Wanderers earned a second crack at Premier League Luton after holding the top-flight outfit to a goalless draw at Kenilworth Road, writes Pete Oliver.
The Whites will now face Luton back at the Toughsheet Community Stadium the week after next when both sides will know their potential opponents in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Wanderers haven’t reached the fourth-round stage of the competition since 2019 but will be in Monday night’s draw after thoroughly deserving a replay and a further chance to try and pull off a shock.
Ian Evatt’s men had to dig deep and enjoy some good fortune in the second half as the Hatters pressed for a winner.
But Wanderers earned any luck coming their way with an impressive performance which saw them take the fight to their lofty opponents and create chances of their own to seal a memorable third-round win.
With Wanderers making a couple of changes to their New Year’s Day line-up, Luton also didn’t deviate far from their last league outing against Chelsea with just three outfield changes in a first meeting between the clubs since another third-round tie in January, 1997.
That meant a real test for the Whites and one they dealt with impressively once they had found their feet in the unfamiliar surroundings.
It was the Wanderers’ front pair of Victor Adeboyejo and Dion Charles who asked more of the questions as the returning Josh Sheehan pulled the strings from his central berth and Paris Maghoma and Kyle Dempsey kept driving the Whites forward.
A cross from Maghoma was inches away from reaching the dangerous Adeboyejo with Luton’s defensive clearance dropping for Sheehan to send a first-time drive just over the top.
And when Charles again almost got in behind the Town defence he teed up Maghoma with half an hour gone for a right-footed shot which floated just wide of the target as Wanderers looked the more likely to lead with a pasing game that was more than a match for their top-flight opponets.
The Hatters’ best efforts had come from long-range via the boot of England international Ross Barkley but Nathan Baxter’s only real moment of concern before the break was a skidding effort from Sambi Lokonga which flew just past his right-hand post six minutes before the interval.
There certainly didn’t look a two-division gap between the sides, although Luton also started the second half in the ascendency and twice went close taking the lead through the aerial power of Carlton Morris.
The striker’s first header was blocked in front of goal by Will Forrester before Baxter did have to make a smart save to keep out a near-post effort as the pressure began to mount.
Bar a break at the other end when Charles released Maghoma, it was backs-to-the-wall stuff and Forrester had to make another vital intervention to deflect an effort from Jordan Clark just wide before fellow substitute Andros Townsend forced Baxter into a decent save.
Having weathered that storm and sent on fresh legs from the bench Wanderers responded with a spell of their own pressure as George Thomason saw a thunderous shot charged down and forced a number of near-openings in and around the own box.
Neither side was looking to settle for a draw and Luton went closest to avoiding a replay with a fierce drive from Matt Doughty which cannoned against a post before VAR played its first part by backing referee Andy Madley’s decision not to award a penalty for Forrester’s follow-up challenge on Doughty.
It was end-to-end by now and Wanderers hadn’t given up on a winner themselves with a chance for Randell Williams and an injury-time free-kick raising hopes of a dramatic finish.
Aaron Morley’s free-kick could only hit the wall, though, and the Whites again had to stand firm to repel a couple of late set-pieces at the other end to earn their second bite at the cherry as they made it 12 clean sheets from their last 16 games with another collective show of resilience.
Wanderers: Baxter; Forrester, Almeida Santos, Toal; Sheehan; Dacres-Cogley, Maghoma (Thomason, 73), Dempsey (Morley 73), Williams; Charles (Jerome 76), Adeboyejo (Bodvarsson 76). Substitutes: Coleman, Iredale, Ashworth, Matheson, Lewis.
Luton Town: Krul; Mengi, Osho, Bell; Ogbene, Lokonga (Clark 67), Barkley, Doughty; Chong (Townsend 67); Adebayo, Morris (Woodrow 76). Substitutes: Kaminski, Andersen, Berry, Kabore, Mpanzu, Giles.
Referee: Andrew Madley
Attendance: 10,739 (1,609 Wanderers)