FA Cup, third round: Luton Town 1 (0) Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 (0)
Sold out Kenilworth Road enjoyed a massive FA Cup shock this afternoon as non-league Luton stunned Championship strugglers Wolverhampton Wanderers with a superb 1-0 victory, writes Mark Wood.
The Hatters belied their lowly league status as they stood toe-to-toe with their illustrious rivals and won out thanks to Alex Lawless’ brilliant volley in the opening seconds of the second half.
A buoyant Kenilworth Road was in full voice throughout and erupted at the final whistle as Town earned their place in the fourth round and picked up another £67,500 in prize money.
Town made a total of four changes from the team that were disappointingly beaten 3-1 at Woking on Tuesday. Enforced alterations saw cup-tied duo Simon Ainge and Scott Neilson miss out and Jake Howells was ruled out with a hamstring injury, while Scott Rendell dropped to the bench as Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Greg Taylor, JJ O’Donnell and Jonathan Smith were all handed starts.
And it was Town who had the first shy at goal on six minutes when O’Donnell broke on to Jon Shaw’s flick but ballooned miles over.
Wolves’ response was instantaneous as Carl Ikeme’s big kick was flicked on for Kevin Doyle to race clean through but he dragged his shot wide.
Luton though were undaunted by their big name rivals as Andre Gray was just muscled off the ball by Christophe Berra as a raucous Kenilworth Road got right behind their team.
Gray was harshly flagged offside as he looked to burst on to Shaw’s flick and a clash of heads saw both Stephen Ward and the Luton striker bandaged up.
The Hatters proceeded to pass up a gilt-edged opportunity to take the lead on 22 minutes when Roger Johnson could only flick Taylor’s ball forward on as Gray raced clean through. A heavy touch though took him too close to the keeper and Ikeme saved well low down.
At the other end Sylvan Ebanks-Blake dragged wide before Gray had another great chance on 25 minutes. He did superbly to dispossess former Hatter Kevin Foley on the left and cut inside but, with only the keeper to beat, he blazed high and wide with players screaming for a square ball.
Another great direct pass from Wolves released Anthony Forde on 32 minutes but he fluffed his lines with Mark Tyler narrowing the angle.
More lightning play from the Hatters saw Gray power on to O’Donnell’s flick seconds later but his dangerous cross was superbly cut out by a defender with Shaw lurking at the back post.
Playing against his hometown club, Wolves were struggling to deal with the pace and power of Gray, who tried to race on to Lawless’ pass only to be blocked off by Berra when clean through, although nothing was given.
The bandaged Ward then got in behind and, with Town’s defence at six and sevens, they were just able to clear behind as they proceeded to weather a series of Wolves corners.
The resurgent visitors twice went close to snatching the lead before the break. First, Tyler reacted instinctively to push Doyle’s near-post effort on to the bar from a clever low corner.
Then, Ebanks-Blake powered to the byline and pulled a great ball back across the face of goal and Tyler came flying off his line to charge down Bakary Sako’s blast.
Town raced out of the blocks at the start of the second half and, after Gray had just been unable to get on the end of Shaw’s cross, Luton took the lead with a fabulous strike 42 seconds in.
A defensive slice was half-cleared as far as the onrushing Lawless on the edge of the box who powered an unstoppable volley into the bottom left hand corner.
It was all Luton as Gray burst down the left and, after Shaw had seen his shot blocked, O’Donnell curled over from the edge of the box.
Looking for an equaliser the woodwork again denied Wolves on 53 minutes when Doyle floated a chip to the back post and Berra sent his header against the bar as the ball dribbled over.
In a keenly contested encounter Ward again got wide but Doyle’s header was straight at Tyler as they started to boss possession.
The visitors made a double change as they looked for a way back into the clash and Slawomir Peszko was almost immediately into the book as he caught O’Donnell in the head with a high boot.
Worryingly a stretcher and neck brace were called for as O’Donnell received treatment for around seven minutes. Stuart Fleetwood was called upon to replace the dogged youngster and David Davis came on for Foley, who received a fine send off from the home faithful.
Gray blasted the resulting free-kick well over as Town looked to play on the counter and a defensive lapse let Gray in with five minutes of normal time to go but, with Fleetwood overlapping, he looked to go alone and found himself crowded out.
Johnson glanced a cross wide before Ebanks-Blake was booked for a stupid push as Wolves broke at pace.
Rendell replaced Gray as nine minutes of injury time were signalled. The Championship side continued to push and Tyler had to be alert to turn Jamie O’Hara powerful 25-yard drive over the bar four minutes into injury time, which had taken a nick on its way through.
Deep into injury time Fleetwood almost latched on to Rendell’s flick and Mendy then almost slid the big substitute in as he was thwarted by the keeper.
But it mattered little as the final whistle soon followed and Kenilworth Road erupted as Town booked their place in the fourth round draw.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Greg Taylor, Janos Kovacs, Alex Lawless, Jon Shaw, Arnaud Mendy, JJ O’Donnell (Stuart Fleetwood 77), Jonathan Smith, Ronnie Henry (C), Andre Gray (Scott Rendell 90+1). Substitutes not used: Alex Lacey, Matt Robinson, Jake Woolley, Dan Walker, Dean Brill.
Wolves (4-4-2): Carl Ikeme, Karl Henry, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Bakary Sako, Stephen Ward, Roger Johnson, Christophe Berra, Jamie O’Hara, Anthony Forde (Slawomir Peszko 67), Kevin Doyle (Jake Cassidy 68), Kevin Foley (David Davis 75). Substitutes not used: Richard Stearman, Jermaine Pennant, Dorus De Vries, Georg Margreitter.
Bookings: Peszko 71; Ebanks-Blake 88; Tyler 90+7.
Referee: G Eltringham.
Assistant Referees: G Law and M George.
Fourth Official: G Stretton.
Star Hatter: Andre Gray. Wolves couldn’t handle his pace, power and desire.