Published: 04/02/2011 19:38 - Updated: 05/02/2011 13:49

Graham grabs late winner to tame Tigers

Written byBY JAMES CUNLIFFE

LUTON TOWN 1 GLOUCESTER CITY 0
FA Trophy Third Round
Kenilworth Road
Friday, February 4 2011
7.45pm

Luke Graham scored on his full debut to ensure Luton Town didn’t have to do it all again at Whaddon Road after a listless display, not helped by the conditions.

Luke Graham scores the winner on his full debut against Gloucester
Luke Graham scores the winner on his full debut against Gloucester

The knock-out tie was plodding towards a dour goalless draw and a replay against part-timers Gloucester City before they calamitously shot themselves in the foot. They’d earlier executed a risky offside trap to catch the Hatters snoozing from a free-kick, but when they tried to do it again with six minutes remaining, Luton were on the ball for the first time in the match. So huge was the Tigers push for the flag that they completely left the central defender on his own in the box to control and slam home.

The visitors had their chances in the second half with keeper Kevin Pilkington twice coming to their rescue. However, the same could be said for Town and fellow glove-man Kevin Sawyer in the first period. But largely, Luton got out of jail, avoiding the sentence of having to squeeze a re-run into an already congested fixture list.

Manager Richard Money made seven changes to the side that beat Darlington 4-0 four days earlier, but it was still an impressive looking side full of first team stars, albeit some badly in need of game time, while JJ O’Donnell and Godfrey Poku were the only players from the Hatters development side to keep their place from the previous round’s victory at home to Uxbridge.

Yet for the first half they played fast and loose, but mostly just loose, with passes not hitting their targets, and first touches that ended up in different postcodes to the Hatters players supposedly controlling the ball.

Still, save for one heart in the mouth moment where the Tigers hit the post, there was little threat coming back at them.

The two teams exchanged a shot apiece in the first quarter of an hour, both shanked wide, before Jake Howells floated in a glorious cross that found Jason Walker in the six yard area. He seemed destined to score but goalkeeper Sawyer through his large frame in the way and somehow managed to claw away.

The former Weston Super Mare stopper did equally well minutes later to deny Poku after it looked like a wayward headed pass back fell woefully short of its target and straight into the midfielder’s path.

City came closer still, when Adam Mann delivered a cross-cum-shot that Pilkington, returning to the sticks for the first time since his loan spell at Mansfield Town ended, seemed content to watch drift over the bar. It dipped instead but the former Manchester United man’s blushes were spared as the ball came back off the inside of the upright.

There was finally something to raise the pulse five minutes from the break when O’Donnell’s solo run and shot, which was always rising, sparked the night’s first round of applause.

The theme of poor passing from the home side continued after the break - even with Adam Watkins replacing Poku, who was in danger of making his way into the referee's book - and they should have been punished when Mike Symons picked out Tom Webb with a throughball. The skipper, who was released by the Hatters as a teenager, nearly got his revenge but Pilkington was quick off his line to block.

The goalkeeper produced an even better point-blank stop minutes later from Darren Mullings after Town had failed to clear their lines, and for a brief period it put the Conference North strugglers in the ascendency.

When a chance went begging from City’s Matt Coupe it began to look suddenly ominous for Hatters who had still yet to warm into the game, let alone the second period.

Still, it is results that count and Graham made absolutely sure late on that they got the one they wanted by opening his account for his new club and booking Town’s place in the quarter finals.

LUTON: K.Pilkington, Graham, Morgan-Smith, Kroca, Howells, Asafu-Adjaye, Gnakpa, Crow (D.Walker, 65), J.Walker (Woodrow, 82), Poku (Watkins, 45), O’Donnell

Unused subs: Tyler, G.Pilkington,

Referee: M. Bull

Attendance:  2,212 (152) 

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