10-man Hatters through to round four after 3-1 win
The Town Under-18s stretched their extraordinary unbeaten run to 22 games as they booked a fourth-round place in the FA Youth Cup despite playing an hour with 10 men.
Paul Driver’s side seemed set for a comfortable route through to face either Bournemouth or Oldham when two goals in five minutes from Freddie Hinds and Jack Snelus had the Town 2-0 in front.
Town teams never do things the easy way, though, and captain Frankie Musonda was sent-off on the half-hour after hauling down home striker Montel Gibson and Notts reduced the deficit from the penalty spot.
However, the Hatters need not have worried as an early second-half header from George Murray restored the Town’s advantage and that was enough to seal a well-earned victory to extend the Hatters’ fine winning streak.
It all began with Driver keeping the faith with the same starting line-up that had beaten Colchester and Leyton Orient in the previous two rounds.
And the young Hatters started much the brighter of the two sides and were almost in front on nine minutes. Kavan Cotter’s low cross from the right found Hinds but the striker’s instinctive shot at the near post was well-saved by home goalkeeper Joe Searson-Smithard.
With the Town dominating it came as no surprise on the quarter-hour mark when the Hatters went in front. Alex Atkinson’s defence-splitting pass found the run of Hinds and the forward guided the ball past the on-rushing keeper to roll home his 13th goal of the season.
Hurt by going behind, the hosts tested Hatters keeper Liam Gooch from a set-piece on 19 minutes but less than 60 seconds later it was 2-0 when a superbly-worked goal doubled the Town’s lead. Snelus played a one-two with Murray to surge into the penalty area to unleash an unerring finish into the bottom corner.
Well in control the Hatters threatened a third: Kyran McGhan-George saw a header held by Searson-Smithard on 24 minutes before Snelus was crowded out in the penalty area moments later.
The chances continued to come the Town’s way with Cotter and James Justin shooting wide.
However the game turned on 29 minutes when Magpies striker Gibson raced through on goal and was brought down by Musonda just inside the penalty area. After much deliberation the referee sent-off the Town skipper and Gibson converted the resultant spot-kick.
Despite their numerical disadvantage that Hatters, to their credit, settled well and Hinds was inches away from making it 3-1 on 36 minutes when just unable to force the ball home.
As half-time approached Snelus sent a firm shot straight at Searson-Smithard and Hinds lofted a shot over the crossbar before Murray’s shot flew wide.
However, any fears of an early County fight-back in the second half were snuffed out when the Town restored their two-goal advantage five minutes after the restart. Murray’s shot from 15 yards was deflected behind for a corner but from the resultant flag-kick Murray rose at the back-post to nod home with a little help from the crossbar.
With breathing space once more, the Town looked full of confidence going forward – at times looking as though it was them and not Notts who were a man light. A mazy run from Cotter on 55 minutes cumulated in the midfielder forcing Searson-Smithard into a comfortable save.
As the hour-mark passed, County upped the ante and the Town defence needed to be brave to clear from a corner on 63 minutes that fell at Gibson’s feet.
The Hatters then spurned a decent chance to make it 4-1 on 67 minutes when Cameron McJannet’s left-wing cross meant for Hinds was missed by Murray with the goal at his mercy inside the six-yard box.
As time ticked down the home side ran out of ideas as the Hatters asserted their control even without their captain and Snelus almost capped the evening with a superb strike only to see his rasping 25-yard drive tipped over the crossbar.
But that was the final chance and the final whistle signalled celebrations from the Town knowing they were one game away from a place in the fifth round of the Youth Cup.
Many congratulations to all involved!
Town: Gooch; Justin, McJannet (sub Bean 68), Famewo, Musonda; McGhan-George, Cotter, Atkinson, Snelus; Murray (sub Bakinson 73), Hinds.
Subs not used: Verney, Brown, Shamola.