Dartford were within seven minutes of a vital victory over leaders Luton Town tonight, only to concede twice late on and lose 2-1.

Mikel Sanchez’s 34th minute header gave the hosts an interval advantage and they appeared relatively comfortable until Kenny Clark was sent off on 78 minutes for a late challenge on Alex Lawless.

Hatters substitute Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu struck with a wonder goal five minutes later and the ten-man Darts were stunned when Andre Gray headed home an 86th minute winner to wrap up all three points for the champions-elect.

The Darts were searching for a third straight league win after back-to-back victories over Hyde and Macclesfield, although they knew they would have their work cut out against runaway Conference leaders Luton Town.

The Hatters arrived at Princes Park 13 points clear at the top and closing in on a return to the Football League for the first time since 2009.

Home manager Tony Burman was unable to field Hatters loanees Alex Wall and Jim Stevenson under the terms of their temporary deals from Kenilworth Road so in came Clark and Suarez to the starting XI Luton made one change after suffering a shock 2-0 weekend reverse at Halifax, Jake Howells coming in for Ruddock-Mpanzu who was named among the substitutes.

Darts keeper Alan Julian failed to catch the ball when a corner was whipped in but fortunately for him Matt Robinson’s shot was blocked by a defender.

And Robinson was involved again moments later as the ball fell to him again just outside of the area, this time his effort flying behind.

Luton should have got their noses in front on 13 minutes when Gray shook off Mat Mitchell-King before bursting into the box and being denied by the quick thinking of Julian, only for the loose ball to go to an unmarked Jake Howells whose header went over.

Former Welling player Fraser Franks saw a header blocked as the visitors again went close before Dartford created their first real opening in the 20th minute, Max Cornhill scuffing an attempt off target from a Lee Noble cross before Elliot Bradbrook’s follow up volley was smashed wide.

Noble’s free-kick found Cornhill inside the box but his angled drive was saved by Mark Tyler and the danger eventually cleared by a relieved visiting defence as the hosts began to apply some real pressure.

Back came Luton, Cameron McGeehan’s 20 yard volley going about a yard wide and then Paul Benson’s header hitting the woodwork after a goalmouth scramble.

However, it was darts who struck first 10 minutes before halftime when Suarez rose high to head home from Noble’s corner.

And it was almost 2-0 within minutes as Cornhill went to ground after breaking into the box and Harris blazed over when the ball fell to him.

Cornhill almost converted another excellent Noble corner but his header went agonisingly behind, while at the end only a last-gasp clearance from Tyrone Sterling prevented Benson getting on the end of Howell’s cross.

Gray’s trickery almost created an opening six minutes after the break but he took one touch too many and Julian eventually gathered.

Lawless then whipped in a dangerous cross from the right which the home defence had to scramble away.

Tyler was called into action when he had to get down low at the other end to deny Burns and then Sterling.

McGeehan’s header midway through the half took a slight deflection, allowing Julian to make a much easier save than had the Luton man’s initial attempt not been touched by a home defender.

Burman made his first change on 71 minutes by replacing goal-scorer Suarez with Nathan Collier, the Hatters having already made all three of their substitutions by this stage.

But Darts were left to play the final 12 minutes a man short as Clark was red carded for a late lunge on Lawless just in front of the dugouts.

Julian came off his line to make a fantastic save and deny Mark Cullen what looked a certain equaliser three minutes later.

But there was nothing the home keeper could do to prevent substitute Ruddock-Mpanzu’s unstoppable 83rd minute shot flying into the top corner as Darts were finally undone.

The Dartford number one then pulled off a fine stop by using his legs to block Luke Rooney’s free-kick and then Rooney’s shot was deflected onto the woodwork by Bradbrook.

However, Luton were not to be denied for much longer and they took the lead for the first time four minutes from the end as Ronnie Henry’s cross was powered home by the head of Gray at the far post.

Football is a beautiful game but also a very cruel one.

Burman’s battlers certainly deserved something from this and they must take the positives of the display going into Saturday’s trip to Lincoln.

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Dartford: Julian, Burns, Clark, Mitchel-King, McAuley, Noble, Cornhill, Bradbrook, Sterling, Suraez (Collier 71), Harris. Subs not used: Holloway, Swallow, Akinwande, Woodyard. Att: 2,869