Heartbreak for Hatters as Johnson sends Oxford to Wembley

Checkatrade Trophy, semi-final: Luton Town 2 Oxford United 3

Wednesday, 1st March 2017, 10:44 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:45 am
Danny Hylton goes close against former club Oxford United
Danny Hylton goes close against former club Oxford United

Back in the day, a goal from Marvin Johnson at the Oak Road End would have been greeted with a deafening roar from the Kenilworth Road faithful.

However, you could have heard a pin drop when his namesake curled home a sumptuous late effort against the Hatters this evening, as Luton suffered a cruel, cruel Checkatrade Trophy exit at the hands of League One Oxford United.

Trailing 2-0 and looking on their way out, goals from Isaac Vassell (73) and Danny Hylton (83) appeared to have forced a penalty shootout for the spirited hosts, before Johnson settled a tremendous cup tie and dashed the Hatters' dreams of a return to Wembley.

However, Luton can take masses of credit for the way they battled back against one of the in-form sides from the division above them, plus the strength of character shown to fight back in the manner they did.

Town boss Nathan Jones made just two changes from the team who drew 1-1 with Plymouth at the weekend, Johnny Mullins in against his former side and Jake Gray starting too as Jonathan Smith and Scott Cuthbert dropped to the bench.

It was Gray who should have opened the scoring on five minutes, picked out by Hylton's perfect cross, he volleyed into the ground and Simon Eastwood, who shouldn't have been given a prayer, remarkably tipped his effort on to the bar.

Town then fell behind on 10 minutes with a desperately poor goal as a corner wasn't cleared properly, allowing Liam Sercombe to fire the ball back in, where a prostrate Phil Edwards fired home.

Luton responded well, Glen Rea's shot deflected behind, with Gray then doing superbly to dink over a cross at full pelt, Vassell just unable to divert it on target.

Mpanzu had an opening as Town kept pressing, slamming a volley well, well wide from Jordan Cook's lovely delivery.

Oxford remained a threat though in what was an absorbing encounter, as Matt Macey raced out to parry from Chris Maguire.

The Luton stopper then kept his side in the game on 28 minutes as Luton were sliced open, Kane Hemmings destined to make it 2-0, only for the Arsenal keeper to parry away.

An overworked Macey was swiftly in action once more, repelling Edwards' downward header from a corner after the visiting defender had escaped the attentions of Town's back-line once more.

Without Cuthbert's aerial presence, Town looked decidedly iffy whenever a set-piece was delivered into the box, requiring Macey to repel Chey Dunkley's clever volley, with the keeper's handling up to scratch from Hemmings' low free kick too.

Jones made a change at half time, bringing on Luke Gambin for Jack Senior, bolstering the hosts' creative spark, with Rea dropping into central defence and Sheehan going to left back.

The diminutive midfielder started picking the ball up in little pockets as Town had had a marvellous chance on 55 minutes, when the new arrival played in Sheehan, whose cross fell for Cook, but Eastwood made a fine save with his legs.

The midfielder then curled over, while Hatters were convinced they had levelled through Vassell's header from a corner of their own, only for that man Johnson to clear away from the line.

United looked for a second to kill the tie off, Johnny Mullins and Rea, just about stopping Hemmings from taking the direct approach, with Macey tidying up at the forwards' feet.

After having such a crucial intervention at one end, Johnson looked to have delivered the killer blow at the other, as a lovely passing move released him in the area and his cross took a wicked deflection off Mpanzu to loop over the helpless Macey on 69 minutes.

Town were back in though just four minutes later when Gambin's quick free kick saw Gray try his luck from distance and when Eastwood spilled his shot, Vassell slammed home from five yards.

Macey then made his best stop of the night, getting a boot on Lundstram's angled drive which might well have ended the contest, while he palmed Sercombe's effort away too.

With seven minutes left, Hylton then brought the house down, diverting Rea's close range header over the line against his old club, to register a 20th of the season, the first time he has reached such a milestone, celebrating wildly in front of Town's dug out.

But Oxford demonstrated their class and after winning a corner, took it short, with Johnson arrowing his stunning effort past Macey to win it.

Sub Jack Marriott almost made it 3-3, forcing Eastwood to flip over, while Town threw on Cuthbert and sent Macey forward as a last throw of the dice, but Oxford cleared their lines to seal a place at Wembley.

The home fans were quick to rise to their feet, knowing their side had given everything for the cause and will now be hoping Town can do the job in the promotion race to make sure this is a league encounter once more next term.

Hatters: Matt Macey, James Justin (Scott Cuthbert 90), Jack Senior (Luke Gambin 46), Johnny Mullins, Alan Sheehan (C), Glen Rea, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jake Gray (Jack Marriott 81), Jordan Cook, Isaac Vassell, Danny Hylton.

Subs not used: Craig King, Dan Potts, Jonathan Smith, Olly Lee.

United: Simon Eastwood, Joe Skarz, John Lundstram, Curtis Nelson, Liam Sercombe, Chris Maguire (Joe Rothwell 27), Kane Hemmings, Phil Edwards, Ryan Ledsen, Marvin Johnson, Chey Dunkley (C).

Subs not used: Christian Ribeiro, Josh Ruffels, Sam Long, Jack Stevens, Canice Carroll.

Booked: Rea 22, Edwards 34, Mullins 88.

Attendance: 6,901 (742 Oxford).

Referee: Christopher Husband.

Hatters MOM: Matt Macey. Kept his side in the tie at times.