Norwich City Football Club today wrote themselves into the FA Cup history books – by being the first Premier League club in 24 years to lose a cup tie against non-league opposition. At home, too.
An 80th minute strike from Hatters substitute Scott Rendell was enough to deservedly send the Blue Square Premier League club into the fifth round of the Budweiser-backed competition on the back of a famous 1-0 win.
Famous that is on the streets of Bedfordshire and beyond; infamous, in the case of those on the banks of the Wensum this evening.
Disjointed and generally lacklustre before the break, the arrival of the Holts, the Hoolahans and the Pilkingtons of this world improved matters slightly after the hour-mark, but Luton deserved their ticket into the fifth round if only for the sheer doggedness of their defending.
That and the sharpness of the finish that came to separate the two teams as Rendell – once of Wycombe Wanderers – proved the hero of the hour and sparked joyous celebrations amongst the 4,000 travelling Hatters fans.
For their Canary hosts embarrassment and humiliation will be their lot again this evening. Given it all came on the back of that 5-0 humbling at Anfield last weekend and the supporters’ on-going frustrations at the seeming lack of action in this month’s transfer window, so it will prove to be another uncomfortable weekend for the powers-that-be.
After flying through the back of autumn when all was so, so well, City are now looking vulnerable again – albeit if they are still seven points clear of the relegation zone.
And as far as the supporters are concerned, they need a fresh and new hero as their heroes of old failed to deliver against a team 85 places beneath them in the league ladder.
As promised – and these days pretty much wholly expected from any management outfit charged with keeping a club in the top flight at all costs – it was a ‘shadow’ Canary team that welcomed Paul Buckle’s Hatters to Carrow Road.
A start for teenage loan striker Harry Kane allowed Grant Holt to initially rest his hamstrings on the bench with Simeon Jackson providing the second, strike outlet. Ryan Bennett and Leon Barnett provided the centre-half pairing – to likewise enable Sebastien Bassong to rest his calves – while Andrew Surman and Elliott Bennett returned to either flank. David Fox once more pushed the ball about in the centre of the park; missing, however, was the muscular urgency of a Tettey and a Johnson.
That was one battle lost. Luton had the hunger and the bite in the middle of the park.
The familiar faces were the two full-backs with Russell Martin and Javier Garrido adopting their usual places Premiership-wise at right and left-back respectively.
With the Hatters duly slamming ten outfield players behind the ball for the game’s opening exchanges, City’s response was to deliver a fitful, rather untidy first 20 minutes wholly in keeping with fielding a side that had barely played a game together.
The argument, of course, is that players of Premiership standing should have more than enough about them to gel into a decent-enough unit quick enough – certainly when faced with opposition drawn from the non-league ranks.
Which is fine, in theory. In practice it was Luton who looked the more comfortable of the two teams as Norwich struggled to get any rhythm into their passing game. Not that they managed a shot as such.
If this way the day for young Declan Rudd to showcase his talents to potential loan employers, he would need Luton to offer a tad more edge up top. They would, however, offer all too much edge before the afternoon was done.
Come the half-hour mark and there were the first flickers of life; Jackson got in behind the Hatters back four only for the keeper to stand tall; Kane wriggled free on the penalty spot four minutes later only for his low drive to be deflected wide. Which kind of summed up his loan spell in Norfolk. Nothing’s quite dropped for the 19-year-old.
The visitors also had Alex Lawless to thank for clearing off the ball off his goal-line in the 41st minute as Luton old-boy Barnett pinged a header off post and back of keeper off a Fox corner.
Martin almost added to his recent goal tally in the dying seconds of the first period with an awkward, dipping effort that fell a yard or so wide of the far upright as Norwich slowly started to make Premier League standing count.
Come the break and Hughton decided to take matters in hand by throwing Holt into the fray in the place of the young and ineffective Kane.
It took less than ten minutes for the City hero almost make his mark. A diving header off an inviting Jackson cross looked meat and drink for the 31-year-old; only for one-time Canary youth player Tyler – for the second time this afternoon – to pull off a big, big save.
Both Martin and Surman would whip inviting balls through the Luton box only for a fellow yellow shirt to fail to benefit.
As the clock ticked away, Hughton upped his game again with Wes Hoolahan replacing Surman; Anthony Pilkington for Bennett, E. The City boss clearly had no interest in a replay date back at Kenilworth Road.
He first came close to having no interest in the fifth round when Lawless almost repeated his third round heroics against Wolves in the 79th minute; instead it was left to substitute Rendell to stun Carrow Road with a near-post run and tightest of finishes in front of both Bennett R and keeper Rudd to put the Hatters in the fifth round hat.
History was beckoning – for both clubs.