SKIPPER Sonny Bradley kept Luton’s Wembley dream alive – but they have a mountain to climb now.
Defender Bradley struck a 31st-minute volley to cancel out Danel Sinani’s 12th-minute opener in a gripping semi-final first leg that had Kenilworth Road rocking.
It was a miracle that the low-budget Hatters, hit by a string of late-season injuries, reached the play-offs in the first place.
Now they need to produce something really special to go to Huddersfield on Monday and win – although Luton had enough chances to take a lead into the second leg.
Terriers boss Carlos Corberan was boosted by the return of midfielder Lewis O’Brien, who was back in the side along with keeper Lee Nicholls and defender Tom Lees, who was making the 550th appearance of his domestic career.
But Luton’s hopes of a return by 17-goal leading scorer Elijah Adebayo were dashed, with the striker missing a third match with hamstring trouble.
There was drama in the opening 20 seconds as Huddersfield’s Harry Toffolo demanded a penalty after going down under James Bree’s tackle. But ref Robert Jones was unimpressed.
Then Bree almost made the visitors suffer as he unleashed a right-foot rocket from outside the box that Nicholls had to stretch to push over the bar.
Huddersfield had been on the back foot early on – but stood the match on its head by taking a 12th-minute lead.
Danny Ward led the breakout from deep inside the visitors’ half, fed Toffolo, who then laid on a great pass for Sinani.
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The winger raced into the box and kept cool under pressure from Bradley before slotting a low shot past Matt Ingram, squeezing the ball inside the keeper’s near post for his seventh goal of the season.
Luton had been caught napping, but they were soon hammering away in search of an equaliser, with veteran striker Cameron Jerome’s header deflected for a corner.
The leveller arrived just after the half-hour mark. Kal Naismith’s free-kick from the left dropped perfectly for Bradley, who gave Nicholls no chance with a close-range volley.
There was uproar soon after – this time it was Luton’s turn to appeal for a penalty as Jerome was bundled over by 6ft 6in Naby Sarr’s challenge.
But Huddersfield-born Jerome was giving his home-town club the runaround, and in the 37th minute he fired just over the bar from 20 yards out.
The Yorkshire side were under the cosh but always a threat on the break, and five minutes before the break Ingram was forced to save Ward’s goalbound header with his feet.
The big question at the start of the second half was whether both sides could keep up the pace.
The answer was yes as Luton’s Harry Cornick tried for goal with a cheeky backheel which was way off target.
Then Ward’s right-foot shot went out for a corner off Bradley’s block.
Corberan had sent on full-back Pipa at half-time in place of Ollie Turton and the Spaniard worked well with Duane Holmes down the right – so well that Naismith was booked in the 56th minute for fouling Holmes.
Only one Championship side – QPR – had won at Luton in 2022 and as the match entered its final quarter, Huddersfield were bidding strongly to become the second with Luton looking jaded.