SKELMERSDALE United went to Kenilworth Road as 12/1 outsiders and given a bit of luck could easily have pulled off a shock result.
Tommy Lawson’s men did not just hold the Conference Premier side, they competed toe to toe with them before suffering from a counterattack goal that gave Luton the lead in the 83rd minute, this after a miraculous clearance off the Luton goal-line in the 82nd minute.
All prompting manager Lawson to say after the game: ”I think the people of Skelmersdale can be proud of them today, I certainly am.”
The crucial 60 seconds that decided the game began with a thunderous drive from Warren Bellew that beat home goalkeeper Dean Brill and was heading for the roof of the net before home defender Jake Howells somehow connected with the top of his head to send the ball inches over the crossbar and out for a corner.
From the corner Luton broke quickly, Stuart Fleetwood fed the ball to the right, where it found Adam Watkins, who cut inside and launched a skimming rocket of a left-footer into the bottom corner from 18 yards out.
Even then Skelmersdale almost rescued a draw, a bouncing ball into the Luton area was not dealt with and United substitute Matty Hughes got to it fractionally before home goalkeeper Dean Brill and flicked the ball past him, agonisingly for Skelmersdale the ball bobbled just past the empty net.
Two minutes into added time Luton finished the job off as Skelmersdale had committed everyone forward in an effort to convert from another corner. The ball was headed clear to Arnaud Mendy who with Fleetwood was two-on-one before the latter released Andre Gray to beat Skelmersdale goalkeeper Sam Ashton.
It was a sad way to lose the game, but was symptomatic of the gallant way Skelmersdale approached the day, they had not sat back and let Luton come at them they had at times forced the home team back onto the defensive themselves, keeping the home support very quiet at times, actually winning six corners to the hosts’ three.
The game itself was pretty cagey in the way it worked out, but much of that was because Skelmersdale had imposed themselves sufficiently in the early stages to make Luton wary of leaving Skelmersdale a goalscoring opportunity.
Mark Jackson and Mike Phenix having efforts saved or go near in the opening half-hour.
For Luton, Howells put a header wide and a free-kick from the same man was blocked out by the Skelmersdale defensive wall.
The second-half opened with a shot from Gray that was deflected wide, but gradually Skelmersdale restored parity and soon afterwards Kenny Strickland headed the ball down and Jackson was unlucky with a shot that went just wide.
In the 61st minute Jackson headed on a free-kick and Bellew was quick off the mark with a cross from the left that but for a superb intervention from Brill would surely have brought a goal from Phenix.
In the 74th minute Bellew found Phenix, who swivelled and saw his shot deflected by a defender, the spinning ball fell to Jackson, but Brill again rescued Luton.
Sam Ashton always had to be on his toes for Skelmersdale, but in truth he didn’t face an effort that seriously stretched him until the last ten minutes and not at any stage did Luton look substantially fitter than Tommy Lawson’s men.
It was a magnificent effort from Skelmersdale and Tommy got his tactics just right, to have committed to a gung-ho attacking style would have been naive against such a good side or defending too deeply would have just invited defeat.
Skelmersdale had a real go at winning and almost did, because who knows what would have been the outcome but for Howells’ brilliant clearance.
It has been a great cup run and one that will have benefited Skelmersdale United in many ways and not just in the obvious financial one.
The last words go to Tommy Lawson, who said: ”I thought the score flattered them. No one could argue with that.
“We worked very hard right until the death. It wasn’t a case of hanging on, we thought we could win the game.
“We felt we had the opportunities to have won it.
“We are very proud of the players, what they have done up to now this season has been immense.”
l LUTON TOWN: Brill, Rowe-Turner, Lawless (c), Rendell, Howells, Ainge, Mendy, Dance (Gray, 45 mins), Robinson, Walker (Fleetwood, 68), Jibodu (Watkins, 68) Subs (not used) Smith, Longden
l SKELMERSDALE UNITED: Ashton, Field, Corrigan, McIntosh, Hardwick (c), Strickland, Turner, Woolcott, Jackson (Burnett, 81), Phenix (Hughes, 76), Bellew Subs (not used) Wright, Morning, Hickey.
l Referee: C. Brakespear
l Attendance: 2479