TWICE Luton came from behind but they couldn’t stop League Two high-fliers Cheltenham Town progressing through to the third round of the FA Cup as they ground out a 4-2 win at Kenilworth Road this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.
It was a game filled with incident as Aaron O’Connor twice hauled the Hatters back on to level terms, but the Robins, reduced to 10 men late in the game as Darryl Duffy was booked twice in the space of a minute, recorded their eighth-straight away win in all competitions thanks to goals from Duffy, Luke Summerfield and Russell Penn, plus an own goal from the unfortunate Dan Gleeson.
Town made three changes to the team that were held to a 1-1 home draw by Newport County AFC at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday night. Gleeson was recalled at right-back with Curtis Osano dropping out of the squad entirely, Adam Watkins came into a three-man midfield at the expense of James Dance and O’Connor took over the right-wing berth with former Robin Stuart Fleetwood dropping to the bench.
Cheltenham went into the game in rich away form and were almost ahead inside 30 seconds when a corner broke to Marlon Pack and his low strike was well blocked by Janos Kovacs.
A breathless opening saw Robbie Willmott get in behind seconds later but his touch seemed to hit Sido Jombati in the face despite appeals for handball coming from the crowd.
But the Cotswolds team were ahead inside two minutes when Duffy was allowed to latch on to a big boot over the top and slide past the exposed Kevin Pilkington, with the backtracking Kovacs unable to clear off the line.
Cheltenham seemed to be finding all the space as they bossed the opening stages, but a fleet-footed run and lovely cross by O’Connor picked out Danny Crow on 13 minutes, but he could only flick wide.
A clever corner routine followed with Watkins floating in a perfect ball for Kovacs, but the giant Hungarian could only head wide of the mark.
The visitors were getting particular joy down Hatters’ right and when Penn was allowed to run free his shot was saved by the legs of Kevin Pilkington.
Willmott’s 17th-minute free-kick lacked venom, but O’Connor’s instinctive shot on the turn was deflected behind.
Town gradually grew into the game but were stunted by too many misplaced passes and lacked an end product.
However, some Watkins magic almost led to an equaliser on 33 minutes as he jinked way to edge of the box and hammered towards the bottom right-hand corner only to be denied by a fine one-handed save from Scott Brown. And from the subsequent corner Kovacs powered his header just over.
More Watkins trickery ended with him firing straight at the keeper with six minutes of the half left, but it was only as a stay of execution as Luton levelled moments later.
Willmott’s quick feet saw him waltz into the box and his pull-back was perfect for O’Connor to sweep into the bottom right-hand corner.
Parity though didn’t last for long as the Robins retook the lead on the stroke of half time when Pack cut in from the left and unleashed a ferocious strike that deflected off the unfortunate Gleeson and into the net.
Kaid Mohamed hammered a well-place free-kick out of the ground in the opening moments of the second half.
And Luton were level six minutes in when George Pilkington’s free-kick was headed down by Crow and O’Connor drilled an unstoppable effort from the edge of the box into the bottom right-hand corner.
With the game in the balance both teams continued to go forward and it was Cheltenham who snatched the lead for the third time on 63 minutes.
The Robins cut a swathe down the right and the ball was teed up for Summerfield to thump home from the edge of the area past the despairing dive of Kevin Pilkington.
Town proceeded to pile forward, Willmott seeing a free-kick deflected behind and Watkins blocked out by a throng of defenders.
Summerfield flicked another good chance from a clever corner well over, while Luton went for an even more attacking outlook as they brought on John Paul Kissock for Keith Keane.
Pack spanked well wide as the Robins looked to put the game to bed and James Spencer produced a magnificent first touch before dragging his shot across the face of goal.
The game took another twist as Duffy was booked twice in a matter of seconds for fouls on the edge of his own area on Kissock and O’Connor and was duly sent from the field. However, O’Connor and then Willmott could only thunder efforts into the wall as time continued to tick down.
Luton played some lovely patient football and Alex Lawless let fly from 25 yards with two minutes left only for his to effort cannon off the post with Brown well beaten.
Pilkington teased in a beautiful cross but Crow just couldn’t reach it as five minutes of stoppage time were added.
Josh Low pranced through in the third minute of stoppage time and, although he squeezed in a shot it was straight at Kevin Pilkington.
But the Robins finally sealed victory in the 94th-minute when Rusell Penn broke down the left and curled into the top corner to send the Robins soaring into the third round.
Hatters (4-3-3): Kevin Pilkington, Dan Gleeson, Keith Keane (John Paul Kissock 76), George Pilkington (C), Alex Lawless, Danny Crow, Robbie Willmott, Aaron O’Connor, Jake Howells, Adam Watkins, Janos Kovacs. Substitutes not used: Mark Tyler, Dean Beckwith, Stuart Fleetwood, James Dance, Jamie Hand, Tommy Wright.
Robins (4-5-1): Scott Brown, Keith Lowe, Marlon Pack, Josh Low, Darryl Duffy, James Spencer (Jeff Goulding 90+4), Alan Bennett (C), Russell Penn, Sido Jombati, Kaid Mohamed (Brian Smikle 85), Luke Summerfield. Substitutes not used: Theo Lewis, Bagasan Graham, Harry Hooman, Bobby Reid, Steve Book.
Referee: C Webster.
Assistant Referees: G Evetts and O Sally.
Fourth Official: M Dexter.
Bookings: Gleeson 62; Summerfield 75; Duffy 82; Duffy 83.
Attendance: 4,516 (478 Cheltenham).
Star Hatter: Aaron O’Connor. A couple of great strikes and didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.