Gilliead and Gray get the goals on another glory night
Luton Town 2
Gilliead 60, Gray 62
West Brom 0
Att: 1,441 (89 away)
The Luton Town youngsters proved yet again what a bright future lies in ahead at Kenilworth Road – and hopefully Power Court – as a team containing several members of last year’s double-winning youth team racked up another impressive Checkatrade Trophy win.
Alex Gilliead and Jake Gray scored the goals on a memorable night as a West Brom side containing four senior players who have been transferred for millions, two of them internationals, were dominated by the next generation of Hatters stars.
The victory guaranteed progress to the next round of the competition along with final group stage opponents Millwall, who also recorded their second maximum points haul with a win over Gillingham.
Manager Nathan Jones made three changes to the team that won 2-1 at Gillingham in the opening game of Southern Group H last month, with Stephen O’Donnell, Jack Senior and Gilliead coming in for Kavan Cotter, James Justin and Isaac Vassell.
Jonathan Smith, who came on as a second-half substitute for his 150th appearance in Town colours in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Whaddon Road, was named captain of the youthful side.
Craig King was in goal behind a back four of O’Donnell, Frankie Musonda, Akin Famewo and Senior, the transfer deadline day signing from Huddersfield who was making his Town debut, with Smith, Tyreeq Bakinson, Gray and Gilliead in midfield and Josh McQuoid partnering Zane Banton up front.
McQuoid had the Town’s first attempt on goal in the third minute with a free-kick from just outside the area, after Banton had been fouled by Shaun Donnellan. The striker’s curling effort was just wide of Welsh international keeper Boaz Myhill’s right post, however.
Three minutes later McQuoid proved a nuisance on the right wing, and his cross found its way out to Senior on the opposite side of the box. The debutant left-back delivered another inviting cross that Banton got his head on, but Myhill gathered comfortably under his crossbar.
It was a real positive start for the Town, but another of four senior players on show for Albion, midfielder Craig Gardner, had the next attempt on goal but the man who has been transferred for fees totalling £6m in his career dragged his volley wide.
At the other end Musonda had the next chance, hooking Gray’s right-wing free-kick straight at Myhill.
Then, on the quarter-of-an-hour mark, the visitors were handed the perfect opportunity to take the lead when referee Andy Davies penalised Musonda for what seemed to be the perfect challenge in the box on Rekeem Harper, but King dived to his left to push Callum McManaman’s penalty around the post.
From the resulting corner found the head of Jonas Olsson, but the Swedish international centre-half’s effort skimmed the top of the bar.
Just after the half-hour, Town’s next chance came at the end of a flowing move that started in the left-back position with Famewo and Senior. Smith dummied the latter’s infield pass and Gilliead collected the ball on the turn inside the centre-circle, drove at the Baggies’ defence and unleashed a right-footed 25-yarder that Myhill pushed away.
Senior picked out McQuoid with another inviting cross on 36 minutes, but his header was straight at Myhill, then Gilliead arrowed another shot at goal from outside the area, this time proving just too high.
The Town came close to scoring in the final minute of the first half when the best move of the game to that point saw McQuoid spread the ball out wide to O’Donnell, who in turn played Smith into the right side of the area. Smith’s low cross found Banton, who fed Gilliead on the edge of the box once more, but the Newcastle loanee’s shot was deflected inches wide of the post.
The Hatters started the second half as they had the first, right on the front foot, and on 52 minutes Smith met a cross from O’Donnell on the volley, but couldn’t direct his effort on target.
Then, after a delightful passing move, Banton got to the right byline and cut back for McQuoid who shot straight at Myhill, who had time to gather himself before fielding a follow-up shot from Gilliead.
Smith sent an effort wide from distance and, as the Town pressure mounted, Banton spurned the best chance of the night to that point as O’Donnell’s pass put him clear of the last defender, but bearing down on Myhill, the 20-year-old side-footed against the post.
If he was disappointed, Banton didn’t show it and within a couple of minutes he was spreading a lovely ball wide to O’Donnell, whose cross-shot flashed across Myhill’s six-yard box and wide of the far post.
The lead finally came on the hour when Banton, who was involved in everything, pounced on a loose ball in the centre-circle, turned and ran at the visitors’ defence with pace as Gilliead broke to the right of him. Banton slipped the ball into the England U20 international’s path and his low shot from 18 yards arrowed into the bottom corner of Myhill’s net.
Two minutes later the lead was doubled when, in a well-rehearsed set-piece routine, Smith dummied Gilliead’s low right-wing corner and Gray fired it low into the bottom corner, again giving Myhill no chance.
Albion finally mustered an attack, but Gardner’s shot from 25 yards cleared the crossbar and the roof of the Oak Road End, then McManaman fired just wide moments after the impressive Senior had made good progress down the Hatters’ left flank to tee up Smith, who shot wide.
Jones threw Vassell into the action on 73 minutes and the summer signing from Truro was next to chance his arm, curling an effort at goal, but Myhill, on this occasion, was comfortable with the save.
Youth team striker Freddie Hinds came on for his senior debut in the last five minutes of normal time, replacing man-of-the-match Banton, and the 17-year-old was straight into the action, threading a ball into the area from the left side, but Gray couldn’t quite take it in his path.
Vassell went on a mazy run across the 18-yard line before testing Myhill again in the closing stages, then Gray fired narrowly wide with 90 minutes up before Jack Snelus was brought on to give yet another youth teamer an introduction to senior football.
As footballing educations go, these boys are getting a first class opportunity in this competition…and judging by the ovation they received at the final whistle, the 1,352 Hatters fans in the ground gave them top marks for their work!
TOWN: King, O’Donnell, Musonda, Famewo, Senior, Bakinson, Gray, Smith, Gilliead (Snelus 90+2), McQuoid (Vassell 73), Banton (Hinds 86). Subs: Cotter, Read, Atkinson, Gooch (GK).
WEST BROM: Myhill, Olsson, Gardner, McManaman, Harper, Smith (Walker 67), Sweeney (Barbir 63), McCourt (Morrison 75), Donnellan, Fitzwater, Tulloch. Subs: Pritchatt, Palmer, Dool, Bradley.
Yellow cards: McManaman