FA Cup fourth round qualifying: Cambridge United 0 (0) Luton Town 2 (1)
Impressive Hatters made sure their name was in the hat for the first round proper of the FA Cup with an excellent 2-0 victory at Conference rivals Cambridge United this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
The mercurial Andre Gray got Town on the way with their first in the first half before laying on the second for Jon Shaw in the second period.
Town even had the luxury of seeing Stuart Fleetwood crash a first half penalty that he won against the bar as they sealed a well-deserved away win.
However, Luton were left with a major worry as Mr Consistent Alex Lawless was stretchered off with his leg in a splint in the first half – the only dark cloud on an otherwise bright day for the Hatters.
Town made three changes from the team that beat Nuneaton Town 2-0 last time out. With Simon Ainge cup-tied, Connor Essam not allowed to play by parent club Gillingham and Scott Rendell ruled out through injury, straight in came new signing Arnaud Mendy for his debut along with the recalled Janos Kovacs and Fleetwood, available again after his one-match suspension.
On home turf, the U’s started confidently and Lawless had to be aware to block Andy Pugh’s effort from the edge of the area on three minute after good build-up play from the hosts.
Gray fired an inviting cross across the face of goal moments later before giving the Hatters a seventh-minute lead.
Mendy made an immediate impact when he robbed ex-Hatter Rossi Jarvis in the centre of midfield and fed Gray who ran at the defence and finished confidently with a low drive into the bottom left corner.
Undeterred the U’s continued to press and were presented with a great chance when Kovacs was penalised for a foul on the edge of the area and booked at the same time.
James Jennings’ curled his free-kick past the wall but Mark Tyler did well to turn it round the post.
In a hugely lively opening the Hatters then spurned a glorious chance to make it 2-0. Fleetwood cut in from the right and, as he skipped into the box, Ricky Wellard could only bring him down and referee Wayne Barratt pointed to the spot and booked the midfielder in the process.
Fleetwood dusted himself down but could only fire his spot-kick against the bar and, as it bounced down and out, Jon Shaw could only head the rebound over.
But disaster struck on 17 minutes when Lawless was caught by a forceful sliding tackle and was unable to get back to his feet. The severity of the injury quickly became apparent as his leg was placed in a splint and he was stretchered from the field with Town’s supporters chanting the name of the consistent midfielder.
He was replaced by youngster Matt Robinson and Luton almost scored a second on 21 minutes when Gray again cut in from the right, but Mendy was unable to turn home Jon Shaw’s backheel flick as Matt Robinson eventually drilled wide.
Chants of ‘Money out’ rang out from the wags in the away terracing, but the U’s threatened again on 27 minutes when a swift break saw Jonathan Thorpe whip a lovely cross into the box and Ronnie Henry did just enough to put Tom Elliott off as he headed over the bar.
Cambridge produced another swift break from a Luton corner but Henry again did superbly to thwart Pugh from Thorpe’s dangerous low cross. Thorpe though was also injured by Jon Shaw’s challenge and he was helped from the field as Scott Garner came on in his place.
Lathaniel Rowe-Turner did well to block Luke Berry’s effort from Elliott’s chest down, while Gray almost got in behind seconds later but Garner recovered in time.
From the half-cleared corner Matt Robinson initially miskicked his effort, but it fell kindly for him and his venomous drive was well beaten away by the keeper.
Fleetwood allowed Jennings to beat him far too easily on 39 minutes, but his cross was headed over by Elliott.
Rory McAuley was booked for a rash tackle on Jake Howells as five minutes of injury time were added, while Mendy was then yellow carded in stoppage time for a nonsensical lunge.
And Cambridge should have levelled three minutes in when a corner picked Berry out but he was unable to connect properly and slipped as the ball fell at his feet just a couple of yards out.
Michael Gash came on for Pugh at the break but it was the Hatters who created the first chance when good interplay between Jon Shaw and JJ O’Donnell saw Fleetwood fire in a cross and Gray was just unable to connect.
Town were then given a reprieve on 49 minutes when Kovacs fouled Berry on the edge of the box and the giant Hungarian was lucky not to be given a second yellow card. Jennings and Jarvis hovered over the set-piece and it was eventually Jennings’ left foot which curled just wide.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first with both looking to play football and U’s substitute Tom Shaw almost made an instant impact on 62 minutes.
Gash’s brilliantly-flighted curler from 25 yards beat Tyler, but rebounded off the far post into the path of Tom Shaw who could only contrive to put the ball over with the goal at his mercy.
With Luton lying deeper and deeper they were lucky to escape again on 68 minutes when they struggled to clear a dangerous cross and Tom Shaw side-footed a good chance just wide.
McAuley on the overlap was causing all kinds of problems and Henry did brilliantly to cut out a dangerous cross in a crowded box as Town netted a second moments later to seal victory.
Gray burst over half the pitch down the right and beat two men in the process before pulling the ball back for Jon Shaw to fire Luton into a 2-0 lead on 71 minutes.
Luton looked to shut up shop as they brought on Dean Beckwith for Fleetwood two minutes later and almost had a third thanks to a defensive mix-up on 76 minutes.
Hesitation allowed Jon Shaw to close down keeper Jonathan Hedge’s clearance and he cleverly lobbed back over the stranded keeper but Garner got back to clear off the line.
Going for broke Cambridge poured forward in numbers, enabling Gray to stretch his legs as he threatened every time Town countered.
Professional Town proceeded to strangle the life out of the game by playing keep-ball with training ground triangles of passing frustrating the home side.
Tom Shaw almost got in behind but was flagged offside before Town were again indebted to Tyler in the last minute. First he did brilliantly to touch Gash’s 25-yard free-kick on to the post and as the ball was turned back into the box Tyler saved superbly with his legs to deny Elliott’s close-range shot.
Five minutes of stoppage time were added and the Hatters comfortably saw it out to book their place in the next round.
U’s (4-3-3): Jonathan Hedge, James Jennings, Josh Coulson, Ricky Wellard (Tom Shaw 62), Tom Elliott, Rory McAuley (C), Andy Pugh (Michael Gash 46), Rossi Jarvis, Luke Berry, Jonathan Thorpe (Scott Garner 32), Sam Smith. Substitutes not used: Harrison Dunk, Liam Hughes, Robbie Willmott, Craig Ross.
Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Janos Kovacs, Alex Lawless (Matt Robinson 20), Jon Shaw, Jake Howells, Stuart Fleetwood (Dean Beckwith 73), Arnaud Mendy, JJ O’Donnell, Ronnie Henry (C), Andre Gray (Jake Robinson 90+1). Substitutes not used: Alex Lacey, Jake Woolley, Dan Walker, Dean Brill.
Bookings: Kovacs 8; Wellard 10; McAuley 41; Mendy 45+2.
Referee: Wayne Barratt.
Assistant Referees: Craig Taylor and Michael D’Aguilar.
Fourth Official: Ellis Clark.
Attendance: 2,321 (Luton 601).
Star Hatter: Ronnie Henry. Important interventions made sure the Haters kept a clean sheet.