A late leveller from defender Luke Wilkinson ensured Hatters picked up a 1-1 draw at East Thurrock United this evening.
The visitors had trailed against their hosts, reduced to 10 men just before the break, until the summer signing from Dagenham & Redbridge popped up to head home Solomon Taiwo’s free kick.
Barring Wilkinson and Taiwo, Hatters picked a very youthful side, including the likes of Charlie Smith, Luke Trotman and Zane Banton.
Recent signings Mark Onyemah and Charlie Walker started too, while trialist Matt Fry was handed another chance to impress in defence, with another trialist on the left wing.
Town were given an early scare when the hosts had the ball in the net, but the offside flag had already been raised.
With John Still and Terry Harris watching on, there was little to choose between the sides as Banton’s cross was cut out with Miller waiting to pounce.
Onyemah produced a fine headed clearance, throwing himself in bravely to divert the danger, while Miller had his pocket picked in a dangerous position, but the eventual shot was well over.
There was precious little goalmouth action for either team, although Elliot Justham and Fry had an ungainly battle on the floor to wrestle the ball back from a home striker.
The first bit of real quality from Hatters arrived on the half hour as Onyemah linked well and broke into the box.
He found Banton and the striker’s low effort beat the keeper only to hit the base of the post and bounce out.
The visitors looked to finally be gaining a modicum of control on the game as the half wore on, with Banton’s close range shot superbly turned over the bar by the keeper.
Town then made a fine block as a home forward looked to break the deadlock, while Fry put a header wide from a corner at the other end.
Just before the break. the hosts were reduced to 10 men when Miller was sent clean through and the East Thurrock keeper came racing out of his area.
As the Hatters striker went to round him, the stopper blatantly threw out a hand to stop his progress and much the small crowd’s frustration, the letter of the law was followed and a red card was produced.
Taiwo’s free kick was blocked, but the ball was worked wide and from the cross, an unmarked Walker miskicked badly from a yard out.
In the second half, Miller was denied by United’s replacement keeper, before an even better chance saw the forward one-on-one after Smith’s raking pass, only to draw narrowly wide.
With 20 minutes to go, the 10 men shocked Hatters by taking the lead when a corner was headed clear by Wilkinson.
The ball was fired back in from deep and beat Onyemah, who had lost his bearings, with the cross gleefully turned past Justham.
Fry headed inches almost immediately, before the hosts were so close to a second when Justham showed good reactions after a superb jinking individual run.
As expected, Town bossed possession in the latter stages, with United’s attempted challenges getting more and more desperate.
From one such foul, Taiwo took the free kick and put his set-piece on a plate for Wilkinson to nod home from close range.
Another poor tackle on Walker led to a chance for Smith on the edge of the box, but his aim was off and it easily cleared the bar.
Taiwo also sent another piledriver rising over just before the end as Hatters couldn’t quite snatch a winner.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Luke Trotman, Mark Onyemah, Luke Wilkinson, Matt Fry, Solomon Taiwo, Charlie Smith, Ricky Miller, trialist, Charlie Walker, Zane Banton.