Giantkillers Luton Town were at it again today as they put in a magnificent performance to scalp Premier League Norwich City 1-0 nat Carrow Road, writes Mark Wood.
Terrific Town defended tigerishly and attacked with real quality and thoroughly deserved to produce yet another cup upset as them humbled the Canaries 1-0 on their own patch this afternoon.
And yet again it was the cavalry that charged in to see the Hatters home as substitutes Stuart Fleetwood and JJ O’Donnell combined to set up fellow replacement Scott Rendell to score a super counter-attacking winner with 10 minutes to go.
It was no less than the Hatters deserved as they claimed the £90,000 prize and became the only non-league team in the fifth round draw after Macclesfield Town lost 1-0 at home to Premier League Wigan Athletic.
The victory sees Luton into the last 16 for the first time since 1994 as they overcame a Norwich team 85 places above them in the league.
Town named arguably their strongest team for the encounter as they made just one change from the side that beat Wolves in the last round, Wales U21 Jake Howells starting on the left of midfield with O’Donnell dropping to the bench.
City, meanwhile, named a virtually reserve team with former Hatter Leon Barnett starting in the heart of their defence.
Town’s travelling army of 4,000 fans gave the Hatters a rapturous reception before kick-off as a carnival atmosphere embraced Carrow Road.
An early clash of heads between Jon Shaw and Barnett saw the former Luton man in need of some treatment as the visitors showed plenty of energy in the opening quarter as neither side were able to create any clear-cut chances.
Disciplined Town were happy to sit back and let Norwich boss possession as the Canaries rarely threatened. In fact it was the Hatters who forced the first two corners and a lovely passing move on 21 minutes saw Howells pick out Shaw at the back post but his powerful header back across goal was well cleared.
The game’s first real chance arrived on 28 minutes when Russell Martin’s long ball forward was allowed to curve in behind Town defence and Simeon Jackson raced clean through one-on-one with the keeper. Mark Tyler did well to palm his effort away with Ronnie Henry blocking Andrew Surman’s follow up.
Luton proceeded to drop deeper and deeper and Norwich went close again on 33 minutes when Jonny Howson and Surman combined well on the City left and the latter’s cross found Harry Kane in the box. He was allowed to turn and his low drive was superbly turned wide by the alert Greg Taylor.
Luton did break final;y break City’s stranglehold as Shaw saw his shot blocked at the other end, but it was still the hosts who continued to dominate.
And the Canaries spurned another great chance to take the lead four minutes before the break when Barnett beat Tyler to David Fox’s corner and powered his header against the post and, as he tried to turn the rebound home, Alex Lawless was on hand to clear off the line.
A breathless passage of play then saw Gray burst forward at the other end as Howson clamped his arms around him on the edge of the box before Gray tumbled in the area. However, nothing was given when at the very least Luton should have had free-kick on the edge of the box.
In stoppage time the Canaries threatened again, but Lathaniel Rowe-Turner superbly dived in to block Harry Kane’s drive and Martin then poked wide.
City showed them meant business at the start of the second half by bringing on target man Grant Holt for Kane.
Early Luton pressure saw Howells head over while Gray fired an opportunistic straight at Declan Rudd four minutes in.
At the other end Jackson hooked a knockdown tamely at Tyler before the Luton stopper excelled himself with another great stop on 55 minutes.
Jackson wriggled free and picked out Holt the far post, but his rifled header was beaten away by Tyler with Arnaud Mendy clearing the loose ball as the Canaries charged in for the scraps.
Norwich were certainly ramping up pressure as Martin scooted past Taylor and Janos Kovacs did well batter his cross behind.
Shaw had a fierce volley well blocked from a Lawless cross, while Surman’s curler was easy for Tyler. Town continued to stand toe-to-toe with their opponents four divisions above and went close to taking the lead on 63 minutes when Shaw’s left-footer effort whizzed just over.
Town were having to work tirelessly to cope with wave-after-wave of City attacks and boss Paul Buckle looked to stem the tide by bringing on the energetic O’Donnell for Mendy.
Indecision in the City line saw them struggle to clear Henry’s 70th-minute free-kick as Gray was allowed to loop an effort over much to Rudd’s anger.
Searching for victory Norwich made a double change as Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington were introduced for Surman and Elliott Bennett.
Undaunted, Luton replied in kind, changing their forward line as Fleetwood and Rendell came on for the tiring Gray and Shaw.
With 11 minute to go Luton almost snatched the lead when Rendell superbly dispossessed Ryan Bennett and teased the ball over the top but Lawless’ volley brushed the side netting as the ball flew just wide.
Seconds later though the Hatters were ahead as they took the lead with 10 minutes to go with a superb goal.
Fleetwood led the counter and showed great awareness to play in the overlapping O’Donnell. The youngster showed great composure to steady himself as he darted to the byline before pulling the ball back for Rendell to slide the ball into the top corner at the near post.
The Carrow Road faithful began to turn as Town continued to play with passion and confidence.
Jackson was unable to get on the end of Holt’s back-post header with six minutes to go, but the Hatters continued to look dangerous on the counter with Rendell and Fleetwood almost telepathic with their play.
Desperate for an equaliser, Norwich poured forward as Hoolahan turned Fox’s effort over the bar.
Several times Town broke with purpose, but then looked to wind the clock down as three minutes of stoppage time were added.
And deep into that injury time City were denied a penalty when the ball appeared to roll on Rowe-Turner’s arm as he looked to clear.
But Town held on to record a momentous victory as their substitutes poured on to the field to celebrate in front of their ecstatic fans, while boos rang out from the home supporters.
Large sections of the home support then stayed behind to applaud the victorious Hatters off, who had more to their haul than the obligatory swapped shirts.
All eyes will now turn to tomorrow’s draw to see who the Hatters are paired with in the fifth round. Town will be ball number one with the draw taking place at 5.45pm on ITV.
Canaries (4-4-2): Declan Rudd, Russell Martin (C), Jonny Howson, Simeon Jackson, Andrew Surman (Wes Hoolahan 73), David Fox, Elliott Bennett (Anthony Pilkington 73), Javier Garrido, Leon Barnett, Ryan Bennett, Harry Kane (Grant Holt 46). Substitutes not used: Mark Bunn, Steven Whittaker, Michael Turner, Alex Tettey.
Hatters (4-4-2): Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Greg Taylor, Janos Kovacs, Alex Lawless, Jon Shaw (Scott Rendell 75), Jake Howells, Arnaud Mendy (JJ O’Donnell 68), Jonathan Smith, Ronnie Henry (C), Andre Gray (Stuart Fleetwood 75). Substitutes not used: Dean Brill, Adam Watkins, James Dance, Matt Robinson.
Referee: A Marriner.
Assistant Referees: J Collin and S Ledger.
Fourth Official: G Ward.
Attendance: 26,521 (Hatters 4,000).
Star Hatter: Jake Howells. Tireless performer who thoroughly deserved his starting place.