Historic night for Hatters in the Checkatrade Trophy
Luton Town 2
Att: 2,128 (137 away)
A youthful Hatters side pulled off a Checkatrade Trophy shock at Gillingham tonight by winning 2-1 with goals from Frankie Musonda and Jonathan Smith, and outplaying their League One opponents for long parts of the first match of the new group stage.
With injuries and illness having taken their toll on the Hatters squad playing their eighth game in 25 days, plus midfielder Glen Rea being away with the Republic of Ireland Under-21s, manager Nathan Jones took the opportunity to give squad members important game time.
Youth team right-back Kavan Cotter came in for his debut, while goalkeeper Craig King also made his first start along with Tyreeq Bakinson and Akin Famewo. There was a first competitive start for Isaac Vassell up front too, after several sub appearances since joining from Non-League Truro City in the summer.
History was also made in injury time when Under-16s striker Connor Tomlinson came on for his debut, at 15 years and 199 days old the youngest ever to do so for Luton Town.
The Hatters started the game brightly, knocking the ball around well and a swift passing exchange between Tyreeq Bakinson and Jake Gray almost got Isaac Vassell into the box.
The ex-Truro man, making his first competitive start in a Town shirt, was looking lively but it was James Justin – once more playing in the left-back role in which he made his senior debut against Aston Villa in the EFL Cup – who had the first shot on goal in the sixth minute, calling home keeper Stuart Nelson into a full length save from outside the area.
The Town made the breakthrough on ten minutes when Jake Gray delivered a free-kick from deep on the right flank, and Musonda stole in unmarked to nod past Nelson.
The young Hatters continued to impress, but Craig King – making his senior debut in goal for the Town – was the next keeper called into action, saving well from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas in the 23rd minute.
Within a minute, however, the Town’s lead was doubled. Gray beat his man on the right wing and crossed low, with the ball finding its way via a couple of deflections to Smith, who smashed home his second goal of the season from eight yards.
The Hatters were steaming into tackles and looking strong beyond many of their years, and with Gray and Smith dominating midfield, they were looking comfortable against their League One opponents.
A surging run from Gray just after the half-hour put Zane Banton into a promising position, but his shot from the edge of the box was charged down.
The backline still had to be on their guard, but youth teamer Kavan Cotter was having an excellent night at right-back while Akin Famewo slid to intercept a Bradley Dack attempt to put Cody McDonald in the clear.
It was the Town who continued to look most dangerous, however, and Vassell forced a save out of Nelson on 43 minutes when he broke clear into the box, and with 45 minutes on the clock, Famewo rose to meet Gray’s corner at the far post, but was off target with his header.
In the opening seconds of the second half, Vassell raced clear once again, only for his shot to be blocked by Josh Pask, and the hosts didn’t threaten until the 58th minute, when King had to race off his line to save bravely at McDonald’s feet, and just after the hour when the young keeper had
Vassell went down under a challenge from Pask, but referee John Busby waved play on, and then – on 65 minutes – Banton wriggled free in the middle of the penalty area and appeared to be pulled back as he prepared to shoot. Again, Busby gave nothing as Nelson cleared the loose ball.
In the 69th minute the game was almost put to bed when Vassell’s explosive pace took him clear between the home centre-halves, and his cross to the far post found the magnificent Smith, who couldn’t keep his header down at full stretch with the goal at his mercy.
Gillingham soon had a great chance to get back in the game when Darren Oldaker’s shot ricocheted into the path of sub Bradley Stevenson ten yards out, but King again saved well and as the game wore on, it was the Town who continued to carry the main threat.
With two minutes left, King had to save with his feet at the near post from Jake Hessenthaler, and then Darren Oldaker reduced the arrears with a strike from the edge of the box in the first minute of time added on.
But the Town backline held firm to record a terrific and well-deserved victory and boss Jones had opportunity to introduce Connor Tomlinson from the bench in time added on.
At 15 years and 199 days old, the Under-16s striker could play onlyu with permission from his headteacher at Harlington Upper School and he became the Hatters’ youngest ever player, beating Jordan Patrick who was 16 years and nine days.
2,128 (137 away)
TOWN: King, Cotter, Musonda, Famewo, Justin, Bakinson, Smith, Gray, Banton (Tomlinson 90+2), Vassell, McQuoid (Atkinson 84). Subs: Gooch (GK), Read, Hinds, Bean, Snelus.
Yellows: Banton, McQuoid
GILLINGHAM: Nelson, Ehmer, Hessenthaler, McDonald, Osadebe, Pask, Oldaker, List, Dickenson (Stevenson 61), Dack, Emmanuel-Thomas. Subs: Bond, O'Hara, Oshilaja, Donnelly, Cundle, Wright.