Luton Town Ladies’ superb second half fightback was in vain as they lost their Women’s National Plate tie 5-4 at Gillingham on Sunday.
Up against a side from the division above, the visitors were boosted by the return of Rachel Kosky and Jessica McKay.
The Gills put the pressure on from the word go, Erica Byron having to clear off the goal-line and Grace Stewart making a fine clearance.
A bizarre opener saw Gillingham move in front when a clearance cannoned back off attacker Giodarnio, flying fortuitously into the net.
Town bossed the next 25 minutes, McKay testing the keeper on multiple occasions.
However, a devastating 15-minute spell from the home side appeared to kill the tie off as they scored three goals in quick succession from Grant, Bussey and Sherwood.
That put them 4-0 in front at the break, with Luton seemingly just playing for pride.
The second half began explosively, McKay pulling one just two minutes after the restart with an excellent finish.
Immediately afterwards, Gillingham restored their four goal advantage thanks to an absolute screamer from Sammy Booker.
Luton’s never-say-die attitude continued to shine, skipper Rachel Carter’s accomplished sidefoot finish making it 5-2.
After a brief period of calm, Town had another, when McKay finished emphatically from a superb ball into the box from half time substitute Olivia Abraham, following great skill by Aurora Ryan.
While Gillingham were crumbling, Luton were visibly invigorated, and piled on the pressure in search of more goals.
Dionne Manning came close, shooting just past the far post, but it was Ryan’s turn to get on the scoresheet when she found the back of the net after being played through brilliantly by Abraham.
Just three minutes later, McKay almost completed both her hat-trick and the comeback in one when she dispossessed a Gills defender and fired just past the post.
Inevitably, all this Luton offensive pressure was bound to lead to opposition counter attacks, but two top drawer saves from Kezia Hassall kept Luton in the hunt for the elusive equaliser.
The last real chance to find that leveller fell to Abraham as her shot looked destined for the far corner, but the ball hit the post and trickled agonisingly away.
Boss Nikki Baker said: “Any team who gives another a four goal advantage is going to struggle.
“At half time we had a choice to sit back and do damage limitation or go for it.
“We changed shape slightly and shifted players around and it had an immediate impact.
“It wasn’t quite enough in the end but huge credit to the girls for almost pulling it off.
“We hope we can take these last few performances into the league now and kick on.”
Luton are without a game this weekend.