Hard working Hatters battle past Lion-hearted Guiseley
Guiseley AFC 0 (0) Luton Town 1 (0)
A CLASSY finish from Matthew Barnes-Homer carried the Hatters into the semi-finals of the FA Trophy with a battling 1-0 victory at Nethermoor Park this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
Gutsy Guiseley easily gave as good as they got throughout but came up just short as a rare moment of quality won the day for Luton and brought them within striking distance of Wembley.
The result was harsh on the Blue Square North high-fliers who had their opportunities, but the half time introduction of Danny Crow ultimately proved decisive and gave Town the edge they needed to scrape through.
With Wembley in their sights the Hatters made six changes from the team that drew 1-1 at Newport County last Friday in the league, but they still named a massively strong side for the encounter.
Kevin Pilkington was preferred in goal to Mark Tyler with Luke Graham replacing the injured Dan Gleeson at right-back.
Amari Morgan-Smith, Alex Lawless and Jake Howells came into the midfield with Barnes-Homer partnering Jason Walker in attack.
The Blue Square North high-fliers started brightly and, from a good advantage played by the referee, Warren Peyton’s deft chip dropped agonisingly just over.
Strong tackles from the Lions flew in from the start and only a fine last-ditch tackle from Zdenek Kroca prevented James Walshaw a run on goal on 11 minutes.
Injury forced Lawless off seconds later as he was replaced by Claude Gnakpa and the game continued at a frenetic pace, high on endeavour but low on quality.
Both teams tried to play football on a pitch that was cutting up because of the recent heavy rain and Keith Keane’s long pass released Barnes-Homer on the left on 24 minutes but his centre was cut out with Walker lurking in the box.
And Guiseley had a great chance to break the deadlock moments later when Walshaw was allowed too much time and space in the box and Joe O’Neill was inches away from connecting with his driven across goal.
Set pieces and long throws seemed one of the most likely ways to break the deadlock with Freddie Murray taking responsibility for Luton’s long chucks.
Barnes-Homer found room on the right just after the half hour and his dangerous cross was almost turned into his own net Danny Ellis.
Having been on the back foot for most of the half Town almost snatched the lead on 35 minutes. Morgan-Smith created room outside the box and his curler was palmed away by Steven Drench. Gnakpa was lurking at the back post but Drench recovered well to save his first-time effort from the rebound.
Lively Guiseley striker Walshaw then twice went close to breaking the deadlock with two minutes of the half left. First he fired a powerful long range free-kick straight at Kevin Pilkington before a mistake by namesake George let him in again seconds later but the Luton stopper was again on hand to save.
Mistakes struck from the start of the second half as Town struggled to keep Guiseley at bay.
At the other end Barnes-Homer and half-time substitute Crow combined well with the former’s cross being cleared behind.
And Town snatched the lead five minutes in with a fine move. Morgan-Smith bravely won the ball on the halfway line and Crow beat his man before unselfishly slipping Barnes-Homer through who finished aplomb.
Murray fired a rare speculative effort well wide before, with the keeper well out of his ground, Crow sent an opportunistic chip just over.
Buoyed by that goal the Hatters continued to press with Barnes-Homer and Morgan-Smith linking well and Howells having a ferocious drive well blocked.
There was small hold-up on 63 minutes while an injured linesman was replaced by the fourth official, before Peyton let fly with another bazooka of a free-kick that flew just wide.
Kroca sent a weak header straight at Drench before more good work by Crow released Barnes-Homer who teed up Howells, but he could only side-foot tamely at Drench.
Some hesitant Luton defending allowed Peyton another crack at goal with 13 minutes to go, but his fine effort was too central and Kevin Pilkington tipped over with O’Neill heading the subsequent corner just wide.
Game Guiseley pushed for the equaliser with Luton looking shuddery at the back before another rare moment in football arrived on 84 minutes. Keane and Danny Boshell challenged for the ball in the middle, causing the ball to pop before being replaced.
Howells saw a looping header easily saved and Peyton fire well over before the Lions were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Walshaw seemed to tumble under Graham’s challenge while Luke Sharry had a follow up well blocked by Kroca.
Sharry then whipped in a dangerous cross that Walshaw was just unable to head home with a minute left as Town eased through the remaining minutes to claim victory.
Lions (4-3-3): Steven Drench, Ryan Toulson (Luke Sharry 83), Dave Merris, Warren Peyton, Danny Ellis, Simon Ainge (C), Gavin Rothery (Darryn Stamp 79), Danny Boshell, Joe O’Neill (Danny Forrest 80), James Walshaw, Liam Needham. Substitutes not used: Jake McEneaney.
Hatters (4-4-2): Kevin Pilkington, Freddie Murray, Luke Graham, George Pilkington (C), Amari Morgan-Smith (Godfrey Poku 60), Matthew Barnes-Homer, Zdenek Kroca, Alex Lawless (Claude Gnakpa 12), Jake Howells, Jason Walker (Danny Crow 46), Keith Keane. Substitutes not used: Mark Tyler, JJ O’Donnell.
Bookings: Toulson 38; Needham 60.
Referee: Stephen Martin.
Assistant referees: Alix Pashley and Anthony Moore.
Star Hatter: Keith Keane. Titan in the middle for Town when they needed a ball winner.