Cornick: This is the year to end Luton Town's play-off hoodoo

Hatters have never ended up winning the play-offs

By Mike Simmonds
Friday, 13th May 2022, 6:30 am
Amari'i Bell celebrates reaching the play-offs on Saturday
Amari'i Bell celebrates reaching the play-offs on Saturday

Attacker Harry Cornick firmly believes this year is the year for the Hatters to finally end their play-off hoodoo and in turn, reach the Premier League.

A 1-0 victory over Reading at the weekend saw Town cement their place in the top six as they now face a two-legged semi-final against Huddersfield Town starting at Kenilworth Road on Friday evening, the away game at the John Smith’s Stadium on Monday night.

Luton have been in the play-offs five times in their history, only for it to sadly end in heartbreak each time.

Their first taste of an extended campaign came back in the 1996-97 Division Two season, when the Hatters took on Crewe Alexandra, who they had hammered 6-0 on home soil during the regular term.

Town took an early lead in the away leg through David Oldfield on three minutes, but were pegged back in the second half.

Julian James was then sent off just before the hour, as Colin Little scored to give the Alex a 2-1 victory.

The home leg then saw Oldfield net twice in the opening 30 minutes, putting his side 3-2 ahead on aggregate.

Little replied immediately again though, and after the break, Shaun Smith found the net, as the visitors went through 4-3 overall.

It took Luton another 13 years to feature in the play-offs, this time coming after they had dropped into non-league, as they went up against York City in 2010.

A 1-0 defeat at Bootham Crescent, was followed by Town also losing 1-0 at home to the Minstermen, Adam Newton dismissed late on.

The following year saw the Hatters finally get through the semi-final stage as they hammered Wrexham 3-0 away, with Alex Lawless, Claude Gnakpa and Ed Asafu-Adjaye scoring to blow the Welsh side away in the first period.

The second leg was a nervy affair, Andy Mangan netting early on, but Gareth Taylor's penalty was saved by Mark Tyler, before Zdenek Kroca levelled, and then Jason Walker scored late in the day to win it 2-1.

However, Walker was then the villain in the play-off final against AFC Wimbledon at Manchester City, as after his header in extra time stoppage time hit the post, he and Lawless missed from the spot in the shoot-out as the Dons went through.

In 2011-12, Luton Town reached the final again, this time held at Wembley, as they faced Wrexham once more.

Andre Gray and Stuart Fleetwood scored in a 2-0 victory in Bedfordshire, before they appeared to be home and dry when George Pilkington netted a penalty at the Racecourse Stadium.

Second half goals from Adrian Cieslewicz and Andy Morrell made it a increasingly tense affair, but Luton managed to dig in and hold on.

The final against York got off to the perfect start, Gray scoring on two minutes, only for Ashley Chambers to level and then a blatantly offside Matty Blair poked home the winner in the second half.

Luton’s most recent play-off experience was another gutting one as in May 2017 they went to Blackpool having beaten the Tangerines twice in the League Two season, losing 3-2 at Bloomfield Road, former striker Mark Cullen with a hat-trick.

The second leg then saw Town 3-1 in front, an own goal, Scott Cuthbert and Danny Hylton’s penalty ensuring Luton had one foot in the final.

Late on, an error from keeper Stuart Moore, who came for a cross he had no need to, saw the Tangerines level on aggregate, as he then deflected Jordan Cook’s clearance into his own net with the final kick, the Hatters edged out at a stunned Kenilworth Road.

However, five years on, and with the biggest prize in football awaiting them, it would now be the perfect time to end those five previous crushing disappointments, as Cornick said: “I’ve not looked at the Luton play-offs, I’ve been here five years, no play-offs, this year is the one, I really believe that.

“We’ll make sure we’re right at it and it's a massive game Friday, let's make sure the fans are up for it.”

Meanwhile, Hatters chief Nathan Jones, who has ended a number of lengthy hoodoos already this year, such as winning at Millwall and Stoke, plus defeating Barnsley on home soil, added: “I don’t really care about the stat, I’d just like to get to the Premier League and whatever we do along the way is fine.

"The goal first and foremost is to win a game and then go from there.

"We won’t look towards getting to the Premier League or the final, or winning the final, because first and foremost, we have to do a job, as if we don’t do a job then everything becomes more difficult.”