James Collins netted a late equaliser for Luton on their return to the Championship. Darren Staples
first night in the job

Irish striker Collins denies Keane and Boro in thrilling Championship draw

Luton Town snatched a late draw on the opening night of the Championship season.

David Sneyd reports from Kenilworth Road

NO SOONER HAD the final whistle blown than Robbie Keane was on the back of a motorbike heading to an airport for a flight home to Dublin.

But Middlesbrough didn’t quite make the getaway they hoped for with three points as James Collins struck an 85th-minute equaliser for Luton Town in this thrilling 3-3 draw.

“I want to score goals and win games. This was exciting, the fans are behind us, I was super proud and humble to be the manager of this football club,” Boro boss Jonathan Woodgate beamed afterwards.

It could have been an opening night victory but when Britt Assombalonga blazed over a penalty with 10 minutes remaining it gave the home side a new lease of life, and it was Collins who pounced in the box.

Keane, wearing his Ireland number two cap, won’t have minded seeing an Ireland striker score but his feelings were no doubt similar to that of the main man.

“Incredible, exhausting, it was a great game, the closest feeling to being a player. We will go forward from here,” Woodgate added.

Darren Randolph then produced a stunning injury-time save to deny Collins a winner and another of the Ireland assistants, Terry Connor, was in the stand to see the heroics of the goalkeeper Woodgate hailed as ‘tremendous’.

Middlesbrough fans might just have got exactly what they wished for if the first game of the Woodgate-Keane axis is anything to go by.

Post Tony Pulis the feeling around the club was a need to bring back the joy and entertainment. They got that in spades here.

Speak to people around the club, not to mention some of the 960 Boro fans that made the long journey to the south of England, and they will tell you that there was a major loss of connection between the fanbase and previous manager.

Luton Town v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship - Kenilworth Road Keane and Woodgate at Kenilworth Road. Darren Staples Darren Staples

This is a club that has needed to be revitalised and reconnected with the supporters. And there was a moment of great poignancy as the away side arrived for their pre-match warm-up.

Even if it came at Keane’s expense.

As the coaching staff and players prepared to be put through their paces, the Boro fans rose to acclaim one of the new members of the backroom team put together by Woodgate.

The chant was loud and, it must be said, sounded clear. ‘Keano, Keano’ they roared in unison.

Only they weren’t.

‘Leo, Leo’ was the chant, as they hailed popular coach Leo Percovich. The Uruguayan lapped up the love, and who could blame him.

He ran towards the away fans, pounded a clenched fist into his chest and screamed back at them. This is a man who was goalkeeping coach under a previous Boro boss, Aitor Karanka, and suffered horrific personal tragedy after returning to South America where he worked for Fluminense.

It was before Christmas 2017 when the car he was driving crashed off a bridge in Brazil. Two of his daughters died as a result while his wife and young son survived. Somehow he carries on, and for Keane and Woodgate they will soon realise the relentless nature of this division.

It will be some doing to keep up this level of entertainment.

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