Luton were frustrated by League One high-flyers Bolton as the teams played out a drab goalless draw in the FA Cup third round at Kenilworth Road.
Rob Edwards fielded a near-full strength side in spite of the hosts’ ongoing fight to survive in their debut Premier League campaign, but they were unable to break down the side currently sitting second in the third tier.
Alfie Doughty struck a post in the final moments, the nearest Luton came to finally picking Bolton off, that after substitutes Andros Townsend and Jordan Clarke had both gone close in the second half.
Bolton began well and looked a worthy match for Luton, limiting the hosts to a single long-range effort from Ross Barkley which was easily saved by Nathan Baxter in the opening 15 minutes.
At the other end, Josh Sheehan briefly had Tim Krul worried with a 25-yard piledriver that whistled over the crossbar.
Elijah Adebayo glanced a header across goal from Amari’i Bell’s outswinging cross on the half-hour mark that was watched safely behind by Baxter, as Luton struggled to match the kind of attacking intensity that had seen them cause such hardship here for Premier League opponents in recent months.
Barkley tried again from distance and found only the goalkeeper’s gloves.
Tahith Chong teed up Albert Sambi Lokonga late in the half to drive perhaps Luton’s best opening wide of the post from just outside the box.
Certainly it was as close as either side came to breaking the deadlock ahead of a welcome half-time interval.
Carlton Morris had the best chance of the game so far when he headed towards the top corner from Chiedozie Ogbene’s cross from right, a fine reflex save by Baxter beating it clear, before Doughty, unusually subdued by his own recent standards, saw a low effort aimed towards the far post deflected wide.
The longer it stayed goalless, the more the League One side seemed to grow in confidence.
Paris Maghoma and Victor Adeboyejo combined well in a central position high inside the Luton half, but the move was scrubbed out before either player could get a shot away.
Bolton had won four in a row in the league and 10 of their last 13, putting pressure on leaders Portsmouth in the race to reach the Championship.
Yet there was little sign here of Ian Evatt’s side keeping anything back for the promotion run-in. As the tie entered its final 20 minutes, they continued to match Luton’s organisation and work-rate beat for beat.
The hosts gamely kept at it without ever truly showing signs of top-flight class.
Townsend emerged from the bench and tested Baxter’s reach with a fine curling effort low towards the corner, that after fellow substitute Clarke had seen a rasping effort deflected wide.
Their growing frustrations were summed up when Doughty miscued horribly with a cross that sailed harmlessly into the rafters of the stand to the delight of the away supporters.
There was almost late drama when Doughty struck a post with a blistering drive, then Bolton survived a penalty scare when VAR was called on to check a Will Forrester challenge on the same player.
A draw and a replay were no more than Bolton deserved.