by Rob McNichol
ARGYLE'S second away draw of the Sky Bet League Two season - indeed, the second in successive Saturdays - was a little more palatable than the first.
After Argyle's dominance gave away to a battling point at Hartlepool seven days previous, their 1-1 draw at Luton will be seen as a fighting point in the lair of a credible promotion rival.
The Hatters led early, scoring through Danny Hylton after eight minutes, with Argyle responding midway through the half thanks to a Craig Tanner goal. Argyle looked for a long time after the equaliser like the side more likely to push on and win, but given Luton's late resurgence in the second period, this felt like a point gained and earned, as opposed to two dropped.
Indeed, the two that Luton were forced to drop may be as important as those Argyle accrue.
Derek Adams had said in midweek that he was waiting on the fitness of Antoni Sarcevic, and was obviously sufficiently impressed with what he saw, and brought the midfielder back into the side. Sarcevic was joined by Tanner, who last played when Argyle lost 2-1 at Yeovil on January 31. Jake Jervis and Jakub Sokolik were the men to drop to the bench.
Sokolik's absence meant a drop back into the defence for Yann Songo'o, but the nominal replacement was attacker Tanner, indicating a more offensive mindset for Adams than usual. Tanner would begin the game on the right flank, with in-form Matty Kennedy on the left. Sarcevic and Graham Carey were tasked with creating the play behind front-man Ryan Taylor, and in front of sitting midfielder David Fox.
Luton's team contained Newquay-born former Pilgrim Isaac Vassell, he of 10 Argyle appearances, nine of which were from the bench. Since leaving Argyle and dropping two divisions to Truro City, his moved to Luton has yielded regular football, and eight goals, including a five-in-four-games spell in late January and early February.
The Hatters' team did contain Stephen O'Donnell, until about half an hour before the kick, when it was announced that the full-back had been injured in the warm-up. That, or he was suffering from an acute case of Premature Kennedyitis.
Vassell, as one may expect, was the first to trouble Argyle, nicking a ball from Songo'o and charging into the area. The Cornishman went down under a challenge from Bradley, but as Luton called for a penalty, referee Darren Drysdale pointed for a corner.
Vassell's strike partner, Danny Hylton, was not to be denied, however. His opening goal, on eight minutes, came after Argyle had been on the attack. A free-kick into Luton's area was cleared, and the Hatters broke clear. Hylton, charging through the centre, brought down a ball into his path very well, and poked home over the advancing Luke McCormick.
Hylton blotted his copybook a little, a few minutes later, clattering late into Bradley, but received only a talking-to. The warning was not heeded by team-mate Jonathan Smith, who arrived late in tackling Carey and got a yellow card for the recklessness of it.
The tackles were coming because of Luton's immense desire to press and close down, the enthusiasm of which occasionally spilled over. After 20 minutes or so, Argyle started to get more of the ball, though rarely under zero pressure, and tried to play their way back into the game. After a patient search of the perimeter of the Hatters' 18-yard box, Sarcevic eventually permeated with a through ball to Taylor. It was quickly returned, and Sarcevic tried his luck from distance, catching the ball well, but striking Taylor on the way through.
Luton fans with good memories may remember Craig Tanner having a blinder at Kenilworth Road in the previous season's victory, especially in the second half, where he was instrumental in Argyle's late winner. He went one better here, though, getting on the end of a terrifically slick Argyle move to score the equaliser.
The end of the move began with Taylor, holding the ball up wide on the left, with his back to goal, but astutely spotting a run beyond him, made by Carey. Taylor found him with a well-timed backheel, and the Irishman's cross-on-the-run was perfect for Tanner's direct run. The first time finish moved the ball quickly beyond a prone Matt Macey, and the Greens were level.
After scoring, Argyle went into a sort of rope-a-dope mode, happy to let Luton's central defenders have the ball, and bank on the fact that they would not be able to build anything. Largely, they were right. Argyle's formation allowed them to drop into a 4-5-1 when defending, but burst forward with plenty of counter-attacking players when Luton's attacks broke down, which they frequently did.
It was a game of few chances. Indeed, the incidents of notes seemed to be fouls, with consternation to follow. Typically, these were Luton-on-Argyle transgressions, borne of excitability rather than malice. A late one - as in late in the half, and late on the man - caught Fox, and saw Jordan Cook go into the book. Fox did not emerge for the second half, with Sokolik taking his place, and Yann Songo'o stepping into the deepest role in Argyle's midfield.
The best move of the match came on 57 minutes, with Hylton not touching, but still acting as the catalyst. His cute dummy saw the ball roll through to Mpanzu, who shifted out to the right, to Cook. The latter's cross was dangerous, and would have found the lurking Hylton, had Bradley not made a crucial intervention.
The Hatters next gambit was to gamble with Gambin, bringing on Luke, of that ilk, along with Ollie Palmer. They replaced Vassell and Smith, nominally, with Gambin dropping into the support role behind Hylton and his new partner, Palmer. Adams' response was to withdraw Tanner and replace him with Spencer, as Argyle went to an orthodox 4-4-2. Shortly afterwards, Ryan Donaldson came on for Kennedy.
Still neither side could truly carve out a chance. McCormick was having an afternoon of catching practise, while Argyle delivered a few set-pieces which Luton cleared well. The Hatters decided to shake things up and roll the dice with the introduction of Jack Marriott, and a shift to a much more attacking 3-4-3 style line-up.
Hylton, dropping deeper off the front to pull strings, was now doing so very effectively. From one delicate chip he found Palmer, bearing down on goal. It took a stunning, diving, headed intervention by Threlkeld to prevent Palmer getting a shot away. Next, Cook chipped to the back past from deep, where Hylton and Palmer grasped for a vital touch, but could not reach the ball between them.
Argyle had a brief late flurry, winning a couple of corners, but could not penetrate. In the end, both sides earned a point they will probably be happy with, even if they do not publicly to such a settlement.
Onwards - 14 to go...
Luton Town (4-1-2-1-2): 13 Matt Macey; 36 Jason Justin, 6 Scott Cuthbert (capt), 44 Alan Sheehan, 21 Jack Senior (14 Jack Marriott 79); 16 Glen Rea; 4 Jonathan Smith (22 Luke Gambin 62), 17 Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu; 10 Jordan Cook; 20 Isaac Vassell (28 Ollie Palmer 62), 9 Danny Hylton. Substitutes (not used): 1 Stuart Moore (gk), 5 Johnny Mullins, 7 Jake Gray, 24 Lawson D'Ath.
Bookings: Smith 17, Cook 43.
Argyle (4-3-3): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 4 Yann Songo'o, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 24 David Fox (31 Jakub Sokolik half-time), 10 Graham Carey; 27 Craig Tanner (9 Jimmy Spencer 64), 19 Ryan Taylor, 16 Matty Kennedy (11 Ryan Donaldson 69). Substitutes: 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 8 Jordan Slew, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Referee: Darren Drysdale.
Attendance: 9,124 (1,027 away.)