Town book their place in FA Cup second roundThe Hatters got their name in the hat for the second round draw of the FA Cup after a hugely entertaining six-goal thriller against Newport County at Kenilworth Road.
The Town twice led but on both occasions Luke Guttridge and Paul Benson’s goals were met by equalisers from the visitors.
But the Hatters put the tie to bed and booked their name in the second round with two goals in the final 13 minutes from substitute Ricky Miller and man-of-the-match Jake Howells.
After an impeccably observed minute’s silence, it was Newport that began the brighter of the two sides on a damp, grey afternoon. Left-back Curtis Obeng tested Mark Tyler with a dangerous low effort from 10 yards after four minutes, and moments later Nathan Doyle did well to put off the same player when racing through into the box.
The Town, showing two changes to the side that drew at Exeter in a 3-5-2 formation, gradually worked their way into the tie and Michael Harriman, fresh from agreeing an extension to his loan, flashed an effort over the crossbar on 16 minutes, running onto Howells’ inswinging left-wing cross.
As the Hatters continued to press County back, Benson came even closer to opening the scoring on 23 minutes. Howells was again the architect, delivering a peach of a cross from the right but Benson’s header bounced a yard the wrong side of the post.
The chances continued to fall the Town’s way and following lovely interplay between Jonathan Smith and Howells, Guttridge – one of those two changes – slammed a first-time shot inches over the crossbar with visiting goalkeeper Joe Day beaten.
While the Hatters were enjoying the better of the play, the visitors were still a threat on the break and Tyler was twice called into action in the space of two minutes just after the half-hour mark when firstly he somehow got a finger onto a fierce drive from Chris Zebroski from close range. Moments later the Town stopper dived to his right to keep out former Hatter Aaron O’Connor’s acrobatic bicycle kick moments later that looked destined for the bottom corner.
Four minutes later, as half-time approached, County midfielder Michael Flynn saw his effort from the edge of the box deflected gratefully into the arms of Tyler as the visitors pushed for an opening goal.
The first goal of the game did come, however, and it went the Town’s way in some style five minutes before the break. The Town passed their way up the pitch patiently and found Guttridge in space. The midfielder, 25 yards out, looked up and smashed a fantastic left-foot shot into the top corner giving Day in the Newport goal no chance.
Benson sensed a quickfire second for the Hatters two minutes later but he couldn’t get on the end of Harriman’s deep right-wing cross and the Town went in at the end of an entertaining opening 45 minutes ahead.
Four minutes after the restart the visitors came close to levelling when Ismail Yakubu’s towering header from a right-wing corner was cleared of the line by Nathan Doyle standing on the post.
But the Town weren’t so lucky on 51 minutes when the Exiles equalised in super fashion, Flynn’s right-wing cross was controlled just inside the penalty area by Yan Klukowski, and the visiting midfielder did brilliantly to swivel and volley a fantastic effort beyond the dive of Tyler.
Having been pegged back Harriman flashed a cross-shot across the face of goal for the Town but seven minutes after Newport had levelled the Hatters restored their lead.
Guttridge took a fantastic touch to tee up Mark Cullen whose fierce shot was parried by Day, but Benson was first to the loose ball, leaping in the air from two yards to nod home his first goal of the season.
Sensing more goals, Cullen almost clipped home a third just after the hour but, on 64 minutes, for the second time in the game, County levelled.
Former Town man O’Connor was the man who netted, beating the Hatters defence in the air to powerfully head home following a left-wing cross.
John Still made his first change when introducing Miller on 71 minutes and within seconds of coming on he nearly profited from a mix-up in the County defence to threaten the visitors’ goal but eventually the ball was hacked to safety.
But six minutes after Miller replaced Cullen, the substitute was celebrating his first goal for the Town as he restored the Hatters’ lead once more. Benson won a right-wing corner which was swung in by Howells and Miller’s first-time side-foot flew past low into the corner of the net to make it 3-2.
The visitors now needed to come from behind for a third time and substitute James Loveridge curled a shot wide of the post from the left-hand edge of the penalty area on 85 minutes – but 60 seconds later the Town went two goals clear for the first time when Howells burst through the Newport defence to slam home an emphatic low finish.
4-2 to the good the action continued with Tyler’s reflexes and agility tested two minutes from time when he got up to turn a goal-bound header from O’Connor over the crossbar, and that was the end of the action in pulsating cup tie.
TOWN: Tyler, McNulty, Lacey, Wilkinson; Harriman, Howells; Doyle, Smith, Guttridge; Benson, Cullen (sub Miller 71). Subs: Franks, Griffiths, Rooney, Whalley, Walker, Justham.
ATTENDANCE: 3,656, including 334 from Newport.