Manning holds her nerve to send Hatters Ladies into final
Luton Town Ladies reached the Bedfordshire County Cup final after a thrilling penalty shoot-out win over Bedford Ladies on Sunday.
With the scores finishing level at 3-3 after 90 minutes, spotkicks were needed to decide the semi-final tie, as Luton came through 4-3.
Nicola Henman had put the Hatters ahead after 34 minutes but Town failed to capitalise on their bright start and soon after the interval, Charlene Moreton equalised for the visitors after 52 minutes with a superb chip.
Bedford went on to take the lead twice through Olivia Cunningham (68) and Moreton (82) but Luton fought back on each occasion with goals from Rachel Carter (74) and Erica Byron (90) to force the game into penalties.
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They went on to win 4-3 on penalties as Byron, Joanne Rutherford, Henman and Dione Manning all converted their spot-kicks and Bedford missed two of theirs, with goalkeeper Jessica Devoti saving from Moreton and former Hatters player Michelle Byrne shooting wide.
The Hatters will now meet Offley & Stopsley in the County Cup final for the second year running with the game to be played on April 19.
Manager Nikki Baker said: “I am very happy to be in the final. At the beginning of the season, retaining the cup was on our target list and getting to the final gives us a big chance to do that.”
Town may have been out of sight at half time but instead they had to come from behind twice in the second half.
Despite this, Baker was satisfied with the mental strength that her players showed to fight back.
She continued: “We allowed Bedford to get at us and I was extremely disappointed to go behind twice after we were in total control of the game.
“We did a lot of work this week on our mental side of the game and I just asked for total commitment from the girls and I think I got that.”
Baker praised the performance of youngster Lucy Webster who had the huge task of marking Town’s player of last season - Fensome - and she was also pleased to welcome back Manning from a long term injury.
“Lucy was outstanding as she always is,” Baker added.
“She actually created our first goal and then went on another run, getting the foul leading to the equaliser.
“Another player I am especially pleased with is Dionne, who made her comeback from injury after four months out.
“She came on at a difficult time in the game when we just went behind, and then kept her head to score the winning penalty.”
Luton are back in league action this weekend as they host Norwich City, while Bedford host Colchester Town.
>> Luton’s Development side also turned round a deficit, coming from 3-1 down to beat Tower Hamlets 5-3.
Lucy Tape scored a brace, before Kezia Hassall equalised in the second period.
Morgan Patterson then put Hatters ahead from close range before skipper Jodie McClelland fired a superb free kick into the top corner to complete victory.