Young Hatters march on in Trophy
Cullen 15, Ashton (og) 78
A side showing 10 changes following last weekend’s 5-0 win at Alfreton maintained the winning thread as the Hatters knocked out FA Trophy holders Wrexham at Kenilworth Road.
Two goals from corners swung into the box by former Dragon Shaun Whalley did the damage – Mark Cullen heading the first before Neil Ashton’s second half own-goal – as the Hatters won for the eighth successive match on home soil in all competitions.
It was another indication of the Hatters’ strength in-depth as they dispatched an experienced Wrexham side who ran Oxford close in an FA Cup tie on Monday.
Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu was the sole survivor of the Town’s starting XI last week but the Town showed few signs of inexperience as they dominated throughout to book a third round spot on the weekend of 11th January.
The Hatters started well and, after Whalley’s shot was kept put by Wrexham goalkeeper Andy Coughlin on 10 minutes, the winger set-up the opener. His left-wing corner arched towards the backpost and Cullen, having lost his marker, guided a header into the back of the net for his sixth goal of the campaign.
A goal to the good the Hatters were playing some terrific football going forward and Alex Wall was mighty close to doubling the lead on 20 minutes when he saw a shot blocked with force from the Wrexham defence at the end of a fine flowing move.
The Town came even closer two minutes later. Ian Rees, at 17 the youngest player on the pitch, almost capped a full debut to remember when his left-foot shot was deflected onto the foot of the post.
It was chance-a-minute stuff as the Hatters continued to press. Cullen volleyed wide on 25 minutes, Matt Robinson sent a shot scuttling wide a moment later before Ruddock rifled a shot from distance into the arms of Coughlin on 28 minutes.
By the time of the half-hour mark the Town’s dominance was epitomised by the corner count: 8-0 in their favour.
Wrexham had barely threatened Elliot Justham’s goal in the first 45 minutes and the Town almost snatched a second before the break but neither Cullen nor Wall could get on the end of captain Jake Howells’ dangerous, low left-wing cross that need just any touch for a goal.
In front at the break the Hatters thought they’d doubled their lead a minute into the second half but Wall’s strike was ruled out for offside, but slowly Wrexham worked their way back into the tie and Johnny Hunt’s vicious drive was well-blocked by Joe Davis.
However, back came the Hatters, and on the hour Wall was denied a tap-in after a last-ditch interception from Wrexham defender Leon Clowes cut-out Robinson’s low cross.
But on 65 minutes the visitors’ task was made tougher by the dismissal of midfielder Jay Harris, who trudged off for an early bath after picking up a second yellow card with a nasty challenge on Robinson.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Wrexham upped the ante. Player/manager Andy Morrell introduced himself as a substitute and within moments of his introduction, strike partner Andy Bishop headed wide from a left-wing corner.
However, with 12 minutes left the Town made the tie safe. Whalley’s corner from the right took a deflection off of Ashton, giving Coughlin no chance, to give the Hatters some breathing space.
Ashton came close to making amends with a header at the right end on 86 minutes but Anthony Charles, who completed the full 90 minutes in his first appearance back since late October, cleared the ball off of the line and that was the final chance as the Town completed a comfortable win to maintain their fine recent record.
Town: Justham; Longden, Howells, Charles, Davis; Robinson, Ruddock Mpanzu, Rees; Whalley, Wall (sub Banton 85), Cullen.
Subs not used: C. Smith, Amu, Chabata, King.
Attendance: 1,617, including 89 from Wrexham.