Dominant Town ease into first round proper of the FA Cup
FA Cup, fourth qualifying round
Luton Town 3 (2) Grays Athletic 0 (0)
Experimental Luton put in an encouraging performance as they eased into the first round proper of the FA Cup with an easy 3-0 rout of innocuous Grays.
Luton's struggling Blue Square Premier rivals offered little on the day and were run ragged by classy Town who could have had many more goals on the day.
Shane Blackett got Luton up and running when he poached his first-ever goal for the club early in the first half before an own goal from Petar Rnkovic put Town in control at the break.
The hosts enjoyed plenty of other opportunities, but Asa Hall's second-half strike cemented victory and dominant Town were even able to introduce youth teamer Taylor Nathaniel for his debut late in the match.
With a flu bug running riot at Kenilworth Road caretaker boss Alan Neilson was forced into a number of changes, and opted for a number of others, for the visit of Grays Athletic in the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup.
Neilson made a total of five alterations to the team that drew 1-1 with York City at home on Tuesday night. Kevin Nicholls and Tom Craddock were both ruled out with flu, Ben Wright returned to Peterborough United after his month's loan, while Ed Asafu-Adjaye and Claude Gnakpa dropped to the bench.
In came the fit-again Andy Burgess on the left of midfield, Blackett at centre-half, with captain George Pilkington stepping forward to anchor the midfield, Callum Reynolds at right-back and Ryan Charles partnering the experienced Kevin Gallen in attack.
Town almost got off to a dream start in the fourth minute when Adam Newton's pass found Gallen in plenty of space on the edge of the box, but his sharp effort was deflected behind by former triallist Luton keeper Preston Edwards.
And the hosts went close again five minutes later with a lovely move that deserved a goal. Howells did well on the left-hand byline before pulling the ball back to Burgess. His cross picked out Adam Newton at the far post and his header down found Gallen, whose thumping volley was beaten away by Edwards.
But Luton's bright start got its just rewards seconds later when Blackett scored his first goal for the club. Pilkington's speculative effort from the edge of the box was only be pushed away by Edwards, and Blackett was on hand to poke the ball home from close range.
Howells almost got free in the box moments later, before the visitors enjoyed three decent opportunities. First Daniel Charge struck weakly at Mark Tyler, before Jamie Slabber almost twice levelled the scores with two beautiful bits of skills.
On the quarter of an hour mark, his mazy run proved too good for Hall and Blackett as he waltzed into the box before drilling just wide of Tyler's near post.
The shaggy-haired striker went close again three minutes later, but his swerving, dipping, long-ranger whistled just past the far post.
Grays' comeback, though, was short-lived, and Town continued to have the better of proceedings at a sparsely-packed Kenilworth Road.
Gallen and Burgess teamed up well on the left after 20 minutes and, when the returning winger's low cross got caught between Sam Cutler's legs Charles was on hand to stab goalwards, only to see Edwards turn his effort round the post.
A sizzling 25-yarder from Reynolds was then well turned over the bar by Edwards before Hall thumped well wide as Town began to turn the screw.
Veteran striker Gallen then wasted two gilt-edged opportunities to cement the Hatters' advantage.
Burgess' raking long pass released Charles on the right on 27 minutes and his pinpoint cross singled out Gallen in the box, but he could only head wastefully wide with the goal at his mercy.
Howells' pass then created another opening for Gallen moments later but, having got the ball out from under his feet, he could only spear his shot just wide of the left-hand upright.
More good work from Howells released Charles in the box, but again Edwards was just able to beat away his effort, with the rebound running unkindly for the young striker.
The first half was one-way traffic and, after Gallen had deflected Hall's goalbound effort over the bar, Town deservedly doubled their advantage seven minutes before the break.
Newton's first time pass put Charles away on the right and his dangerous low cross looked destined for Gallen lurking at the far post, only for Rnkovic to slide in before he could get there and turn the ball past the helpless Edwards.
Some haphazard Grays defending almost allowed Luton to make an ideal start to the second half when Charles' flick ran to Burgess in the box. His square ball eventually found Gallen, but substitute Billy Crowther did well to block his 48th-minute effort.
Hall was then thwarted twice in quick succession as the action continued to come thick and fast. First he saw an effort ruled out by the linesman's flag before curling against the right-hand post after he was teed up by Gallen.
At the other end Tyler furthered his claims to be the best keeper outside of the Championship with a brilliant low stop to deny Slabber on 50 minutes.
Tyler was then forced to make a comfortable save from Daryl Robson, but Grays' respite was brief, with Reynolds' header from Burgess' 65th-minute corner drifting agonisingly wide.
Howells and Gallen proceeded to set Hall up on the edge of the box, but his effort was straight down Edwards' throat.
With Luton well in control the game petered out as a contest and they were able to hand a debut to Nathaniel on the left of midfield, in place of Burgess, with 11 minutes left.
And Luton grabbed a classy third two minutes later. Reynolds and substitute Asafu-Adjaye started the move with some lovely composed passing at the back. Asafu-Adjaye's ball forward was chested into Hall's path by Charles, and he in turn found the onrushing Nathaniel on the left. The youngster's pass found Hall on the edge of the box, who was given plenty of time to plant his shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
In complete control, the hosts went close again with six minute left when Howells' corner was flicked on by Gallen at the near post but a reaching Gnakpa could only prod his header over the bar.
Slabber was just unable to get on a Glenn Poole cross in the dying moments, but Town had already done enough to ensure it would be their name in the hat for the next round.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Alan White (Ed Asafu-Adjaye 61), George Pilkington (C), Adam Newton (Claude Gnakpa 60), Andy Burgess (Taylor Nathaniel 79), Shane Blackett, Asa Hall, Jake Howells, Ryan Charles, Kevin Gallen, Callum Reynolds. Substitutes not used: Shane Gore, Jack Wood, Sam Barker.
Gravelmen: Preston Edwards, Gavin Hoyte (C (Billy Crowther 46), Daniel Charge, Jamie Slabber, Richard Graham, Sam Cutler (Daryl Robson 46), Kenny Davis, Craig Braham-Barrett (Thomas Pendergast 74), Glenn Poole, Petar Rnkovic, Danny Bunce. Substitutes not used: Callum Lashy, Harry Agumbar, Charlie Taylor, Tom Harvey.
Referee: S Long.
Assistant referees: J Steel and J Marin.
Fourth official: J Mellor.
Bookings: Kenny Davis 59; Daryl Robson 90+1.
Star Hatter: Jake Howells. An energetic and classy performance from the youngster.
Attendance: 2,721 (Grays 124).