A hard-earned point, played against the backdrop of a biblical deluge, sees Town enter the latest international break in pretty rude health.
Desperately poor in a first half where they were bereft of craft or inspiration, Town nevertheless managed to limit a relentlessly aggressive Luton side, buoyed by their nap hand victory over Coventry in midweek, to one gold plated chance just before the much-needed break.
As Bell crashed his effort against the woodwork, following excellent work by Cornick to set up the chance, it felt like a pivotal moment in a game where Town appeared to be just waiting to concede.
Despite the Hatters’ dominance, and their intensity couldn’t be criticised, their decision making largely let them down in the final act and Nicholls, who was excellent throughout, was rarely extended. In front of him, Lees put in another peerless performance and cruised through a game others found extremely challenging.
Town undoubtedly missed Hogg in a first half where they rarely advanced into their opponents’ half with anything resembling purpose. O’Brien battled hard but was unable to exert any real influence, while Scott High looked lost in the face of Luton’s remorseless hunger for possession.
Occasionally, Town tried to loosen Luton’s grip with long balls down the channels, with virtually no success. The one time Thomas was found, he delivered a very good ball into the isolated and anonymous Ward but the danger was mopped up quite easily by home defenders.
It was a scrap of encouragement for the sodden Town following but did nothing to dispel the fear that their team was hanging by a few threads and massively more likely to concede than strike on the break.
In dreadful conditions, in a desperately poor arena and against an opponent high in confidence, reaching half time still level was commendable, though Bell’s miss was a huge slice of fortune, and a slender lead would have been the least Luton deserved for their unremitting superiority.
A good towelling down, possibly including a verbal one, at the break, seemed to have had the desired effect as Town produced a much-improved performance in the second half.
Far more composed and confident in possession, Town began to cause problems for their hitherto unperturbed hosts, particularly down the left. O’Brien began to surge forward with far more purpose, High was far more effective and the previously anonymous Sinani began finding pockets of space for the first time.
The shift in the balance of power was evident from the kick-off, with Town imposing themselves on a tiring opponent who seemed unable to maintain the intensity which had threatened to overwhelm the visitors in the first half (and would’ve undoubtedly swamped last season’s defence).
The first 15 minutes was largely played with Town on the front foot, with corners and a free-kick allowing Thomas the opportunity to deliver danger into the box. Unfortunately, his deliveries failed to trouble the Luton defence, but it was encouraging to see Town shrug off the inadequacies of the first half and operating much further up the pitch.
A curling Sinani effort whistled past the far post and represented the Terriers’ best effort just over an hour into the contest. A later strike had power but was straight at the keeper, and it was Sinani who was instrumental in a move that should have opened up the Hatters.
Breaking from a now fairly rare Luton attack, Sinani manufactured a position on the right with Koroma in the clear to his left. Unfortunately, the Luxembourger slightly under-hit his pass and the opportunity was, frustratingly, lost.
Luton briefly reasserted themselves with a couple of corners and were handed a free kick on the edge of the box following a clumsy Sarr challenge, which they duly wasted. The hosts’ increasingly rare threats were effectively dealt with by Nicholls and the men in front of him.
Late on, Town created their best chance of the game down the left as a combination between Koroma and Holmes, on for Sinani, freed Toffolo in the box. The full-back chose to shoot over the bar rather than lay the ball off to the options in the box; a poor decision.
A winner would have been more than a little harsh on Luton, but the second half turnaround would’ve been sufficient vindication had Town grabbed the three points.
7th place going into the second international break, Town’s progress over the ridiculously poor standards set last season has been moderately pleasing.
Vulnerability in the first halves of away games is a significant and problematic feature of the campaign so far (and only a slice of good fortune prevented them from going behind and likely suffering defeat at Kenilworth Road) and demands resolution.
A much stronger and reliable defence should allow Corberán to build and improve upon a good start, and with notable absences likely to be fit again for a home doubleheader which looks potentially fruitful, a strong start after England have disposed of a team of farmers is eminently achievable.
Thankfully, the delights of Luton’s barely adequate ground, which were several levels of misery worse in a relentless downpour, are behind us for another season.