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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 6, 2009

Luton hope to defend trophy even if relegated

Luton Town boss Mick Harford wants his side to have the opportunity to defend the Johnstone's Paint Trophy next season - even if they are no longer a Football League club.

The Hatters, 12 points adrift of safety at the foot of League Two and looking certainties to drop into non-league, pulled off a shock 3-2 extra-time victory over Scunthorpe Untied at Wembley on Sunday.

But with the competition only contested by clubs from Leagues One and Two, if Luton do go down it would appear the holders will not be involved next term.

"I don't know if we will be able to,'' said Harford. "Of course we would want to. If we lose our league status - if - then we would love to be involved in the JPT again.

"It's a fairytale for Luton. I've been involved in cup finals for Luton, big games, and this is definitely up there. It could be a turning point for Luton.''

Claude Gnakpa was the Hatters' unlikely hero, the French defender coming on five minutes from the end of normal time to shore things up with his side leading 2-1.

The move did not quite work, with Grant McCann curling a stunning shot past Town goalkeeper Dean Brill two minutes later to force extra-time.

But Gnakpa, formerly of Swindon and Peterborough, wrote his name into Luton folklore when he raced onto Keith Keane's long pass, stretched out a leg and lifted the ball expertly over United keeper Joe Murphy and into the net.

"Claude's a right-back normally but he's got a bit of pace and drive and he breaks forward,'' added Harford. "It was a fantastic ball from Keith and he finished it well.''

A thrilling match worthy of any cup final was played out in front of 55,378 fans, with Luton bringing an incredible 40,000 down the M1.

The mass orange turn-out provided a defiant message to the Football Association and Football League, who between them docked the Hatters 30 points and condemned them to almost certain relegation.

Gary Hooper fired League One play-off hopefuls Scunthorpe into an early lead with his 30th goal of the season but Luton hit back through Chris Martin and Tom Craddock before McCann's dramatic leveller.

"It's unbelievable to be able to win at Wembley. It means everything,'' said Hatters striker Martin. "There was a lot of talk about how tough a season Luton have had in the league but this has been a welcome break for both the players and the supporters.

"We couldn't hear ourselves talk out there. The manager was trying to scream instructions and the lads couldn't talk to each other 10 yards away. We brought 40-odd thousand with us so they are going home happy.

"Going behind was a sucker-punch at the time but we still kept our heads and in extra-time we showed how good we are. Claude nicked a goal, it was a great little finish, and it's an unbelievable feeling to have won.''

Scunthorpe's players were crestfallen at the end, such is the esteem in which this competition is held these days.

But they will forget the disappointment if they are victorious at Wembley in a month's time.

"There are a few tears because we have lost a cup final,'' said their manager, Nigel Adkins. "But we will draw a blue line under it and make sure we come back to Wembley in the play-off final - and make sure we win.''

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