Hatters youngsters take their chance as Gillingham are beaten in Checkatrade Trophy

HAPPY HATTERS - Luton Town players celebrate the second goal at Gillingham, scored by Jonathan Smith (Pictures: Gareth Owen)
HAPPY HATTERS - Luton Town players celebrate the second goal at Gillingham, scored by Jonathan Smith (Pictures: Gareth Owen)
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Luton Town proved they’ve got a rich crop of young talent to be reckoned with as they deservedly beat League One Gillingham 2-1 in the Checkatrade Trophy.

Frankie Musonda and Jonathan Smith scored inside the first 25 minutes as part of a dominant first half and, even when Darren Oldaker halved the deficit late on, Town still had time to make history.

Connor Tomlinson was given a few injury-time seconds to become the club’s youngest player at 15 years and 199 days, having needed permission from his Harlington Upper headteacher to play a part.

Yet Luton may find that they’ve broken the school rules. The new format of this competition stipulates that Luton would have had to either field five players from Saturday’s 3-0 League Two win over Cambridge, or five players that will start in this weekend’s clash against Wycombe.

Though a completely changed starting line-up here, comprising six Academy graduates, acquired themselves magnificently, the sensible money will be on few, if any, starting the next game.

That could mean a fine for Town, but with competition prize-money for a win (£10,000) outweighing the maximum £5,000 slap on the wrist for a breach of the rules, then it was a thoroughly worthwhile evening.

The inexperienced Hatters side started superbly and were ahead in the 10th minute when Musonda headed in his first competitive Town goal.

Then in the 24th minute Town rampaged toward the Gills goal through the excellent Jake Gray and his byline cutback found its way to Smith who smashed home with interest to double Luton’s lead.

Isaac Vassell – on his first start for the club – almost made it three just before the break when he burst through but just couldn’t nick it past the outrushing keeper Stuart Nelson, while Akin Famewo headed Gray’s corner into the wrong side of the netting to complete a wonderful first half display.

Vassell and Smith both had chance early in the second period but when, on 58 minutes, Cody McDonald evaded Luton attentions in the box, Craig King - on his Hatters pro debut - was quick off his line to keep the Gills striker out, repeating the trick from a less threatening angle three minutes later.

Luton Town

Luton Town

The Hatters twice had decent shouts for spot-kicks waved away as Zane Banton and Vassell both appeared to be impeded in penalty area.

Smith should have put the game to bed on 69 minutes when Vassell raced down the wing and clipped a cross to him at the back post but, with the goal at his mercy, the midfielder headed over from point blank range.

Gillingham matched that for inaccuracy as substitute Bradley Stevenson fluffed his lines from close range after the ball ricocheted into his path.

King then kept Jake Hessenthaler out with his feet, but he could do little to prevent a Oldaker pile driver from finding the net at the death.

Even that was upstaged when Tomlinson replaced Banton to become Luton’s youngest ever player in what was a fabulous night all round for the Hatters.

Match facts

Gillingham: Nelson; Ehmer, Hessenthaler, McDonald, Osadebe, Pask, Oldaker, List, Dickenson (Stevenson, 61), Dack (O’Hara, 45), Thomas (Donnelly, 45)

Unused subs: Bond, Oshilaja, Cundle, Wright

Luton: King, Cotter, Musonda, Famewo, JJ, Smith Bakinson, Gray, Banton (Tomlinson, 90+2), Vassell, McQuoid (Atkinson, 84)

Unused subs: Snelus, Hinds, Bean, Read, Gooch

Referee: John Busby

Attendance: 2,128 (137)