Final defeat for Hatters youngsters
European glory narrowly averted Luton Town's U15s as they lost in the final of the Cordial Cup to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria recently.
The competition featured European giants including Bayern Munich, Dynamo Kiev and Kaiserslautern and the young Hatters once again punched above their weight in the 40-team tournament.
Based close to the England squad in the exclusive mountain resort of Kitbuhel, Luton had two days of high altitude training to prepare for the tournament and finished the first day on top of Group E, winning all five group games.
The last 16 saw Luton face tough opposition against the Swiss side St Gallen. There was a strong team performance, which was topped off by wonderful individual goals from Charlie Smith and Brett Longden, as Luton won the game 2-0.
The opposition for the quarter-finals were German club SpVgg Unterhaching and another solid performance saw Luton win 2-1.
The semi-finals saw Luton take on French side FC Sochaux and, despite a dominating performance, Luton were unable to take any of the chances they created and the game went to penalties.
But keeper Ben McFarlane-Barnes was the hero, saving two spot-kicks, allowing Jordan Davis to step up and score the winner.
The final was played at the Kirchberg stadium with a dramatic Alpine backdrop in front of 3,000 spectators. Salzburg, the reigning Austrian champions, started brightly and Luton conceded two goals in the first five minutes.
With the Austrian left winger continuing to terrorise the Luton defence, a third goal looked imminent but it was the Hatters who came closest with Tinashe Chabata heading over from a corner.
The introduction of giant U14 striker Jemale McKenzie at half-time gave Luton an outlet and he brought Luton back into the game with a cool finish to make it 2-1.
It was now Luton in the ascendancy and McKenzie came close with two headers, before a defensive mistake gave Salzburg the crucial next goal. With Luton reverting to all out attack in order to reduce the deficit, the Austrians added a fourth goal on the break to finally kill off the young Hatters' hopes of a famous victory.
Despite their final disappointment, youth development officer Gregg Broughton was proud of the young Hatters.
He said: "We have great belief in this squad of players – Michael Cain, Cauley Woodrow and Charlie Smith have already signed scholarships – and should all be now targeting the U18 squad for next season.
"The whole group prepared immaculately off the pitch and gave everything over the four days.
"It was another opportunity to help the youngsters at Luton Town to understand what is needed mentally and physically to play at the highest level, and they all stepped up to the mark."
The team were also generously sponsored by the Loyal Luton Supporters Club, meaning that all of the players were able to travel for free of charge.
In the younger sections of the tournament, Luton's U13s came a creditable fifth out of 48 teams after losing to eventual winners Karlsruhe in the quarter-finals.
The U11s managed to beat German giants Hamburg in a fantastic game, before eventually finishing 27th out of 48 teams.