Hatters exit the FA Cup at Park View Lane
The Town’s dream of another giantkilling run in the FA Cup came to an end as they were defeated at Welling.
Trailing 2-0 at the break the Hatters came out all guns blazing in the second half and Paul Benson’s header reduced arrears to give them hope.
However, the Town could not score a second with home goalkeeper Lee Butcher pulling off a string of excellent saves to deny the Hatters a replay.
The Wings stopper prevented efforts from substitutes Zane Banton and Alex Lawless in the final moments and the defeat ended the Town’s 10-match unbeaten run.
Having made four changes to the side that drew 0-0 at Gateshead last Saturday, the Town allowed the Wings to dominate the early exchanges with frontmen Ross Lafayette and Kurtis Guthrie causing the Hatters’ defence a number of early problems.
But on 10 minutes, one of those Town changes, Mark Cullen, came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock when he collected a pass down the right, cut inside on his left foot and saw a shot whistle just past the post.
Eight minutes later the Hatters came even closer to going in front. A corner from the right was swung into Paul Benson at the back-post. His header was blocked on the line, as was Alex Lacey’s follow-up inside the six yard box. Jim Stevenson sent the ball back into the mix but Benson could only poke a shot wide again from inside the penalty area.
Elliot Justham, in the Town goal, was tested for the first time on 25 minutes when he got down to smother Lafayette’s shot on the turn, but two minutes, later the Hatters’ goalkeeper could do nothing as the Wings took the lead. Lafayette muscled Alex Lacey off the ball to cross from the right and home skipper Lee Clarke was on hand to bundle home inside the six yard box.
It could have been worse for the Town immediately from kick-off when Lafayette burst through after being gifted the ball by the Hatters, but the striker could only find the foot of the post with his low effort.
Behind, the Hatters spurned a glorious chance to equalise on the half-hour mark when Guttridge failed to hit the target with a shot from inside the D after Benson’s run had committed the home goalkeeper to the edge of the box.
However, Welling, to their credit, were playing well and they doubled their lead a minute before the break. Lafayette was again the creator, sending Joe Healy clear of the Town defence, and he slotted past the advancing Justham to make it 2-0.
Two minutes after the start of the second half it was almost 3-0 to the hosts as a rampaging run from left-back from Jack Obersteller enabled Lafayette the chance to shoot but his effort from close range was blocked well by Jake Howells.
Welling continued to press. A series of corners tested the Town defence and, after Steve McNulty – the captain for the Hatters in Ronnie Henry’s absence – was booked, Alex Dyer saw a rising shot from the edge of the box deflected narrowly over the crossbar.
Moments later Andy Parry, playing at right-back did well to recover after originally slipping and allowing goalscorer Healy the chance at goal but, on 57 minutes the Town were back in it. Parry was involved, his cross from the right was met by a thumping header from Benson. Lee Butcher, the Welling keeper, did well to parry the effort, but could only send the ball looping skywards and Benson was on hand to nod home from a yard out.
Alex Lawless was introduced a minute later and, with the impetus well and truly with the Hatters, Parry came close to levelling on 59 minutes but his low first-time piledriver – heading for the bottom corner – was kept out well by the outstretched arms of Butcher.
Both sides traded possession and half-chances with the Town struggling to test Butcher again since Parry’s effort just after the hour.
Jim Stevenson – the scorer of two fine goals for the development squad in the week against West Ham – came close to a stunning equaliser with 13 minutes left on the clock but his well-hit effort from 25 yards flew a yard wide.
The Town continued to press as time ticked. Benson and Lawless couldn’t get a shot away with the ball stuck in their feet whilst Lacey sent a header over with six minutes left following Lawless’ right wing free-kick.
It was all the Hatters in the closing stages and the Wings had Butcher to thank for another vital save with four minutes left when he kept out Benson’s header which came close to finding the bottom corner.
The Hatters lay siege on the hosts’ goal and Butcher made his best save of the game with two minutes left when he kept out Lawless’ shot with his legs after the midfielder was played through by Cullen.
Substitute O’Donnell volleyed wide as the game entered the final minute and, in the first of four minutes of stoppage time, Zane Banton – on for Howells in the dying moments – saw his first-time snap-shot clawed away by that man Butcher.
The Town desperately tried to find a late, late, late leveller to force a replay but the Wings held on to book their place in the second round.
Town: Justham; Parry, McNulty, Lacey, Howells (sub Banton 89); Smith, Stevenson; Guttridge (sub O’Donnell 80), Martin (sub Lawless 59), Cullen; Benson.
Subs not used: Tyler, Taiwo, Griffiths, Robinson.
Attendance: 1,555 (including 740 shouting for the Town).