Luton Town 4 Harrogate Town 0: Brave Sulphurites bow out of FA Cup despite encouraging performance
Harrogate Town delivered a performance that was far better than the scoreline would suggest as they went down 4-0 at Luton Town.
Making their first-ever appearance in the third round of the FA Cup, the League Two Sulphurites out-played their Championship hosts for a big chunk of the first half and impressed again after the break, creating a flurry of late chances.
But, in stark contrast to the ruthless Hatters, they were unable to execute when it really mattered, bowing out of the competition despite producing a footballing display that boss Simon Weaver will undoubtedly be proud of.
Missing two of their key players in Alex Pattison and Jack Diamond and able to name just four substitutes, the visitors made a bright start, passing the ball with confidence and accuracy from the very-first minute of the contest.
Having threatened initially down the left and forced a succession of early corners, they then began to make inroads on the opposite flank with Ryan Fallowfield getting into some dangerous positions and delivering one low cross which wasn't too far away from picking out Luke Armstrong in a position from which he could not have missed.
But for all that early promise, Town found themselves behind on 19 minutes.
Luton's powerful front-line of Elijah Adebayo and Cameron Jerome had already caused the Harrogate centre-halves problems on a couple of occasions when the latter flicked a route-one punt into the path of his strike partner.
Bringing the ball under his spell instantly and swiveling almost in the same movement, it was too easy for Adebayo to roll his marker and fire an accomplished finish beyond Oxley from the edge of the box.
The Sulphurites did not let that set-back deter them however and the 20-minute period which followed was largely one-way traffic.
Rampaging full-back Fallowfield continued to get around the back of the home defence on a regular basis, though despite having numerous opportunities to do so, he was unable to deliver a telling ball in.
With Josh Falkingham and Lloyd Kerry bossing the centre of the field and Huddersfield Town loanee Brahima Diarra dribbling and skipping past seasoned second-tier opponents as if they weren't there on only his third-ever appearance in senior football, the visitors remained in the ascendancy for a considerable spell.
Yet for all their eye-catching football, they never really looked like making a breakthrough as George Thomson saw a shot comfortably saved by James Shea then drilled a dasiy-cutter of a free-kick not too far wide of the upright.
Harrogate began the second period as they had ended the first, but conceded a killer second goal within four minutes of the resumption.
And that difference in class between two sides separated by 44 rungs of the Football League ladder was apparent for perhaps the first time on the afternoon when the hosts profited from a position which Town had been in on plenty of occasions before the break without managing to capitalise.
Some nice link-up enabled Carlos Mendes-Gomes to fire across goal from close to the right-hand byline, and although Oxley made a block at his near post, former Premier League forward Jerome was on hand to pounce from a yard out.
Within seconds of the re-start, Armstrong raced through on goal and beat the onrushing Shea to the ball, though his first-time effort under pressure from the Luton keeper drifted wide of the near post.
The stuffing seemingly knocked out of them, and their play lacking the intensity and the belief that was so evident during the first half, Town found themselves on the back foot for a spell as the Hatters began to move the ball around at their leisure.
But, Rory McArdle and Nathan Sheron, twice, came to the visitors' rescue with key interventions in and around their own penalty area before Weaver's men began to show some signs of life.
Armstrong nodded wide from Warren Burrell's right-wing centre, then Armstrong's cute pass played Diarra one-on-one with Shea, though the youngster fired across the face of goal and wide when he ought to have scored.
And Harrogate were punished for that miss on 82 minutes as Kal Naismith bursts through on the away goal after Town failed to clear their lines at a set-piece, taking advantage of a kind bounce before lifting the ball deftly over the exposed Oxley.
More opportunities then came and went at the opposite end of the field as a stretching Armstrong failed to force the ball beyond Shea with the goal seemingly at his mercy, then Diarra drew another good save out of the home custodian.
But Luton were not finished, and they demonstrated their ruthless edge for a fourth time on 88 minutes after Fred Onyedinma got the better of Burrell down the left and pulled back for fellow substitute James Berry to side-foot into the roof of the net.