Hatters' finishing proves the difference as Town eventually ease past impressive Sulphurites
FA Cup third round: Luton Town 4 Harrogate Town 0
Luton's superior finishing proved the difference as they eventually eased past League Two Harrogate in the FA Cup this afternoon, although it was nowhere near as easy as the final scoreline might suggest.
A late brace from Kal Naismith and Luke Berry added a real gloss to the tie, but had the Sulphurites made more of their numerous opportunities from wide areas, and had keeper James Shea not been in tiptop form for the hosts, it might have been an entirely different afternoon.
Following an enforced absence of 29 days due to Covid outbreaks, the Hatters made three changes from the team who drew 1-1 with Fulham in what seemed a lifetime ago, Cameron Jerome, Henri Lansbury and Carlos Mendes Gomes in for Admiral Muskwe, Allan Campbell and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu.
The visitors, 45 places below Luton in the pyramid, made a decent start to proceedings, looking lively, particularly when they got the ball wide, as Town took a while to shake off some of their obvious ring rust.
Leading marksman Elijah Adebayo demonstrated he had clearly lost none of his sharpness during the break, doing superbly to get in front of his man when picking up Jerome's flick-on from Shea's clearance.
Still with plenty to do, he did it with real class, turning sharply and from 20 yards, arrowed his 11th of the season into the bottom corner, no doubt putting a few more pounds on to his ever rising price tag.
Harrogate remained undaunted, a low shot by George Thomson gathered by Shea, who then lost footing when clearing, the impressive Huddersfield loanee Brahima Diarra unable to beat the retreating stopper from distance.
The Sulpuhrites remained in the ascendancy, with Kenilworth Road enveloped in a general Sunday afternoon malaise, Town fortunate to remain in front, as their League Two opponents were dictating things, repeatedly getting down the right to deliver a number of dangerous crosses.
A free kick conceded by Lansbury saw Thomson go for goal from 25 yards, missing the target by inches, as the visitors, with Ryan Fallowfield and Diarra to the fore, were beginning to dictate things, easily looking the better side.
Jerome had an opportunity to give Luton some breathing space, going for a spectacular volley inside the area, but got little contact, Oxley able to comfortably gather.
Town came out with a bit more intent for the second period, which was badly needed, Jerome and Adebayo linking well for the latter to shoot across goal.
Luton's fast start was rewarded on 50 minutes, Mendes Gomes spinning away inside the area and fashioning a drilled cross which was bundled over the line by Jerome for his first goal since August.
Town were almost immediately pegged back though, Lansbury giving the ball away and Luke Armstrong through on goal, but under pressure from Bradley and the onrushing Shea, he could only fire wide.
With five substitutes allowed in the FA Cup, boss Nathan Jones made his first on the hour, a welcome return for Berry, as Town, now looking far more at ease and in control, almost grabbed a third, Jordan Clark denied by an outstretched leg, his follow up straight at Oxley.
Now Harrogate's main threat from the flanks Fallowfield was withdrawn, the visitors attacks became limited for a while, although they did manufacture one presentable chance on 74 minutes, Warren Burnell's ball in flicked wide by Armstrong.
They had an even better opportunity moments later, Diarra found in acres of space inside the box, managing to beat Shea but also the far post, failing to get the goal his and his team-mate's performance deserved.
Free from a sticky final 10 minutes, Danny Hylton came on for Adebayo, as Allan Campbell blazed over the top, but Luton did have a third on 82 minutes.
Naismith picked up a poor header outside the box, and although his terrific control and volleyed was blocked, his desire was great to reach the loose ball, deliciously dinking over Oxley and secure Luton's place in the next round.
Harrogate threw men forward in an attempt to give their 330-strong travelling support something to cheer and but for Shea they would have done so, the Luton keeper spreading himself brilliantly to keep out Armstrong and then diving to his left to save from Diarra.
With two to go, Fred Onyedinma ran rings around Burnell on the left, and getting his head up, picked out the run of Berry who lifted his finish into the roof of the net and complete the victory.
Hatters: James Shea, James Bree, Reece Burke, Sonny Bradley, Kal Naismith, Amari'i Bell (Fred Onyedinma 71), Henri Lansbury (Luke Berry 60), Jordan Clark (Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu 71), Carlos Mendes Gomes, Cameron Jerome (Allan Campbell 60), Elijah Adebayo (Danny Hylton 78).
Subs not used: Simon Sluga, Glen Rea, Gabe Osho, Dan Potts.
Sulphurites: Mark Oxley, Ryan Fallowfield (Warren Burrell 52), Lewis Page, Josh Falkingham ©, George Thomson, Nathan Sheron, Lloyd Kerry (Josh Austerfield 61), Jack Muldoon, Brahiam Diarra, Rory McArdle, Luke Armstrong.
Subs not used: Joe Cracknell, Connor Hall.
Booked: Lansbury 33.
Referee: James Linington.
Attendance: 4,834 (330 Harrogate).