The youth team boss praised the Town Under-18s, who reached the last eight of the FA Youth Cup
Youth Team boss Paul Driver was full of admiration for his side’s testament after the Hatters prevailed to the last eight of the FA Youth Cup with a dramatic victory at Preston.
But the Hatters got a stroke of luck before holding their nerve in the penalty shootout, setting up a quarter-final tie with youth Premier League outfit Blackburn Rovers.
“Preston deserved a goal on their second half performance,” Driver told lutontown.co.uk. “We got through to extra time and from somewhere the boys got the energy and I thought we were the better side for that period.
“We were the better side from the start, getting a nice early goal then a scramble where the keeper has made two great saves.
“Jack scored one [which was given offside] which we think was okay – that would have made it 2-0 and would have been a huge difference to the game."
Both sides suffered from tired legs on the full-size Deepdale pitch, but the Town put in a dogged shift to take the game to penalties, despite being without captain Frankie Musonda through injury.
And Driver believes it’s moments like this that could be the making of the Town youngsters for years to come.
“We took risks that we keep people fit to play rather than fit to finish,” he added. “Frankie’s got an issue with his knee that will need work on. We were there without our normal captain, but we’ve done it with ten men without him before.
“We struggled a little bit at the end of the second half for the lack of games. It was the first game for most of them for two weeks, and Kyran [McGhan-George] for example has not played since January 12.
“Whatever happens now, what they will learn will help them from years and years to come. In their younger professional years, the nerve and the way they dug in and the understanding that you have to work hard even when they’re dead and falling down, still being able to get up and go again is fantastic.
“It’s a testament to the strength of squad that you can bring three subs on that all change the game positively. Kavan [Cotter] and [James] Verney added that energy, while Ciaren Jones as a 16 year-old came in there against a good centre forward and did well.
“Blackburn here we come! We like the North West!”
The Hatters youngsters were taken to a penalty shootout for the first time in the competition, holding their nerve to faultlessly slot home all five spot-kicks.
Driver was also thankful to Supporters of Luton Youth Development (SoLYD) for their part in getting the Hatters to Preston a day early for extra preparation.
“We got the little bit of fortune with the penalty they missed [in extra time], but the boys held their nerve at the end with five good pens, especially with Alex [Atkinson]
after he missed the one at Oldham in the last round.
“The preparation helps, especially with the fact that we could come up here the day before and the SoLYD Bobbers Travel helped with the funding of the hotel and the coaches. You can’t measure that.
“That’s massive for the boys but it’s what the group’s about. Preston had 10 second year players, and we had three and a 16-year-old. I don’t know where the youngsters get it from, but I can’t say anything more than if we’d got beat I’d have still been so so proud.”
The Hatters now face Rovers in the quarter-finals, but could still meet the Lilywhites in the Youth Alliance League Cup, with both through to the area finals against Swindon and Shrewsbury respectively.
Driver said: “I’d like to think that we can play these again in the National Final – that will be great for them because they deserved something out of the game.
“Again we’re up in the North West and that reception that you get, the friendliness of everyone is out of this world.
“I’d love it if Luton played Preston in the final. No disrespect to Swindon and Shrewsbury, but they deserve to get in a major final and I’d love us to be the one that plays them. It would be a great game, and hopefully we might play at home!”