Gills nearly produce stunning comeback against Luton but Premier League side narrowly advance in the Carabao Cup.
Jayden Clarke and Tom Nichols scored in the second half as Gillingham came close to taking Premier League Luton Town to penalties in a narrow 3-2 defeat at Kenilworth Road in the Carabao Cup Second Round.
Luton took a two-goal lead in the first half. Jacob Brown scored after just two minutes before Alfie Doughty’s incredible 30-yard strike doubled the advantage.
Clarke pulled a goal back in the 55th minute. He got behind the Luton defence after Macauley Bonne’s flick-on and made his way into the penalty area. Clarke did well to evade the sliding challenge of a Luton defender before smashing beyond Tim Krul from a few yards out.
Cauley Woodrow added a third for the hosts 11 minutes later when his shot from the edge of the box was curled into the top corner, leaving Glenn Morris with no chance.
Nichols, a second-half substitute, made it a nervy ending for Luton with a couple of minutes to go. Cheye Alexander’s cross from the right found the head of the striker inside the box, and his glancing header beat Krul. It hit the inside of the post before bouncing over the line.
Neil Harris made six changes to the side that was beaten by Colchester United. Glenn Morris, Conor Masterson, Max Clark, Robbie McKenzie, Jayden Clarke and Macauley Bonne came into the starting XI. Ike Orji, Josh Chambers, Ronald Sithole and Joe Gbode were named among the substitutes.
Former Gillingham loanee Amari Bell started in defence for Luton.
Alfie Doughty almost gave Luton the lead in the first minute. Bell played a diagonal ball into the penalty area, which fell to the feet of Doughty. He took a touch before blasting it goalward. Morris did well to close it down and made the save.
Moments later, Jacob Brown put the hosts in front. The ball found its way to Brown, who was on the left side of the penalty area. He took a touch before shooting across the goal towards the far bottom corner. It was out of Morris’ reach and it nestled into the back of the net.
Clarke had Gillingham’s first opportunity in the 19th minute. Ashley Nadesan did well to win the ball from a Luton throw before finding Tim Dieng, who passed it inside for Clarke. The attacking midfielder had the time to take a touch before shooting with his left foot. However, it failed to test Tim Krul as it sailed over the crossbar.
The hosts forced Morris into a save at full stretch after Luke Berry went on a mazy run. He was shoulder barged by McKenzie, putting him off balance, so when Berry got his shot away, it lacked power, and Morris got down and stretched to make sure he had the ball gathered.
Doughty doubled the Luton advantage with a fantastic strike. The hosts were awarded a free-kick around 30 yards from the goal. Berry laid it off for Doughty, who bent the ball towards the top corner with a first-time left-footed effort. Morris had no chance of keeping it out as it curled into the top corner.
HALF-TIME: Luton Town 2-0 Gillingham
The Gills were unlucky in the 53rd minute when McKenzie’s long throw into the Luton penalty area fell to Clarke. He managed to get a shot away, but it was blocked. The ball came back out to Clark, whose shot from 20 yards curled into the hands of Krul.
Minutes later, Clarke scored his first Gillingham goal, breathing life into the tie. Bonne flicked a ball behind the Luton defence for Clarke to latch onto. He made his way into the penalty area before evading the sliding challenge of a Luton defender. He cut the ball onto his right foot before smashing it beyond Krul at his near post from a few yards out.
Nadesan had a golden opportunity to level shortly afterwards. Gills managed to clear a Luton corner with a long hanging ball up the field, which allowed Nadesan to chase. The striker did well to outmuscle Bell to get onto the ball before going through one-on-one. He got just inside the box before shooting, but his attempt was too close to Krul, who saved with his legs, and the ball went out for a corner.
From the resulting corner, Bonne had a good opportunity as the ball dropped to him from six yards. However, he could not keep his half-volley down as he ballooned it over the crossbar.
Cauley Woodrow scored a third for the hosts in the 66th minute with another great finish. The ball came to Woodrow, who was on the edge of the penalty area before he curled the ball into the top corner, leaving Morris with no chance of keeping it out.
The visitors made four changes in the 73rd minute when Tom Nichols, Scott Malone, Shaun Williams and Jonny Williams replaced Bonne, Clark, Dieng and Nadesan.
Sithole made his professional debut in the 87th minute, replacing Clarke.
Nichols made it a nervy ending seconds later. After a good passage of play, the ball went out wide to Alexander, who delivered a cross from the right. His ball found the head of Nichols, who headed goalward. It was out of the reach of Krul as it bounced off the inside of the post before crossing the line.
Jonny Williams had an attempt deflected wide in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Krul punched Malone’s free-kick as far as Jonny Williams, who struck it towards the bottom right corner. It took a slight deflection, which sent it just wide of the post.
The hosts managed to counter-attack from the resulting corner. They had a four-on-one as they seemed destined to score. Ross Barkley was the one to shoot goalward, but his fierce attempt was brilliantly saved by Morris. The second ball came to a Luton forward, but his shot was blocked fantastically by Sithole.
FULL-TIME: Luton Town 3-2 Gillingham
Luton Town: Krul, Andersen, Lockyer (Burke 46’), Bell, Doughty, Mpanzu, Berry (Barkley 60’), Giles (Kabore 60’), Ogbene (Nakamba 69’), Woodrow, Brown (Adebayo 81’)
Unused Substitutes: Shea, Morris, Chong, Johnson
Gillingham: Morris, Alexander, Masterson, Ehmer, Ogie, Clark (Malone 72’), Dieng (S. Williams 73’), McKenzie, Clarke, Nadesan (J. Williams 73’), Bonne (Nichols 72’)
Unused Substitutes: Turner, Orji, Chambers, Sithole, Gbode
Referee: Jeremy Simpson
Attendance: 9468 (1058 Gills supporters)