Gutsy Town sunk by Lambert magic
FA Cup third round
Southampton 1 (1) Luton Town 0 (0)
A gutsy second half performance from the Hatters failed to get its reward as a wonderful free-kick from Rickie Lambert sent them crashing out of the FA Cup.
In-form League One side Southampton dominated the first half without creating too many chance, but it was Lambert's prodigious free-kick ability that proved to be the difference.
Having had one superb effort pushed away he curled a second delightfully into the top corner.
But it was a completely different match after the break with Luton taking the game to their hosts who sit 42 places above them in the league structure.
And but for two painful misses from Adam Newton and substitute Mark Nwokeji the Hatters would have been in the hat for the fourth round draw.
Town made three changes from the team that beat Eastbourne Borough 4-1 in the Blue Square Premier on Saturday.
Striker Matthew Barnes-Homer was cup-tied, Keith Keane was ruled out with a calf injury and Claude Gnakpa dropped to the bench, so in came Ed Asafu-Adjaye at right-back, Shane Blackett at centre-half and and Asa Hall in the centre of midfield.
Manager Richard Money also named 17-year-old centre-half Alex Lacey on the bench for the first ever time and fellow youngsters Jordan Patrick and Adam Watkins as he took full advantage of the seven substitutes allowed.
Southampton, meanwhile, named both former Hatters in their ranks in their starting 11, with Kelvin Davis playing in goal and Chris Perry at centre-half.
The visitors made a lively opening with Tom Craddock twice getting in behind Saints' defence in the first few minutes. His first cross drifted just out of play while his second was pushed away by Davis with Kevin Gallen lurking at the far post.
Saints, though, looked fluid going forward and twice threatened in quick succession before 10 had gone. Million pound man Lambert's clever flick ran invitingly across the box with now Southampton man on hand to fire home.
Papa Waigo N'Diaye then got a decent cross in and Adam Lallana's effort was easily saved by Kevin Pilkington.
The home side were enjoying much of the play but didn't create a clear cut chance until midway through the half when on-loan Reading winger Michail Antonio superbly turned Jake Howells, only to see his low drive pushed away by Kevin Pilkington with Luton's defenders clearing the danger.
Luton's on-loan stopper then had to be at his very best on 25 minutes to keep the scores level. Asafu-Adjaye's untidy tackle on Lallana had earned him a yellow card but no danger looked imminent when Lambert lined up his free-kick at least 30 yards from goal. But his powerful strike looked destined for the top left-hand corner until Kevin Pilkington flung himself across his goal to his effort wide.
Southampton continued to turn the screw and should have scored from a 28th-minutes corner when skipper Dean Hammond poked goalwards. With the ball ratting around in the six yard box Town's defenders somehow managed to keep it out with Kevin Nicholls eventually hoofing the ball off the line.
The action quickly swung back and forth with Kevin Gallen sending a free header tamely at Davis and Papa Waigo heading over the bar at the other end.
Saints pressure, though, eventually told on 36 minutes when the hosts were awarded the softest of free-kick for a foul by Nicholls. Again it was Lambert who sized up the opportunity, but this time he curled his effort beautifully into the top right-hand corner leaving Kevin Pilkington with no chance.
This seemed to wake the Hatters from their slumber and they almost equalised with three minutes of the half left. Hall's pass dissected Saints back line and Rossi Jarvis' venomous effort was beaten away by Davis.
Luton then survived a late shout for a penalty when the ball rebounded on to Asafu-Adjaye's hand in the box, but referee Gavin Ward waved away the appeals for a penalty as Southampton led 1-0 at the break.
Town made two substitutions at the break in a bid to reinvigorate proceedings with Nwokeji and Claude Gnakpa coming on for Gallen and Nicholls.
But it was the Saints who almost scored again, with Antonio twice going close in under a minute. The winger was presented with a clear run on goal after just 12 seconds, but fired straight at Kevin Pilkington. The hosts then whipped in a great cross seconds later with one man missing out in the centre and Antonio skewing wide at the far post.
With just one goal in it, though, Town always had a chance and almost made the breakthrough on 50 minutes when, after Nwokeji's effort had been blocked, Hall blasted goalwards only for Davis to beat his effort away.
Buoyed by the substitutions Town proceeded to take the game to their hosts and twice should have levelled in a matter of seconds on 57 minutes. Noweki and Gnakpa combined superbly on the right and the Frenchman's cross was deflected straight into the path of Newton at the far post, but the winger somehow fluffed his effort with the goal gaping.
Newton, though, retrieved the ball and teed up Nwokeji in the box, but the lively on-loan Dagenham & Redbridge striker scuffed his shot wide when he should have buried the chance.
The action continued to come thick and fast and Craddock fired in a great cross on 66 minutes, but Nwokeji was just unable to turn in the six-yard box.
The introduction of Matt Paterson game Southampton some renewed impetus and he showed some lovely touches to beat George Pilkington and tee up Lambert a minute later but the goalscorer could only fire over.
Money had his last throw of the dice with 17 minute left, giving 17-year-old midfielder Watkins his debut in place of Newton.
A quick free-kick by Hall with 13 minutes left set Craddock free, but his cross/shot drifted right across goal and out for a goal-kick.
With Luton now on the front foot, Southampton almost caught them on the break seconds later. Blackett's mistake was seized on by Paterson but his low drive was just to fine.
Morgan Schneiderlin then headed at Kevin Pilkington as the home sides began to reassert themselves.
With a draw no good Town continued to give their travelling army of supporters hope. Craddock took just too long after racing on to Hall's pass, while Gnakpa's header dropped agonisingly over after a deep Town free-kick had caused all kinds of problems in the Saints defence.
The impressive Asafu-Adjaye produced a great block to deny Southampton at the other end, while a sizzling Gnakpa effort flew just over with four minutes left.
With four minute injury time to be played Lallana slammed well wide before straggling the life out of the game.
Saints: Kelvin Davis, Lloyd James, Chris Perry, Wayne Thomas, Dan Harding, Michail Antonio (Matt Paterson 65), Morgan Schneiderlin, Dean Hammond (C, Olly Lancashire 90+2), Adam Lallana, Papa Waigo N'Diaye (Oscar Gorbern 87), Rickie Lambert. Substitutes not used: Bartosz Bialkowski, Paul Wotton, Lee Holmes, Joseph Mills.
Hatters: Kevin Pilkington, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Jake Howells, George Pilkington, Shane Blackett, Kevin Nicholls (C, Claude Gnakpa 46), Asa Hall, Rossi Jarvis, Adam Newton (Adam Watkins 73), Tom Craddock, Kevin Gallen (Mark Nwokeji 46). Substitutes not used: Shane Gore, Jordan Patrick, Alex Lacey, Alan White.
Referee: Gavin Ward.
Assistant referees: Mark Scholes and Brendan Malone.
Fourth official: Kevin Johnson.
Booked: Ed Asafu-Adjaye 24; Morgan Schneiderlin 83.
Attendance: 18,786 (3,017).
Star Hatter: Ed Asafu-Adjaye. Town have miss the balance and composure he brings to the side.