By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon tonight suffered a first defeat in the Checkatrade Trophy this season, but Neal Ardley's men still secured a place in the knockout stages.
A fine double from Andrew Shinnie earned a 2-1 win for Luton Town, the League 2 side responding well after Lyle Taylor's excellent equaliser. Taylor went off with a calf injury five minutes before half-time, but Neil Cox said afterwards that it was too early to assess any potential damage. Wimbledon had produced impressive football at times in the first-half, Harry Forrester really catching the eye with his creativity. Another positive was that Jon Meades got 72 minutes under his belt in his first-team return. However, Luton were the better team in the second-half, Wimbledon struggling to replicate a promising first-half display.
As expected, Neal Ardley made plenty of changes for this final Southern Group F game with Deji Oshilaja, Jimmy Abdou and Lyle Taylor as the only players remaining from the side that started at Charlton.
Opponents Luton returned to the Cherry Red Records Stadium for the first time since a 4-1 defeat here in February 2016 – the Dons ending that season as play-off final winners. Though beaten on Saturday, Luton came here riding high in third spot in League 2 and they started confidently. Elliott Lee twice threatened an early goal, but his first shot was deflected just over and then his route to goal was blocked by good defending from the returning Jon Meades. However, there was no reprieve for Wimbledon in the 12th minute when Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Jack Senior linked-up well to create space in the box for Andrew Shinnie, who drove home emphatically.
Wimbledon were not behind for long and it was 1-1 less than three minutes later after a superbly crafted goal. Harry Forrester turned smartly and created space 25 yards out, before sending through a defence-splitting pass to Taylor, who finished clinically with his left foot into the bottom corner. Forrester was a man on a mission during this spell, seemingly eager to impress after missing the defeat at Charlton, and he showed more quality in the centre of the park to slide through another fine pass that Taylor just failed to get on the end of.
After securing the equaliser, Wimbledon attempted to build on it and good football followed from Neal Ardley's men. Taylor almost did it all by himself by beating his man on the left, before trying a chip that sailed just over the crossbar. A fine move almost ended with the perfect finish too when Callum Kennedy got on the end of it, but he shot just over the crossbar from 20 yards. Cody McDonald also headed just over the crossbar from a corner. Though Lee struck a shot over the crossbar just before the break, Wimbledon certainly had the better of it in the first-half. Lyle Taylor was withdrawn through injury five minutes before half-time with Egli Kaja replacing him.
The start of the second-half was played at a much lower tempo after the high intensity of the first 45 minutes. Anthony Hartigan again showed up well in midfield, the 17-year-old producing another assured display with his fine passing skills starting plenty of moves. However, Wimbledon struggled to recapture the attacking play that was such an attractive feature of the first-half performance. Luton started to find more cutting edge before the hour mark and Wimbledon were grateful that no one was able to get on the end of a cross from Mpanzu, after a fine move.
Neal Ardley made a change in the 62nd minute with Andy Barcham entering the fray for Forrester, who had produced a promising display on his return. However, Luton had taken control of the game by this stage and it was almost 2-1 when Shinnie cracked an effort against a post. Shinnie was not to be denied his second though and he curled home superbly from just outside the area after a flowing Luton move in the 72nd minute. There was almost an instant response from the Dons. Kaja played a smart one-two with McDonald, who got on the end of a fine cross, but James Shea got down well to save.
As Wimbledon started to commit more men forward, Luton almost took full advantage. Lee shot just wide from outside the area, as the visitors attempted to seal victory.
Despite attempting to find a late equaliser, Wimbledon were unable to conjure up another goal with Luton's much-improved second-half display enough to secure the win.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Deji Oshilaja, Paul Robinson, Jon Meades (Alfie Egan), Toby Sibbick, Callum Kennedy, Jimmy Abdou, Anthony Hartigan, Harry Forrester (Andy Barcham), Lyle Taylor (Egli Kaja), Cody McDonald.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.