Dogged Luton dug deep to grind out a 2-0 victory over Leighton Town in a niggly Bedfordshire Senior Cup quarter-final clash at Bell Close this evening, writes Mark Wood.
The Reds worked hard throughout and tried to unsettle the Hatters with their physical and uncompromising style, but Luton’s added class eventually told against their Calor Southern League Division One Central hosts.
Target man Jon Shaw gave the Hatters the lead from the spot late in the second half before David Viana’s long range shot was fumbled over the line in the second to secure victory for the visitors.
However, one big worry for the Hatters will be keeper Elliot Justham, who was forced off midway through the second half with a dislocated shoulder.
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Town named a hugely strong team with Fraser Franks and Jernade Meade making their debuts alongside senior squad members like Alex Lacey, Anthony Charles, Kane Ferdinand, and Shaw, who were supplemented by a number of talented youngsters.
A wicked wind ripped across the pitch from the start and made it difficult for both teams to play.
It was the hosts who threatened first on four minutes as Craig Maisiri nipped in to beat Justham to a loose ball, but gave away a free-kick in the process.
On a heavy pitch Luton finally threatened on 15 minutes when Charles’ long ball released Zane Banton, but Bradley Kirkwood narrowed the angle and forced the ball to run behind.
At the other end Shane Bush’s header flew just wide of the mark, while Jack Downes’ free-kick was straight at Justham.
Tackles were flying in from both sides as Viana stepped inside and drilled just wide.
With the ball holding up in the wind the Reds had strong claims for a penalty turned down on 20 minutes when Ian Rees looked to clear from a corner but appeared to catch Maisiri as referee Lee Forrester ignored Leighton’s shouts for a foul.
A Meade snapshot ran harmlessly wide for Luton as both teams were forced to battle hard.
Some lovely football by Viana and Meade ended in the on-loan Swansea City youngster having a heavily deflected shot off Kristian Stephens bounce easily to the keeper just after the half-hour mark.
A nicely floated cross was then headed into the ground and at the keeper by Ferdinand, before a foul by Jerome Jibodu illegally ended a potentially dangerous Maisiri break.
A niggly encounter saw the Reds throw their weight around at every opportunity, but it backfired when they gave away a free-kick on the left just before the break.
Meade’s delivery held up in the wind and Franks’ header drew a brilliant fingertip save on to the bar by Kirkwood and, with Shaw looking to bury the rebound, Warren Plowright threw himself in the way to block as he handled on the line.
Controversially the defender was shown just a yellow card as Shaw drilled home the 38th-minute penalty low to the keeper’s right.
Kirkwood was in action again as he held on to a Rees cross-shot, but gradually Luton’s class began to tell as they started to dominate the encounter.
Luton led 1-0 at the break as rain was added to the biting wind during a miserable second half.
It all kicked off on 54 minutes when Banton was fouled and some afters followed as both sets of players clashed en masse, with Leighton’s Grant Fryer eventually booked when order was restored.
A poor two-footed lunge by Jibodu on Maisiri was then punished by a yellow card four minutes later.
Walking a tightrope the young full-back gave away another free-kick soon after as Downes’ delivery flashed across the six-yard box, before the overlapping Jake Bewley skewed wide.
Meade whizzed over the bar just past the hour before Charles marauded forward from left-back but saw his low drive deflected behind.
Having survived a number of collisions during the night Justham finally picked up one knock too many as he was forced off with a dislocated shoulder and replaced by youth team keeper Craig King on 69 minutes.
Reds skipper Sean Bishop looked to capitalise straight away as he fired wide from distance.
But Luton put the game to bed on 76 minutes when Viana’s swerving shot from distance was badly fumbled by the keeper and, despite desperately clawing at the ball, he couldn’t prevent it crossing the line with Ferdinand firing home the loose ball.
Charlie Smith replaced Meade with nine minutes to go, before tempers again flared and both teams clashed yet again, with Ferdinand and Enzo Silvestri eventually being shown yellow cards after a talking to by the referee.
Jemale McKenzie-Lowe replaced Banton with two minutes to go and in stoppage time Charles burst down the left but fired over before King saved from Gareth Chendlik at the death to preserve a clean sheet and book Town’s place in the semi-finals where they will travel to Barton Rovers.
Reds: Bradley Kirkwood, Grant Fryer, Jake Bewley, Warren Plowright, Kristian Stephens, Sean Bishop (C), Jack Downes, Ryan Plowright, Gareth Chendlik, Shane Bush (Enzo Silvestri 77), Craig Maisiri. Substitutes: Ben Gallant, Matt Griggs, Dom Marsala, Chris Doggett.
Hatters: Elliot Justham (Craig King 69), Jerome Jibodu, Fraser Franks, Alex Lacey, Anthony Charles, David Viana, Kane Ferdinand, Ian Rees, Jon Shaw (C), Zane Banton (Jemale McKenzie-Lowe 88), Jernade Meade (Charlie Smith 81). Substitutes: Tinashe Chabata.
Booked: W Plowright 37; Fryer 54; Jibodu 58; Ferdinand 86; Silvestri 86.
Referee: Lee Forrester.
Assistant Referees: James Campbell and Corey Snuggs.