MANSFIELD Town earned their first BSBP point at Kenilworth Road since the sides dropped out of the League with a gutsy showing in tonight’s televised clash with in-form high-flyers Luton Town.
And those Premier TV cameras also suggested a late effort from Matt Green had actually crossed the Luton line before home skipper George Pilkington hooked it clear.
Goal chances were few and far between for the watching TV audience as Paul Cox’s 4-2-1-3 formation worked a treat against a quality home side.
Luton’s towering centre half Janos Kovacs did rattle the Stags crossbar in the first half and Alan Marriott was the busier of the two keepers with some good saves.
But Luton were endebted to skipper George Pilkington for the two goal line clearances that saved their bacon and stopped Stags taking all three points.
Once again the midfield duo of Gary Roberts and Adam Murray caught the eye and one of the most pleasing aspects of the performance was how it was Mansfield who threw everything forward near the end in search of a winner instead of sitting back and drawing Luton onto them for a grandstand finish.
That is now five games unbeaten for Mansfield and the play-off gap is back to seven points with a game in hand.
Hutchinson was handed a full debut, playing just behind the forwards with Gary Roberts and Adam Murray behind him in midfield and showed a few neat touches without ever looking like he would score.
Making way for him was Lindon Meikle, relegated to the bench, but Meikle and Louis Briscoe both made energetic late cameos.
At the back Joe Kendrick was dropped from left back, O’Neill moving across to cover, Sutton going across to right back and Riley coming into the centre of the defence.
The Hatters included ex-Stags stars Kevin Pilkington and Aaron O’Connor.
Luton had the first sight of goal as Morgan-Smith turned onto Gleeson’s forward ball and fired straight at Marriott from 20 yards, the keeper holding on at the second attempt.
Then Sutton did well on a Luton break to judge the cross right and head calmly back to his keeper with Morgan-Smith ready to pounce behind him.
But Smith almost scored an audacious opener for Mansfield on 10 minutes.
Kevin Pilkington came right to the edge of his box on the right to challenge Green, leaving his goal untended.
Green laid the ball to Smith who curled it superbly on target from 20 yards but George Pilkington had got back to head off the goal line.
Sutton then did well to head away a dangerous O’Connor cross after he had reached the right by-line.
Watkins tested Marriott from 25 yards on 17 minutes but once more the Stags keeper held on to the ball at the second attempt.
Luton won the game’s first corner on 21 minutes and, when Stags failed to get it away first time, Kovacs toepoked a rising shot against the bar.
Still the ball was not clear and it was put sent over to the far post where, despite being pulled back, Kovacs still managed to get his head on it and nod over the angle.
Riley put Mansfield in trouble on 26 minutes when he gave the ball to Howells with a sloppy pass, retrieving the situation by bringing him down to earn a booking.
Luton quickly broke from Stags’ first corner of the evening only to see the move end with Howells dragging a poor shot well wide.
Good work from Lawless and O’Connor saw the ex-Stags man get to the ball into the near post where Crow’s goalwards flick deflected for a corner which O’Neill kicked clear.
On 39 minutes Watkins tricked his way into the box where he went down under O’Neill’s challenge and was furious not to be given a penalty.
Kovacs headed a long free kick straight at Marriott as Luton continued to press.
But Stags did have half a chance as Dyer rose to head a long Smith cross over on 40 minutes.
A clever ball over the top from Hutchinson looked to have put Green clean through, only to be flagged offside.
A low deflected shot from O’Connor produced Luton’s third corner which ended up cleared to Morgan-Smith who curled the ball straight at Marriott.
O’Connor then got on the end of a low pass with a flicked attempt which the advancing Marriott blocked with his body.
The Hatters won a corner in stoppage time which aw Marriott come for it but fail to gather as Kovacs met it with a header that sailed just over the bar as the half ended scoreless.
Within 18 seconds of the restart Smith was far too high as he tried to lift the ball over Pilkington from 25 yards.
On 52 minutes Marriott had his first save of the half to pull off as he got down low to his right to keep out Taylor’s finish after the full back had overlapped Watkins’ burst into the left of the box.
Two minutes later, from a short Mansfield corner, Murray fed Smith for a low shot that deflected narrowly wide for another.
Luton struggled to clear and eventually Roberts attempt, from a tight angle on the left, struck a defender which took the sting out of it for Pilkington in goal.
Luton made a change up front on 57 minutes as Fleetwood replaced Morgan-Smith.
Hutchinson’s sights were well off with a 20 yard snapshot.
Then Roberts entered the referee’s notebook on the hour for a late tackle on Lawless.
Watkins pulled back an inviting corner for Lawless to meet on the volley, but he was unable to get the ball on target.
On 66 minutes Howell’s superb through ball put Crow in on goal, Marriott standing big to make a crucial block. It was Crow’s final touch as he made way for the home debut of McAllister.
Sub Fleetwood wasn’t too far wide with a low 25 yard effort as we entered the last 20 minutes.
A promising Stags break down the right ended with a poor ball to no one from Dyer with Green and Hutchinson offering him good support.
Meikle took over from Smith for the final 14 minutes for the visitors and was booed by the home fans for ambling off slowly.
Hutchinson was straight at Pilkington with a shot on the turn for Stags while McAllister put a low chance across Marriott and wide of the far post as both sides looked for a late winner.
Briscoe came on for Hutchinson on 82 minutes.
Two minutes later Dyer helped a far post cross towards Green who beat Kevin Pilkington to the ball only to see George Pilkington produce his second goal line clearance of the night with Green screaming it had already gone over the line. TV replays later suggested he had a good case too.
It was still anyone’s game and Gleeson sent a tired low shot at Marriott while Roberts was well wide from distance as Luton cleared a poor O’Neill corner.
On 88 minutes Briscoe crashed a bobbling shot at Pilkington as Mansfield finished the game the strongest.
Three extra minutes were added at the end but Mansfield comfortably held out for a share of the spoils with boos from the home fans for their side at the end.
LUTON: K. Pilkington, Gleeson, Taylor, G. Pilkington, Lawless, Morgan-Smith (Fleetwood 57), Crow (McAllister 67), O’Connor, Howells, Watkins, Kovacs. Subs not used: Tyler, Dance, Poku.
STAGS: Marriott; Sutton, Dempster, Riley, O’Neill; Murray, Hutchinson (Briscoe 82), Roberts; Dyer, Green, Smith (Meikle 76). Subs not used: Worthington, Hopwell, Redmond.
REFEREE: Mr Michael Bull of Essex.
ATTENDANCE: 5, 261 (111 away).
CAUTIONS: Luton – Taylor 64. Stags – Riley 26, Roberts 60.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Gary Roberts.