Elijah Adebayo strikes but frustrated Luton fail to put Everton away

Every point counts, but this one is unlikely to be enough for Luton Town. When the story of the 2023-24 Premier League season comes to be told, it is likely that they will look back with regret when they remember the night when they failed to find a way past a negative, limited Everton side.

Of course, nobody inside Kenilworth Road could quibble with the level of Luton’s spirit and desire. There was also a lovely equalising goal from Elijah Adebayo, whose strike cancelled out Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s early opener, and there were periods when Rob Edwards’s team looked capable of breaking Everton down. The pressure was relentless during the second half. Tahith Chong, who never stopped running, was outstanding.

Yet the awkward fact facing Luton is that this failure to beat Everton, whose safety is already assured, makes it one win from 15 games and meant they missed a chance to go out of the bottom three. They are level on points with Nottingham Forest, who have a superior goal difference, but it is hard to see a way out. Forest can go three points clear when they visit Sheffield United.

Victory felt imperative for Luton. The sight of a lights show in the moments before kick-off drawing nothing more complimentary than self-deprecating laughter, plus a few dismissive, expletive-laden chants, summed it up. The mood was urgent, the atmosphere deafening and the action hectic from the very first whistle, particularly when Luton were able to work the enterprising Tahith Chong into space in the final third during the early stages.

Yet Everton’s nous drowned out the noise. Ashley , making the 450th appearance of his club career, Young shrugged off the taunts about his Watford past. Dwight McNeil laughed when he was abused for making the most of slight contact from Teden Mengi in the area.

McNeil was soon involved again, delivering a cross that Mengi almost turned past Thomas Kaminski. Luton, who were in danger of being overpowered in midfield, began to creak. Their defence was being moved around too much and nobody was nervier than Mengi, who only had himself to blame when David Coote, the VAR, spotted the centre-back holding Jarrad Branthwaite at an Everton corner.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s penalty beats Thomas Kaminski.. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Action Images/Reuters

Did it matter that both players were nowhere near the ball? Not to the officials. The contact was enough for Tim Robinson to point to the spot after checking the pitchside monitor. Ultimately, whatever the complaints about the cold influence of VAR, the defending was poor and Luton could not afford to feel sorry for themselves when Calvert-Lewin sent his penalty down the middle after watching Kaminski dive out of the way.

There had to be a response. There was defiance from the crowd and Luton upped the intensity in the 31st minute. Alfie Doughty made his presence felt, winning possession back on the left, and calm fell over Luton when the ball ran to Albert Sambi Lokonga. The midfielder lifted his head, looked right and spotted Adebayo peeling to the right.

Away from Branthwaite and James Tarkowski, Adebayo easily had the beating of Young in the air. The striker towered over the left-back, bullying him and shrugging him to the turf. Young’s complaints were to no avail. It was brilliant forward play from Adebayo. How Luton missed him during his long spell on the sidelines. How they celebrated when Adebayo brought the ball down and lashed it past Jordan Pickford.

It was Everton’s turn to creak. Beaten 6-0 by Chelsea in their previous away game, they were fortunate not to be behind at half-time, escaping when Ben Godfrey cleared Carlton Morris’s header off the line.

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The pressure continued at the start of the second half, Fred Onyedinma threatening with surge down the right, Gabriel Osho bending a shot narrowly wide. Chong, so direct and eager, kept running. James Garner and Idrissia Gueye were both booked for fouling the midfielder. Sean Dyche responded by bringing Amadou Onana and André Gomes on for Garner and Abdoulaye Doucouré.

To their credit, Everton remained difficult to break down. No opportunity to drain Luton’s momentum with a niggly foul or piece of time-wasting was knowingly turned down. As the hour approached, Luton had still to create a clear opening since the restart. They were desperate for Ross Barkley to produce a moment of inspiration against his boyhood club.

The game felt too broken, too rushed, too bitty. There was a chance for Barkley, who headed Doughty’s cross over, but Everton were holding firm. Tarkowski and Branthwaite were winning a lot in the air. Jack Harrison made a crucial challenge to stop Doughty going through on the left.

Everton were barely attacking, although they would go close to regaining their lead when Harrison’s deflected shot almost looped over Kaminski. For Luton, time was running out. They were relieved when Kaminski pushed Calvert-Lewin’s header over. A point had to do.

The Guardian