Luton’s Wembley dream lives on as Sonny Bradley secures draw with Huddersfield | Championship


For Luton, the miracle is still there. It was a frayed, scrappy but utterly engrossing tie that ended with Wembley in sight, although Huddersfield have their own perspective when they host Monday’s second leg. A draw was the right result, which means Nathan Jones’ players are two games away from confounding all expectations and taking on the Hatters, who have been shaken from a mainstay in office for long spells in their 30 years out of the game. elite, back to heights that few thought they could rise again.

Few except Jones, perhaps. The Welshman’s contagious optimism and contagious optimism are duly reflected in his side, who may have crumbled on their big night after Danel Sinani’s well-taken opener but recovered to equalize through captain Sonny Bradley . Luton could have been ahead at the interval; by the same token, they might have finished the game late and Jones, chipper as usual, saw enough to flavor yet another chapter of their fairy tale.

“If we weren’t confident, we might as well save on the hotel bill and stay here,” he said. “We didn’t lose the game and that’s really important. It’s a wonderful meeting to go to Huddersfield now.

It was also quite a special occasion. Kenilworth Road is a wondrous, creaky, crumbling anachronism that hasn’t hosted a top-flight game since April 1992. It seems to have been frozen in time ever since; on the pitch, Luton, sinking to non-league via three administration spells, did anything but and the sight of their orange-clad fans roaring them in search of the promised land must have been dizzying for those with been on board throughout.

A loud and hostile atmosphere felt like another throwback, spawning a tempo that vibrated and throbbed from the start. He was severely tested after 12 minutes when, amid the uproar, Huddersfield’s Sinani kept a cool head. The Norwich loanee had space to exploit when, trying to chase him down, Kai Naismith stumbled. Harry Toffolo found the gap with a slide rule pass and, with Sonny Bradley unable to stop the shot opportunity despite going wide, Sinani fired a clean shot inside the near post to Matt Ingram.

Bradley had worried before the match that at 30, this might be his first and last chance to bow to the promised land. He hadn’t helped matters by giving Sinani too much space, but the atonement came on the half-hour mark, just like fellow centre-back Naismith. Luton had put Huddersfield under the pump with a succession of crosses and, when Cameron Jerome was brought down by Tom Lees, were awarded a free kick from the left side. Naismith delivered delightfully and Bradley met him with a close range volley that Lee Nicholls couldn’t prevent.

Huddersfield's Danel Sinani opens the scoring at Kenilworth Road.
Huddersfield’s Danel Sinani opens the scoring at Kenilworth Road. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

“I thought we were electric in the first half,” Jones said, and Luton’s ferocity certainly could have reaped bigger rewards before the interval. Jerome, a handful as he always was, curled up just above and gave Henri Lansbury a chance which Naby Sarr blocked. The veteran also drilled through on goal, only to fall into a leg entanglement with the same defender. Jones thought it was ‘a stone wall and a red card’ but Sarr stayed, a corner was awarded and Huddersfield were able to reverse their own claim when James Bree pushed Toffolo back into the surface after just 12 seconds.

Huddersfield had also moved closer to Danny Ward. The striker turned and fired over, via a deflection, after the restart but the game did not quite regain its former savagery. Nicholls angered the crowd by delaying goal kicks, reflecting the visitors’ quest for greater control rather than a particular desire to see a draw.

Carlos Corberán’s side, relegated from the top tier just three years ago but still firm underdogs for the climb at the start of the season, were able to kick the ball on something approaching their own terms as the fire of Luton died out but couldn’t create the chance that would set foot in the National Stadium.

“That’s probably the right result,” Corberán said, having sensed a two-half game reasonably. Jones, who could welcome back top scorer Elijah Adebayo on Monday, was more bouncy about the decider. “It’s a straight shootout, winner takes all,” he said. A breathtaking prize is within reach.

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