Guttridge, seen in a protective boot before kick-off, was replaced by Alex Lawless.
A surprisingly bouncy pitch at the Raymond McEnhill Stadium greeted both sides and it was City who threatened first on nine minutes when Clovis Kamdjo headed goalwards from a corner and Daniel Fitchett’s flick was cleared off the line by Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu who was guarding a post.
At the other end Gray’s ambitious long-range curler flew well over, while Fitchett’s high boot then released Elliott Frear on 14 minutes, but his low effort from a narrow angle was straight at Mark Tyler.
The Whites tried their luck again midway through the half when Stuart Sinclair was teed up on the edge of the box and fired right at Tyler, before Frear dragged an even more dangerous effort just wide of the far post moments later.
But City should have taken the lead on 26 minutes when they broke at pace and Robert Sinclair’s superb pass sent Fitchett clear but, with just the keeper to beat, he could only roll tamely at Tyler when he should have done better.
Out of nothing the Hatters were desperately unlucky not to snatch the lead on 33 minutes when Gray created space for himself 30 yards out and his swerving effort thumped off the left-hand upright with Willem Puddy beaten.
Town began to get more of a foothold in the game, but the Whites still looked dangerous every time they went forward with Frear firing into the side netting from a narrow angle just a couple of minutes before the break.
City again started the second half brightly as Robert Sinclair’s early effort drew cries of handball against Steve McNulty before Stuart Sinclair again warmed Tyler’s midriff.
Good skill on the edge of the area by Robert Sinclair ended in the former Luton youngster fizzing a powerful effort in that was well held by Tyler just before the hour.
Gray appeared to be bumped as he looked to latch on to a ball over the top, but nothing was given as both teams looked to take advantage of some weak refereeing.
An awful late challenge by James Clarke on Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu threatened to ignite proceedings as the former West Ham man reacted angrily, but thankfully some sensible officiating saw the defender yellow-carded and Mpanzu just warned.
Some lovely interplay by the Hatters was thwarted by the linesman’s flag with 14 minutes to go when Benson and Lawless combined beautifully, but the target man strayed offside as Gray turned in his cross only for it to be ruled out for offside.
The visitors threatened again three minutes later when Lawless somehow managed to hook the ball through for Gray who held off Clarke, but Puddy saved well at his feet as he tried to get a shot off.
A horrible mishit shot from Lawless almost ran for Gray moments later, while Town’s top scorer skied miles over the bar with four minutes left.
Ronnie Henry, who had tangled with Fitchett throughout, was booked in the closing stages as he felled the striker as he looked to break on to a loose ball.
Luton twice almost snatched victory in stoppage-time though. First Mpanzu helped a corner back into the box and a defensive header fell to Benson just a few yards out, but he could only prod over the bar when it seemed easier to score.
Seconds later Town went close again when Mpanzu helped a ball forward on and Howells’ effort ran wide of the post as Town had to settle for a hard-fought point.
Whites (4-5-1): Willem Puddy, James Clarke, Glenn Wilson, Christopher McPhee, Elliott Frear, Clovis Kamdjo, Robert Sinclair (James White 90+2), Stuart Sinclair, Daniel Fitchett (Ricky Wellard 89), Angus Macdonald, Kevin Amankwaa. Substitutes not used: Callum Hart, Ryan Brett,, James Bittner.
Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Fraser Franks, Steve McNulty, Alex Lawless (Mark Cullen 90+1), Jake Howells, Scott Griffiths, Cameron McGeehan (Matt Robinson 75), Ronnie Henry (C), Paul Benson, Andre Gray, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu. Substitutes not used: Anthony Charles, Jon Shaw, Elliot Justham.
Booked: Clarke 68; Henry 87.
Referee: Daniel Cook (Elson).
Assistant Referees: Craig Green (Ash) and Russell Howes (Wood Green).
Fourth Official: Adam Ricketts.
Attendance: 2,633 (Luton 1,521).
Star Hatter: Fraser Franks. Tower of strength at the back on a day when Town were really tested.