Newcastle United 0
“4 Locks” read the shirt the Town players sported in the warm-up to this game and come the final whistle the captain’s shirt was paraded around Kenilworth Road by his jubilant teammates who strained every sinew, chased every ball and battled and blocked their way to one of the most powerful and poignant 1-0 wins Kenilworth Road has ever seen.
Seven days ago Rob Edwards cut a tearful figure as he applauded the crowd off at Bournemouth and the Town boss, having masterminded this gutsy victory over Newcastle United, was close to welling up once more as he took in the admiration from the Hatters faithful at the end of an emotionally draining week. “It’s been the biggest challenge of my professional career,” the manager would say afterwards.
Doing it for Tom Lockyer would have been one of the messages the manager said since Tuesday and how his players responded with a courageous performance; one that Locks himself would be proud of, and one which brings a welcome three points to breathe extra optimism in the Town’s fight to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
From the off the Town were at it even before the fourth minute applause for the captain. Elijah Adebayo and Jacob Brown giving the Magpies defence an early indication of the battling qualities the Hatters would keep up for the remainer of the contest.
Newcastle, fresh from penalty shootout heartache in the week at Chelsea, gradually felt their way in the game but they needed a helping hand for them to do so when Alfie Doughty gifted the ball to Sean Longstaff. His pass teed up 17-year-old Lewis Miley but with a shot at goal in the offing, Issa Kaboré blocked bravely.
While the Town were still on the front-foot, Newcastle sensed that one moment of quality could unlock the Hatters defence. On 20 minutes the Hatters had Thomas Kaminski to thank for a wonderful reflex stop to deny Callum Wilson’s close-range header with the goal at the striker’s mercy.
Undeterred by the Magpies’ attacking threat, the Town remained focused and on 25 minutes the Kenny was bouncing when Andros Townsend put Edwards’ side ahead. Doughty’s left-wing corner was flicked on by Ross Barkley and Townsend ghosted in at the back-post to guide a measured header home for his first goal in Luton colours. The noise was deafening and the players celebrated by holding aloft Locks’ shirt in tribute.
Ahead, the Hatters wasted no time in trying to put daylight between themselves and their visitors, and on 33 minutes, Kenilworth Road gasped in awe as Barkley thundered a shot from distance off the crossbar.
It would have been a goal to bring the house down but the Hatters did not relent and moments later Adebayo came mighty close to adding to his increasing Premier League tally. Barkley danced up field and slid the ball into the striker only for Martin Dubravka, the visiting keeper, to stick out a crucial leg to deny the Town what would have been a deserved second.
After that let off, and having struggled to get to grips with the Town, Howe made a double change seven minutes before half-time in a bid to up the Magpies’ attacking threat and the Hatters were relieved when Miguel Almiron blazed high and wide after being left unmarked on the edge of the penalty area.
In front of the break, the Town knew a second was vital in order to keep the visitors at bay, and Brown was inches away from doubling the lead only for his left foot shot hammer against Dubravka’s crossbar.
Having hit the woodwork twice you could have been forgiven for thinking this might not be the Town’s day. However, one thing we all know is the Town have character by the bucketload and as Newcastle pressed and pushed, the spirit of this squad – tested to the max this week – rose to the challenge.
The Hatters survived a barrage of Magpies attacks and a VAR check just after the hour rightfully chalked off an Alexander Isak strike as Howe’s side hunted the elusive leveller.
As more on the more the Town dug in as the visitors pressed, louder chants of “Oh Tommy, Tommy” grew around the old ground as time ticked down.
It was helter-skelter stuff at time in the closing stages. Blocks on the line, headers away from corners all contrived to frustrate the Magpies as seven minutes of time were added. Gabe Osho blocked brilliantly at one end before Barkley flashed a shot wide at the other.
But we’d been here before. Liverpool. Arsenal. Games against the big boys where last-gasp sucker-puncher had left us hurting.
Not on a day like this.
This was for Locks.
However, this was for everyone connected with the club.
The final whistle was cue for an outpouring of emotion on the pitch and in the stands. Relief in so many ways. To get through the past seven days has asked a lot of this group and those behind the scenes and they delivered in the best way possible.
That was for you, Locks, mate.
And that was for you all. The thank you messages and tweets, the flags, the Toon army’s banner. It all means the world.
So next up and onwards to Sheffield for a big one on Boxing Day.
We’ll see you then.
Enjoy your Christmas.
COME ON LUTON.
Town: Kaminski; Kaboré (sub Giles 46), Doughty, Osho, Mengi, Bell (sub Andersen 76); Lokonga (sub Mpanzu 80), Barkley; Townsend (sub Ogbene 81), Adebayo (sub Morris 80), Brown.
Subs not used Krul, Woodrow, Chong, Clark.
Attendance: 11,042, including 1,145 shouting for the Toon.