BEATEN but not broken, Harriers’ play-off dream is alive even if defeat to their rivals snatched control of their own destiny away from them.
Such has been the Aggborough outfit’s rollercoaster end to the Blue Square Bet Premier campaign, it’s hard to know what will happen next.
After the dizzy heights of their five-match winning streak, Steve Burr’s troops suffered a setback when they were shot down by Robbie Willmott’s second-half goal.
But thanks to the Hatters’ mid-week 0-0 draw at Gateshead, Harriers still have a chance to make the end-of-season party if they survive what is set to be a fantastic finale on Saturday.
Three points against Mansfield and Luton suffering defeat at champions Fleetwood will ensure the season is extended by at least two more games but after the disappointment of Luton, Harriers and their fans will take any sliver of hope.
As they pick themselves up for one final grandstand effort, Harriers must remember how close they came to bagging a result at Kenilworth Road.
Sure, they rode their luck and ultimately paid the price for a defensive slip. But the disappointment was because they went toe-to-toe with the big-spending rivals from Bedfordshire and came agonsingly close to pulling it off.
Harriers took their biggest away following in years to Luton in anticipation of this vital game and the 751 Red army, despite being outnumbered 10 to one by Luton’s home support, loudly outsang the home faithful.
If this had been a boxing match, Luton would have won the first-half on points but staunch Harriers defended doggedly and at times rode their luck.
With the home side seemingly able to drive forward at will, it was perhaps the visitors’ best defensive display.
Tom Marshall had to shoot out a foot to block Willmott’s shot from 10-yards after Stuart Fleetwood and Jake Howells had sliced the visitors open down the left.
Strapping centre-back Janos Kovacs came closest to breaking the deadlock, as he fired goalwards from a corner only for Lee Vaughan to be in the right place at the right time to clear off the line.
In a furious final five minutes of the half, delicious deliveries from Andre Gray and Fleetwood fizzed across the box but Harriers’ luck held up as Luton failed to make the killer connection.
All Harriers had to show for their resilient back-to-the-wall display were needless yellow cards for Kyle Storer and Marvin Johnson.
After weathering a five-minute storm at the start of the second period by the home team, which saw Howells let rip with a 30-yard shot that flew over Tony Breeden’s bar, Harriers started to work themselves into the match and pushed forward with increasing confidence.
When substitute Ryan Rowe cut in from the left and drove in a shot from the edge of the box to force keeper Mark Tyler into a diving save, it looked as Harriers would only get stronger but fate and one defensive lapse decided the match’s fate.
The alert Tyler was forced to boot the ball downfield after a mix-up at the back but the willing Willmott chased the lost cause and as keeper Breeden rushed out of his area and then back in again, the Luton winger fired home.
If anyone was going to break Harriers’ hearts it was Willmott, who has now scored four goals against them in as many matches.
To Harriers’ credit they valiantly pushed forward and were only denied late on.
From a Johnson corner, Luke Jones’ far post header ricocheted off the bar and fell to substitute Steve Guinan, who from six-yards shot goalwards, only for the ball to hit Howells on the line.
There was still time for Guinan to direct a scissor-kick wide but as the chance flew off target, so did their hopes of a point.
This was also the third defeat to Luton of the campaign but manager Burr felt his side had closed the gap.
He said: “We’ve been on a terrific run and played some great football.
“The gap between us and Luton earlier in the season was quite big but I now feel it is minimal.
“There goal was a straight forward punt and we should have really dealt with it.
“I was a bit disappointed with the goal but there wasn’t a lot in the game.”
Harriers: Breeden 6, Vaughan 8, Williams 8, Jones 8, Marshall 8, Hankin 7 (Guinan 88), Vincent 9, Wright 6 (Rowe 64), Storer 7 (Bradley 80), Malbon 7, Johnson 6. Subs not used: Lyness, Demetriou.
Luton: Tyler, Keane, Pilkington, Lawless, Willmott (Blackett 85), Fleetwood (McAllister 82), Howells, Osano, Gray, Watkins (Poku 78), Kovacs. Subs not used: Gleeson, Taylor.
Referee: Darren Bond. Attendance: 8,415 (751).