Lawless has Hatters into round four
The Hatters are through to the fourth round after a third round giant-killing of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The sell-out crowd provided an electric atmosphere inside Kenilworth Road as Alex Lawless struck 42 seconds into the second half sent the Hatters into a fairytale fourth round place.
Paul Buckle named Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Greg Taylor, replacing the injured Jake Howells, in an experienced back four for the Hatters along side Janos Kovacs and club captain Ronnie Henry. Jonathan Smith started for his second home début of the season for the Hatters alongside Arnaud Mendy, JJ O'Donnell and Lawless in the heart of the Town's battlefield. Jon Shaw and Wolverhampton born Andre Gray were selected as the huntsmen to chase down and sleigh Wolves in attack.
Under fire manager Stale Solbakken named his eleven littered with internationals and former Hatter Kevin Foley. Karl Henry lead the Wolves out donning the armband alongside Roger Johnson, Jamie O'Hara and Kevin Doyle boasting over 100 premier league appearances between them.
An early sign of Town brightness causing the visitors to panic. Nerves set in for former Spurs and Portsmouth midfielder Jamie O'Hara as he slashes through the air without contact to the bouncing ball.
The Hatters fans rapturous welcome for the home side met a crunching tackle from Smith on Doyle to reassure the home support their side were up for the challenge ahead.
First real sighting of goal came for the home side as O'Donnell's ambitious volley soared over Carl Ikeme's crossbar. Rowe-Turner set a searching ball towards Shaw who flicked the ball into the path of the onrushing O'Donnell. Watched all the way by the midfielder but he struggled to keep his effort down.
Instantly Wolves responded and Doyle shrugged off the challenge of Kovacs to surge into the box. His half volleyed effort bounced agonisingly past the upright as Hatters keeper Mark Tyler roared to the officials for an offside flag.
The Town looked to make their early possession advantage count as Kovacs sent a swinging effort goal-wards. With little danger seeming for the keeper Ikeme, Shaw raced in to challenge the keeper aerially. Ikeme clung on despite Shaw's challenge to avert the danger for Wolves.
Shaw, again causing the Wolves all sorts of problems in the air collided with Ward in a robust challenge meaning both players were floor bound with head injuries. After a slight delay both Shaw and Ward returned to the fray newly equipped with matching headbands to hide their wounds.
A second sighting at goal for Doyle to ease the pressure on his side with 20 minutes on the Kenilworth Road clock. Bakary Sako was sent speeding down the left by O'Hara before chopping the ball back toward Doyle. Kovacs stuck out a hopeful leg to loop the ball into the air before Doyle's athletic flick dribbled wide.
A golden opportunity for the Wolves local lad Gray just after the 20 minute mark. Rowe-Turner's dominant header found Smith who quickly set the ball back to Taylor. The full back then looked for Shaw who glanced the ball on to Gray who bounded down on goal. Ikeme spread himself well and slid to the floor to smother the ball to safety.
A real epic football match seemed in store as both sides went full throttle to gain the advantage. Ebanks-Blake recovered the pinball like football and drilled his half-volley wide for another Wolves half chance.
Chance after chance began to appear for both sides as Foley was robbed by Gray in the corner before reversing the ball past the former Hatters for himself to sprint past. With bodies flailing Gray looked for the top corner but his effort sailed over to the frustration of the young Hatters hitman.
Another chance from nothing for the Hatters as Berra's long clearance was met by a booming header back from Luton's Henry. Gray spun away from Johnson and looked to square for Shaw but Berra made a mends and swept up for Solbakken's men.
Big appeals for a dismissal ten minutes before the break as again the blistering pace of Gray had Berra on the ropes. Berra seemed to have tangled with Gray causing the Town striker to tumble to the ground but the referee waved away the boisterous appeals.
Anthony Forde then set about testing the Hatters resolve as he whipped in a vicious cross looking for Doyle at the far post but Rowe-Turner rose early to nod the ball to safety. The following set-piece was dealt with by the Hatters but O'Hara resurrected the Wolves attack playing the ball to Ebanks-Blake. The former Plymouth forward then slid the ball into Ward who struck the ball across the face for O'Donnell to loop over his own crossbar.
Again Wolves piled men in for the set piece causing Tyler to punch. His punch flew into the air and nearly crept in the far corner but the Town keeper atoned for his error to rescue the situation.
The clock ticked down towards the half-time whistle when Doyle stole in-front of Henry to nab the ball and set Ebanks-Blake on a rampage. Kovacs flung himself into the challenge for Ebanks-Blake to turn on the afterburners and fire into the area. Taylor scrabbled the ball to safety for yet another Wolves corner. Sako swung a low ball into the near post forcing Tyler to save incredibly. Berra flicked the ball into the top corner but the Hatters stopper slammed up a brave, strong hand to claw the ball away.
A sensational save matched by a second for the Town number one seconds later. Again Ebanks-Blake caused problems down the left hand touchline before driving into the box and setting it back to Henry. The ball zipped off the surface past the Wolves skipper to the feet of Sako who thundered the ball into the big torso of Tyler who made another unbelievable save to have those in attendance roaring their appreciation for a goalless first half.
The half time interval proved to be a well deserved rest for the Hatters who blitzed out of the blocks with an instant Lawless strike. Before many of the sell-out crowd could take their seats the Hatters midfield maestro leathered the ball into the net to send the Hatters into utter jubilation. Foley's slice allowed Shaw to nod the ball down to the feet of the Welshman who hammered the ball into the back of the net.
Utter ecstasy for the Hatters and they were nearly in booking their ticket to dream land when O'Donnell paced onto a set back to slam the ball goal-wards. Gray's pace again caused the Wolves endless problems, his cut back to Shaw was nullified by Berra who stamped the ball into the ground and it bobbled back to O'Donnell who's touch proved to much as it raised over the crossbar.
All Luton as the second half started a with sky high tempo as Taylor looked to write the headlines with a spectacular volley. O'Donnell's corner was headed away only as far as Taylor who hit it first time with ferocious force but it slammed against the out-rushing Sako to prevent a historic strike.
Wolves looked for a way back into the game and a neat interchange from Sako and Doyle gave Berra an aerial battle with Kovacs. The Wolves centre half hoisted his looping header over Tyler only to be denied by the crossbar to the dismay of the travelling mid-landers.
Big let off for the Hatters as Wolves enjoy a long period of possession. Ward returned the ball to Berra on the half way line who then picked out an unmarked Ebanks-Blake after confusion between Kovacs and Rowe-Turner in the heart of the Hatters defence. A loose first touch from the Wolves forward allowed Tyler to cool the situation and claim the ball.
Wolves continued to search for that evasive leveller when Doyle nodded goal-bound. Forde and Ward exchanged tidy one touch passes before the latter whipped a teasing ball into the area for Doyle to challenge. The Irish international beat Kovacs to the ball but his tame header was calmly collected by Tyler.
The Hatters used the continuous pressure from the visitors to their advantage and nearly snatched a second as Mendy drilled a long ball toward Gray on the counter. The ball skipped up the immaculate playing surface and into the grateful grasps of Ikeme with Gray inches away.
Substitution shortly after the hour mark for Wolves who switched Forde and Doyle for Slawomir Peszko and Jake Cassidy as they looked to inject a bit of energy and invention into their case as they continued to press for an equaliser.
O'Donnell put his head in where it hurts for the Hatters cause as Peszko introduced himself to the home fans and the referee. O'Donnell went sniffing around for scraps after a bobbling first touch only for Peszko's high foot to connect with O'Donnell's head.
It was to be the last action for O'Donnell who sadly left the field in a worrying state on the stretcher fully stabilised with a neck brace but eased the Town faithful with a wave as he departed down the tunnel. Stuart Fleetwood replaced O'Donnell with 20 minutes to play. A standing ovation for the departing O'Donnell matched by former Hatter Foley who was also replaced by midfield engine David Davis as Wolves again looked to boost their growing impetus.
After the seven minute delay Lawless teed up Gray from the free-kick but his effort lacked conviction and sailed into the Kenilworth stand behind the Wolves goal.
Town pressed for a second and came close when once again Gray broke the offside trap and scampered away from Johnson before seeking Fleetwood on the overlap. The Town substitute then confidently prodded the ball toward the near post but straight into the hands of Ikeme.
Bodies on the line for the cause quite literally for the Hatters as Taylor hooked the ball away from Ebanks-Blake before taking one square in the face from Peszko to deflect the ball away from danger.
The fight, desire and battle was epitomised by man of the match Smith who thundered into a tackle with Sako to prevent the Wolves front-man a free opening at goal.
Wolves continued to hunt their equaliser as O'Hara teased a tantalising cross in from the byline and Sako brought the ball down many hid behind their hands. Taylor again on hand to close down the effort before Henry drilled the ball against his own man. Johnson and Berra again got clammed up as Gray nipped in front to steal the ball and bear down on goal. With Fleetwood racing down on his left, Gray decided to go alone and slipped the ball past the central defenders looking to round them. Unfortunately for the Town front-man he ran out of pitch and his clipped effort evaded the far corner.
The clock pondered every second, every minute seen still to play was met with a groan of caution from the home fans and manager Buckle replaced pacey Gray with Scott Rendell who looked to make his mark on the game with very little time remaining as Gray earned his standing ovation for another scintillating home performance.
The fourth official indicated nine minutes of added time. Blinking twice the Hatters fans met the expected announcement with a roar of motivation for their eleven hero's in orange.
One last moment of magic was needed from Wolves and O'Hara stepped up to the plate hammering a thunderbolt from 30-yards goal-wards. Tyler again was equal to it finger-tipping the ball over the crossbar for another exceptional save.
The ground fell silent for a split second before one sensational eruption of noise as the referee blew his whistle and delivered the Hatters their deserving fairytale ending.