Late Luton fightback not enough as Wings fly into the second round of the FA Cup

FA Cup Round One: Welling United 2 (2) Luton Town 1 (0)
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A virtuoso goalkeeping performance from Welling keeper Lee Butcher sent the Hatters tumbling out of the FA Cup as they lost 2-1 to the Wings at Park View Road this afternoon, writes Mark Wood.

Luton’s lacklustre first half showing left them with a mountain to climb as they trailed 2-0 at the break due to goals from Joe Healy and Lee Clarke.

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But that insipid performance was turned on its head as target man Paul Benson pulled a goal back with a close-range header before laying siege to the Wings goal.

Butcher though was in inspired form as he pulled off several brilliant saves to deny the Hatters, meaning there will be no repeat of last season’s heroics that saw Town claim the scalps of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich City on their way to the fifth round.

Luton made four changes from the goalless draw at Gateshead last week as Elliot Justham was handed his second start in goal, with Mark Cullen, David Martin and Jim Stevenson also coming into the starting XI as Mark Tyler, Andre Gray, Ronnie Henry and Scott Griffiths all dropped out.

The Wings threatened first as skipper Steve McNulty had to be aware to head away Ross Lafayette’s dangerous deflected cross with Justham flat-footed.

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At the other end Jake Howells and Luke Guttridge combined well with the former Wales U21 drawing a good sliding block out of the sliding Fraser Franks.

It was an open start with both sides making light of the dreadful conditions. Jake Gallagher whistled an effort wide from outside the box before Clarke seized on a Cullen mistake as he burst forward from halfway and danced into the box before running the ball out of play.

But it was route on that almost brought Luton an opener when Justham’s clearance was flicked on by Benson and Cullen ran at his man before curling inches wide.

It was a decent start from the Hatters and, after Guttridge had dragged harmlessly wide, Town had several opportunities to take the lead on 18 minutes.

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Benson’s bullet header from Martin’s corner was well saved by Butcher and Alex Lacey was then denied by a mass of bodies before the ball rebounded to Stevenson on the edge of the area and Benson could only direct wide of the far post.

Despite Luton’s dominance the Wings looked lively going forward as Howells did well to duck under a dangerous cross and Justham claimed a free-kick curled into the far post.

With both sides playing some direct football Justham was forced into his first save on 25 minutes when Lafayette turned McNulty, but could only fire in a low effort that was easy for the keeper.

However, it was the Wings that took the lead on 27 minutes when Lafayette outmuscled Lacey as he burst to the byline and his cross was bundled home from just a couple of yards out by the sliding Clarke.

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And it should have been 2-0 seconds late when McNulty slipped and Lafayette ran clear on goal, but with only the keeper to beat he sold a dummy and his low effort shaved the post on its way into the side netting.

In a busy opening, Luton should have levelled after half an hour when Benson made a nuisance of himself on the edge of the box and, with keeper Butcher committed, Guttridge could only shoot just wide with an open goal gaping.

With Welling in front, the home side threw plenty of theatrics into the mix much to the annoyance of Luton’s large away following.

An increasingly scrappy game ensued as the pitch deteriorated following the heavy rain before kick off.

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And things went from bad to worse for the Hatters as Welling doubled their lead a minute before the break when Lafayette slipped Healy clean through and he slid past the exposed legs of Justham for 2-0.

With it all to do that Hatters again started the second half slowly as the Wings could have had a third three minutes in, but Lafayette’s effort rebounded off the grounded Kurtis Guthrie in the six-yard box.

Stevenson fired harmlessly over at the other end before McNultty was the first man in the book five minutes in for a trip on Lafayette.

The Wings continued to press as Alex Dyer’s 53rd-minute deflected effort from a half-cleared corner flew just over the bar and Andy Parry just recovered from a slip seconds later to prod away from Healy after he threatened to net from a far post cross.

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Welling were getting away with plenty of gamesmanship at Park View Road before Town got themselves right back in the game with a rare piece of quality on 56 minutes.

Space was created on the right for full-back Parry to tease in a delightful cross into the box. Lee Butcher did well to beat Benson’s initial header into the air but the target man reacted first to force home his header from a yard out.

Fit-again Alex Lawless then replaced the ineffective Martin and only a great low one-handed stop from Butcher denied Parry’s excellent low long-range drive from finding the bottom corner.

Skipper McNulty continued to battle hard in the middle as Town continued their increasingly desperate search for an equaliser. An ambitious long-range Stevenson effort flew just wide from almost 30 yards as JJ O’Donnell replaced Guttridge with 10 minutes to go.

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Luton started to boss possession in the closing stages, but the ball just wouldn’t fall for them in the box, with Lawless having several half chances.

Lacey powered his header just over from Lawless’ 84th-minute free-kick before the Wings brought on fresh legs with a double substitution as they looked to hang on to their lead.

Cullen whipped in a lovely ball with three minutes to go only for Benson to be denied by another great one-handed save by Butcher.

At the other end sub Kiernan Hughes-Mason bore down on Justham’s goal and, although the ball slipped out of his grasp, he recovered to save at the second attempt.

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The Hatters laid siege to the Wings goal in the closing stages and should have levelled with two minutes to go when Cullen threaded Lawless through but Butcher came rushing out to close the angle and saved well.

Young striker Zane Banton was thrown on with a minute to go and he almost turned the hero when Cullen again played him in, but his shot from an acute angle was again well fielded by Butcher.

And the Welling keeper kept his cool to hold on to Stevenson’s late deflected effort as Welling’s supporters celebrated like they had won the cup at the final whistle.

Town’s 740 travelling fans gave Luton’s players a warm reception at the end for their endeavours while boss John Still looked to be reading the riot act in the post-match huddle as Luton’s cup dreams faded for another season.

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Wings (4-4-2): Lee Butcher, Loui Fazarkerley, Jack Obersteller, Jake Gallagher, Fraser Franks, Lee Clarke (C), Kurtis Guthrie (Harry Beautyman 84), Ross Lafayette, Blaine Hudson, Alex Dyer (Kiernan Hughes-Mason 84), Joe Healy. Substitutes not used: Jamie Turner, Callum Webb, Sam Corne, Jamie Day.

Hatters (4-3-3): Elliot Justham, Jonathan Smith, Steve McNulty (C), Jake Howells (Zane Banton 89), Mark Cullen, Andy Parry, David Martin (Alex Lawless 58), Luke Guttridge (JJ O’Donnell 80), Paul Benson, Jim Stevenson, Alex Lacey. Substitutes not used: Mark Tyler, Solomon Taiwo, Scott Griffiths, Matt Robinson.

Booked: McNultty 50; Dyer 63; Franks 90.

Referee: Ben Toner.

Assistant Referees: Rob Smith and Alex Neil.

Fourth Official: Matt Eva.

Attendance: 1,555 (740 Luton).

Star Hatter: Paul Benson. Scored Town’s consolation and led the line superbly as most of Luton’s best play went through him.

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