Watkins puts Luton back in the spotlight

Luton Town 1 Northampton Town 0: Super sub's late strike upsets Northampton as Hatters get a lift after recent catalogue of despair
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Luton Town have been kicked from pillar to post over the past five years, financial mismanagement dragging them into the depths of non-League obscurity. Long gone are the glory days and that iconic sight of David Pleat, their former manager, cavorting on the pitch at Maine Road in 1983 after Raddy Antic's winning goal against Manchester City had preserved their top-flight status.

Perhaps Luton deserve a bit of fortune and they got it yesterday. It was not a classic FA Cup first-round tie against Northampton Town but it was an "upset" nonetheless. A Cup run – courtesy of 20-year-old Adam Watkins' late winner – and a return to the national spotlight will be most welcome.

"In terms of possession and perseverance, I thought we deserved it," Gary Brabin, the Luton manager, said. "I was delighted with our display and that we're now in the second round. Adam is getting better and better all the time and if the fans can just be a little bit patient with him, he will keep progressing and we are going to have one hell of a player on our hands."

Luton's catalogue of misfortune almost beggars description. Three successive relegations, ending in the Conference, and along the way a 10 point deduction for going into administration and 30 points deducted for misconduct involving the payment of agents and failing to satisfy the Football League's insolvency rules. "Mad" Hatters, indeed.

Not just mad but apparently unlucky, too, twice losing in the Conference play-offs. Last year, it was against York City in the semi-finals; last season, against AFC Wimbledon in the final. And only after the exasperating experience of extra time and a penaltyshoot-out which they lost 4-3.

At least under the chairmanship of Nick Owen, the television presenter, the club appears to have stabilised. Off the pitch. On it, though, Brabin has much work to do, with murmurings of discontent among the fans that the team have slipped to seventh in the table, seven points behind Wrexham, the leaders. Not that Northampton are any great shakes, either, languishing in 20th place in League Two and without a win in six matches.

And it showed – from both teams – in the most drab of first halves. Adebayo Akinfenwa did manage to force a decent save from Kevin Pilkington, the Luton goalkeeper, with a downward header at the far post and George Pilkington – no relation to Kevin – squandered the best opportunity, when nodding over the Northampton net from a Jamie Hand free-kick. "I felt we could win but we didn't take our chances," Gary Johnson, the Northampton manager, said.

Perspiration? There was that aplenty. But the longer the game wore on, the more it meandered. Until the 80th minute, when the good times came back to Kenilworth Road. Watkins, a substitute and lifelong Luton fan, seized on a loose ball on the edge of the area and lashed it past Sam Walker.

Pleat would have appreciated that. He might have even performed another jig of joy. Luton are back in the headlines and, this time, for all the right reasons.

Luton (4-4-2): K Pilkington; Osano, Kovacs, G Pilkington, Howells; Lawless, Hand, Keane (Willmott, 43), Kissock (Watkins, 75); Morgan-Smith (Crow, 44), O'Connor.

Northampton (4-4-2): Walker; Johnson (Holt, 84), Westwood, Langmead, Crowe; Young (Davies, 32), Tozer, Jacobs, Arthur (Turnbull, h-t); Akinfenwa, Berahino.

Referee Andy D'Urso.

Man of the match O'Connor (Luton).

Match rating 4/10.