Mullins dismissed as Luton are held by Wycombe
League Two: Wycombe Wanderers 1 Luton Town 1
Luton Town were left to rue another meeting with controversial referee Mark Heywood as they were held to a 1-1 draw at fellow promotion chasers Wycombe Wanderers this afternoon.
The official, whose last handling of a Hatters match, saw him fail to control Carlisle United's awful time-wasting at Kenilworth Road back in December, plus sending off Michael Raynes, only to have the decision rescinded on appeal, took centre stage once more.
He quickly lost control of what was a blood and guts affair, showing eight yellow cards, taking his tally to 112 in just 24 matches this term, while with 15 minutes to go, he changed the course of the match.
Luton, who were leading through Scott Cuthbert's first goal for the club, weren't coasting as such, but looked in full control of the destination of the three points, until Johnny Mullins was shown a straight red by for fouling livewire sub Scott Kashket.
The dismissal was Hatters' third in three games, and immediately put Luton under the cosh, as a direct Wycombe side, pumped the ball forward with even greater velocity than they had done, Town unable to hold out, Adebayo Akinfenwa heading home from where Mullins would have been to earn the Chairboys a share of the spoils and stretch their unbeaten run to 15 games.
With striker Danny Hylton also getting his 10th booking of the campaign earlier, it means that Hatters will now be without the summer signings from Oxford when Cambridge and Cheltenham both visit Kenilworth Road in the league.
A hugely entertaining spectacle between two sides with completely different approaches, Luton neat and penetrating, Wanderers' route one to Akinfenwa at every single opportunity, saw Hatters hand an immediate debut to new signing Luke Gambin, while Jack Senior was in for his full Football League debut, with Jonathan Smith recalled too.
The visitors went close inside three minutes, Smith slipping in Hylton, whose first touch took him round keeper Jamal Blackman, but too wide of goal, as he could only find the side-netting.
Wycombe's only effort of note saw Akinfenwa deflect Sam Wood's volley goalwards on 12 minutes, with Christian Walton adjusting his feel well to collect.
Luton then almost ended their long-running search for a goal from a corner, Hylton getting a toe to Jake Gray's delivery, beating Blackman, but not the perfectly positioned Wood, who cleared off the line.
Akinfenwa then got the better of Cuthbert for the first time only to see his header from Joe Jacobsen's free kick miss the bottom corner, with Luke O'Nien curling over the bar too after Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu was cautioned a foul just outside the area.
Hatters thought they had won a penalty on 32 minutes, when Smith went over inside the box, but despite whistling immediately, Heywood booked the Town midfielder for what he alleged was a dive.
Marriott was inches away from putting the visitors in front moments later, speeding on to Hylton's tremendous through ball, and fizzed in a cracking strike that skimmed the top of the bar on its way over.
Heywood was quickly making himself the main attraction, only booking Aaron Pierre for a blatant off the ball body check on Hylton, with Town's leading scorer seeing the yellow that the Wanderers defence had been targeting all afternoon, and Heywood was clearly desperate to show him, for a needless push on Jacobsen.
Marriott had another decent chance before half time, wriggling free to drag wide, while in the second period, Akinfenwa, who had been superbly marshalled by Cuthbert throughout, sent an effort over.
Luton then broke the deadlock from a corner of all things, as after going 48 games without scoring from such a set-piece, at their 151st attempt this season, captain Cuthbert rectified that, getting the run on his markers to meet Gray's delivery and nod beyond Blackman.
It was the centre half's first goal since when at Orient in November 2014, as it sent the away end into raptures, with the pumped up captain earning a booking for his troubles too.
Hylton was then left on a knife-edge after his final talking to from Heywood, leaving boss Nathan Jones with no option but to bring on Isaac Vassell in his place.
Mpanzu's low shot was well handed by Blackman, the keeper also collecting Gray's free kick smartly ahead of the lurking Hylton, while he got a crucial deflection to Hylton's low cross as Marriott was ready to pounce.
Wanderers threw leading scorer Scott Kashket on and it looked like replacement had levelled, swivelling and shooting left footed, but with Walton at full stretch, it flew just wide.
However, with 15 minutes to go, Mullins was dismissed, the crestfallen defender trudging down the tunnel knowing the magnitude of the decision.
As at Crewe last weekend, Luton kept two up front, and with Vassell on, still had the threat on the break, as he burst on to Smith's pass, but couldn't hit the target from 10 yards.
Akinfenwa headed at Walton, before the striker did break Town's resistance on 82 minutes, when Jacobsen swung in a perfect cross from the left and Akinfenwa was left unmarked to direct a wonderful header into the top corner.
Luton were then left holding on for a point in the closing stages, Kashket whistling two efforts perilously close to a winner which would have been a complete injustice on the harshly done by Hatters, who will be hoping that's the last they see of Heywood for a long, long time.
Wanderers: Jamal Blackman, Sido Jombati, Joe Jacobsen, Anthony Stewart, Aaron Pierre, Dominic Gape, Luke O'Nien, Sam Wood, Paris Cowan-Hall (Scott Kashket 66), Paul Hayes (C Sam Saunders 66), Adebayo Akinfenwa.
Subs not used: Barry Richardson, Garry Thompson, Marcus Bean, Myles Weston, Will De Havilland.
Hatters: Christian Walton, James Justin, Scott Cuthbert, Johnny Mullins, Jack Senior, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jonathan Smith, Jake Gray (Gle Rean 72), Luke Gambin, Danny Hylton (Isaac Vassell 72), Jack Marriott (Stephen O'Donnell 88).
Subs not used: Craig King, Craig Mackail-Smith, Lawson D'Ath, Jordan Cook.
Attendance: 5,387 (Luton 1,800).
Booked: Mpanzu 25, Smith 32, Pierre 37, Hylton 42, Cuthbert 56, O'Nien 65, Stewart 70, Gambin 87.
Sent off: Mullins 75.
Referee: Mark Heywood.
Hatters MOM: Scott Cuthbert. Tower of strength against Akinfenwa and a first goal as well.