The Hatters were knocked out of the Carabao Cup at the first round stage tonight, losing 1-0 at Sky Bet Championship big guns West Brom, but there was plenty of reason for Town fans to cheer at the Hawthorns.
A goal from Scotland international Oliver Burke, a £15m signing from Bundesliga side RB Leipzig, just after the hour proved enough for the side recently relegated from the Premier League to see off Nathan Jones’ Luton, who have only just gone up to League One.
But the travelling fans got to see their side turn in an accomplished performance, taking the game to the Baggies and at times troubling a side packed with internationals and top-flight experience, and if front two Jake Jervis and Harry Cornick had taken first-half chances, the final score might have proved different.
They also, perhaps more importantly for the Hatters’ hopes this season, got to see midfielder Luke Berry back on a pitch for the first time since suffering a dislocated ankle and fractured fibula on Good Friday, as his remarkable rehabilitation concluded three months earlier than expected with a 12-minute appearance as an 83rd-minute sub.
Jones made eight changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Sunderland on Saturday, with James Shea in goal behind a back four of Jack Stacey, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley and James Justin.
Glen Rea was named captain in the role in front of the back four, with Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Luke Gambin wither side of him in the midfield diamond and Andrew Shinnie at the tip, behind a front two of Jake Jervis and Harry Cornick.
The Hatters had the ball in the back of the net early on, Gambin’s close-range effort was ruled out for offside, before Justin stretched the Albion back four down the left, his 11th-minute cut-back for Jake Jervis intercepted at the near post.
Town were enjoying their fair share of possession and Bradley directed a 23rd-minute header from Gambin’s corner straight at Albion keeper Boaz Myhill, then Jervis dragged a left-footed shot past the far post after James Justin found him on the edge of the Baggies’ area.
Albion could, and probably should, have taken a lead into the break however after Wales international Hal Robson-Kanu found himself in some excellent positions.
First, around the half-hour mark, he received a ball from Matt Phillips just inside the area and turned Pearson, but Shea was quickly off his line to save with his feet, before a glancing header went well wide of the far post.
Mpanzu showed great strength in midfield to brush Tosin Adarabioyo off the ball, then continued his run to meet Shinnie’s 33rd-minute cross with his chest, an effort that was on target and turned behind by Myhill, although the corner came to nothing.
In the 37th minute Robson-Kanu sprang the offside trap and went through one-one-one with Bradley, but took his shot early straight at Shea, then Harvey Barnes ran at the Town defence and tested the keeper from 25 yards, but Shea again saved well.
Phillips’ clever throw on right caught Justin out two minutes before the break, Burke cutting back from the byline for Robson-Kanu, but again, the striker’s header was well off target.
Cornick also had a good chance for the Hatters a minute before the interval, but dragged his right footed shot across Myhill and the Albion goal.
West Brom made a couple of changes at half-time and came flying out of the traps, but couldn’t create anything and it was the Town who went closest in the 52nd minute, Pearson climbing highest at the far post to meet Shinnie’s corner, but the centre-back couldn’t keep his header down.
The hosts had the lead by the 62nd-minute, however, when Pearson’s sliding challenge 30 yards from goal ricocheted into the path of Burke, the former Nottingham Forest and RB Leipzig forward, who slipped the ball past the advancing Shea from the edge of the box.
Jones immediately brought Lloyd Jones on for Gambin and switched to a back three, but his side found it difficult to penetrate the Baggies’ defensive line, Rea’s 30-yard drive in the 71st minute, after good pressure down the right by Cornick, only troubling the 1,175 travelling Hatters in the Smethwick End behind the goal.
Those Hatters fans sang all night, but the biggest cheer undoubtedly came when Berry came on for Rea in the 83rd minute, 137 days after suffering that horrendous injury.
‘One Luke Berry’ they sang, just as they had that day at Colchester. There wouldn’t have been a Town fan anywhere that wasn’t smiling, despite the result – which might have been taken to penalties had Jervis been in inch taller to get a clear header on Elliot Lee’s injury-time corner.
The Hatters were beaten, but by no means downhearted.
TOWN: Shea, Stacey, Pearson, Bradley, Justin, Rea (Berry 83), Mpanzu, Gambin (Jones 63), Shinnie (Lee 76), Cornick, Jervis. Subs: Collins, Senior, Read, Stech (GK)
ALBION: Myhill, Robson-Kanu, Morrison ©, Phillips (Edwards 46), Townsend, Barnes (Leko 66), Burke, Adarabioyo, Hegazi (Bartley 46), Field, Harper. Subs: Bond, Livermore, Gayle, Rodriguez
Goal: Burke 62
REFEREE: Robert Jones