Football: Own goal punctures Luton's challenge

Sunderland 3 Luton Town 0
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The Independent Online
THE LAST time Sunderland won a major trophy they overcame Luton Town on home soil at the quarter-final stage. And, like Bob Stokoe's FA Cup heroes of '73, Peter Reid's class of '98 duly crushed the Hatters on Wearside last night to advance within one round of a Wembley final.

At Roker Park those 25 years ago Sunderland beat a Luton team sporting new strips bought for them by Eric Morecambe with second-half goals by Dave Watson and Ron Guthrie. Last night, at the Stadium of Light, Reid's men went one better.

An own goal by Marvin Johnson five minutes before half-time and two goals in the final two minutes - a curling shot by Michael Bridges and a volley by Niall Quinn - secured the First Division leaders a place in the semi- finals of the Worthington Cup. It was a far from impressive display by Reid's team but it was good enough to take them within 180 minutes of a return to the scene of Sunderland's 1973 FA Cup final fairy-tale - and of their 1998 play-off final nightmare, of course.

"It certainly wasn't a three-niller," Reid said. "It was tighter than that. I was just pleased we got two great goals at the death to send the supporters home happy."

Sunderland have yet to lose a cup tie in their home of 18 months and though they struggled to take a controlling grip last night, they never really looked like slipping up either.

Not until the 17th minute did they show their attacking teeth but, then, twice in two minutes they threatened to break through. First, a goal-bound hooked shot by Bridges was deflected wide for a corner and then Quinn fired into the side-netting after leaving Steve Davis somewhat snookered with a deft flick over the Luton defender's head.

Only the reflexes of Kelvin Davis denied Sunderland in the 28th minute, the Luton keeper tipping over when Kevin Ball let rip with a right-foot drive from the left edge of the penalty area. The odds, though, tipped in Sunderland's favour when Mitchell Thomas sent Quinn sprawling with a clumsy challenge.

Having already been shown a yellow card for scuffling with Ball, the player-coach was shown red, leaving Luton a man short from the 34th minute. Within six minutes they were a goal short, too.

Andy Melville met Allan Johnston's cross from the left with a glancing header, though it was Marvin Johnson's head that took the ball into the Luton net. The central defender was genuinely unlucky in that instance, but he was fortunate to escape the ignominy of a second own goal nine minutes into the second-half.

In attempting to clear Nicky Summerbee's right-wing cross he merely succeeded in slicing the ball within an inch or two of his own net. The relief proved to be temporary for Luton, though only in the final 15 minutes did Sunderland build up a serious head of attacking steam.

Quinn had already headed against the woodwork before Bridges struck with two minutes remaining. It was well worth the wait too, the 20-year-old striker sidestepping Sean Evers on the left angle of the Luton box before curling a right-foot shot into the far corner of the net.

It was Bridges' 11th goal of the season and was followed by number nine for Quinn in injury-time. That was a fine finish too, the big Irishman trapping the ball on his chest and volleying it adroitly over Kelvin Davis.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Butler, Melville, Scott; Summerbee, Ball, Clark, Johnston; Bridges, Quinn. Substitutes not used: Craddock, McCann, Dichio, Williams, Marriott (gk).

Luton Town (4-4-2): K Davis; Alexander, S Davis, Johnson, Thomas; Spring, Evers, McGowan (White, 75), McKinnon (McLaren, 71); Gray, Douglas (Doherty,62). Substitutes not used: McIndoe, Abbey (gk).

Referee: E Lomas (Manchester).

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