Luton Town bowed out of the Capital One Cup tonight in cruel fashion after a sudden death penalty shoot out defeat against Premier League Stoke City.
With Cameron McGeehan’s stoppage time strike sending the game to extra-time and then spot kicks, there were 14 successful attempts until defender Scott Griffiths fired his effort against the bar, and Geoff Cameron won it for the Potters.
Defeat was incredibly harsh on the Hatters who had doggedly held their own both in normal time and extra time against a side who finished ninth in the Premier League last term.
However, they can take huge credit for their display, with manager John Still desperately hoping his side can now repeat this kind of performance and atmosphere into their league campaign starting at home to Portsmouth this weekend.
The hosts made six changes with Olly Lee impressing on his Town debut, while Elliot Justham, Stephen O’Donnell, Mark O’Brien, Josh McQuoid and Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu started too.
Stoke themselves swapped nine players from their 1-1 draw at Norwich City, with the most eye-catching name on the teamsheet, former Barcelona attacker Bojan Krkic.
The visitors settled easily into their pleasing on the eye style in the opening exchanges, with Town reduced to chasing shadows, a task they stuck too manfully though with only Marko Arnautovic’s effort straight at Elliot Justham a cause for concern.
Veteran keeper Shay Given was called into action, touching Griffiths’ left footer over the top as despite all of the Potters’ dominance, they couldn’t create anything clear-cut until Justham had to turn away Walters’ low skimmer.
With Luton’s back four producing a rock solid display in the opening half, something that has been lack from them so far this term, they were at it again in the second period, although Crouch almost produced one of his trademark specials, skewing an acrobatic volley behind.
Town came close through Jonathan Smith’s stretched attempt, before Justham pulled off a top, top save, thrusting out a strong right hand to divert Crouch’s downward header behind.
Hatters rung the changes, with McGeehan and Ryan Hall replacing Ruddock Mpanzu and Green, with Stoke withdrawing Crouch for 5.75m summer signing Spanish striker Joselu from Hannover 96.
The visitors then finally showed their Premier League class in front of goal after 66 minutes when Ireland’s inventive flick over the defence was seized upon by Walters who calmly lifted his shot over the onrushing Justham.
However, after taking the lead, it was the Hatters if anyone who started to look the more like finding the net to force extra time.
First Hall’s snap shot whizzed across Given’s goal, before Lee’s flighted free kick was headed back by Luke Wilkinson for McGeehan to shoot low into the side-netting.
Hatters came even close with 10 minutes to go as McGeehan’s long raner was parried by Given, with the keeper swiftly to repel Hall’s fierce follow up too.
Luton, roared on by a rocking Kenilworth Road crowd, then did have that equaliser as Hall found Griffiths and his inch-perfect cross was converted the hugely impressive McGeehan to bring the house down.
City boss Mark Hughes signalled his intent, bringing on Mame Biram Diouf in the opening moments of extra time, although once more it was Luton who threatened, McGeehan firing into the side-netting once more
As time ticked away, both sides appeared to settle for penalties, as Luton’s defence, marshalled magnificently by captain for the night Scott Cuthbert, kept everything thrown at them.
In the final seconds, Diouf resorted to trying to punch the ball over the line, rightly seeing a yellow, although his side were to have the last laugh, earning a third round tie with Championship outfit Fulham.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Stephen O’Donnell, Scott Griffiths, Scott Cuthbert (C), Luke Wilkinson, Jonathan Smith, Mark O’Brien, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (Ryan Hall 60), Olly Lee, Danny Green (Cameron McGeehan 60) , Josh McQuoid (Paul Benson 70).
Subs not used: Mark Tyler, Steve McNulty, Luke Guttridge, Craig Mackail-Smith.
Potters: Shay Given, Phil Bardsley, Erik Pieters, Stephen Ireland, Marko Arnautovic (Mame Biram Diouf 96), Marc Wilson, Jonathan Walters, Stephen Sidwell (C), Peter Crouch (Joselu 63), Philipp Wollscheid, Bojan Krkic (Geoff Cameron 86).
Subs not used: Marco van Ginkel, Charlie Adam, Dionatan Teixeira, Jakob Haugaard.
Referee: Paul Tierney
Booked: O’Brien 7, Sidwell 45, Bardsley 51, Diouf 120.
Attendance: 6,099 (823 Stoke).
Hatters MOM: Scott Cuthbert, outstanding display all evening from Town’s new captain.