LUTON TOWN 1 MANSFIELD TOWN 1 (aet)
(Mansfield win 2-1 on aggregate)
FA Trophy semi-final
Saturday, March 19 2011
Luton Town’s dreams of a trip to Wembley are over after Louis Briscoe fired Mansfield into the final of the FA Trophy in the dying seconds of extra time.
The hosts were reduced to nine men in the last ten minutes of normal time when Claude Gnakpa was given a second yellow after a late challenge on Dan Spence and Alex Lawless followed after a dangerous tackle through the back of Kyle Nix.
But after George Pilkington handled in the box referee Graham Scott pointed to the spot and Briscoe needed two attempts to put it away and break Hatters hearts.
Luton started the game intent on grabbing an early goal to level the tie after losing 1-0 at Field Mill in the first leg and Luke Graham came agonisingly close to grabbing it after 13 minutes but keeper David Grof was at his best to tip the defender’s header on to the bar.
Shortly after, Mansfield came close to making the task even more difficult for the Hatters as Briscoe cut inside Zdenek Kroca only to see Pilkington well placed to save.
Luton continued to push forward and created a string of golden opportunities and, at times, Jake Howells was the only orange shirt in the Luton half.
Owusu came inches away from putting Luton in front but his scuffed shot came back off the post and trickled across the face of goal and then, moments later, Gnakpa’s angled effort was turned behind for a corner by Grof.
But as the home side surged forward they left themselves exposed at the back as the Stags counter attacked.
However, when Danny Mitchley went racing clear he fluffed his effort straight at Town’s custodian, unaware that Paul Connor was in acres of free space waiting for a simple tap-in.
In fact, the holes left in the Luton defence were starting to gift the visitors more chances as they came forward on the break in an attempt to put the game to bed.
Pilkington had to react quickly to keep out Tom Naylor before Connor fired the rebound wide.
Mitchley then found himself with space on the edge of the box but fired his effort wide.
Luton continued to throw themselves up field but the Stags stood their ground with a last ditch header from Naylor preventing a poised Owusu from heading home Matthew Barnes-Homer’s deep cross.
But it only took Luton a minute after the restart to open the scoring and level the tie on aggregate.
Graham’s pump up field fell for Owusu on the edge of the box and the former Brentford striker fired past Grof into the bottom right corner.
The goal lifted an already energetic Kenilworth Road crowd and Owusu nearly put the Hatters in front as Gnakpa’s through ball caught the Stags’ defence by surprise. Owusu rounded Grof but blasted his off-balanced shot over.
The game became more open with Mansfield attempting to push forward more often. It was Luton that looked the more likely to score, but like so many games this season, they failed to turn their attacking possession into chances on Grof’s goal.
Money threw on Jason Walker in place of Adam Newton to beef up his attack as Luton searched for a winner and Barnes-Homer tried his luck from 20 yards with a low bobbling effort which Grof easily gathered.
Despite Luton’s dominance, Mansfield still fancied their chances to snatch it and Adam Smith sent his curling effort millimetres away the target and a Stags equaliser with Kevin Pilkington beaten.
With seven minutes to go and the game looking like it was heading to extra time Gnakpa was given his marching orders after a second yellow card.
The Frenchman was a couple of seconds late as the left back cleared up field and referee Scott was in a perfect place to view the tackle, not hesitating to brandish his red card.
Moments later, the Hatters were down to nine.
Lawless slammed through the back of Nix without any attempt to play the ball causing official to reach into his pocket for the second time in a matter of minutes.
But it was the nine men that nearly nicked it in closing seconds of normal time as the ball fell to Howells on the edge of the box and it needed a timely block from the Mansfield defence to send the game into extra time.
With the disadvantage you could have understood Luton protecting the lead but they came out attacking with Walker going close seconds from kick-off after linking up with Barnes-Homer.
But it was soon Mansfield that were making the most of the extra men as they pinned Luton back in their own box with the Hatters resorting to pumping the ball towards Barnes-Homer, who was now the home side’s lone man up front when in possession.
However, Briscoe’s over-hit header was the only clear-cut opportunity the Stags could muster in the first period of extra time.
The second 15 minutes followed suit until Briscoe’s shot struck George Pilkington’s hand in the box and Scott pointed straight to the spot.
Pilkington saved the initial penalty kick from Briscoe but the winger slotted home the rebound to end plucky Luton’s dream of a Wembley final.
The afternoon then ended in a sour fashion as the referee had to be escorted off by police under fire from objects thrown by a small number of disappointed Luton supporters.
LUTON: K Pilkington, Keane, Graham, Pilkington, Newton (Walker, 69), Barnes-Homer (Morgan-Smith, 111), Kroca, Lawless, Howells, Gnakpa, Owusu (Crow, 77) Unused subs: Tyler, Morgan-Smith, Crow, Poku
REFEREE: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire)
ATTENDANCE: 6,133 (912)