Controversial winner denies Hatters in Wembley finale

Blue Square Bet Premier Play-Off Final: Luton Town 1 (1) York City 2 (1)

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 20th May 2012, 7:36 pm

A DREAM start game way to a nightmare finish as Town succumbed to a controversial 2-1 defeat against York at Wembley this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.

Andre Gray’s predatory strike with little more than a minute on the clock had given the Hatters the ideal start, but City levelled before the break through Ashley Chambers’ cracker.

And York scored what turned out to be the winner early in the second half when the offside Matt Blair nipped on to a long throw to force the ball past Mark Tyler.

Town pressed for much of the second half but just couldn’t force an equaliser as they came up short in the play-off final for a second year running.

The only changes for Luton came on the bench where Aaron O’Connor and John Paul Kissock replaced Greg Taylor and Amari Morgan-Smith.

York made one alteration to their side that had squeezed past Mansfield Town in their semi-final, Chris Doig coming in for Patrick McLaughlin who dropped to the bench.

Flame machines greeted the entrance of both teams to the pitch as a sea of orange and white dominated the Wembley vista.

Both teams gathered in huddles before the kick-off and Town made a dream start as they took the lead after just 1.15mins. Robbie Willmott darted down the left and his clever pass was perfect for Gray who opened up his body to side-foot past Michael Ingham as Luton’s fans exploded with delight.

A Gray dash threatened and ex-City man Alex Lawless dragged an effort wide on seven minutes as Town maintained their bright start.

Luton won good ball in the middle to release Adam Watkins but the sting was taken out of his effort by Doig, while Willmott whistled well wide.

York, who always looked dangerous going forward went close on 10 minutes when maligned ex-Hatter Jason Walker got to the byline and picked out Lanre Oyebanjo but he poked wide.

An unnecessary foul by Keith Keane on James Meredith gave away a needless free-kick and the delivery into the box was headed out by George Pilkington as far as Jon Challinor whose fierce volley was superbly turned over the bar by Lawless.

And as the ball again ricocheted into the Luton box Town survived shouts of handball when Jake Howells went to clear and the ball rebounded unintentionally off his arm and out.

Behind York started to boss possession and went mightily close to an equaliser on 16 minutes when a cross picked out Walker who outjumped ex-Minerstman Janos Kovas and Tyler had to be at his best to turn the ball over the bar.

Having weathered a spell of City dominance the Hatters crafted a lovely move on 23minutes when Keane and Howells combined to tee up Gray but his shot was deflected past the post, with Stuart Fleetwood firing a wayward effort well wide of the mark.

A clumsy Pilkington challenge on Challinor gifted the Minstermen a dubious free-kick in a good position and when the ball was put back into the box by Chris Smith, Chambers was on hand to ram home the 26th-minute equaliser.

An interception by Howells saw him fire wide on 34 minutes as an entertaining affair continued to see both sides create chances.

Miscommunication between Kovacs and Tyler almost saw Meredith nip in, while good football from Luton at the other end saw York survive shouts of handball from Howells’ cross before Watkins waltzed into the box but his tame effort was easily saved by Ingham.

The lively Gray again created space five minutes before the break and his shot was spilled by Ingham but City were able to hack behind with Watkins lurking.

Blair then superbly turned Kovacs with two minutes to go and cut inside, but strangely chose to cross as Pilkington was able to block and Tyler fell on the loose ball.

Luton broke at pace in stoppage time but Lawless could only thunder straight at Ingham from range while a lame Fleetwood effort was also no trouble for the keeper.

And York made a dream start to the second half with the most controversial of goals when a long throw was flicked on at the near post and Blair, more than a yard offside, was on hand to turn the ball past Tyler with just 1.10mins on the clock.

Seconds later Chambers tried to slip the shackles but he was correctly flagged offside.

Howells and Willmott linked well five minutes in, but the latter’s dangerous cross was cut out with Fleetwood lurking at the far post.

York’s long throws were causing Luton all kinds of problems while a Meredith header landed on the roof of the net when Town failed to properly clear a corner, while a Blair pull-back allowed to run across the face of an open goal with no takers.

Howells warmed Ingham’s gloves from range before Town made a double change on 61 minutes, Kissock replacing Watkins and Craig McAllister coming on for Fleetwood.

Lawless was booked for a late lunge on Walker who almost then muscled his way past Pilkington.

Chambers tormented Town’s defence before rolling a weak effort too close to Tyler on 67 minutes, while Kissock’s shot never troubled the keeper moments later.

York seemed happy to try and contain the Hatters and hit them on the break and Town were desperately unlucky not to level on 71 minutes. Gray forced his way into the box and hung it up to the back post where McAllister was just beaten to it by Oyebanjo, leaving McAllister with a cut head.

With time running out Luton could take no chances and brought on Aaron O’Connor in his place as Luton were cruelly denied again when Gray made a nuisance of himself in the box and twice fly-hacked at the ball as he couldn’t get a shot away from just a few yards out.

Curtis Osano and O’Connor cut York apart on the right but the latter’s pull-back aimed for Gray was cut out as Town continually seemed to be on the wrong side of the officials’ call.

Inside the last 10 minutes and Town continued to pour forward. Osano danced into the box and his cross-shot was pawed into the air by Inghan and as Kissock desperately tried to force the ball home he was denied by Oyebanjo as he was left with a bloodied nose for his efforts.

Walker brushed the side netting with a free-kick as the unbowed Kissock returned to the field.

Town became more and more desperate in their attempts to find an equaliser. Willmott waltzed along the edge of the area before firing over as four minutes of injury time were added.

On the turn O’Connor lofted wastefully over and Keane drilled wide in stoppage time as York booked their return to the Football League as Luton missed out at the final hurdle for the second year running.

Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Keith Keane, George Pilkington (C), Alex Lawless, Robbie Willmott, Stuart Fleetwood (Craig McAllister 61, Aaron O’Connor 73), Jake Howells, Curtis Osano, Andre Gray, Adam Watkins (John Paul Kissock 61), Janos Kovacs. Substitutes not used: Dan Gleeson, Shane Blackett.

Minstermen (4-3-3): Michael Ingham, Lanre Oyebanjo, James Meredith, Chris Smith (C), Daniel Parslow, Jason Walker (Patrick McLaughlin 85), Ashley Chambers (Jamie Reed 78), Matty Blair, Jon Challinor (Scott Brown 37), Chris Doig, Ben Gibson. Substitutes not used: Paul Musselwhite, Adriano Moke.

Bookings: Lawless 62; Gibson 87.

Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire).

Assistant Referees: Glen Hart (County Durham) and Adam Matthews (Gloucestershire).

Fourth Official: Tony Harrington (Cleveland).

Attendance: 39,265.

Star Hatter: Andre Gray. Gave Town the lead and was a constant threat.