The Hatters’ second successive away-jaunt in four days – at the opposite end of the country to their immediately previous one – saw them in midweek action, and come away with another share of the spoils, this time under the lights at promotion rivals Carlisle.
Myles Hippolyte’s first-half strike gave the Hatters the lead, before two goals after the break looked to have secured all three points for the hosts – but substitute Connor Evans, just a minute after entering the fray, equalised five minutes from time to secure a draw and extend County’s unbeaten run to 10 matches.
Moving on from Saturday afternoon in Kent to Tuesday night in Cumbria, the Hatters took to the field on a glorious spring evening, and with a starting line-up showing three changes from that for their weekend trip to Gillingham. Chris Hussey, Callum Camps and skipper Paddy Madden were the players recalled – replacing, respectively, Neill Byrne (who was named among the substitutes), as well as Ryan Rydel and Kyle Wootton (both of whom had picked up knocks while playing at Priestfield).
The ‘Cumbrians’, managed by one-time Hatters’ gaffer Paul Simpson, included among their starters, in leading scorer Kristian Dennis and captain Paul Huntington, two players who had once plied their trade for County. Ben Barclay, however, did not participate for the hosts, in accordance with the terms of his season-long loan from SK3.
With the two sides level-pegging on points immediately outside the automatic promotion positions, and separated by just a single goal’s difference to County’s credit, a close contest was in prospect. And some early end-to-end fare indeed ensued, as the initial exchanges saw Hippolyte fire straight at home goalkeeper Tomas Holy, before Joel Senior, at the County end, blasted well over after connecting with Jack Armer’s cross from the left.
Madden then had a shot deflected past the left upright – and after Hussey’s resulting corner had been recycled by Camps, Fraser Horsfall nodded down for Jack Stretton. But the striker, who had begun the campaign on loan at Carlisle, cleared the crossbar.
A second Hussey corner from the left found Madden, who headed narrowly over, as the Hatters continued their lively start. But the hosts responded by earning three corners in quick succession – with the third coming after Ben Hinchliffe, with back arched, had superbly tipped over Armer’s thunderbolt of a shot from outside the box.
Madden and Stretton – starting together up front for the first time – combined well to put Will Collar through on goal, but the midfielder drilled just wide of the left post. And Hinchliffe had to be at his best to keep out a Dennis shot from the edge of the area, before Jordan Gibson followed up and fired into the right side-netting.
By this stage, with a number of chances created by both teams, the first half had only reached its mid-point. A few quiet minutes followed, but just after the half-hour, as the sun was setting, County broke the deadlock. Kyle Knoyle’s delivery from the right found Stretton, who mis-hit – but any frustration then turned to joy, as the ball fell for Camps to tee up Hippolyte, and the latter fired home his fifth goal of the season in all competitions to put the Hatters ahead.
With four minutes of the half remaining, another Knoyle cross was met by Ryan Croasdale, whose header took a deflection off Huntington beyond the near post. And just ahead of added time, Madden glanced wide an in-swinging corner from Hussey.
HALF-TIME: Carlisle 0, County 1 (Hippolyte, 31).
The hosts, having ended the first half with a corner of their own, began the second with one, too – only for Owen Moxon’s delivery from the left to be punched away by Hinchliffe. But the next corner, taken by the same player eight minutes later, found Jon Mellish, who bundled in from close range to equalise.
Carlisle, duly buoyed up, continued to press – earning two further corners in the wake of levelling, and testing Hinchliffe courtesy of a shot from outside the box by Moxon that County’s Number One dived to smother. But the Hatters settled back into the contest after the hour-mark, as Croasdale had a shot deflected beyond the left post, and Camps fired past the opposite upright.
The Cumbrians made an attacking double-substitution with under 20 minutes left on the clock, and one of the newly-introduced strikers, Omari Patrick, soon found himself through on goal after Carlisle won possession on the halfway-line – but Horsfall traced back to make a vital block and deny the substitute.
A dozen minutes from time, Tanto Olaofe, who had replaced Stretton, was played through by Madden to the right of goal following a County break – only for Holy, at full stretch, to tip the low shot around the far post.
Four minutes later, Carlisle again dispossessed the Hatters – and this time made it count, with substitute Ryan Edmondson feeding Moxon, who fired past Hinchliffe. But County struck back within three, as Evans, who had been brought on immediately following the hosts’ second goal, connected with Hussey’s cross from the left to head in off the bar.
Five minutes of added time saw the scorers troubled no further, with the draw leaving both clubs four points away from the top three.
FULL-TIME: Carlisle 2 (Mellish, 54; Moxon, 82), County 2 (Hippolyte, 31; Evans, 85).
Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Wright (R. Johnson, 84), Horsfall, Hussey; Knoyle, Collar, Croasdale (Evans, 84), Camps, Hippolyte; Stretton (Olaofe, 68), Madden (Capt.).
Unused Subs: Jaros, Byrne, Davenport, Rowe.
Attendance: 7,198 (1,052 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.