02.08.2019 23:12 h

Luton, Middlesbrough kick off English season with six-goal thriller

McManaman (Luton) vs. Ayala (M'brough)
McManaman (Luton) vs. Ayala (M'brough)

Championship newcomers Luton snatched a late equaliser to earn a dramatic 3-3 draw against Middlesbrough as the new English season kicked off in style on Friday.

In the first game of the 2019-20 campaign, promoted Luton struck through James Collins with five minutes left to deny Jonathan Woodgate a victory in his first game as Middlesbrough manager.

It was a frustrating finale for former England defender Woodgate, who has replaced Tony Pulis as boss of his hometown club after a playing career including spells at Leeds, Newcastle, Real Madrid, Tottenham and Middlesbrough.

With the Premier League not due to start until August 9, the Football League took centre stage for one week and the Championship's maiden match served up a thriller at Kenilworth Road.

Middlesbrough's Ashley Fletcher scored the first goal of the Football League season, heading in Marvin Johnson's cross in the seventh minute.

Luton's Sonny Bradley hammered home a superb long-range equaliser 10 minutes later and Martin Cranie headed the hosts in front from Andrew Shinnie's 24th minute corner.

Britt Assombalonga's weak shot squirmed through the hands of Luton goalkeeper Simon Sluga at the near post to give Middlesbrough parity at half-time.

Lewis Wing put Woodgate's side back in front with a curling 25-yard strike in the 68th minute.

But Assombalonga blazed a penalty over the bar after Cranie's foul on Hayden Coulson.

It was a costly miss as Collins slotted in Luton's equaliser after Dan Potts' effort was blocked.

"It defined the Championship. Our character got us back in the game. The group is together and has a lot of strength in unity," Luton boss Graeme Jones said.

The bulk of the first round of Championship fixtures will be played on Saturday, when League One and League Two also get up and running.

Fulham and Cardiff, relegated from the Premier League last season, travel to Barnsley and Wigan respectively.

On Sunday, Leeds head to Bristol City as Marcelo Bielsa's side look to make a fast start to their expected promotion challenge following last season's play-off semi-final loss to Derby.

On Monday, Huddersfield, back in the second tier after two seasons in the Premier League, host last season's beaten play-off finalists Derby.

The Rams were led by Frank Lampard when they lost to Aston Villa at Wembley, but with their former boss now in charge at Chelsea, Derby are looking forward to their first game under former Barcelona star Phillip Cocu.