Hatters star Isted: Facing Chelsea in the FA Cup are the 'moments you dream of'

Town keeper produces superb display during the 'biggest game of his life'

By Mike Simmonds
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 1:14 pm
Luton keeper Harry Isted makes another terrific save against Chelsea last night
Luton keeper Harry Isted makes another terrific save against Chelsea last night

Town's unlikely hero Harry Isted admitted that being thrust into action against Premier League giants Chelsea for the 'biggest game of his life' was a moment he could have only dreamt of before last night's FA Cup fifth round tie.

The 24-year-old stopper wasn't about to know that dream was soon to come true through, having been named on the bench at Kenilworth Road, with James Shea missing due to a tight hamstring.

Isted's evening was soon to take a very different turn to what he could have ever expected, as on 14 minutes, on-loan Aston Villa stopper Jed Steer went down when coming out for a long ball and was left in a heap, immediately thumping the turf as he knew his game was over.

Town keeper Harry Isted

Stretchered off with an Achilles injury, it was left for the former Southampton and Stoke youngster, with limited first team experience at best, to come on and play his first Luton game since a Checkatrade Trophy clash with MK Dons back in October 2018, some three and a half years ago.

It was also a first senior game since April of last year, when on loan with National League side Wealdstone, as he started a 2-2 draw at Bromley.

Speaking afterwards, on whether he ever anticipated being called upon Isted said: "You always think about it, especially when you're on the bench.

"I've played in the Checkatrade Trophy twice, this is my biggest game ever.

"You do think about scenarios, 'am I going to get on?'

"You paint scenarios in your head, but you've just always got to be ready.

"Luckily I was ready to come on, I felt confident in my ability to come on and settle in well and put in a good performance.

"My mum and dad were in the crowd and my best mate is there, these are the moments you dream of.

“Doing it in front of my family as well, I'll go and see my mum and dad after this, my mum's probably crying.

"They've done a lot for me and it's nice to repay them with a little cameo out there."

A ‘little cameo’ is doing his efforts a massive disservice, as following his shock introduction, Isted went on to have the game of his life.

He got things underway with a comfortable save from Saul’s header and then pinged a lovely ball out to the flank to settle any nerves.

With Town in front thanks to Reece Burke's early goal, Isted was soon under the pump, flying out of his goal to magnificently deny on-loan Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul with an outstretched leg, then flying to his left to palm Brazilian winger Kenedy's effort over.

Although beaten by Saul's unerring finish after Gabe Osho gave the ball away, he then produced his best stop of the evening, getting down superbly to somehow turn Belgian international and £97.5m signing Romelu Lukaku’s low drive behind for a corner.

Again, he didn’t overplay his efforts, continuing: “The first half, I got lucky with the first one that he hit at me, but yes, two ones after that, saves, it’s my job.

“It was good to settle in, then I went for a little walkabout, tried to head the ball, but luckily I knew someone was covering me, but I settled in quite well.

“I train every day in a first team environment, so I’m confident of making those stops.”

After the break, Isted carried on his fine display, although admittedly not stretched as much, saving from Saul again and then claiming Harvey Vale’s curler.

Late on the Blues' class eventually shone through, Timo Werner and Lukaku finding the net to win the tie for Chelsea, as he said: "That’s the level, when they get a chance they’re going to take it, first one, no chance, other two I don't think I had much chance with.

“There's disappointment for the result, but it's a great bunch of lads, we’ll get round each other.

"It’s a test to see what level we’re at coming through from five years ago, it’s a decent level.

“That’s the level and that's what we want to get and great to test ourselves against them.

“We were trying to hold on to that 2-1 lead and then they made it 2-2 with a good ball and got the equaliser.

"Then we came alive for a little bit more had a bit more of the ball, but they were always going to have a lot more possession than us."

Isted's two previous outings for the Hatters had come in front crowds of 875 and 1,318, while his only appearance while at Stoke U23s was another Checkatrade game, with 1,444 at Valley Parade to see the Bantams win 1-0 in August 2016.

Even his loan spell at Wealdstone took place in front of empty stadiums due to coronavirus restrictions, so when asked if there had been any nerves taking his place in front of over 10,000 supporters at a boisterous Kenilworth Road, he said: "I can’t really remember much of it, as soon as Jed went down I knew it was a bad one so I got ready and before you know it I was on the pitch.

"I didn't really feel nervous coming on as it happened so quick, but it was good to get on.

“This is my fifth season here, so I’ve been training in the first team environment with them for five years, League Two, League One and Championship.

"I know that I can step up to the plate when needed, and haven’t been needed much so good to come in.

"The place was rocking even when I was on the bench and when I came on, the crowd were great.

"I was absolutely unreal, I tried to block it out a little bit, concentrate, get my head down and just focus on my job, but the crowd were great.

“There’s always a chance of you coming on, I didn't want to come on in those circumstances because of Jed, but you’re always ready.

"You always prepare the same the night before, and the whole week."

The keeper has been a regular in the development squad Luton this term, playing the Armed Forces and a host of U23 sides at Hitchin Town, so on what it was like looking up and seeing the likes of Lukaku and Werner bearing down on him, he added: "There's a little bit of a difference, obviously you watch these players on the telly and it’s unreal.

“It hasn't sunk in at all really, I tried not to think about that kind of thing, I've got a job to do and I've got to concentrate on that."