FA Cup, first round: Luton Town 1 (0) Nuneaton Town 1 (1)
Luton ensured their name would be in the hat for the second round draw of the FA Cup as they snatched a late equaliser at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
Scott Rendell’s header with six minutes to go cancelled out Tyrell Waite’s first half goal for the visitors as Town laboured against the Conference’s bottom club in a scrappy encounter.
With Simon Ainge cup-tied Town were forced into two changes from the side that triumphed 2-1 at title rivals Forest Green Rovers last week. JJ O’Donnell came back into midfield as the back four was re-jigged, while there was also a last-minute change as Dan Walker started in place of Jon Shaw.
Adam Watkins returned on the bench following the end of his loan spell at Kidderminster and youngster Brett Longden was named amongst the subs.
There was also a surprise recall to the squad for long-term injury concern James Dance, who was named among the seven subs after recovering from his ankle woes.
Town declined to risk matchwinner Alex Lawless who proved the difference between the two sides when they met at Kenilworth Road three weeks ago in Luton’s last home game, while fit-again Mark Tyler had to make do with a place on the bench despite recovering from a troublesome back problem as Dean Brill kept his place in goal.
The Hatters had their first effort inside 30 seconds when Dan Walker’s cross reached Stuart Fleetwood at the far post, but Town’s top scorer could only drag wide. Waite almost got the wrong side of Janos Kovacs on six minutes before Town crafted a real opportunity two minutes later. Rendell timed his run perfectly to latch on to Lathaniel Rowe-Turner’s ball as a defender missed his clearance, but keeper Ben McNamara was quickly out of his ground to block as Rendell looked dink it past him.
An Andre Gray firecracker whizzed over the bar on 10 minutes and two minutes later O’Donnell surged into the box and his cross seemed to hit Boro captain Gaz Dean’s arm, only for referee R Whitton to wave away Town’s appeals for a penalty.
Rendell tried his luck from range as Luton continued to dominate with the visitors looking to hit them on the break. And that tactic almost paid off on 15 minutes as Simon Forsdick jinked his way along on the edge of the box but Brill saved confidently.
Jake Howells’ inswinging corner had to be tipped over the bar by the keeper on 18 minues, while Kovacs took a heavy tumble as he looked to head the subsequent corner back across goal.
And Boro grabbed the lead against the run of play on 19 minutes when the referee played a good advantage as Town target Adam Walker made tracks down the left.
His cross was turned on to the far post by Danny Sleath for the unmarked Waite to tap home as Town’s apoplectic defence appealed for offside.
Luton looked to respond as Ronnie Henry’s good run down the right found Rendell but his heavily-deflected effort was straight at the keeper and O’Donnell curled a well-placed free-kick wastefully over as Town lost the plot for a time.
A deep free-kick then dropped to Howells on 31 minutes who brilliantly nutmegged on-loan defender Kevin Malaga but his brutal shot was well blocked by Forsdick.
Town continued to press but Henry’s shot was straight at the keeper on 34 minutes and a half-cleared ball was then driven back in by O’Donnell but McNamara was equal to it.
Adam Walker was a constant menace down the right for the Hatters and Adam Walker had to clear off the line for Boro on 37 minutes when Howells’ corner was headed back across goal and Arnaud Mendy’s knockdown was hacked off the line.
The visitors twice went close to extending their lead in the last five minutes of the half. First Brill brilliantly came rushing out to deny Adam Walker from point-blank range and seconds later Waite found room on the edge of the box and Brill did just enough to save as the ball squirmed away from him and behind for a corner.
Tom James was then lucky not to get himself a second booking as the ref gave him a final warning for a trip on Gray on halfway on the stroke of half time.
James Armson replaced David McNamee for the visitors at the break and they seemed to be coping better on a divoted and slow pitch.
Adam Walker’s hugely deflected free-kick almost wrong-footed Brill while Fleetwood was harshly flagged offside as he raced on to Mendy’s through-ball thanks to Gray’s dummy.
And the linesman’s flag controversially denied the Town again seconds later as Gray’s pass looked to have put Fleetwood through.
Gray was thwarted by a superb Dean tackle as he looked to race on to Dan Walker’s pass as Town finally started to turn the screw.
Rendell was millimetres away from connecting with Howells’ near-post corner as McNamara punched clear.
With 15 minutes to go O’Donnell flashed wide before Town finally snatched an equalised with six minutes to go when Howells’ free-kick picked out Rendell at the far post who nodded home the leveller.
A hopeful and wayward cross by substitute Jake Robinson was almost spilled by the keeper as both teams pushed for a winner but neither could find one as the teams will have to it all over again in a replay at Liberty Way on Tuesday, November 13.
Hatters (4-3-3): Dean Brill, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner (Jake Robinson 70), Janos Kovacs, Dan Walker, Scott Rendell, Jake Howells, Stuart Fleetwood (Adam Watkins 83), Arnaud Mendy, JJ O’Donnell, Ronnie Henry (C), Andre Gray. Substitutes not used: Mark Tyler, James Dance, Matt Robinson, Brett Longden, Alex Lacey.
Boro (5-3-2): Ben McNamara, Kevin Malaga, Gavin Cowan, Gaz Dean (C), Adam Walker, Andy Brown, Danny Sleath, Simon Forsdick, Tom James, David McNamee (James Armson 46), Tyrell Waite (Connor Taylor 72). Substitutes not used: Wes York, Delroy Gordon, Robbie Thompson-Brown, Stephen O’Halloran.
Bookings: James 30; Armson 71.
Referee: R Whitton.
Assistant Referees: G Kane and S Finch.
Fourth Official: G Kinnear.
Star Hatter: Jake Howells. Calmest head and tidiest Hatter on a poor afternoon.
Attendance: 3,089 (Nuneaton 355).