Last minute Meikle strike sinks Luton
Substitute Lindon Meikle netted a dramatic last-minute winner as Mansfield Town secured a vital victory over Luton Town at Kenilworth Road.
Meikle tapped home at the end of a breakaway move to enhance the Stags’ play-off bid, which simultaneously acted as a dagger-blow for the Hatters’ own chances of a top five finish.
Mansfield twice led on a snowy afternoon in Bedfordshire thanks to a Matt Green spot-kick and Junior Daniel’s effort a minute before the interval.
However, Andre Gray levelled at the start of a second half in which Luton were largely on top, and twice came close to finding a winner through substitute Stuart Fleetwood.
But on the cusp of added time Meikle converted after Chris Clements’ effort was parried by Mark Tyler, which broke Hatters hearts and puts the Stags five points off top spot.
Mansfield supremo Paul Cox initially named the same starting XI for the fifth game in succession, but an injury to Anthony Howell in the warm up led to Clements’ inclusion.
After a quiet opening, the Hatters thought they had established an early lead on nine minutes when debutant Wayne Thomas headed home Ronnie Henry’s deep right-sided set-piece.
However, the veteran centre-back was judged to have strayed into an offside position and his effort was ruled out, much to the disappointment of the Kenilworth Road crowd.
Both teams struggled to establish a solid foothold as the first half progressed and although the hosts enjoyed a territorial dominance, they were unable to carve out many clear-cut openings.
Striker Gray saw an angled attempt bravely blocked by Adam Murray at the expense of a corner-kick, before Jonathan Smith hammered an effort well wide of the target.
The Stags then put together their first menacing attack, which saw Lee Beevers and Clements involved in some neat build up play in and around the final third.
Clements then found Lee Stevenson, who threaded a smart pass into Louis Briscoe’s path, but the winger was forced wide and saw his low snap-shot smothered by Tyler at his near-post.
Nevertheless, Mansfield seemed to be spurred on by this move and gradually began to put their counterparts on the back-foot.
Their creativity was rewarded on the half-hour mark, when Steve McNulty’s untidy clip on Daniel inside the area was right under the nose of the referee, who immediately awarded a penalty.
Green stepped forward and nonchalantly stroked his low spot-kick into the bottom-right corner, just beyond a full-stretch Tyler, to put the visitors on course for victory.
However, the Stags soon suffered a double whammy.
Beevers spent several minutes in evident agony with what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder, which had to be put back into place, and restricted his long-throw ability.
And whilst the Mansfield right-back was off the pitch receiving treatment, Smith’s powerful 20-yard drive took a fortuitous deflection off Gray that allowed Rendell to blaze home an equaliser.
With Luton now in the ascendency, Alan Marriott then had to be quick from his line to prevent a trio of players from latching onto David Martin’s teasing right-sided cross into the six-yard box.
It seemed inevitable that the hosts would eventually create another gilt-edge chance, but just a minute before the break the Stags superbly regained the lead.
After a fine passing exchange, Briscoe capitalised on some terrible defending from Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and found Daniel, via Stevenson’s neat one-touch flick.
With both the Hatters defence wide open and Daniel in acres of space, the flying winger screwed his low effort under the commanding frame of Tyler for his fifth goal of the campaign.
His strike was good enough to give Mansfield a half-time advantage, but a little over a minute after the re-start gritty Luton drew level once again.
Rendell, a chief instigator in the hosts’ attacking threat, lofted a superb ball in-behind an out-of-position James Jennings and Gray retained his composure to beat the onrushing Marriott.
Backed by the vociferous Kenilworth Road crowd, the Hatters began to up the ante in their search for a winner and Marriott soon had to sprint from his line to stop Gray from reaching Tyler’s long downfield punt.
The Stags absorbed waves of pressure and another chance went begging as Thomas towered above everyone else to meet Alex Lawless’ corner, but failed to pick his spot.
Luton continued to dictate play as they sought their first league win in over a month, and again came close to taking a lead when substitute Jake Howells curled a 20-yard free-kick over the woodwork.
Fleetwood was thrown on for the closing stages, and the substitute twice came within inches of poking the managerless Hatters ahead.
His first effort forced a brilliant goal-line clearance from Luke Jones, whilst his second, an inadvertent flick after a long-range drive from Henry, drew Marriott into an instinctive point-blank stop.
Just as it seemed honours would finish even, there was one last, critical twist, as the game ticked into the last minute of normal time.
The Stags launched a quick counter-attack, which saw substitute Ben Hutchinson collect possession and play a simple pass to an advancing Clements.
With the Hatters defence back-tracking, the mercurial Clements reached the edge of the area, where his strike was spilled by Tyler into the path of a lurking Meikle.
Meikle fired his rebound into an empty net to provoke joyous scenes of celebration amongst the 410 travelling contingent, whilst a despondent sense of heartbreak lingered elsewhere in Kenilworth Road.
Attendance: 5,968 (410 away supporters)