Mengi 72, Brown 83
Crystal Palace 1
Hatters fans around Kenilworth Road were on their feet. Some were shouting, some were screaming. There were those who were whistling – howling even – and there were plenty frozen in silence; accepting they could do no more to influence the referee to blow the final whistle.
Eventually, at two minutes past five and after 13-and-a-half minutes of agonising injury time, that the whistle came.
Relief and – for the first time at home this term – celebration. Goals from Teden Mengi and Jacob Brown gave the Hatters that elusive win on home soil after a breathless second half at the Old Girl.
Those baying for the full-time had every reason. Those who waited in silent anticipation were the same. For some they had never seen Luton Town win in the top-flight. Not for 11,537 days had the Hatters won here in Bedfordshire in the top division. When, after what seemed an eternity, that last peep on the referee’s whistle went, the outpouring of emotion on and off the pitch was clear for all to see. This meant something.
It also meant so, so much for a Hatters side who earned, by down-right determination, a vital three points in the scrap to avoid relegation from the Premier League. Whoever was wearing orange will sleep well on Saturday night after a performance of grit and passion and quality throughout.
And what a game. Well, what a second 45 minutes. The first half saw Crystal Palace fashion the best chance, and the Town, again, were indebted to wondrous heroics from Thomas Kaminski to keep the Eagles at bay. 22 minutes elapsed when quick feet enabled Eberechi Eze space to arrow a firm shot from the edge of the box that Belgian pawed away at full stretch. However, it was Kaminski’s reactions to get up quick enough to repel Jeffrey Schlupp’s follow-up that was world class.
The Town had been good value going in at the break at 0-0 even though they rarely threatened Sam Johnstone, the Palace keeper, into any meaningful action despite enjoying their fair share of the football.
Then came the second half. Oh the second half! A tumultuous 45 minutes of football you’re ever going to see. With the floodlights on and a cold breeze in the air, the Hatters set about warming the hearts of their own supporters for the first time since Sunderland were beaten at the backend of last season.
Four minutes after the restart, the Town had a slight helping hand: the imperious Eze limped off and was replaced, giving the Hatters one less world-class player to deal with.
Midway through the second half the Hatters then felt hard done by when Odsonne Edouard tucked past Kaminski to give the visitors the lead against the run of play. There was a sneaky suspicion of handball even though the referee had given the goal. Yet VAR had the final say: the striker did use his hand the goal was correctly chalked off.
You felt had it stood Palace would have strangled the life out of the Town with a goal to the good, but the Town sensed a reprieve and five minutes later, on 72 minutes, Kenilworth Road exploded into life.
Alfie Doughty’s left-wing corner found its way to Mengi at the backpost and he expertly guided home his first senior goal to cue pandemonium in the stands as the Town, gloriously, led.
But two minutes later disaster stuck. The feelgood factor around the place was ruthlessly cut by a moment of magic from Michael Olise. Straight from the restart, the winger flew down the right, cut inside and curled a wonderful shot beyond Kaminski. No keeper in the world was saving it as the Hatters cursed their luck. It had echoes of Burnley all over again.
With their tails up you sensed Palace sensed blood and Kaminski’s agility denied the visitors from turning around the deficit completely to deny Eduoard’s point-blank header.
But to their credit the Hatters reset and went again. On 79 minutes Brown entered the fray in a move that saw Chiedozie Ogbene switch to right wing-back. Four minutes later Brown was in dreamland and he had Ogbene to thank.
Ross Barkley, imperious all afternoon, patiently waited for Ogbene to motor down the right flank. Gliding goalwards, Ogbene then delivered an inch-perfect cross into the heart of the Palace six-yard box. The pass caused the ultimate confusion in the Palace defence. They all asked questions: should we leave it? Should we clear it? Should Johnstone claim it? In the end, the indecision cost them and Brown, who made his first start for Scotland last Sunday, capped a week to remember by nipping in and sliding the ball home.
Ahead again, and with time ticking, it was now backs against the wall as the visitors pressed for a point.
Kaminski produced yet another superb save to keep it 2-1 with three minutes of the regulation 90 left, deflecting Joachim Andersen’s goal-bounded effort behind with his right leg.
Then the board of the fourth official went up. 12 added minutes. 720 seconds that felt like a life-time for all those urging their boys in orange in blue.
Palace pushed and pushed. In the 100th minute, hearts in mouths as Olise headed over when well-placed.
The Hatters dropped deeper and deeper. The whistles from the crowd got louder. It was almost unbearable.
The unthinkable almost became reality at the very, very, very end to crush Hatters’ hearts. Olise’s right-wing cross in the 113th minute was perfect and met by the head of Jefferson Lerma but, somehow somehow somehow, his firm effort came back flush off the crossbar. You could hear the collective gasp of shock and then relief a million miles away. There were heads in hands everywhere in the Kenny End. They all thought it was in. They were not the only ones.
The Hatters then broke at speed, as the game seemed to breathlessly continue without any care for anyone’s heart or mind. Substitutes Tahith Chong and Elijah Adebayo combined for the latter to drive a shot goalwards that Johnstone saved brilliantly – even though the striker was offside.
But it mattered not as seconds later the moment that many had waited a lifetime for happened. The full-time whistle and victory at home in the top-flight.
Cue the celebrations, the fist pumps and the appreciation from both players and fans.
A win at the Kenny in the Premier League?
It doesn’t matter how long you wait to be honest. It was worth it.
Enjoy. See you next week at Brentford.