LEWIS Hardcastle’s first-half free kick fired Blackburn Rovers through to their third FA Youth Cup semi-final in six years as they beat battling Luton Town 1-0 at Ewood Park.

Billy Barr’s side, watched by first-team boss Paul Lambert, will now play holders Chelsea or Reading in the last four as they attempt to claim the crown for only the second time in the club’s history.

Rovers flew out of the blocks and in the second minute their match-winner from their last-gasp victory at Aston Villa in the fifth round, Tre Pemberton, hooked over a great opportunity.

But they got the reward their early dominance deserved in the 12th minute when Hardcastle, who had played a starring role in Salford City’s FA Cup adventure, sent a Philippe Coutinho-style free kick under the wall and into the net with the aid of a deflection.

Lancashire Telegraph:

One so nearly became two in the 15th minute when Josh Askew rampaged down the left and sent over a cross that Akin Famewo turned onto his own post.

Relieved by the let-off the Hatters hit back with Andrew Fisher saving from Jack Snelus and then George Murray.

But the Rovers goalkeeper made an even better stop on the half-hour mark when he touched Snelus’ superb first-time effort onto the bar.

Luton came into the quarter-final tie as underdogs after knocking Preston North End out at the last-16 stage.

But, with Cameron McJannet dragging wide when well placed, they would have been disappointed not to go in level at half-time.

And, after Stefan Mols saw a shot deflect wide, Rovers captain Scott Wharton should have made them pay in the 61st minute when he sent a free header from a corner straight at Liam Gooch.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Top-scorer Lewis Mansell then saw another headed opportunity from a corner come and go before Joe Rankin-Costello stung Gooch’s hands.

Rovers were threatening a second and they should have got one in the 84th minute as Askew side-footed wide after substitute Joe Grayson opened up the Hatters defence.

That miss kept Luton’s hopes alive and in injury-time Fisher showed safe hands to deny Kavan Cotter.

Rovers: Fisher, Nyambe, Platt, Wharton, Askew, Hardcastle, Rankin-Costello, Mols (Grayson 71), Pemberton (Fawns 84), Mansell, Howarth. Subs not used: Ascroft, Travis, Steer.

Attendance: 716.