Flying ... Scott Rendell celebrates his winner. Photo: Getty Images
LONDON: After the torment, the triumph. Luton Town, still reeling from three successive relegations and their infamous 30-point deduction in 2008, fashioned the greatest upset in the FA Cup for 24 years on Saturday. Not since Sutton United vanquished Coventry City in 1989 had a non-league club toppled top-flight opponents in this competition, but Scott Rendell's strike 10 minutes from time was sufficient to depose English Premier League Norwich and send Luton's 4000 travelling fans into raptures.
For the disciples of Bedfordshire's biggest club, it was a result almost too momentous to absorb. Chairman Nick Owen, figurehead of the consortium that rescued Luton from financial oblivion, was on a Caribbean cruise 3000 miles away but raising a glass of something tropical to toast Rendell and the club's improbable heroes.
Never, upon their fall through the Football League trapdoor a little under four years ago, could Luton have imagined savouring a day such as this. They harboured sepia memories of their achievements here at Carrow Road in 1959, when they held Norwich to a 1-1 draw en route to a two-legged semi-final victory. Then, though, they had been proud tenants of the First Division, not relative obscurities seeking to topple a club ranked four divisions higher.
At the final whistle, the contrast between the delirious hordes in orange and white and the silent, chastened Norwich majority could scarcely have been more marked. The noise came bowling down the tiers of the away end in a cascade, as the staff in Luton's chaotic technical area threw their clipboards in the air.
The one who kept some measure of composure was manager Paul Buckle. He has been a friend of his opposite number, Chris Hughton, since their playing days at Brentford in the early '90s. One might have expected him to look ecstatic; instead he just seemed bewildered.
''It hasn't quite sunk in, this was an incredible performance,'' he said. ''The club has had some really bad times. But we embrace its history - we are very aware of our heritage, and we're keen to add to it. Here, we did.''
One suspects this result will be spoken of breathlessly for generations. For whichever way you turned, romantic subplots abounded. There was Mark Tyler, Luton's defiant goalkeeper and a player released at the age of 15 by, of course, Norwich. Then, of course, there was Rendell, a 26-year-old only brought on in the dying minutes as Buckle looked to galvanise the attack.
Rendell's finish was expert, seizing on fine build-up work by Stuart Fleetwood and JJ O'Donnell, and as he wheeled away in celebration, Carrow Road stewards struggled to contain Luton's dancing throng in the stands. Norwich, try as they might, could not muster a response as their lowly adversaries teased them in the final minutes.