Cheltenham Town 1 Luton Town 1Paul Buckle’s search for a first home win continues, but this useful draw with Luton Town provides plenty of encouragement for the months ahead.
It was another step in the right direction; a gritty performance with flashes of attacking intent against against the promotion hopefuls.
Zack Kotwica scored his first professional goal at Whaddon Road to give Cheltenham a deserved lead with 20 minutes on the clock.
His second goal for the club was at odds with his first, a wonderful strike at Mansfield Town back in December, but it gave the Robins an important lead.
The visitors were on terms only one minute later through Shaun Whalley, who pounced on an uncharacteristic error by Trevor Carson to square the match at the interval.
Where the first half was frenetic, the second half was attritional with the Robins defending manfully to restrict their loftier opponents.
They brought almost 1,300 supporters with them, a reminder that Cheltenham have no divine right to a League Two berth but on this evidence Buckle’s developing side hold the attributes to mix it with the bigger clubs in this division.
Buckle made three changes to the side that drew with Morecambe eight days ago.
In came Matt Richards, Zack Kotwica and Jake Gray into a revamped midfield, designed to neutralise Luton’s 4-5-1 formation.
Kane Ferdinand played in the role behind Jack Dunn up front, with Kotwica and Jake Gray providing support in the wide areas.
Lee Vaughan and Omari Sterling-James dropped to the bench.
Cheltenham had plenty of defending to do in the opening exchanges of a breathless first half, but it was Jack Dunn who brought about the first save of the match with an effort from 20 yards, racing down the middle on a counter attack.
He missed the target by a matter of inches with a delicately taken free-kick with 16 minutes played, and combined well with Kane Ferdinand and Craig Braham-Barrett down the left a moment later although Luton cleared the danger.
Then Kevin Stewart dragged one wide earlier with Cheltenham making all the running and deserved their goal with 20 minutes on the clock.
The Liverpool midfielder started the move, floating a ball into Jake Gray’s path down the right.
The Crystal Palace loanee made the byline and cut one back into Dunn, who flicked it towards Kotwica and the young winger guided it home from close range.
But the Hatters were on terms less than a minute later, Carson spilling Andy Drury’s angled drive from the left and Whalley made no mistake with the loose ball.
Carson did well to push away another effort by Drury moments later, and Gray was called into an important clearance to deny Luton a second after a corner was sent in from the left.
Jayden Stockley pulled one wide, and Stewart was the subject of a Luton penalty appeal for handball although it would have been a harsh decision.
Luton looked threatening in attack, but less than assured at the back and presented the Robins with opportunities to test Mark Tyler in goal.
A foul on Kotwica by Nathan Doyle down the left handed Richards a final opportunity before the break to whip one in, but Brown headed well over.
The second half was a more cagey affair, with chances few and far between.
Dunn robbed Steve McNulty in posession six minutes after the break to fashion the best shooting opportunity of the second half, but Tyler pushed it away at his near post.
Substitute Mark Cullen wasted three good chances after he was introduced but Carson was a bystander in the second period, and Cheltenham held on for an important point.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (4-5-1): Carson; Jones, Taylor (c), Bron, Braham-Barrett; Gray, Stewart, Ferdinand, Stewart, Ricahrds, Kotwica; Dunn (Harrison 90). Subs not used: Vaughan, Gornell, Deaman, Hanks, Sterling-James, Reynolds (Gk).
LUTON TOWN (4-5-1): Tyler; Harriman, McNulty (c), Wilkinson, Griffiths; Whalley (Miller 69), Doyle, Drury (Lawless 63), Smith, Howells (Cullen 63); Stockley. Subs not used: Lacey, Lawless, Wall, Cullen, Justham (Gk), Miller, Robinson.
REFEREE: D Handley
ATTENDANCE: 3,611 (1,282 from Luton)