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24 May 2024

Millwall end Luton's giant-killing run


Millwall ended Luton's giant-killing run in the FA Cup as the Lions eased into the quarter-finals for the first time in nine years after a 3-0 win over the non-league club on Saturday.

Luton had hoped to become the first non-league team to reach the quarter-finals since QPR in 1914, but first half goals from James Henry and Rob Hulse and a late strike from Dany N'Guessan shattered their hopes of a fifth round upset in front of a 10,000 sell-out crowd at Kenilworth Road.

Paul Buckle's National Conference team made history in the previous round when they beat Norwich 1-0 to become the first non-league team to eliminate a top-flight side for 24 years.

But the Hatters, only the seventh team from outside England's Football League to have made it this far in the competition since the Second World War, were unable to unsettle Kenny Jackett's Championship outfit, whose previous appearance in the last eight came in 2004 when they went on to reach the final.

Much of the pre-match focus had been on the potential for crowd trouble, given that Millwall's last FA Cup trip to Luton in 1985 ended in an infamous riot that saw visiting fans ransack Kenilworth Road.

But the game passed off peacefully, with Millwall always in control despite their recent poor form in the Championship.

The south Londoners had been giant-killers in the fourth round when they knocked out Aston Villa and Hulse, on loan from QPR, should have put Jackett's team ahead in the opening moments, but he dragged his shot wide of the far post.

Luton striker Andre Gray threatened when he cleverly worked his way into the penalty area and forced goalkeeper David Forde into a good save.

But, just as the hosts were beginning to hit their stride, a woeful piece of defending from Janos Kovacs gifted Millwall the lead in the 12th minute.

Kovacs made a hash of controlling a routine long ball and then hesitated as former Reading winger Henry nipped in front of the centre-back, rounded goalkeeper Mark Tyler and slotted into the empty net.

Luton could have been level within minutes when Ronnie Henry lofted a free-kick into the box and Arnaud Mendy pounced on the knock-down to drive in a close-range strike that Forde kept out with a brave save.

That proved a crucial moment as Millwall doubled their lead in the 36th minute.

When Henry looped in a cross from the right touchline, Hulse rose highest to keep the ball in play and then showed tremendous agility to hook his volley back over Tyler and into the far corner of the net.

Kovacs's personal nightmare continued when a corner fell invitingly for him just before half-time, but instead of testing Forde he managed to do the Millwall defenders' job for them and accidently headed clear.

Gray's pace offered Luton's most likely route back into the match and early in the second half he sprinted clear of Shane Lowry, only to see Forde race off his line and save with his chest.

Andy Keogh wasted two chances to put the result beyond doubt and it was left to substitute N'Guessan to seal the win with an 86th minute tap-in after Tyler spilled a John Marquis shot.