FA Cup, fifth round: Luton Town 0 (0) Millwall 3 (2)
Defensive errors from the Hatters and clinical finishing from Millwall saw Town’s dreams of making FA Cup history come to an end at Kenilworth Road this afternoon as they were beaten 3-0 by the Championship side, writes Mark Wood.
Luton missed out on the opportunity to become the first non-league side to make the quarter-finals in 99 years as the Lions took their first half chances to take the bite out of the encounter before adding a late third to seal victory as Town’s makeshift backline was unable to hold firm.
It was a flattering scoreline for the visitors who, other than their goals, barely tested Town keeper Mark Tyler while Millwall keeper David Forde was in fine form to keep the Hatters out.
First half goals from James Henry and Rob Hulse had put Millwall in charge and, although Town had their chances, Millwall sealed victory late on when sub Dany N’Guessan bundled home.
Town made four changes from the team that disappointingly lost 1-0 at Dartford on Tuesday night. Steve McNulty, Scott Neilson and Dave Martin were all cup-tied and missed out, while striker Jon Shaw was somewhat surprisingly dropped to the bench.
In came the hero of the last round, Scott Rendell, along with Alex Lawless, JJ O’Donnell and Greg Taylor as Luton looked to cause another massive upset.
Kick-off was preceded with a demonstration instigated by the club calling on the football authorities to increase the number of promotion places to the Football League to three.
A passionate atmosphere, imbued with cup fervour, filled the stadium from the start with both teams having chances on three minutes.
First Andre Gray was allowed to turn and shoot from the edge of the area but fired straight at ex-Hatter Forde before Hulse was slipped in behind but he could only drag his effort across the face of goal.
A lively opening from Luton saw the Hatters go close again on six minutes when Gray got the better of his man but his near-post blast was beaten behind by the keeper.
With history bearing heavy on the game a degree of niggle was evident from the start as Jonathan Smith and Andrew Keogh exchanged words.
But disaster struck for Town on 12 minutes when their makeshift defence buckled. Janos Kovas couldn’t deal with Ronnie Henry’s back flick and James Henry skipped round the Hungarian’s last-ditch tackle and rounded the exposed Tyler to score.
Luton’s response was immediate as Arnaud Mendy saw his shot deflected behind before forcing a another good save out of Forde on 17 minutes. Rendell headed Ronnie Henry’s free-kick back across goal and Mendy’s super half-volley from six-yards was battered away by the keeper.
The game lulled as Hulse acrobatically volleyed over for the visitors, but it was the Hatters who continued to play the better football and look the more dangerous.
And yet it was the Lions who doubled their lead on 36 minutes when James Henry crossed to the back stick and, although Taylor did well to put off Hulse’s header, the striker somehow adjusted to lob the ball back over Tyler’s head to make it 2-0.
In stoppage-time Howells’ corner caused all kinds of problems, but neither Kovacs or Rendell could direct their headers as Keogh broke at the other end but lofted over.
The second half started with Millwall continuing to waste time at every opportunity as Rendell was booked for arguing with the referee.
Lawless released Gray but Forde was quickly off his line to save well, while Kovacs could only head a good chance over the bar from Howells’ corner soon after.
Town upped a gear as Millwall were put on the rack, Gray’s touch letting him down as he burst on to Smith’s pass.
However, the Lions still looked dangerous going forward as Keogh nipped in to beat Tyler to substitute Dany N’Guessan’s heavily-deflected effort but could only lift his effort over.
A great last-ditch header from Ronnie Henry kept the visitors out as Town threw on both Stuart Fleetwood and Shaw for O’Donnell and Mendy in a desperate bid to find a way back into the game.
With 15 minutes to go Keogh forced an instinctive point-blank save from Tyler before James Henry’s teasing cross found him at the far post but Keogh somehow headed wide.
Lawless lashed a half-cleared corner wide, but the Championship side sealed victory with four minutes to go when Tyler was unable to hold on to John Marquis’ 86th-minute effort and N’Guessan was on hand to force the ball home.
Fleetwood whistled a late effort well wide, while Luton were thrice denied a consolation in injury time. Fleetwood’s half-cleared corner was turned on by Smith and Shaw’s low drive was saved by the feet of Forde.
Shaw was then just unable to connect with Howells’ corner and Gray had another effort saved as Millwall’s greater experience eventually told.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Greg Taylor, Janos Kovacs, Alex Lawless, Scott Rendell, Jake Howells, Arnaud Mendy (Jon Shaw 69), JJ O’Donnell (Stuart Fleetwood 64), Jonathan Smith, Ronnie Henry (C), Andre Gray. Substitutes not used: Alex Lacey. Matt Robinson, Jake Woolley, Dean Brill, Brett Longden.
Lions (4-4-2): David Forde, Alan Dunne, Liam Trotter, Rob Hulse (John Marquis 70), Shane Lowry, James Henry (Adam Smith 89), Liam Feeney (Dany N’Guessan 62), Mark Beevers, Andrew Keogh, Nadjim Abdou (C), Karleigh Osborne. Substitutes not used: Josh Wright, Jake Goodman, Scott Malone, Maik Taylor.
Booked: Rendell 54; Keogh 87; Beevers 90+2.
Referee: L Probert.
Assistant Referees: D Bryan and R Ganfield
Fourth Official: A Taylor.
Attendance: 9,768 (Millwall 1,530).
Star Hatter: Alex Lawless. Luton’s most composed player on an ultimately disappointing afternoon.