A second-half Luton penalty prevented Aldershot from taking all three points in an entertaining 3-3 draw
Not many managers have outwitted John Still or his imperious Luton Town team this term.
With their unrivalled playing budget and fantastic support, the happy Hatters are flying high right now and are seemingly on course to end their four-year Football League exile.
But the wily campaigner himself would be the first to admit that he more than met his match in a pulsating night of entertainment at the ESS Stadium on Tuesday night (October 8).
Five goals in a breathless, end-to-end first half saw a makeshift Shots side twice hit back from going a goal behind to take a lead into the break – only to be then denied all three points by a controversial late penalty. The game simply had it all.
Credit, however, for the number of satisfied punters shuffling through the exits must go to Aldershot Town boss Andy Scott.
Already shorn of first-choice centre-back Adam Webster, away on England Under 19 duty, and playmaker Martin Rowlands, on compassionate leave, the Shots boss would have been forgiven for battening down the hatches and playing damage limitation against a Luton side with just one defeat from their last 12 outings.
But instead, Scott re-shuffled his pack and with square pegs in round holes came up with a formula which gave the pre-season title favourites nightmares all the way back to Bedfordshire.
With just eight first-team starts between them, Jordan Roberts, Lewis Young and full debutant Jaydon Gibbs formed an exciting – if not untested – trio behind main striker Brett Williams, while Joe Oastler filled in at centre-back for the first time since his days as a youngster at Queens Park Rangers.
“I couldn’t be any more pleased with the players,” delighted Scott said. “We were severely depleted with a makeshift back four but they have given me everything and the club everything tonight.
“The response after going 1-0 down in three minutes was magnificent. It would have been easy to crumble from there but it was an outstanding performance from start to finish.
“Yes, we’ve drawn the game from a winning position but we are talking about Luton here with the resources they’ve got and it’s a sign of how far we’ve come that the players are disappointed not to have won the game.”
After conceding twice in the opening ten minutes against Grimsby Town on Saturday, Scott was understandably vocal on the importance of starting games on the front foot.
Yet, once again his side were caught napping early on and, like the Mariners, Luton took full advantage by taking a fourth-minute lead.
Pantomime villain Luke Guttridge, a former Shot, picked up the ball in midfield for the first time and spread it wide to dangerman Gray, who turned inside Chris Barker and rifled a shot from 15 yards into the far corner of the net to the delight of the 840 travelling contingent.
Thankfully, however, the Shots managed to settle down much quicker than on Saturday and after captain Craig Stanley and Williams went close, they found the breakthrough.
Barker’s half-cleared corner eventually fell to Molesley on the edge of the box, he hooked the ball back in, Williams nipped in front of keeper Mark Tyler with a back-post header and Jake Goodman was on hand to stab home the loose ball from close range.
Celebrations, however, were short-lived when the Hatters re-claimed the lead two minutes later. Scott Griffiths' corner from the right found Steve McNulty at the far post, the burly centre-back headed back into the danger zone and Andrew Parry swivelled to bundle the ball home from six yards out.
Still, however, the Shots refused to lie down and moments later it was 2-2. A long punt up field from Tom Pope found the marauding Williams, his flick header inside fell to Roberts, who rifled the ball under Tyler and into the net.
Livewires Gibbs and Williams were presented with half chances but the Shots weren’t to squander their final opportunity to bag a half-time lead. Molesley, now given licence to bomb forward, linked up well with Barker down the left, cut inside Jonathan Smith and buried a low shot beyond Tyler at his near post.
Determined Luton came out firing after the break but could find no way past the immovable objects of Oastler and Goodman at the back – Gray firing their best opportunity wide from 15 yards.
Gibbs too went close with a 20-yard effort which was well turned away by Tyler, but just when the Shots began to look comfortable, disaster struck.
Substitute Shaun Whalley cut in past Barker from the right-hand by-line only to Young to lunge in and upend the ex-Southport wide man, prompting referee Paul Rees to point straight to the spot. Whalley dusted himself down and nonchalantly dispatched the penalty down the middle, sending Pope the wrong way.
Gibbs' fine debut was almost capped with a last-gasp looping half-volley which sailed just over, but despite the disappointment of the late penalty, Scott was still satisfied to come away with a point.
“It’s a bit galling that we’ve dived in at the end there and given the referee the opportunity to give them a penalty, but that’s football, it was certainly a point gained for us,” he added.
“It’s certainly provided plenty of entertainment for the fans – but it hasn’t done my heart much good.”
SHOTS: Pope, Oyeleke, Oastler, Goodman, Barker, Stanley, Molesley, Roberts (Douglas 78), Gibbs, Young, Williams. Subs: Paterson, Wickham, Brown, L Williams.
* The Shots are back in action this Saturday when they make the trip to Lincoln City (ko 3pm).