The Hatters bowed out at the second round stage of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy following a narrow defeat at League 1 Gillingham.
A much-changed Town side led at half-time thanks to Cameron McGeehan’s goal four minutes before the interval.
But after John Still made three half-time changes, the hosts took control and Max Ehmer levelled on 65 minutes moments after home goalkeeper Stuart Nelson had denied Josh McQuoid a second Town goal.
Having got themselves level the home side pushed forward and substitute Bradley Dack fired home the Gills’ winner with seven minutes left to send Justin Edinburgh’s through to the area quarter-finals.
The Town began showing six changes to the side that won at Hartlepool on Saturday, fielding a completely different back four. The defence of Alex Lawless, Dan Potts, Mark O’Brien and Magnus Okuonghae were joined by Nathan Doyle, who skippered the side, and striker Jack Marriott fresh from his two goals in the weekend win in the North East.
League 1 high-flyers Gillingham were the Football League’s leading goalscorers on home soil but the new-look Hatters defence were rarely troubled in a low key opening first 45 minutes that saw neither Mark Tyler, or the Gills’ keeper Nelson, tested.
However, the home custodian was the one man who had to pick the ball out of the net as the Town went in front four minutes before the break. A tidy move from the Hatters led to Potts swinging in a deep left-wing cross to the back-post towards McGeehan who bravely got across his man to guide a header down and beyond Nelson. It was the midfielder’s fifth goal of the season.
At the start of the second half Still made a triple substitution, introducing Ryan Hall, Scott Griffiths and Danny Green for McGeehan, Guttridge and Olly Lee.
The changes saw Griffiths slot in at right-back and Lawless move into a middle three alongside Hall and Green with Josh McQuoid and Marriott in attack.
Gillingham started the second half the brighter of the two sides but the Town defence stood firm as Edinburgh’s Gills chased an equaliser, forcing a number of corners that the Hatters dealt with well.
With the hosts pushing upfield, the Town’s best chances were on the break and on 62 minutes McQuoid was unlucky not to score his first goal in Luton colours when twice going close. Having been found by Hall the striker firstly saw a shot blocked before his follow-up was well-saved by the outstretched arm of Nelson.
And that save from the home goalkeeper was crucial for the Gills, as three minutes later, they levelled. Potts made a mess of a back-header to Tyler but made up by blocking Cody McDonald’s shot behind for a corner. However, the Town couldn’t clear their lines from the resultant right-wing flag-kick with Green’s header back into the dangerzone leading to McDonald testing Tyler but Ehmer was first to the follow-up, lashing a firm shot home.
Having had their lead wiped out, the Town came close to restoring their advantage on 67 minutes when Hall was inches away from connecting with Marriott’s right-wing centre. Ten minutes later Green curled a free-kick just wide from 25 yards and on 77 minutes Marriott raced onto Green’s throughball but was just beaten to the ball on the edge of the box by Nelson.
However, with seven minutes to go, the Gills took the lead with two substitutes combining. Bradley Garrison sped up the left past Griffiths to square for McDonald. His near-post shot was blocked by Tyler but Dack was on hand to fire home the loose ball from close range.
The Town rallied in the closing stages as they looked to take the tie to penalties but Potts sliced their best chance wide of the post in the final minute when well placed – and that was that.
Town: Tyler; Lawless, Potts, Okuonghae, O'Brien; Doyle, Lee (sub Griffiths 46); McQuoid, Guttridge (sub Green 46), McGeehan (sub Hall 46); Marriott.
Subs not used: Justham, Wilkinson.