One of the benefits of winning the championship of League One in 2004/05 was being exempted until the third round of the FA Cup the following season.
The Town had not met top flight opposition in the competition since Southampton in 1995 so we could hardly believe it when we were paired at home with Liverpool, the Champions of Europe – a game that soon caught the imagination of the football world.
Leading up to the game much was made of Town manager Mike Newell being in the books of Liverpool as a schoolboy and being a self-confessed Reds fan even though he had scored a hat-trick against them for the Hatters in a famous 4-1 win in 1986.
The match was soon picked for live TV coverage and with the kick-off being put back to 5.30pm and with miles of cable on the Kenilworth Road concourse the occasion had a surreal air about it – something we were not used to.
Mindful of putting out a weakened team and being turned over by Championship side Burnley the previous year, Reds manager Rafa Benitez picked his strongest side and in a brilliant atmosphere the contest started as it meant to go on with both sides attacking at will.
Steven Gerrard opened the scoring with a spectacular 20 yard effort on 16 minutes but the Town roared back with goals from Steve Howard and Steve Robinson before the interval and it could have been more as an effort from Markus Heikkinen was spectacularly headed off the line by Reds defender Steve Finnan.
On 48 minutes Liverpool were awarded a penalty when Gerrard went over theatrically in the area but Djibril Cisse saw his spot kick-saved by Marlon Beresford. Five minutes later in this breathless contest the Town had a penalty of their own when Reds goalkeeper Scott Carson upended Rowan Vine in the box. Skipper Kevin Nicholls made no mistake and drilled the Hatters into an unbelievable 3-1 lead.
Perhaps the Town should have sat back on their lead but the team continued to attack (“too honest” said Newell afterwards) and were eventually undone by two goals from sub Florent Sinima-Pongolle and a pair from Xabi Alonso which included a 60-yard effort in the closing seconds with all 11 Luton players at the other end of the field chasing the game.
Liverpool had certainly been in a game and there was no shame in defeat.
Town: Beresford, Foley, Heikkinen (sub Barnett), Coyne, Underwood, Edwards (sub Feeney) Nicholls, Robinson, Brkovic (sub Showunmi), Howard, Vine.
Liverpool: Carson, Hyypia, Finnan, Carragher, Sissoko (sub Sinima-Pongolle), Gerrard, Riise, Kewell, Alonso, Cisse (sub Kromkamp), Crouch (sub Warnock).