Football / FA Cup: Luton keep their nerve to stay on course: Hammers held back by passion of Pleat's men

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The Independent Online
West Ham United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

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THE FIRST FA Cup semi-final has a venue but Chelsea must wait to discover who they will meet at Wembley after Luton Town kept the tail of the underdog wagging last night with a performance that deservedly earned a replay at Kenilworth Road on 23 March.

Had there been extra time it might well have been to Luton's advantage because the First Division survivors became stronger the longer the game went on, and right to the death their quick, incisive football on the counter was promising to sabotage what the East End had decided in advance would be their party.

Luton need have no qualms about the return. In nine games since Christmas David Pleat's side are unbeaten at home, winning eight, a run that includes the defeat of Newcastle after they had earned a draw at St James' Park.

This was a tactical triumph of another kind as, quick in the tackle, they denied West Ham the room and the time to build up a momentum. Played in a swirling wind, the last of the quarter-final ties took its time before it sustained much excitement around the penalty areas.

Not that it wanted for atmosphere and passion: a stirring blast of the 'Bubbles' anthem echoed around Upton Park at the kick-off and it was clear Luton's youngsters would have to demonstrate strong nerves as well as their undoubted ability.

None more so than their 20- year-old Republic of Ireland defender, David Greene, who deputised for the injured Trevor Peake and bore out Pleat's belief that he is a star in the making.

Greene was immediately to the fore, coming across smartly to blunt Trevor Morley's initial charge. When John Dreyer left his header to the keeper short after five minutes, Morley pushed it beyond Jurgen Sommer and towards the empty net, but Greene was on hand to clear his lines.

The Luton defence was not to stumble again and the team grew in confidence and assurance. David Preece and Alan Harper were keen and effective ball-winners and in the second half they were able to feed the raiding Scott Oakes and Paul Telfer more successfully.

'The longer it went the more I thought they might do us,' said West Ham's manager Billy Bonds. 'There was a lot of expectation because we had missed Manchester United and drawn to play at Wembley and you sensed at the start that we could not build on it.'

Only in fits and starts did West Ham threaten to win it at the first time of asking. Their best period came just before the break when they came close on three occasions and, from a long cross from David Burrows, Mike Marsh smacked his effort against the post. In the same goalmouth in the 61st minute Des Linton rose highest to meet a corner but Marsh cleared by the post.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Martin, Burrows; Marsh, M Allen, Bishop, Holmes; Morley, Chapman (C Allen, 83). Substitutes not used: Kelly (gk), Rowland.

Luton Town (4-4-2): Sommer; Linton, Greene, Dreyer, James; Telfer, Harper, Preece, Hughes; Oakes (Burke, 87), Dixon (Hartson, 90). Substitute not used: Petterson (gk).

Referee: B Hill (Leicester).

(Photograph omitted)