After the FA Cup circus and the television cameras leave town comes the return of reality; and for a non-League club who had been on the verge of the sixth round, it is a cold reality indeed.
For Luton Town there was relief that the balance sheet following Saturday's 3-0 home defeat by Millwall showed a six-figure profit; a good advert for Blue Square Premier football among all of ITV's; and only seven arrests in a huge police operation. The club chairman, Nick Owen, believes their performance showed why he is launching a campaign to increase promotion and relegation between the Football League and the Conference to three up and three down; but the combative manager, Paul Buckle, made it clear that there will be no resting on laurels in his dressing room.
After live TV coverage, prime-time highlights and a near-10,000 crowd, tomorrow brings a trip to Macclesfield, in which Luton cannot afford a result like recent defeats at Dartford and Barrow. As with Bradford City and Oldham Athletic, Luton's league form has suffered since they made Cup headlines, leaving them nine points adrift of the play-off places, in which they have finished every year since dropping out of League Two in 2009.
Buckle, who has played for or coached four different teams in a play-off final, said: "The problem I have at Luton is that you bring quality players to the club [but] there's got to be a real understanding now that we're a non-League club. I think it's the first time I've said it, but I think it's about time. I know what it takes to get out of the Conference. It takes things that are probably not easy on the eye, dogged performances, a whole group of players who are just willing to do the basics and are happy to go home at night being probably a six out of 10. You need grit and honesty and a willingness to turn up at Barrow and Dartford in the winter, away from home, to roll your sleeves up and get the job done."
Millwall, he acknowledged, had those qualities on Saturday. Their manager, Kenny Jackett, said: "It is great to be in the last eight, but it is league form you get judged on."Reuse content