CLASSY Hatters eased into the semi-finals of the FA Trophy for the second year running as they easily brushed aside Gateshead 2-0 at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
Town played some lovely football throughout, creating countless chances and rarely looked in trouble as a fine John Paul Kissock volley and an audacious 35-yard free-kick from Keith Keane saw them through.
Town made five changes from the team that went down 1-0 at Barrow on Tuesday night. In came Shane Blackett, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Kissock, Robbie Willmott and Danny Crow into the starting XI, with Stuart Fleetwood and Aaron O’Connor dropping to the bench, while Janos Kovacs was rested with Andre Boucaud and Craig McAllister both cup tied.
Skills from Kissock won Luton a free-kick in the opening moments, but Willmott’s strike flashed just wide before he sent another long range effort wide of the mark.
Greg Taylor tried his luck before Luton took the lead with a lush goal on eight minutes.
Alex Lawless and Willmott combined beautifully on the left with the former’s cross picking out Kissock in the box who volleyed home his first goal for the Hatters in his 25th appearance for the club.
The Heed had their first sight of goal on 11 minutes when Yemi Odubade raced clear on the right and found Town target Jon Shaw who set up Micky Cummins, but his heavily deflected effort was easy for Mark Tyler.
The Hatters were then desperately unlucky not to double their lead on 17 minutes. Willmott drove to the byline and his excellent cut-back was side-footed against the near post by Crow with a stretching Jake Howells putting the rebound wide.
Alan O’Brien broke at the other end but stroked into Tyler’s midriff, while Keane stroked wide.
Gateshead though should have levelled on 20 minutes when Craig Baxter’s low cross ran nicely for Cummins but his low effort drew a fine save from Tyler.
An open and entertaining game again saw the Hatters cut the Tynesiders’ defence wide open six minutes later as Howells was given time and space on the left. His driven cross was side-footed goalwards by Crow only for Tim Deasy to make a great point-blank save with Willmott spooning the follow-up wastefully over.
Defender James Curtis was forced off for treatment with a cut to the face, while Gateshead were unlucky not to be given a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the area when with 10 minutes of the half left when Odubade went over George Pilkington’s challenge, but referee T Robinson probably adjudged the winger was ‘looking for it’.
An Odubade corner was allowed to drift across the face of goal when all it needed was a touch, while with a minute left Deasy needed to be alert to keep out Taylor’s low drive destined for the bottom left-hand corner.
A slow start to the second half saw Town begin cagily, although Willmott did almost get in behind before Luton doubled their lead in audacious style on 59 minutes when Keane spotted Deasy off his line and arced a fabulous 35-yard free-kick over his head and into the net.
Shouts of ‘shoot’ burst out from the crowd every time Keane got the ball and he duly obliged on 72 minutes, but shanked a horrible effort well wide.
Some Kissock magic ended in him crossing dangerously across the face of goal moments later, but Howells was just unable to get on the end of it.
Odubade skinned Taylor on 75 minutes and his looping cross was headed goalwards by substitute James Marwood only for Pilkington to get in a good block.
O’Brien whistled a fine free-kick just over the bar in the 90th minute, but it made no difference as the Hatters claimed a thoroughly-deserved victory.
Hatters (4-3-3): Mark Tyler, Greg Taylor, Keith Keane, George Pilkington (C), Alex Lawless, Danny Crow (Stuart Fleetwood 82), Robbie Willmott (Aaron O’Connor 83), Shane Blackett, Jake Howells, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, John Paul Kissock (Charlie Henry 79). Substitutes not used: Adam Watkins, Lewis Kidd.
Tynesiders (4-5-1): Tim Deasy, Sam Rents, Kris Gate (Jamie Chandler 58), James Curtis, Ben Clark (C), Phil Turnbull, Jon Shaw, Yemi Odubade, Micky Cummins (James Marwood 67), Craig Baxter, Alan O’Brien. Substitutes not used: Paul Farman, Josh Gillies, Carl Magnay.
Bookings: Turnbull 15.
Referee: T Robinson.
Assistant Referees: M Mellor and D Avent.
Fourth Official: N Lugg.
Attendance: 2,499 (Gateshead 88).
Star Hatter: Alex Lawless. Broke up the play superbly, got forward well and laid on the first goal.