A scruffy goal was no way for this courageous Luton Town side to exit the FA Cup but they can take heart in a never-say-die performance against Sheffield Wednesday that had everything but a goal.
In the end, a combination of the woodwork, Owls goalie Cameron Dawson and a clearance off the line stood frustratingly in the way of a fourth round tie at Chesea. They deserved much more.
But disappointments can be tempered with a positive decision in tomorrow’s Power Court planning application meeting. In terms of importance, permission granted for a new 17,500-seat stadium trumps anything that could have been conjured up under the lights at Kenilworth Road, even if the Hatters did everything bar pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.
Atdhe Nuhiu’s deflected goal a minute into the second half proved the decider yet, over the course of two cup ties, Town proved they can more than mix it with a Championship club. That, after all, is the aim as they must now concentrate on a promotion-chasing League One campaign.
Interim boss Mick Harford made two changes from Saturday’s 1-1 eague draw at his boyhood team Sunderland, bringing in Luke Berry and Kazenga LuaLua for Alan McCormack and the suspended Danny Hylton.
The manager’s side started sharply after he received a rousing pre kick-off reception, for his first game charge at Kenilworth Road since September 29, 2009.
The pace of the contest dropped off only to be revived in the last 20 minutes before the break.
During that period, Jack Stacey and James Collins both found Dawson in obdurate mood - a pattern that would continue throughout.
But the Owls then came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock when Steven Fletcher glanced Barry Bannan’s 25-yard volley off the woodwork with James Shea rooted to the spot.
Luton rallied and had, arguably, the chance of the half when LuaLua laid the ball intelligently off to Elliot Lee 10 yards from goal, but with a clear sight the striker blasted over.
The momentum Luton had built before the break was killed within a minute of the restart. The ball pinballed around the Luton penalty area with Nuhiu clubbing a deflected shot off Sonny Bradley, which nestled in the corner of Shea’s net.
It signalled a short period of comfort for the Championship side, but that was given a thorough shaking when James Justin marauded down the left and picked out Berry. The midfielder steadied himself but still aimed at Dawson who saved with his feet.
Shea stooped low to smother a low Adam Reach drive after Wednesday threatened to swarm over Luton on the counter, but that was a rare occasion.
Dan Potts was brought off the bench to replace Berry with 22 minutes remaining and his first taste of action was to beat a man and then blast goalwards, only for Dawson, once again, to push his shot away at full stretch.
Any sense that it just wasn’t going to be Town’s evening was heightened when Bradley, at the back stick, headed down Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu’s deep cross and with the goal at his mercy, Collins hit the woodwork from a few yards out.
And when Wednesday goalscorer Nuhiu headed off his own line to prevent Bradley’s header from dropping in, the jig was up and Town’s 17-game unbeaten streak came to an end. It didn’t feel like a defeat.
Next up, one of the most crucial decisions in the club and the town’s history.
TOWN: Shea, Justin, Bradley, Pearson, Stacey, Berry (Potts, 68), Lee (Jarvis, 88), Shinnie, Mpanzu, Collins, LuaLua
Subs not used: Potts, McCormack, Jones, Isted, Sheehan, Neufville
WEDNESDAY: Dawson, Palmer, Fox, Fletcher (Matias, 90), Bannan, Thorniley, Lees, Nuhiu, Reach, Boyd, Hector
Subs not used: Jones, van Aken, Winnall, Baker, Wildsmith, Pudil
Yellows: Palmer, Boyd, Nuhiu
Goal: Nuhiu 46
Attendance: 9,259 (1,473)
REFEREE: Tim Robinson