The Hatters saw knockout action at Edgeley Park for the second time in less than a week, following their narrow FA Cup exit in SK3 at the hands of West Ham – but were similarly edged out of the FA Trophy by a late goal against fellow National League side Notts County.
Ash Palmer netted for County shortly after the visitors had taken a first-half lead, but a deflected strike from distance by substitute Kyle Wootton secured the tie for Notts by the odd goal in three.
The Hatters emerged on an overcast afternoon, sporting their ‘fluo’ yellow change-kit in support of local teenager Khia Whitehead who was in hospital after a road accident on Boxing Day, and showing seven changes from the starting line-up against the ‘Hammers’ five days earlier.
Josh Barnes, James Jennings, Adam Thomas, Richie Bennett, Jamie Stott and Macauley Southam-Hales, as well as Palmer, were recalled – replacing Ben Hinchliffe, Sam Minihan, Liam Hogan, John Rooney, Mark Kitching, Jordan Keane and Alex Reid, who between them comprised the seven-player substitutes’ bench permitted for the competition. Palmer – playing his first full game since completing a three-match suspension – wore the Captain’s armband in Hogan’s absence.
The visiting ‘Magpies’ – also fielding a much-changed side from usual, and without a competitive win at EP in over 55 years – created the first chance of note, as well as earning the inaugural corner, after Jimmy Knowles saw a shot from the left deflected behind by Palmer. And moments later, at the other end, Jordan Williams stung Luke Pilling’s hand with an effort from distance.
Opportunities then proved to be at a premium for more than 20 minutes – but the next one, with just over half an hour on the clock, put the visitors ahead. Knowles reacted quickest to score from six yards, after a Ruben Rodrigues shot through a crowded box was deflected into his path.
Within four minutes, however, County restored parity, when a corner by Southam-Hales on the left was flicked on by Thomas to Palmer at the far post, and the acting skipper bundled home.
Notts goalkeeper Pilling saved with his feet from Ryan Croasdale, and Calvin Miller blocked an attempt by Connor Jennings, as County ended the half duly boosted.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Palmer, 36), Notts County 1 (Knowles, 32).
The visitors were first to launch an attack after the break – culminating in a looping header from Knowles that Barnes caught at full stretch – before Williams fired over, following a partial clearance of an early second-half County corner.
Wootton headed over for the Magpies, before both of the Jennings brothers were replaced in a County double-substitution, and Thomas went agonisingly close from distance – latching on to the ball, and clipping the right post, following Pilling’s loss of possession in the away-area.
Reid, with his first touch following arrival as County’s final substitute, almost converted a low Kitching cross from the left – but Pilling parried the first-time shot around the far upright. Bennett and Williams then unleashed attempts that cleared the crossbar – and, with seven minutes remaining, the former stabbed a shot wide of the near post after being teed up by the latter.
With penalties beckoning, Wootton decided the tie in open play – firing home a shot from 25 yards that took a deflection to put the Magpies in the hat for the Fifth Round draw.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Palmer, 36), Notts County 2 (Knowles, 32; Wootton, 88).
Team (4-2-3-1): Barnes; Southam-Hales (Reid, 75), Palmer (Capt.), Stott, J. Jennings (Kitching, 69); Maynard, Croasdale; Thomas, C. Jennings (Minihan, 69), Williams; Bennett.
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Hogan, Rooney, Keane.
Man of the Match: Maynard.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.