James Collins produced a Bonfire weekend special to settle a cracker of an Emirates FA Cup first round tie at Kenilworth Road this afternoon as the Hatters claimed yet another higher-level scalp in Nathan Jones’ near two-year tenure at the club.
Reigning League Two champions Portsmouth, currently 14th in the third tier, played their part in an end-to-end affair after Collins had struck a beauty, his ninth goal of the season, on the stroke of half-time to put the Town in front.
But the Hatters saw the game out – and could have added to the winning margin several times – to make Pompey the seventh victim in a list of cup conquests that already numbers Aston Villa, Gillingham, West Brom, Swindon, Chesterfield and AFC Wimbledon since the beginning of last season.
Jones made three changes to the team that started the Sky Bet League Two game against Coventry last week as the Town set off on the road to Wembley.
Coming into the side were Alan Sheehan, who returned after serving a one-match suspension last Saturday, and midfielders Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Andrew Shinnie, who netted twice in the midweek Checkatrade Trophy win at Wimbledon.
Glen Rea misses out as he serves a one-game ban following his late red card against Coventry, defender Johnny Mullins is sidelined by the ankle injury suffered in that defeat while Harry Cornick drops to the bench.
Portsmouth had the afternoon’s first shot on goal, Brett Pitman’s fifth-minute effort comfortably saved by Marek Stech – but it was four minutes later that the game really burst into life tempers flared in front of the Main Stand.
Pompey’s Nathan Thompson flew in late on Alan Sheehan, picking up a yellow card from ref Seb Stockbridge while James Collins received the same punishment for getting involved in the aftermath.
The Hatters were moving the ball well, but the first opportunity for the men in orange arrived courtesy of a Sheehan free-kick, whipped in from the left with its usual precision, that found Collins unmarked in the six-yard box. Sadly, the striker’s glancing header drifted well wide of the far post.
Portsmouth’s top scorer Pitman was looking their biggest threat, as you’d expect of a striker with his higher-level experience, and the ex-Bournemouth and Ipswich man called Stech into action again in the 20th minute, the Czech keeper spectacularly tipping Pitman’s angled drive over.
Some superb defending by Mpanzu helped keep the scoreline blank on the half-hour when Pompey midfielder Ben Close tricked his way into the Hatters’ box, only to find the Hatters’ holding midfielder blocking his path with a perfectly timed tackle as Close prepared to shoot.
Mpanzu was soon up at the other end registering the Town’s first shot on target, as Hylton laid Berry’s low cross into his path to strike, but Portsmouth keeper Luke McGee was right behind the side-footed shot that travelled 25 yards along the ground.
The Hatters’ best chance of the half arrived in the 43rd minute when Shinnie dug a delightful cross out from the right that just cleared Matt Clarke’s head to find Hylton, perhaps taken by surprise that the centre-half missing it, who couldn’t generate enough power with his header to beat McGee.
The breakthrough came on the stroke of half-time, and it was Shinnie – found bby a terrific ball from Cuthbert – who again crossed from the right for Hylton, who laid an inviting volley back into striker partner Collins’ path to fire left-footed into the bottom corner.
The visitors’ winger Jamal Lowe was the next to go into ref Stockbridge’s book, closely followed by Christian Burgess
Town had the ball in the back of the net again in the 54th minute through Hylton tapped in Stacey’s low cross after a flowing move down the right, but the right-back was flagged offside as he raced onto Berry’s defence-splitting pass.
A minute later another pinpoint passing move brought a chance for Berry, Olly Lee playing a one-two with Collins on the edge of the box before spreading the play left to the former Cambridge man, whose shot was tipper onto the bar by McGee.
Portsmouth responded as a real end-to-end cup tie developed, Stech brilliantly tipping Clarke’s 59th-minute header onto the bar and a Pitman volley around the post either side of Sheehan clearing Lowe’s shot off the line.
Shinnie had a great chance to add to his midweek double at Wimbledon when he pounced on a long clearance down the right by Mpanzu – and some hesitant defending by Pompey left-back Brandon Haunstrup – but couldn’t steer his right-footed shot on target as McGee raced out to close the angle.
Stech was at his best again to beat Close’s 70th-minute drive away, sub Conor Chaplin firing the rebound high into the Oak Road End before midfielder Stuart O’Keefe became the fourth Pompey player to be shown a yellow card when he brought Olly Lee down after the Town man beat him with an outrageous piece of skill on the touchline in front of the Enclosure.
The mounting yellows proved costly in the 84th minute when Thompson picked up his second of the game, and subsequent red, for a foul on Collins, but the Hatters couldn’t profit immediately when Pompey only half-cleared Sheehan’s free-kick, Olly Lee’s shot flying high into the Kenny End.
Two minutes later Berry did exactly the same as Hylton broke from halfway, only to find his path to goal blocked as he prepared to shoot. The ball broke to Berry, whose right-footed shot from 15 yards was always rising.
Lee had a glorious chance to seal the tie in the 89th minute when he raced clear onto another ball down the right by Mpanzu, Hylton using his body to assist in allowing the ball to pass him on halfway, but McGee got a hand on Lee’s attempted 30-yard chip to turn it away for a corner.
Stech was at his brilliant best a minute into stoppage time, and just after he’d been announced as the sponsors’ man of the match, when he flew across his goal-line to push Close’s 25-yard piledriver around the post to ensure it would be the Hatters who deservedly progressed into the second round
They will find out just after 7pm on Monday night who awaits on the first weekend of December. The Hatters will be ball number 11 in the draw live on BT Sport 1, BT Sport 4K UHD and BBC2.
TOWN: Stech, Stacey, Cuthbert ©, Sheehan, Potts, Mpanzu, O Lee, Berry, Shinnie (Cornick 83), Collins, Hylton. Subs: Justin, Gambin, D’Ath, E Lee, Famewo, Shea (GK)
Yellows: Collins, O Lee
Goal: Collins 45+1
POMPEY: McGee, Clarke, Burgess, O'Keefe, Pitman (c) (Chaplin 62), Hawkins, Kennedy (Bennett 62), Lowe, Thompson, Close, Haunstrup. Subs: Rose, Lalkovic, Donohue, Evans, Bass
Yellows: Thompson, Lowe, Burgess, O’Keefe
REFEREE: Seb Stockbridge
Att: 5,333 (1,143 away)