Saturday 17 March 2018

Hatters' subs do the trick as Norwich undone by Buckle

Norwich 0
Luton 1

Luton Town's Andre Gray celebrates with Greg Taylor after beating Norwich at Carrow Road yesterday
Luton Town's Andre Gray celebrates with Greg Taylor after beating Norwich at Carrow Road yesterday

Richard Rae at Carrow Road

Eighty-five places lower down football's food chain they might have been, but Luton Town, sixth in the Conference, did a job on Premier League Norwich City. Eighty minutes of containment, keeping their shape and frustrating their illustrious opponents was followed by a swift break and a clinically executed goal to give the Hatters a famous victory.

That the winning goal, made by Stuart Fleetwood and JJ O'Donnell and finished by Scott Rendell, was down to his three substitutes must have made the win even sweeter for Luton's manager, Paul Buckle. His opposite number, Chris Hughton, made substitutions of his own, but Grant Holt, Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan – Premier League regulars all – failed to make an impact.

"It shows you how important a good bench can be," smiled Buckle. "I don't think it's quite sunk in yet, it was an incredible performance by the players. The most pleasing thing for me was we defended very well and carried a threat of our own throughout. We took great strength from beating Wolves [1-0] in the third round, we stuck to the same plan, we tried to deny them space, and the players got it right."

Hughton, whose starting XI was packed with fringe players, defended his selection. "I made changes, but I made changes in the third round when we beat Peterborough with a very good performance. They came with a game plan, we found it very difficult to break them down, the good chances we had we didn't put away, and they caught us with a classic counter-attack."

As expected, Hughton had opted to use the fringe players who had steered City to that risibly comfortable victory at Peterborough in the previous round. Elliott Bennett, Simeon Jackson, David Fox and Leon Barnett all started, as did Harry Kane, a teenage forward on loan from Spurs.

Like Norwich, Luton's priority is very much the league – they came into the game just outside the play-off positions – but with rather less scope to rest players, Buckle's line-up was his first team writ large. They had the encouragement of 4,000 travelling supporters, though, the largest number of away fans at Carrow Road this season, and with Norwich's decision to reduce admission prices ensuring the game was sold-out, there was a pleasingly old-fashioned atmosphere around the stadium.

As a spectacle, however, the opening minutes were distinctly lacking. Both sides were playing 4-4-2, albeit Luton were pressing higher up the pitch, and while Norwich's central midfielders, Fox and Jonny Howson, tried to spread the play, they were not helped by Kane's lack of movement up front. For a 19-year-old, he did not look very fit.

Congestion suited Luton just fine, of course. Norwich began to hit deep balls down the flanks for the pacy Jackson and Elliott Bennett, but the Luton defence declined to be pulled out of shape, until shortly before the half-hour mark when Jackson finally got clear. Bearing down on goal from an angle, his shot was at a nice height for the Luton goalkeeper Mark Tyler to dive to his right to save, and Andrew Surman's follow-up was blocked.

City went closer soon afterwards, when Surman pulled the ball back from the left. Kane's shot was not cleanly hit but it beat Tyler to his left, only to be kicked clear by left-back Greg Taylor. Barnett, up for a corner then headed against the post. The rebound hit Tyler and came close to crossing the goalline before being scrambled clear.

Hughton replaced Kane with Holt at half-time and the big striker immediately won a header which Jackson, on the turn, volleyed straight at Tyler. Holt looked certain to score when Jackson's cross reached him at the far post on 55 minutes, but Tyler – who began his career at Norwich – pulled off a fine reflex save from the diving header.

Hughton threw on Hoolahan and Pilkington, but it was Fleetwood, O'Donnell and Rendell who made the difference.

"We'd dearly love to get a Premier League club in the next round too," said Buckle. "Hopefully it will give the squad some belief. The club has had some tough days in recent years, and I'm pleased for everyone connected to it."


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