Championship
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Luton Town 3-3 Middlesbrough: Championship season starts with thrilling draw

Jonathan Woodgate embraces Graeme Jones
Both Jonathan Woodgate (right) and Graeme Jones were making their managerial debuts in Friday's EFL season opener

Luton's James Collins scored a late equaliser to deny Jonathan Woodgate a winning start as Middlesbrough boss in the first match of the 2019-20 Championship season.

Boro were made to pay for Britt Assombalonga's missed penalty while they were leading 3-2, as Collins struck from 10 yards with five minutes left to secure a draw.

Four goals were shared in the opening 37 minutes of an entertaining contest at Kenilworth Road.

Ashley Fletcher headed Boro into an early lead, but Sonny Bradley's thunderous 25-yard half-volley brought the home side level and last season's League One champions led when Martin Cranie nodded in from a corner.

But the hosts could not take that advantage into half-time as Luton's club record signing, Croatian goalkeeper Simon Sluga, allowed Assombalonga's tame shot to squirm past him at his near post and into the net.

Lewis Wing's unstoppable swerving effort into Sluga's top corner looked set to be the winner for Middlesbrough, even when Assombalonga wasted the chance to put the result beyond doubt from 12 yards.

But Graeme Jones' Luton, who impressed for long spells on their return to the Championship after a 12-year absence, found a leveller to extend their sequence of home league games without defeat to 28.

That run stretches back to March 2018, when the Hatters were still a League Two club.

They could have had a winner themselves, but visiting goalkeeper Darren Randolph made an incredible save from Collins in stoppage time.

Sluga's eventful debut for Luton

Simon Sluga
Luton had not paid £1m or more to sign a player in their history until Simon Sluga joined in July

Remember Lars Elstrup? The Danish striker was Luton's club record signing for three decades before Sluga arrived for more than £1.3m in July from Croatian side Rijeka.

Sluga, who made his international debut in June, was on very good form for the most part but showed his new club's supporters the best and worst of his game in the space of two minutes late in the first half.

He made a superb diving stop to keep out Marvin Johnson's long-range attempt, but then was unable to prevent Assombalonga's dribbling shot finding a way past him at his near post.

The Croatian had no chance with Fletcher's opener or Wing's wonder strike, and he made several key saves to keep his side in the contest, which proved pivotal when Luton broke clear to earn a point late on.

"I thought he was excellent apart from one moment, he just didn't move his feet and get down," Jones told BBC Three Counties Radio.

"Overall I was delighted with him. As a Croatia international I'm sure he'll be big enough and bold enough to get over it and move forward."

There were plenty of other positives for new Luton boss Jones, who like Woodgate was making his managerial debut, to take from his team's display.

They could so easily have crumbled after falling behind in the seventh minute, but captain Bradley scored a stunning equaliser - the defender's first goal in 51 appearances for the club - and they more than held their own against a team that narrowly missed out on the Championship play-offs last term.

Change in style evident for Boro

Woodgate achieved something that his seven most recent predecessors, going back to Steve McClaren in 2001, had failed to do by avoiding defeat in their first league game as Middlesbrough boss.

The former Leeds, Newcastle and Real Madrid defender was on Tony Pulis' coaching staff before succeeding him in the summer.

Pulis was criticised by large sections of Boro supporters during his 18-month reign for his direct style of play, and Woodgate has spoken regularly about his plan to implement a high intensity, possession-based style this season.

There was plenty of evidence of that in the Teessiders' first competitive outing of the campaign.

Lewis Wing
A sensational Lewis Wing strike looked to be giving Middlesbrough victory until James Collins' late equaliser for Luton

Fletcher had already gone close with an early snap-shot from 20 yards after Boro had won the ball back in midfield, before the same player scored the first goal of the EFL season from six yards.

And their second goal from Assombalonga, albeit assisted by Sluga's error, came from a high press that robbed Luton of the ball just inside their own half.

Ex-England defender Woodgate will be disappointed, however, with the ease at which Cranie found room to head Luton 2-1 in front and their failure to clear the ball which allowed Luton to equalise in the closing stages.

But he has given his backing to striker Assombalonga following his penalty miss.

Woodgate told BBC Tees: "There are no problems with Britt, he will step up and take the next penalty 100% and he will score.

"He's got the minerals and the belief in himself to score. He was terrific, worked extremely hard all game and he would have deserved the second goal.

"No blaming him at all, he's my number nine, he's going to score more goals."

Line-ups

Luton

  • 12Sluga
  • 2Cranie
  • 6Pearson
  • 5Bradley
  • 3Potts
  • 17MpanzuBooked at 45mins
  • 11ShinnieSubstituted forCornickat 69'minutes
  • 4Tunnicliffe
  • 10LeeSubstituted forButterfieldat 60'minutes
  • 19CollinsBooked at 49mins
  • 7McManamanSubstituted forMoncurat 74'minutes

Substitutes

  • 8Berry
  • 14Cornick
  • 20Moncur
  • 23Galloway
  • 28Jones
  • 29Butterfield
  • 36Shea

Middlesbrough

  • 23Randolph
  • 16Howson
  • 4Ayala
  • 5Shotton
  • 33Coulson
  • 26WingBooked at 61mins
  • 8Clayton
  • 17McNairSubstituted forSavilleat 86'minutes
  • 21JohnsonSubstituted forBrowneat 70'minutes
  • 9Assombalonga
  • 11FletcherBooked at 39mins

Substitutes

  • 7Tavernier
  • 10Browne
  • 14Gestede
  • 22Saville
  • 25Wood
  • 27Bola
  • 42Pears
Referee:
Oliver Langford
Attendance:
10,053

Match Stats

Home TeamLutonAway TeamMiddlesbrough
Possession
Home50%
Away50%
Shots
Home12
Away17
Shots on Target
Home4
Away8
Corners
Home8
Away11
Fouls
Home14
Away20

Live Text

  1. Post update

    Match ends, Luton Town 3, Middlesbrough 3.

  2. Full Time

    Second Half ends, Luton Town 3, Middlesbrough 3.

  3. Post update

    Foul by Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu (Luton Town).

  4. Post update

    George Saville (Middlesbrough) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

  5. Post update

    Matty Pearson (Luton Town) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

  6. Post update

    Foul by Britt Assombalonga (Middlesbrough).

  7. Post update

    Corner, Luton Town. Conceded by Ashley Fletcher.

  8. Post update

    Delay over. They are ready to continue.

  9. Post update

    Delay in match because of an injury Dan Potts (Luton Town).

  10. Post update

    Attempt blocked. Harry Cornick (Luton Town) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.

  11. Post update

    Attempt saved. James Collins (Luton Town) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by George Moncur.

  12. Post update

    Attempt saved. Ashley Fletcher (Middlesbrough) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Britt Assombalonga.

  13. Post update

    Attempt missed. James Collins (Luton Town) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Dan Potts with a cross.

  14. Post update

    Hand ball by James Collins (Luton Town).

  15. Substitution

    Substitution, Middlesbrough. George Saville replaces Patrick McNair.

  16. Goal!

    Goal! Luton Town 3, Middlesbrough 3. James Collins (Luton Town) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner.

  17. Post update

    Attempt blocked. Dan Potts (Luton Town) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Harry Cornick.

  18. Post update

    Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu (Luton Town) wins a free kick on the right wing.

  19. Post update

    Foul by Hayden Coulson (Middlesbrough).

  20. Post update

    Penalty missed! Still Luton Town 2, Middlesbrough 3. Britt Assombalonga (Middlesbrough) hits the bar with a right footed shot.

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As It Stood

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Luton10103301
2Middlesbrough10103301
3Barnsley00000000
4Birmingham00000000
5Blackburn00000000
6Brentford00000000
7Bristol City00000000
8Cardiff00000000
9Charlton00000000
10Derby00000000
11Fulham00000000
12Huddersfield00000000
13Hull00000000
14Leeds00000000
15Millwall00000000
16Nottm Forest00000000
17Preston00000000
18QPR00000000
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20Sheff Wed00000000
21Stoke00000000
22Swansea00000000
23West Brom00000000
24Wigan00000000
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