AN instinctive late volley from substitute Adam Watkins saw Blue Square Bet Premier Luton spring an FA Cup shock as they sent near neighbours and League Two strugglers Northampton Town tumbling out of the competition in this afternoon’s first round tie at Kenilworth Road, writes Mark Wood.
Self-confessed Hatters fan Watkins had only been on the pitch five minutes when he pounced to thunder home an unstoppable effort from the edge of the box as Luton claimed a hard-fought victory to ensure it was their name in the hat for the next round.
Town made three changes to the team that slumped to a 2-1 home defeat against promotion rivals Fleetwood Town last week.
Striker Stuart Fleetwood was suspended, Robbie Willmott and Mark Tyler dropped to the bench, so in came keeper Kevin Pilkington and midfielders John Paul Kissock and Jamie Hand.
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The League Two strugglers started brighter but it was Town who crafted the first real chance on five minutes when Kissock’s quick throw found the onrushing Jake Howells, but his pull-back was behind Amari Morgan-Smith.
Town then had half decent shouts for a penalty turned down on nine minutes when Aaron O’Connor produced a great first touch to play in Morgan-Smith and his neat footwork seemed to draw a foul from Michael Jacobs, but Kenilworth Road’s favourite referee Andy D’Urso waved away the penalty appeals.
Seconds later Jacobs whipped in a dangerous free-kick to the unmarked Adebayo Akinfenwa at the far post but his downward header was somehow turned over the bar by Kevin Pilkington.
Lewis Young dragged a poor effort well wide before Morgan-Smith threatened with a mazy run as the pace started to pick up.
A stonewall penalty appeal was then again turned down by D’Urso as as John Johnson blatantly pushed Morgan-Smith over in the box as he looked to get on to a deep free-kick.
Moments later Northampton had the ball in the net following a quickly-taken free-kick but Saido Berahino’s strike was chalked out for offside.
In some ways it was a strange encounter with both sides regularly going to sleep and making errors.
D’Urso’s questionable decisions were also a constant frustration to the Kenilworth Road faithful.
Injuries forced the lively Morgan-Smith and Keith Keane off as Town’s hoodoo hit again on the stroke of half time, with Willmott and Danny Crow coming on.
Good work by O’Connor saw the ball ricochet into the path of Crow, but he was unable to control it and, in injury time, Hand’s deep free-kick found George Pilkington unmarked at the far post but he could only send his header wide.
The Cobblers started the second half far brighter, substitute Arron Davies’ curler flashing just wide of the right-hand upright six minutes in.
At the other end Howells’ long ball ran nicely for O’Connor but he was twice denied by Sam Walker.
Jacobs saw a long-range effort fly wide, while John Johnson was booked for a late challenge on Willmott.
A speculative long range Kissock effort was miles off target while a great turn and attempted cross from Berahino drew a great tip over over the bar from Kevin Pilkington on 64 minutes.
The volume started to build as Crow went close after good work by Lawless, while O’Connor flicked wide from a Willmott corner.
The ever-alert Kevin Pilkington got down well to deny Davies on 66 minutes as his low shot crept through a crowd of bodies.
Twice the Cobblers went close from headers in a matter of minutes, Johnson powering over from close range and Akinfenwa sending his effort straight at Kevin Pilkington.
A sizzling effort from Willmott was saved at the second attempt by Walker before the Hatters snatched the winner with 10 minutes to go.
Howells’ cross was only cleared as far as substitute Adam Watkins on the edge of the box whose first-time volley was simply too good for Walker.
Jacobs was a whisker away from an equaliser when his long-range effort fizzed just wide with five minutes to go.
The same man then jinked through a number of tackles before lasering inches over the bar.
Berahino threatened in injury time but his effort was well over the bar as Town booked their place in the second round of this season’s competition.
Hatters (4-4-2): Kevin Pilkington, Keith Keane (Robbie Willmott 43), George Pilkington, Alex Lawless, Amari Morgan-Smith (Danny Crow 44), Aaron O’Connor, Jake Howells, Curtis Osano, John Paul Kissock (Adam Watkins 75), Jamie Hand, Janos Kovacs. Substitutes not used: Mark Tyler, Dan Gleeson, Dean Beckwith, Shane Blackett.
Cobblers (4-4-2): Sam Walker, Lewis Young (Aaron Davies 32), Jason Crowe, Ben Tozer, Saido Berahino, Adebayo Akinfenwa, John Johnson (C, Andy Holt 84), Michael Jacobs, Ashley Westwood, Kelvin Landmead, Chris Arthur (Paul Turnbull 46). Substitutes not used: Ashley Corker, Nick McKoy, Freddy Hall, Bas Savage.
Bookings: Hand 23; Johnson 55.
Referee: Andy D’Urso.
Assistant Referees: L Betts and G Jerden.
Fourth Official: R Whitton.
Attendance: 4,799 (Cobblers 913).
Star Hatter: Kevin Pilkington. Produced to great stops to keep the Cobblers at bay and did all the basics well.