Late goals book Town a quarter-final place
Watkins 84, Gray 90
Watkins 84, Gray 90
Two goals in the final six minutes from two substitutes Adam Watkins and Andre Gray earned the Town a quarter-final berth in the FA Trophy against Skelmersdale.
Unbeaten their league, three below the Town's, Skem held out until Watkins' low drive broke the deadlock before Gray slotted home in injury time.
Paul Buckle used the depth of his competitive squad to make eight changes from the 6-1 midweek win over Barrow in the Blue Square Bet Premier. Alex Lawless, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Arnaud Mendy the only three survivors in a different look Hatters side including débutante Jerome Jibodu at full back.
An early sighting at goal for the Hatters came when James Dance carved open the Skelmersdale defence. Nipping the ball off the toes of Kenny Strickland he advanced forward before slipping the ball through the legs of the full back and unleashing goalwards. His effort lacked conviction and his unbalanced effort bobbled wide for a goal kick.
Skelmersdale then looked to gain an early initiative themselves as Mark Jackson volleyed goalwards from distance. Prodded forward by Aaron Turner and chested back by Mike Phenix allowed Jackson to lash goalwards from distance. His effort sailed over the crossbar with keeper Dean Brill happy to watch it hit the Kenilworth stand.
It was a quiet opening apart from the two previous chances with very little to keep those in attendance warm until the visitors rattled the post direct from a corner. A low driven cross into the near post deflected off dance and slammed against the upright.
The Hatters reacted instantly with Walker leading the charge forward. He received the ball from Scott Rendell's flick on before nudging the ball past the full back and racing after it. His cut back cannoned back off the defender and to the feet of Lawless who returned the ball instantly toward the far post. Jake Howells peeled off his man and glanced the header agonisingly past the far post.
Howells then saw his set-piece effort blocked as it thundered towards the goal after a neat training ground routine that worked the angle for an attempt. Lawless was bundled to the ground on the edge of the area before dusting himself off and standing over the ball. Mendy stood opposite and rolled the ball to Lawless who then slipped the ball through the legs of Mendy to Howells who lashed goalwards. His effort ricocheted off the defender and out of danger.
A stubborn Skelmersdale side forced the Hatters to long range efforts on the half hour mark as they hassled the Hatters every touch. Matt Robinson picked the ball up and wrestled his way through the challenge to fire from range. His effort was straight down the throat of keeper Sam Ashton who claimed comfortably.
A sombre first half was drawn to a close as the Hatters continued to press for the breakthrough. A combative first half performance from the Skelmersdale middle men added to a rigid back line enforced a goalless finish to the first period.
The second half started with the introduction of Andre Gray as he replaced Dance to change the Hatters attacking fortunes. It took very little time for Gray to get acquainted with the central defenders of Skelmersdale as he jinked between the two before losing his footing as things looked promising for the substitute.
There was a second early sighting at goal for Gray followed after good work from Howells down the left hand side. Howells driven cross was half cleared only as far as Gray who swivelled and shot goalwards only for a deflection to see the ball wide. The resulting corner saw Lawless pick out Rendell on the penalty spot but his shot was dragged wide.
An opening then came for the visitors to notch a priceless lead as Jackson prodded goalwards from the edge of the area. The midfielder found himself in acres of space after being found cleverly by Strickland's knock down but the resulting effort was watched wide by Brill.
Both sides continued cancel each other out as they battled for midfield supremacy. With neither keeper having much to do Luton made a double change with top scorer Stuart Fleetwood on to replace Walker and Adam Watkins on for the departing débutante Jibodu.
With 20 minutes left to play and the Hatters thought they had found their breakthrough. Lawless received the ball back from Gray after a quick throw in on the left hand side and sent a searching ball in towards the far post for Robinson. The keeper flapped the ball to Fleetwood on the edge of the area who whipped a curling cross into the path of Gray who's audacious flick skied over the crossbar from close range.
Skelmersdale nearly snatched a late lead through Jackson who again had the sniff of a headline grabber. Warren Bellew drove down the left hand side and cut inside past Lawless before lashing goalwards. His effort was deflected off the outstretched leg of the stand-in Luton skipper and into the path of Jackson who's first touch allowed him to swing a hopeful left foot at it. The effort from six-yards out was gobbled up by a grateful Brill to spare the Hatters blushes.
Captain for the day Lawless was playing a pivotal role as he looked to help his side gain the advantage, an advantage they nearly found from his delivery. As the clock wound down and the crowd grew restless he whipped in a tantalising cross which Gray flicked on into a crowded penalty area. Pinball followed before the ball skewed out and into the hands of a stooping Ashton to prevent the Hatters yet again.
From being within inches of going a goal down the Skem nearly found a magical goal from an attacking set-piece. A flick on to the far post was set back six-yards out and were it not for Howells flick on the line the Hatters would have been staring defeat dead in the eyes.
The resulting corner saw bodies loaded forward from the visitors and at a heavy price. Fleetwood received the ball after a header away and sprinted away from trouble. The second half substitute then picked his head up and found fellow substitute Watkins haring down the flank. Fleetwood switched to Watkins who instantly cut inside and, ignoring the run of Gray beyond him, steered a sweet left footed drive into the bottom corner to give the Hatters a late lead.
A mix up in the Hatters defence nearly found the visitors a last gasp equaliser. A long hopeful punt forward from the full-back saw Simon Ainge comfortably letting the ball bounce behind him unaware of Matty Hughes racing in behind him. Brill pounced off his line to narrow the angle and Hughes looped an outstretched foot over the keeper and bounce inches wide of the far post.
Seconds late, much like the first the Hatters counter-attacked to condemn Skelmersdale to a third round exit. Fleetwood again found himself in space to switch on the afterburners and race clear of the challenge. He then held the ball up before rolling it into the path of Gray who dinked over the onrushing keeper to seal a quarter-final place for the Hatters.