Luton Town 2 Wrexham 1

Reporter:

Richard Williams

TRYING to overturn a 3-0 deficit eventually took its toll on Wrexham who were unable to produce a memorable comeback - although they made Luton Town sweat when they had a brilliant chance to  close the gap to just one goal.

Despite taking the lead in last night’s play-off semi-final second leg at Kenilworth Road, Wrexham were beaten 2-1 by Luton Town and lost the tie 5-1 on aggregate.

They had it all to do but Wrexham did not go down without a fight and they made Luton battle for their place in the final.

But Wrexham had left themselves far too much to do following that disappointing performance when they were outplayed in last Thursday's first leg.

A 3-0 defeat at The Racecourse left Wrexham with an uphill struggle and although they set about their task admirably in the return, it proved a step too far.

Yet no-one could fault Wrexham’s efforts in front of a packed house at Kenilworth Road as they gave it everything throughout.

Wrexham immediately set about trying to eat into the three-goal deficit from the first whistle, with the Reds’ players making all the early running.

And hopes of a comeback were raised in the eighth minute when leading scorer Andy Mangan netted his 16th goal of the season.

It was all Wrexham, who were flying with midfielder Lee Fowler running the show, as Luton struggled to cope with some excellent attacking play from the visitors.

Wrexham continued their scintillating start and when Luton conceded a 21st minute penalty, the sizeable travelling contingent were still dreaming of reaching the City of Manchester Stadium final on May 21.

However, striker Gareth Taylor missed the spot-kick. If it that had gone in and Wrexham had made it 2-0 on the night then who knows what could have happened.

It could have made for an interesting evening but that miss gave Luton a massive lift and the Hatters went on to restore their three-goal lead when goalkeeper Chris Maxwell failed to collect a ball into the area after 29 minutes and Zdenek Kroca made it 1-1.

Realising they had 45 minutes to rescue the situation, Wrexham showed they were not going to let their season peter out and continued to make a fight of it.

But as the second half wore on, Wrexham had been unable to make an impact on the scoreline.

Having to push bodies forward in search for goals, the Reds survived more than a few scares at the other end as Luton attacked with the same purpose they had on Thursday, eventually getting a second goal in the final ten minutes.

There was no way back for Wrexham who have enjoyed an excellent season under Dean Saunders, leading the Reds to the play-offs for the first time in three seasons at this level.

Hopefully Wrexham can build on this and mount another another promotion challenge next season.

Saunders made two changes - one enforced - from the side that started Thursday's first-leg.

Midfielder Chris Blackburn failed to recover from a calf problem sustained in the defeat so his place was taken be Fowler, who was back at Kenilworth Stadium just ten days after dislocating an elbow in the play-off warm-up draw between the sides.

And although strikers Andy Morrell and Mathias Pogba failed to recover from hamstring injuries sustained over the Easter period, Saunders decided to make a switch in attack.

Adrian Cieslewicz, not even named among the substitutes in the first leg, was preferred to Nat Knight-Percvial who dropped to the bench.

After building up such a commanding lead going into the second leg, it was hardly surprising that Luton manager Gary Brabin named an unchanged side, also keeping faith with the same group of substitutes.

Wrexham knew they could not afford the same sluggish start they made to the first encounter and the Reds were in no mood to sit back from the first whistle.

Fowler's 25-yard drive flew wide in the fifth minute while Luton responded through an Alex Lawless effort which never threatened the target.

But the start Wrexham were looking for arrived in the eighth minute as they took a 1-0 lead.

The pacy Cieslewicz sprinted past left-back Ed Asafu-Adjaye and delivered an excellent cross that was left by Taylor, and Mangan tucked the ball into the net from close range.

Luton looked edgy at the back, failing to deal with a Curtis Obeng cross that was eventually put behind and also struggled to deal with a teasing centre from Cieslewicz as Wrexham continued to apply pressure.

There was no doubt that Wrexham, making good use of the ball, were up for the challenge, and they had an excellent chance to score a second goal in the 21st when they were awarded a penalty.

Right-back Dan Gleeson was adjudged to have handled in the area after Mangan latched onto Jay Harris' pass but Taylor's spot-kick was saved by keeper Mark Tyler.

Who knows how Luton would have responded to going 2-0 down but the Hatters gave themselves some breathing space by restoring their three goal cushion after 29 minutes.

Goalkeeper Maxwell came to collect Asafu-Adjaye's free-kick but he was beaten to the ball by Kroca whose header found the empty net.

The goal certainly certainly settled Luton's nerves as they began to play with more freedom but Wrexham did not let their heads drop and Cieslewicz's deflected effort was saved by Tyler.

Wrexham remained committed to the cause at the start of the second half and Dean Keates' 25-yard free-kick was turned away by keeper Tyler after 51 minutes.
 

But Luton immediately countered and Maxwell was closed down by Robbie Willmott but recovered in time to make an excellent save to keep out Claude Knapka's goalbound effort.

Maxwell also had to be alert to tip a curling Willmott free-kick wide as Luton continued to threaten, while a deflected Mangan drive after 59 minutes earned Wrexham a corner and some respite.

Frank Sinclair was just unable to poke the ball home following another set-piece, but Maxwell again did well to keep out a deflected shot from Willmott.

Wrexham reached the final 20 minutes with it all to do and they pushed bodies forward for goals, but it left gaps at the gap and Maxwell made another superb save to keep out Jason Walker who was put through on goal.

Gnapka also centred for Howells whose volley was tipped over the bar by Maxwell, but the Reds' keeper was unable to deny Luton a second goal in the 81st minute when Gnapka crossed to an unmarked Walker who found the back of the net.

The pressure was relentless but Luton had done enough and they stand just 90 minutes from a return to the Football League.

See full story in the Leader

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