WINNING CAPTAIN: Luton's Kevin Nicholls. 0907-134-21
LUTON TOWN clinched the Errea South West Challenge Cup with a 3-1 win over Royal Racing FC Montegnee last night.
The Blue Square Premier side always had the edge over their Belgian League opponents in the final at Bideford Sports Ground.
Backed by their loyal group of travelling supporters, Luton were pleased to round off their week in North Devon on a winning note.
While the late withdrawal of Grimsby Town undoubtedly took some gloss off the final, last-minute replacements Montegnee emerged with credit for their efforts.
Tom Craddock opened the scoring with a clinical volley in the 21st minute, and the Hatters were cruising when an own goal from Jon Wheeldon doubled the advantage early in the second half.
Montegnee's fluent football was rewarded with a well-taken free-kick from Danny Williams before Luton substitute Asa Hall made the game safe.
Craddock's sweet volley was the one moment of genuine quality from Mick Harford's men in the first half.
He slammed a shot into the roof of the net from 12 yards after right-back Keith Keane got to the touchline and swung over a cross.
Prior to that, it was the Belgian club making most of the running.
They should have taken the lead moments earlier when Paul Taylor ran at the heart of the defence and Jamie Gosling's scuffed shot was blocked by Keane.
Luton defender Alan White — back from suspension for his red card against Bideford — also had to block on the line after another lively move.
Williams' shot ballooned up in the air and Phillipe Crespin — the only Belgian player in the Montegnee line-up — had his follow-up scrambled away.
Lone striker Taylor was a threat with his pace and trickery but he dragged another opening wide of Mark Tyler's goal after being picked out by Williams.
There was always a sense Luton could change up a few gears though, and after the goal they had the opportunities to inflict further damage.
Skipper Kevin Nicholls charged forward from midfield, rounding goalkeeper Jordan Vreiner only to be denied by a brilliant goalline clearance from Dimitri Stratus.
A rare moment of confusion between defenders Wheeldon and Heath Creager then allowed Drew Talbot to break free, but the striker saw his toe-ender bounce off the top of the bar with Vreiner stranded.
Taylor continued to be a pest for Luton defenders and his clever pass picked out Victor Auarjo for another decent chance.
The Brazilian prodded the ball past Tyler but the arriving Gosling saw his sidefooted strike cleared again by Keane.
Had they been more ruthless in front of goal, the students could have headed in at half-time with a slender lead.
While Luton looked leggy for the first 45, their hard-working opponents were always going to struggle to maintain the tempo for another half.
Harford made four substitutions at the break, with the introduction of Andy Burgess and Adam Newton in particular, providing greater energy on the flanks.
When Newton released Ryan Charles down the right channel, the midfielder's cross was sliced past Vreiner by the unlucky Wheeldon.
At 2-0 down Racing had a mountain to climb but they weren't about to give up without a fight.
Spanish midfielder Inaki Calvo had a close-range effort scrambled to safety when Taylor lashed across goal.
Then referee Brett Huxtable spotted an infringement which nobody else in the ground seemed to notice, giving Montegnee a free-kick on the edge of the area.
The pink-booted Williams whipped the free-kick around the wall and past Tyler to hand his side a lifeline.
But with Luton happy to tick along nicely, keeping possession in midfield, chances to mount further attacks were scarce.
Punctuated by the piercing sound of Huxtable's whistle, the game became scrappy in the closing stages.
Not that the Hatters were too worried after substitute Hall restored the two-goal cushion with 15 minutes left.
Burgess sent over a typical left-footed free-kick and the midfielder bundled home the third under challenge from a defender.
Only some good work from the excellent Wheeldon and Creager prevented a bigger scoreline as the likes of Nicholls, Claude Gnapka and Burgess picked holes in a tiring defence.
With their enthusiastic supporters and impressive wins against Bideford and Exeter City, Luton Town have proved worthy winners of the Challenge Cup.
After the match, captain Nicholls was presented with the trophy and Craddock received both the man of the match and player of the tournament awards.
Luton Town: Mark Tyler (Preston Edwards ht), Keith Keane (Adam Newton ht), George Beavan, Asafu Adajaye (George Pilkington ht), Alan White, Kevin Gallen (Adam Watkins 68), Ryan Charles (Claude Gnapka 58), Kevin Nicholls, Drew Talbot, Tom Craddock (Asa Hall 58), Jake Howells (Andy Burgess ht).
Royal Racing FC Montegnee: Jordan Vreiner, Dimitri Stratus, Jon Wheeldon, Heath Creager, Edwin Tevesignowne (Victor Araujo 21), Inaki Calvo, Omar Persad, Jamie Gosling, Paul Taylor (Boe Ampleford 58), Phillipe Crespin (Jon Acero Castan 54), Danny Williams (Joey Spivach 82).