Kenilworth Road witnessed a first tonight as the Hatters kicked off this season’s Checkatrade Trophy Southern Group H with an entertaining 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur U21s – then picked up a second bonus point with a penalty shoot-out victory
Luke Gambin and Josh McQuoid had netted the Town’s goals, either side of an unfortunate own goal from James Shea, making his Hatters debut in goal, and a Ryan Loft strike two minutes after half-time.
But at the end of 90 minutes, and with Spurs having missed two penalties under the new ABBA format, Gambin netted the Hatters’ fourth successful spot-kick out of four to ensure Nathan Jones’ lads were the winners who, maybe didn’t quite take it all, but finished the night with two points rather than one.
Jones had selected a side with a great mix of youth and experience, the likes of Akin Famewo and man-of-the-match Tyreeq Bakinson blending well with captain Johnny Mullins and Jordan Cook, while Danny Hylton and James Justin made their returns from injury, appearing for the first time this season.
There was debut too for Harry Cornick, signed from Premier League Bournemouth last week and given a first start in the striking role in which Jones is preparing to develop him, while 17-year-old Jack James made a terrific impression on his first senior appearance at right-back in the second half.
The Hatters started like a train, Cornick using his pace to reach the left byline and playing the ball back to Bakinson, who combined with Cook to set Elliot Lee up for a shot on the turn that was well blocked by Brandon Austin in the Spurs goal.
By the fourth minute the new-boy had worked his way to the same part of the pitch, sliding a ball across the six-yard box for Hylton, who was thwarted by Austin’s sliding block.
Cook was the next to have a crack, on five minutes, as a Gambin corner was only half-cleared, seconds before Lee’s attempted flick around the corner from Mullins’ knock-down went just wide of the post.
With 11 minutes on the clock, Lee, who had started brightly at the tip of the midfield diamond, fed Hylton, who took his shot early from 20 yards, but found Austin safely behind it to deny him once again.
Shea had to race off his line in the 14th minute to slide out of his area to deny Shilow Tracey a clear run on goal as he looked to get on the end of the excellent Keanan Bennetts’ through ball.
But five minutes later the Hatters had the lead, Gambin wriggling to find space after being fed in the area by Cornick and drilling his angled shot low into the bottom corner
Within two minutes the visitors were level, their captain Joe Pritchard allowed to drive unchecked towards the Town 18-yard box and arrow a low right-footed shot that came back off the post and hit the grounded Shea, trickling back over the line inside the post.
The visitors rattled the woodwork again in the 23rd minute, as Bennetts’ marauding run down the left finished with a low shot that came back off the far post.
Just before the half-hour the Hatters put together a superb flowing move that began with Justin at right-back and progressed across and up the pitch via Bakinson, Famewo, Shea, Senior and Gambin, before Justin delivered a right-wing cross that Hylton headed narrowly wide.
The Town were moving the ball well, and in the 33rd minute Cornick and Bakinson were at the heart of another burst down the left that ended with Gambin whipping in an inviting cross for Hylton to meet, but his downward header lacked power.
Cook, who had already sent a 25-yard free-kick narrowly wide, was keen to keep trying his luck, but his 35th-minute attempted curler was saved by Austin.
Tottenham were proving a real threat at the other end though, Bennetts cutting in from the left and seeing a shot deflected just wide as Shea scampered across his line, before the Town keeper then had to get down low to deny Tracey after the former Ebbsfleet United youngster fashioned an opportunity on the right side of the box.
Jones made two changes at the break, replacing the returning duo Hylton and Justin with McQuoid and James, the second-year scholar who doesn’t turn 18 until next January.
Within two minutes of the restart Spurs had their noses in front, Miller pouncing on the loose ball on halfway and slipping Loft for a clear run on Shea, who couldn’t keep the former Stevenage loanee’s cool finish out.
The Town responded well, however, Cook feeding a ball through for Lee to get a shot in, which Austin smothered on 49 minutes.
Then, in the 51st minute, the two game changers combined for the equaliser, James reaching an excellent pass from Bakinson on the right byline and standing up a wonderful deep cross for McQuoid to power a header home at the far post.
Shea had to be alert on the hour, however, to race off his line once again as Miller looked to get on the end of his own throughball – as his team-mates made their way back from an offside position.
Miller, along with Bennetts on the left, was proving a real handful, and the diminutive midfielder attempted a shot three minutes that just wouldn’t bend enough into the top corner.
Tottenham boss Wayne Burnett had introduced Timothy Eyoma at right-back and with 66 minutes on the clock, the 17-year-old arrowed a shot from the right side of the area that flew narrowly over into the Oak Road.
With just under a quarter-of-an-hour to go the Town almost profited from another raid down the right by out own teenager James, whose cross was deflected behind for a corner.
Cook delivered and Famewo got a head on it, with the ball eventually dropping at McQuoid’s feet, but Cornick’s flick from the striker’s chipped cross just eluded Lee at the far post.
Shea was keen to show his skills with his feet too, coming out of his box to lift the ball over an onrushing forward with his right foot, then spreading a terrific ball out to the left straight to Gambin’s feet.
The Hatters spurned two great chances to restore their lead with four minutes to go; McQuoid denied by a great block from Japhet Tanganga as he burst onto a pass from Cook, then James sending in another superb cross that the ex-Walsall man glanced inches wide.
Youngster James then got in again for a chance to cap an impressive debut in dream style, latching onto a great ball from Bakinson, but his shot was always on the rise.
With 90 minutes up, Spurs sub Kazaiah Sterling had a snapshot well held by Shea, and it was onto the shoot-out.
Lee went first for the Hatters, scoring, before Samuel Shashoua and Christian Maghoma went for Spurs; the former rattling the post but the latter netting to level things.
Cook and McQuoid then silenced the noisy Spurs following behind the goal in the Oak Road End with two more perfect efforts to make it 3-1, with Sterling netting and then Bennetts blasting over for the visitors to leave Gambin to make it 4-2 and put the bonus point out of Tottenham’s reach.
TOWN: Shea, Justin (James 46), Mullins ©, Famewo, Senior, Bakinson, Cook, Gambin, Cornick (Read 78), Hylton (McQuoid 46), Elliot Lee. Subs: Peck, Jones, Shamalo, Isted (GK)
Goals: Gambin 19, McQuoid 51
SPURS: Austin, Miller, Dinzeyi (Eyoma 52), Pritchard ©, Loft (Sterling 77), Maghoma, Tracey (Shashoua 81), Bennetts, Duncan, Tanganga, Skipp. Subs: De Bie (GK), Roles
Goals: Shea OG 21, Loft 47
REFEREE: Craig Hicks
ATTENDANCE: 2,699 (404 away)