James Collins earns Luton a point in helter-skelter Middlesbrough clash

Packed Kenilworth Road welcomes return of the Hatters to Championship action

Luton Town’s James Collins (left) celebrates scoring his side’s third goal  during the Sky Bet Championship match against Middlesbrough at Kenilworth Road. Photograph:  Darren Staples/PA Wire

Luton Town’s James Collins (left) celebrates scoring his side’s third goal during the Sky Bet Championship match against Middlesbrough at Kenilworth Road. Photograph: Darren Staples/PA Wire

 

Luton 3 Middlesbrough 3

For lovers of goalmouth action this was a charmingly helter-skelter start to the Championship season. For Graeme Jones and Jonathan Woodgate, overseeing their first matches as managers, it was in turns marvellous and agonising. By the end Jones, in charge of newly promoted Luton, was the happier to share the points.

A capacity crowd of just over 10,000 bounced into Kenilworth Road, where Luton have been near-indomitable in the last two seasons, achieving consecutive promotions. The club has excelled to return to the second-tier given that since their last appearance at this level they have been in an out of administration and suffered relegation to the Conference, regaining league status only five years ago.

Their renaissance has been steered by a consortium of lifelong fans who went into this season with their eyes wide open.

“We enter a world where, according to financial fair play laws laid down by the authorities, a financial loss of a pound less than £35 million is considered to be a successful benchmark!” wrote the chief executive, Gary Sweet, in the programme, denouncing this “madness” and reasserting Luton’s commitment to breaking even.

The club invested in players during the summer, with four starting, including the goalkeeper Simon Sluga, signed for a club-record £1.3 million. Graeme Jones’s key task was to ensure those players helped offset the loss of James Justin and Jack Stacey, full backs whose outstanding contributions last season earned them moves to Premier League clubs.

Middlesbrough complicated matters by taking the lead within seven minutes. It was a goal of ominous simplicity. When a corner was cleared to the man who took it, Marvin Johnson floated the ball back in and Ashley Fletcher headed past Sluga from six yards.

Luton hit back in style. Sonny Bradley, after chesting the ball down 25 yards out, swept a lovely left-footed shot into the net via the crossbar. Luton’s season was up and running. Eight minutes later they were flying. Martin Cranie, the 32-year-old signed to replace Justin, eluded Johnson to nod into the net from close range following a corner by Andrew Shinnie.

Sluga then denied Johnson with a superb save but the goalkeeper followed that up with an embarrassing goof, allowing a shot by Britt Assombalonga to trickle past him at the near post after Shinnie was caught trying to play out from the back.

Luton had been the more fluent side, though prone to stutters at the back, but Boro took charge in the second half. Paddy McNair struck the bar and then, in the 68th minute, Lewis Wing crowned a neat move by firing into the net from over 20 yards.

Assombalonga should have made it 4-2 but sent a penalty skyward in the 82nd minute, a miss made more costly when former Republic of Ireland underage international James Collins profited from messy Boro defending to equalise. – Guardian

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