Oxford United were beaten in the cruelest of fashions tonight as Luton Town hit back at Grenoble Road. A Ricky Holmes strike had put the U's in front in a wholehearted game but James Collins levelled from close range before ten-man United were beaten by a Dan Potts header deep into injury time.
As you would expect from two teams who have developed a healthy disrespect over the last few years, the game started at a furious pace and United had the better of the first quarter of the game. Luke Garbutt and Collins exchanged early chances. Tony McMahon, restored at right back, was joining the attack well and putting in some cleverly crafted crosses for the joint strike force of Jon Obika and Gavin Whyte to attack, with Whyte stretching the game with his pace at every opportunity.
At the other end Jon Mitchell made a good save from a Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu effort after 13 minutes and Luton had certainly come to try and press United back, with Harry Cornick’s pace keeping Rob Dickie on his toes on his return - the striker poking a poor effort wide on 21 when he seemed to have Mitchell at his mercy.
Whyte tested keeper James Shea with a left-footed drive on 23, Glen Rea forced another save from Mitchell two minutes later and both sides had played attractive attacking football with the visitors perhaps shading the scoring opportunities in a bright first 45 minutes.
What the game needed was a goal to lift it and three minutes into the second half it was Holmes who provided it. If it’s possible to get an assist without touching the ball, then Garbutt gets one because he was steaming down the left as Holmes drifted across the face on the Luton area. The Hatters had one eye on the left back but forgot to close down Holmes until it was too late and he took full advantage by twisting to hammer the ball low and true across Shea and into the bottom right corner for a very clever goal.
Luton have conceded the first goal eight times in 11 games this season but, annoyingly, bounced back quickly to equalise this time. United didn't clear their lines down the Luton left, Mpanzu crossed and Cornick, with the goal at his mercy, inexplicably smacked it against the bar. Maybe United's luck had changed? No such thing. Straight to Collins and 1-1.
It was even stevens but then with 17 minutes left the tables turned in Luton's favour. Baptiste, captain for the second time, had been booked in the first half and caught Andrew Shinnie as he challenged for a ball on half way. He fouled the visiting player for sure, and had been warned already not to risk a second yellow, and ref Michael Salisbury was swiftly on the spot to show a second yellow card, with the red raised high and Baptiste heading for the dressing room. All part of the learning curve for the 20-year-old but United now had to play with ten men and Luton were able to throw more men forward.
Luton sensed that the game was there for the taking but found United determined to take at least one point out of the game now. Nelson and Dickie threw themselves in front of everything, McMahon and Garbuttt stopped the ball coming into the box and those in front of them worked ferociously to keep the ball away from Mitchell's goal despite eight minutes of stoppage time and a disallowed effort from Potts four minutes into that time. Surely United had earned a draw?
Not quite. Thirty seconds left, a free kick from sub Alan Sheehan and United were beaten by a Potts header at the back post.
Cruel in the extreme.