Luton Town were knocked out of the FA Women’s Premier League Plate after a cruel 2-1 semi-final defeat to Fylde Ladies at Stockwood Park on Sunday.
The Hatters took to the field in confident mood against their opponents from the Northern Premier League, one step above themselves, having knocked out higher level teams in previous rounds.
Early on, the home side had weathered some pressure, but they did that and went close to an opener, Natasha Fensome’s effort flashing just wide of the post.
Midway through the half, Hatters got the goal they deserved when Nicola Henman headed home an Erica Byron corner.
It remained 1-0 until half time, as some excellent defending and game management from Luton saw them swap ends ahead.
In the second period, the Hatters changed their shape slightly, but kept tight at the back, frustrating their opponents.
Fylde had their best chance of the game just after the hour mark when they went clean through on keeper Kezia Hassall only to shoot wide.
Fensome almost added a second only to see her effort creep wide of the target.
She then had a magnificent chance to put Luton through to the final, racing away from the last defender, only to see her close range effort deflected over the bar by the keeper.
This gave the away side hope and a shot at the other end looked like it was heading goalwards, until Rachel Carter produced a superb block.
With seven minutes left and Town down to 10 men for the set-piece whilst Carter received treatment and was refused to be allowed to come back on, Fylde took full advantage.
The corner was originally cleared, but a close range shot crept just past the diving Hassall.
This gave Fylde the momentum they needed and minutes later, on the cusp of 90 minutes, they took an undeserved lead, as Hassall was beaten from 20 yards.
There was still time for one more set-piece from the Town in the dying seconds, but Jo Rutherford’s corner smashed against the post before the referee blew for full time.
After the game, Town’s goalscorer Henman said: “It was a terrific performance from all of us.
“I am devastated to lose, but to hold a team from the league above for 85 minutes shows how far this squad has come this season.”
Fylde will play West Ham United in the final.
Town are back in FA Women’s Premier League action next weekend where they travel to Norwich City.