Last night it was Second Division Luton's turn to fill the role of giant- killers, outplaying their supposed superiors for all but the final flurry and a five-minute spell in the first half of this second leg. Kim Grant and Tony Thorpe scored Luton's goals while Dean Sturridge and Paul Simpson grabbed Derby's paltry consolation from a poor performance.
There was little to commend in anything Derby did last night, but, if anything was designed to have Jim Smith searching his pate for hair to tear out, it was his side's defending. The manager had warned about complacency when he wrote in the programme: "You cannot go out on to a football pitch in the belief that you're about to play a lesser team." Perhaps his back four cannot read.
True, Derby's rearguard had been stripped of the unfit Igor Stimac and Chris Powell, but that could hardly explain why the home defenders went missing, like men looking for an alibi.
Luton's David Oldfield and Grant did the normal things that strikers do but the home defenders treated their movements like they were confronted by one of Einstein's theories. After eight minutes Lee Carsley had to clear off the line from Grant's shot; a minute later Steve Davis' header hit a bar. To put it mildly, it was not a surprise when Luton went ahead.
The shock was where the Derby back four had disappeared to because, when Oldfield broke down the right after 11 minutes, Grant, on the edge of the area, did not have an opponent within 10 yards of him. The pass was accurate and so was the recipient, scoring from 12 yards.
At that point the prospects of Derby overhauling Luton's advantage seemed fanciful given the ramshackle way they were playing, but that changed five minutes before half-time. First Sturridge exploited the absence of markers to beat Ian Feuer from Christian Dailly's pass, then Simpson scored with a curling shot from 25 yards.
Not withstanding this reprieve, one assumes the words "marking" and "tackling" entered Smith's interval talk between the expletives, and certainly his players began the second half like they had received a rollicking. But when Grant hit the outside of a post from point-blank range after 47 minutes and then was wide with a header nine minutes later, their belief began to evaporate.
After 68 minutes it disappeared completely. Mitchell Thomas, on the left, passed to Thorpe, who turned and guided the ball into the far corner with his left foot. It was a dismal Derby night but one that will be cherished in Bedfordshire.
"We asked for endeavour and got plenty of it," Smith said afterwards. "But we got no brains. Defensively we were very poor and I think they kept looking over their shoulder for Igor Stimac, forgetting he was not there. The first goal was a joke. Everybody was posted absent.
"Once we went in front I thought we'd do it, but to be fair to them they always looked dangerous. We should have scored early in the second half and, when we didn't, it encouraged them and they thought, `let's go for it'."
Luton's manager, Lennie Lawrence, added: "It was a tactical plan that took us through to half-time, but after that you have to give it to the players. It was their sheer guts and determination that won it."
Derby County (3-5-2): Hoult; Parker (Cooper, 85), Rowett, Carbon; Laursen (Van der Laan, 73), Carsley, Dailly, D Powell, Simpson; Gabbiadini (Ward, 73), Sturridge.
Luton Town (4-4-2): Feuer; James, Davis, Johnson, Thomas; Alexander, Waddock, Hughes (Thorpe, h-t), Genchev; Grant, Oldfield. Substitutes not used: Patterson, Showler.
Referee: M Brandwood (Lichfield).
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