Hatters crash out of the FA Cup at Accrington
ACCRINGTON STANLEY 2
LUTON TOWN 1
Att: 1,717 (482 Hatters)
The Hatters went out of the FA Cup “with a whimper”, according to disappointed manager Nathan Jones, as Sky Bet League Two rivals Accrington Stanley progressed to the fourth round with a 2-1 win at a foggy Wham Stadium this afternoon.
Jake Gray’s third goal of the season early in the second half had dragged the Town back into things after Sean McConville had fired the hosts in front in first-half injury time.
But Omar Beckles glanced in a winner three minutes later, and although Jones’ men had several chances to draw level before Glen Rea’s injury-time dismissal for a second yellow card, it was Stanley who take their place in Monday night’s draw.
Jones made five changes to his starting line-up from the team that faced Portsmouth on Monday, with Alan Sheehan, Olly Lee, Gray, Isaac Vassell and Josh McQuoid coming in – the latter pair having scored the three goals between them the last time they partnered each other up front in last month's Checkatrade Trophy win at Swindon.
The Hatters returned to the three centre-halves and wing-back system that had been used in several games leading up to the Portsmouth trip, and it took Gray – the most advanced of the midfield three of Lee, Jonathan Smith and himself – just ten seconds to register the Town’s first effort on goal.
The ex-Crystal Palace man drove towards the Stanley box after taking a short pass from Lee on halfway, but his low shot flashed just wide of the post as home keeper Aaron Chapman scrambled across his line.
Stanley had most of the early possession and Jonathan Edwards, the ex-Peterborough and Dunstable Town striker signed on loan from Hull City this week, had their first attempt, but his low shot only found Christian Walton’s side-netting.
Vassell was working tirelessly up front as usual, pressing high and making several good blocks on right-back Matty Pearson, while Sheehan came forward to arc in a free-kick from the right, but no-one challenged Chapman as he came off his line to collect comfortably.
The Town had a great chance to open the scoring on 29 minutes when James Justin played the ball inside for Gray, who whipped in a delicious cross from the right that Vassell met with an outstretched left-foot, but couldn’t generate enough power and Pearson hooked the ball off the line as Smith looked to pounce.
Gray was at the centre of all positive Town moves, and just after the half-hour another deflected cross looked to cause Chapman a problem, but the action soon swung to the other end and John O’Sullivan fizzed a low ball across the Hatters’ six-yard box that Billy Kee couldn’t get a toe on.
Captain Scott Cuthbert suffered a head injury in trying to cut the cross out and, after a lengthy spell of treatment, was replaced on 40 minutes by Stephen O’Donnell, who went to right wing-back with Justin switching to the left, and Sheehan dropping into the middle alongside Rea and Johnny Mullins.
With 45 minutes on the clock, Smith had another crack at the Stanley goal after Scott Brown had miscued a clearance, but a minute later, Stanley had the breakthrough when McConville pounced on a loose ball and curled a fine effort into the top corner from 25 yards.
Lee had the Town’s first shot of the second half after 30 seconds, but it flew high into the travelling Hatters behind the goal, and Stanley were soon onto the attack again, James Justin having to slide in to cut out another dangerous low cross from O’Sullivan.
Jones took Lee off and threw Jack Marriott into the action in the 51st minute, and almost immediately the striker had a sight of goal, capitalising on some hesitant defending from Beckles, who managed to get back to deflect the shot wide.
In the 54th minute, however, the Town were level and Marriott was the catalyst with Chapman racing off his line to close the Hatters hitman down on the edge of the box, but the loose ball fell to Gray who gleefully fired past the retreating Chapman and a couple of defenders into the back of the net.
Parity lasted just three minutes though, and Stanley were back in front in the 57th minute when Beckles met McConville’s left-wing cross with a glancing header that flew past Walton for 2-1.
Once more, the Hatters looked to hit back immediately and Gray flashed a low shot across the face of goal and just past the far post, then Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu – who had come on for Smith immediately after the second Stanley goal – saw one deflected just wide.
Mullins and Vassell met two right-wing corners from Sheehan with headers that they couldn’t direct on target, then – in the 70th minute – Rea fired over from close range after Vassell nodded one of Sheehan’s deep left-wing crosses into his path.
It was all Town now and Marriott cut in from the left so send a deflected effort in, then Vassell just failed to get on the end of a low cross from O’Donnell.
Stanley sub Jordan Clark’s first involvement was to relieve the pressure on his defence by firing a shot in that looped up off a Hatters defender and just wide of Walton’s left-hand post.
But Marriott was looking most likely at the other end – from what we could see in the fog – and with four minutes left he brought another save out of Chapman, before McConville volleyed over the Hatters’ bar from 25 yards.
Gray had another go in injury-time, set up by Marriott, before Rea was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red for a foul on McConville on the touchline in front of the benches.
It was an early exit from the game for the midfielder, and a disappointing one from the world’s oldest cup competition for the Town, whose attentions now turn to the Checkatrade Trophy when Chesterfield visit on Tuesday, and the bid to win promotion to League One.
TOWN: Walton, Justin, Rea, Cuthbert (O'Donnell 40), Mullins, Sheehan, Lee (Marriott 51), Smith (Mpanzu 58), Gray, McQuoid, Vassell. Subs: Cook, Senior, D'Ath, King (GK)
Yellows: Smith, Rea
STANLEY: Chapman, Pearson, Beckles, Hughes, Donacien, O’Sullivan (Clark 72), Brown, Conneely, McConville, Kee, Edwards (Boco 86). Subs not used: Davies, Gornell, McCartan, Rodgers, Parish.