The Hatters’ third and final group match in the English Football League/Papa John’s Trophy saw them bow out with a single-goal victory at home to League One visitors Shrewsbury Town.
In what was a ‘dead rubber’ of a tie in the Northern Section’s Group C, with both sides having two defeats to their name and being unable to progress further in the competition, Ryan Johnson’s headed goal in the second minute settled the tie to give County a first win in the competition for 13 years.
County took to the field on a clear autumn night showing nine changes, with only the Ryans Croasdale and Johnson having also started in the League Two line-up at Edgeley Park against Grimsby three days previously. Ash Palmer wore the captain’s armband in the absence of Paddy Madden.
With only around 90 seconds on the clock, County took a very early lead – as Calum MacDonald earned a corner, and Ollie Crankshaw’s consequential delivery from the left was headed home by Johnson for his first competitive goal of the campaign.
Five minutes later, the Hatters went close to doubling their advantage, when James Brown’s cross from the right was headed narrowly over by Connor Evans – who subsequently tested visiting goalkeeper and skipper, Harry Burgoyne, with a volley on the turn that the former Wolves custodian stooped to smother.
County earned another four corners in the opening 20 minutes. Following the last of those, the ball fell to Elliot Newby and was fed back to Croasdale, whose thunderbolt of a 25-yard shot Burgoyne, with his back arched, brilliantly tipped over.
As the Hatters continued to dominate, Connor Jennings connected with another Brown cross from the right to send a deflected volley just shy of the far post – before Nana Owusu denied Jennings from one yard out with a goal-line clearance, MacDonald and Newby also had chances blocked at close range, and Burgoyne parried a goal-bound Evans header.
The visiting ‘Shrews’, whose predominantly young side was changed in its entirety from their weekend visit to Fleetwood, offered little in the final third before the break – save for a curling shot by Owusu that soared well past the left post with three minutes of the half remaining.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (R. Johnson, 2), Shrewsbury 0.
Having fashioned the final opportunity in the first half, Shrewsbury also created the inaugural one of the second – with Tom Bloxham crossing from the right by-line for Ryan Bowman to head over.
Some end-to-end fare then ensued, as first Jennings connected with a Brown delivery to produce a looping header that cleared the crossbar, and then Ben Hinchliffe stood tall in the County goal to parry away a fierce shot from Bloxham.
From County’s first corner of the new half, taken by Crankshaw on the right, Jennings stabbed a shot past the near post – before Crankshaw tried his luck with an effort from the edge of the box that flew over, MacDonald unleashed one from further out that stung the hands of Burgoyne, and Akil Wright headed over from beyond the far post after another Crankshaw corner from the right had been flicked on by Jennings.
At the other end, a low shot from distance by Robert Street fizzed past the right post – and Hinchliffe caught cleanly from Bowman when the visiting striker had been played through on goal, before County’s Number One’s counterpart, Burgoyne, did likewise to deny Crankshaw.
The prospect of a rather bizarre penalty shoot-out (with a further one-point reward) remained, and almost came to pass when, with five minutes remaining, Bloxham struck the bar from 25 yards.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (R. Johnson, 2), Shrewsbury 0.
Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Wright, Palmer (Capt.), R. Johnson; Brown, Evans, Croasdale (C. Johnson, 64), MacDonald; Crankshaw, Newby; Jennings.
Unused Subs: Jones, Barugh, Mee, Kenny.
Booked: R. Johnson.
Man of the Match: Brown.
Attendance: 1,054 (99 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.