In-form promotion contenders Luton proved too strong for Wimbledon this afternoon at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
Second-half goals from Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Elliot Lee earned a 2-0 win for a Luton side that have now won six out of the last seven in all competitions.
The Dons had been well in the game by half-time, indeed for an hour, standing up to an impressive Luton side, but the Hatters had too much for Wimbledon in the end.
Neal Ardley made one enforced change to the side that started at Bristol Rovers with Jake Jervis ineligible to face his parent club. That meant a recall for Liam Trotter. Luton included two former Dons in their line-up with James Shea in goal and Danny Hylton up front. The Hatters came into this match in good form with manager Nathan Jones having guided them up to sixth in League One.
Luton made a start to this game that reflected a team full of confidence. There was an early warning to Wimbledon just three minutes in when Jack Stacey found Lee in space and his cross was met by Hylton, but his header bounced off a post. The visitors continued to show plenty of attacking intent and the Dons needed Rod McDonald to clear another header from Hylton off the line. Following that difficult start, Wimbledon did respond with Hanson heading into the arms of Shea. The Dons then came closer to breaking the deadlock when a corner resulted in a scramble in the Luton box and Nightingale's flick-on was met by Tom Soares, but he hooked over from close-range.
With half an hour gone, Anthony Hartigan tried his luck with a shot that flashed just wide. However, Luton continued to pose a threat and James Collins headed straight into the arms of Joe McDonnell with Hylton waiting in vain to receive the ball at the back post. Hylton also headed wide, as Luton attempted to continue putting the pressure on Wimbledon. Though Luton had the better of the first-half, Wimbledon had defended really well in the key areas with the visitors unable to create anything meaningful since the first 10 minutes. Scott Wagstaff struck a shot from outside the area just before the break, but Shea saved comfortably and it had been a first-half of few chances with a 0-0 score-line at half-time.
Playing towards the Chemflow End in the second-half, Wimbledon attempted to go at Luton from the outset with Hanson's aerial threat utilised as an attacking weapon. The visitors had the first effort of the half, but Andrew Shinnie's effort was comfortably over the crossbar. However, it was a positive start from the Dons after half-time and Hanson earned a free-kick that was taken by Hartigan, but his shot from 25 yards was over.
Luton had gradually started to exert a bit of pressure by the hour mark and the opening goal arrived in the 61st minute. Shinnie found space on the right and his cross picked out Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, who just about squeezed the ball home from close-range. Neal Ardley made a double change immediately after that setback with Joe Pigott and Mitch Pinnock entering the fray in place of Kwesi Appiah and Ben Purrington. Luton had a golden chance to seal victory after the referee adjudged that Hylton had been brought down in the box. However, Hylton's attempt to beat McDonnell was a feeble one as he stroked the ball down the middle, hoping that the Dons keeper would dive, but he refused to commit himself and simply caught the ball with ease.
Though Wimbledon stayed in the game due to Hylton's wastefulness, Luton continued to look dangerous. Glen Rea's looping header landed on top of the net, before Hylton shot into the side netting. Collins was also denied by a fine save from McDonnell, as Luton continued to press for a second. However, Luton did net the killer second goal through Lee, who curled home superbly from just outside the area. It was always going to be difficult for Wimbledon to get back into it after that and so it proved. Luton's defence had made it tough for the Dons to exert sustained pressure and they look to have all the ingredients for a promotion push this season.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Ben Purrington (Mitch Pinnock), Deji Oshilaja, Will Nightingale, Scott Wagstaff, Anthony Hartigan, Kwesi Appiah (James Hanson), Liam Trotter, James Hanson, Tom Soares, Rod McDonald.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.