Match Reports

Luton miracle point

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Luton hung on for an unlikely draw after going down to 8 men after Coyne, Robinson and Grant were sent off.

The Hatters managed to equalise while already down to 9 men and then mounted a gritty rearguard action to defend that precious point, with Dean Brill outstanding and lady luck favouring the beleaguered 8 in the final throes of the match.

Luton began with Anthony Grant replacing Darren Currie who was on the bench and with Calvin Andrew back in the side for the injured Paul Furlong. Furlong was risked on the bench as Luton searched for their first win in 28 away League matches!

So despite the singing of the 4-4-2 song last Saturday against Tranmere, Kevin Blackwell kept his preferred 4-5-1 formation.

The away fans were waiting to see how long it would take Ricky Lambert to score his customary goal against the Hatters but it was an evenly contested match in the opening exchanges.

Lambert did manage to send a slide rule pass in to Haldane’s run but Spring timed his intervention to perfection to take the ball off his foot before he could shoot as The Pirates began to take control of the match.

However, Coyne’s intervention was not so cleverly timed according to referee Andy Hall, when Williams made a similar foray down the middle and went down under the skipper’s challenge. Not only was the decision a Penalty Kick but the referee deemed it a professional foul and dismissed the Aussie stopper with a red card, which seemed harsh.

Luton’s desperate protests fell on deaf ears and Ricky Lambert stepped up and despatched the penalty kick low and hard to open the scoring.

The way the game had been developing prior to this was worrying enough and now with 10 men it looked bleak.

Luton did not let their heads drop though, and began to build some moves of their own but unfortunately the (now) 4-4-1 system ensured that there was never anyone on the end of the hard work to look like scoring. The Town were reduced to long range shooting which hardly troubled Phillips in the home team goal, although such an effort from Robinson went narrowly wide when it might have been interesting had it been inside the post.

Luton’s best chance came around the half hour mark when Goodall got forward and clipped in a decent cross and Edwards, on the volley mishit the ball across goal when he was surely aiming for the top corner, and Andrew just failed to follow in on it, but it would have been an amazing stroke of luck after the poor execution from Edwards.

Shortly afterwards Brill made a wonder reaction save when

Williams(?) got on the end of a cross and Brill kept it out from point blank range. Williams again tested the young keeper’s hands with a smart header which Brill palmed away diving to his left.

In a passage of play which followed, Brill showed some mature judement and good positioning and thwarted several promising moves from the home team and Luton could thank him for being still in the match.

However, worse was yet to come for the troubled Hatters. As they contemplated their half time tea keeping things tight and only 1 goal down, Robinson was cautioned for a late challenge and within minutes committed another foul which saw the referee reaching for his pocket to give a second yellow and the inevitable red, when both challenges between them were only just worthy of a yellow card. Had this referee got this match as a home win on his football coupon?

The task which had looked big before, now looked enormous, but they hung on for the 4 minutes to half time.

At the beginning of the second half Luton seemed to have been on an adrenaline rush and came out of the blocks looking highly charged. In fact, in a promising raid, on 49 minutes, Bell was felled by Danny Coles with a tackle which made both of Robinson’s alleged offences look mild, and not Mr Coles’ first such challenge by a long way, wnd the transgression only earned a free kick and a quick word from the referee. However, Bell curled the ball in from the right to be glanced home by the head of Edwards, and remarkably Luton were level.

Pumped up Luton continued to take the game to the Pirates and two minutes later Bell set off on another of his trademark runs, (which will surely see him first out of the door in the transfer window) before cutting in an unleashing a stinging volley for outside the area which Phillips did well to see let alone parry.

It was clear that Kevin Blackwell had instructed the team that to sit back and defend would be almost as suicidal as players getting sent off, and that while in possession in their half they cannot score because luton attacked more in the first 15 minutes of the second half than all through the first half.

Spring was taking pot shots and Andrew was unlucky when a cross from substitute Keane just eluded him.

Not that they had it all their own way, because the home team seemd content to allow Luton forward and then counter quickly hoping to catch the Hatters with players not covering for the missing players or forgetting their unusual jobs in a (now) 4-3-1 formation!

Keith Keane made two courageous blocks from shots by Haldane and Lescott before Elliott swung hopefully at a loose ball from about 20 yards and saw it clip the underside of the bar to be swept off the line by Edwards back defending. Topically, the Bristol Rovers players were all screaming that the ball was over the line but with no such confirmation forthcoming from his assistant Mr Hall allowed play to continue.

The Town faithful were beginning to believe that amiracle might be on the cards, with fortune favouring them and with Brill looking a man mountain in goal, when the goal posts were moved again in another twist of fate.

Anthony Grant, who had worked hard covering ground and getting in challenges when it mattered, showed his inexperience and made a very rash decision with a challenge on Williams, with little chance of winning the ball. The Town fans could not look as the referee went to his pocket, because the way he had been dishing out cards to Luton players, it could well be a red one, and so it was. Incredibly, Luton were down to 8 men! What formation would be adopted now? 6-1-0? 7-0-0? 0-7-0 was the one discussed as plausible as long as they moved up and down together to put the opposition offside!

Such gallows humour was beginning to stick in the throat as the task moved from enormous to gargantuan, and The Pirates at last for their fans, began to mount a serious assault on the depleted Hatters’ goal.The home side completely dominated matters after the third sending off as Luton adopted a 7 man blanket, which included bringing on Paul Furlong for Calvin Andrew as the big man can be invaluable in defence.

Luton defended the barrage well and when they were breached Dean Brill came to the rescue, once diverting a goal bound effort on to a post and to safety.

The fourth official indicated 4 extra minutes and it seemed obvious then that Referee Hall must have needed a home win for his Boxing day accie!

Then just as the miracle seemd to have been achieved, hearts went into throats when a home player in acres in the penalty area somehow managed to head miles wide and Fojut headed off the line when a goal had also looked likely, before the Luton fans went wild at the final whistle.

Bristol Rovers: Phillips, Lescott (Lines 75), Coles, Elliott, Jacobson, Pope, Campbell, Disley, Haldane (Walker 11), Williams, Lambert

Subs not used: Hinton, Carruthers, Green

Luton: Brill, Goodall (Keane 46), Perry, Coyne, Fojut, Bell, Grant, Robinson, Spring, Andrew (Furlong 81), Edwards.

Subs not used: Currie, Talbot, McVeigh

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