Match Report: Woeful Wolverhampton Wanderers broken by Luton Town's Alex Lawless
Luton Town 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0: Stale Solbakken loses his job as non-League Luton progress easily into the fourth round
Sunday 06 January 2013
Forget the National Football Museum, and the FA Cup Hall of Fame. Get the Tate Gallery on the phone. A budding portrait painter by the name of Alex Lawless has suddenly become collectable, and notorious. Lawless, the Luton winger whose seminal work is a study of Sir Alex Ferguson, scored the goal which sent the Conference club into the fourth round and cost Stale Solbakken, Wolves' honest yet hapless manager, his job.
The Norwegian was sacked less than three hours after Wolves suffered their worst loss since they were beaten by Chorley Town of the Multipart League in 1986. Defeat by a team 59 places below them ensured Solbakken lasted just over six months at Molineux.
The Doncaster Rovers manager Dean Saunders was immediately installed as favourite to succeed him. Sean O'Driscoll, recently dismissed by Nottingham Forest, and Kenny Jackett, who has excelled on limited resources at Millwall, were also being mentioned as potential candidates.
After the game Solbakken had the air of a man awaiting bad news: "There will be a lot of questions about me, but that is normal. That is football. I have to take that pressure. It is no problem for me. We are on a bad run and I am sure this will be looked at with harder eyes."
The home fans who sang "you're an embarrassment" were stating the obvious. Lawless's defining moment, a volley from the edge of the box 45 seconds into the second half, was the least Luton deserved. Wolves could not even exploit the chaos of nine minutes' injury-time, the result of a wild kick by Slawomir Peszko to the face of JJ O'Donnell, which led to the Luton winger being taken off.
Solbakken's departure was an inevitable denouement to a proper Cup tie, which didn't require the fripperies of a Lethal Bizzle soundtrack, a patronising PR campaign or association with a gaseous American beer. In football terms it was staged in the land that time forgot.
Kenilworth Road, rather like the FA Cup itself, has known better times. It has been used by Luton since 1905, but the club have been looking to move since 1955. It is a place of ghosts, gripes and regrets.
A discarded bath littered the narrow alleyway leading to the David Preece stand, and a dead bird hung in the netting above the peculiar line of hospitality units, constructed when the notorious plastic pitch was in use a quarter of a century ago.
The stall selling straw boaters did not appear to be doing a roaring trade, but chairman Nick Owen, the patron saint of breakfast TV, was expectant as he pressed the flesh. This was a free shot at the adrenalin rush of an upset victory.
The Football League's 30-point deduction, unprecedented and unsustainable punishment for insolvency, is still being felt. Luton, a respected Championship club only six years ago, slid down three divisions in as many seasons, and have yet to rediscover their equilibrium.
The responsibility of offsetting three successive failures in the Conference play-offs falls to Paul Buckle, whose promising career surprisingly stalled at Bristol Rovers. "It's heart breaking to be out of the Football League, without doubt" he said. "This is such a proud moment."
The Conference is a more manageable League this season, because it lacks a nouveau riche club like Crawley or Fleetwood. Luton return to reality against Barrow at home on Tuesday, and will be under immediate pressure to convert games in hand into points. They have already signed three players in the January window and, in the words of managing director Gary Sweet, "promotion is more important than a few quid in the bank."
Luton have a history of spectacular mismanagement but Wolves are evidently set on making up for lost time. The sacking of Mick McCarthy was a Venkyesque error of judgement; his assistant Terry Connor unjustly took the blame for relegation from the Premier League, and Solbakken was out of his depth.
The blame lies with owner Steve Morgan and chief executive Jez Moxey, who is paid £1m a year to run a club with Premier League pretensions – and budget. Jamie O'Hara, whose weekly wage of £35,000 would fund the Luton squad for a fortnight, began portentously with an air shot.
Wolves impressed only in a 10-minute spell before half-time, when Mark Tyler made superb saves from Kevin Doyle and Bakary Sako. Their defensive frailties were effortlessly exposed by the pace and movement of Andre Gray, released by the Molineux Academy as a 13-year-old.
It was no surprise when a cross by Jon Shaw looped into the path of Lawless, whose volley from the edge of the box was picture perfect. Another timeless Cup tradition, the quixotic hero, had been observed. Another victim, Stolbakken, had been ensnared.
Luton (4-4-2): Tyler; Henry, Kovacs, Rowe-Turner, Taylor; Lawless, Smith, Mendy, O'Donnell (Fleetwood, 77); Gray (Rendell, 90), Shaw.
Wolves (4-4-2): Ikeme; Foley (Davis, 75), Johnson, Berra, Ward; Forde (Peszko, 67), O'Hara, Henry, Sako; Ebanks-Blake, Doyle (Cassidy, 68).
Referee: Geoff Eltingham.
Man of the match: Gray (Luton)
Match rating: 6/10
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