Luton's night ruined by Fear

Luton Town 1 Wimbledon 2 (after extra time; 1-1 at 90min)
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The Independent Online
Wimbledon, on the brink of losing their unbeaten run at the 13th attempt, recovered their fortunes in last night's Coca-Cola Cup third-round replay after equalising one minute and 25 seconds into injury time.

Until their 24-year-old midfielder Stuart Castledine drove a shot in off the post in what was his first appearance of the season, the Premiership side appeared certain to become part of Luton's Cup folklore. But Wimbledon did not get where they are today - or more to the point stay there - without the capacity to battle, and they displayed that enduring quality once again last night.

Once Castledine had equalised the 27th-minute own goal by Dean Blackwell which had put the Second Division side ahead, the result seemed inevitable. Although Luton continued to harry and chase to the end in the way they had for the first 90 minutes, they never recovered from that blow.

The visitors secured a home tie against Aston Villa in the next round through a jubilant Peter Fear, who found himself unmarked eight minutes into extra time and planted a low shot inside the post from 25 yards.

Thus Luton's own unbeaten run - 13 games undefeated - came to an end. The home crowd made their displeasure with the referee, Mike Riley, clear. They could not understand why all the injury time had been played in a match without any obvious delaying incidents.

But Luton's manager, Lennie Lawrence, dismissed any criticism of Riley. "He was entitled to play that time, what with substitutions and whatever. It was totally acceptable." Lawrence was philosophical afterwards, paying tribute to Wimbledon's ability to pressurise their opponents. "We got away with things for 80 minutes, but we didn't take our chances. It took a while to see the real Wimbledon. There was no nastiness, just an unrelenting pressure and work."

There was also, luckily for the Londoners, Neil Sullivan, who made important saves from Kim Grant and Tony Thorpe.

Wimbledon had begun without three players who had been on international duty over the weekend - Oyvind Leonhardsen, Ben Thatcher and Vinnie Jones. Luton, who have risen to fifth in their division, began with the confidence they had displayed during the 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park last month.

Grant provided most of Wimbledon's early problems, forcing Sullivan to clear with a block tackle outside his box after nine minutes. A minute later Sullivan further distinguished himself by stopping successive shots with his feet, the first from Thorpe after he had cut in from the left, the second from Paul Showler.

Luton's endeavour was rewarded after 27 minutes when Blackwell headed a Ceri Hughes free-kick back over his own keeper. Wimbledon only created one clear chance before half-time and, two minutes before the break, Grant might have made it 2-0 but his shot was deflected over.

Wimbledon asserted themselves after the break, but the clear chances still fell for the home side. But in the end it was not to be for Lawrence's side, and Wimbledon will have been mighty relieved.

Luton (4-4-2): Feuer; James, Davis, Johnson, Thomas; Waddock, Alexander, Hughes, Showler (Genchev, 90); Grant, Thorpe (Douglas, 85). Substitute not used: McLaren.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Kimble; Ardley, Castledine, Holdsworth (Harford, 71), Fear; Gayle (Clarke, 85), Ekoku (Reeves, 115).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

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