The Hatters recorded a second win in Checkatrade Trophy Southern Group H to ensure qualification for the knockout stages as group winners tonight with a comfortably 3-0 victory over Milton Keynes at Kenilworth Road.
Captain Alan Sheehan’s penalty and Kazenga LuaLua’s first goal for the club, on his full debut, gave the hugely impressive Hatters a 2-0 half-time advantage over the Sky Bet League Two visitors, before Jorge Grant sealed the win with a third after the break.
The victory, coupled with Peterborough’s draw with Brighton and subsequent bonus point penalty shoot-out defeat, meant that the Hatters guarantee home advantage in the second round with six points, even before the final group match at Posh on November 13th.
It also extended the club’s unbeaten run to six matches in all competitions – and just one defeat in the last 11 – with three straight wins coming in the past week.
Town boss Nathan Jones chose a side that had Harry Isted in goal behind a back four of James Justin, Glen Rea, Sheehan and Jack Senior. In a three-man midfield was Alan McCormack, Andrew Shinnie and Arthur Read, with Grant and LuaLua as the wide attackers either side of Aaron Jarvis.
The Hatters started like a train, Shinnie firing narrowly over in the third minute, seconds before LuaLua crossed from the left for Jarvis to stab just wide of the near post, then Read cut in from the right, only to see his left foot shot beaten away by former Hatters loanee Stuart Moore.
The visitors had their first attempt in the tenth minute when Ousse Cisse shot over from the edge of the box, but Town were playing some cracking stuff and Jarvis met a 13th-minute Justin cross with a firm header, straight at Moore, then Read sent another low shot narrowly wide from 20 yards.
The Town deservedly got their noses in front on 17 minutes when Shinnie was tripped just inside the box by David Kasumu, and Sheehan stepped up to ping his penalty past Moore.
The lead was doubled in the 28th minute when LuaLua bided his time in the box and bent a beauty with into the bottom corner, after using Grant’s run on the overlap as a decoy, before delighting the crowd with his double somersault celebration.
The visitors looked to find a way back in on 52 minutes when a Hancox cross from the left found Aidan Nesbitt via a flick-on, but Isted made a wonderful double save to deny the half-time substitute with his initial powerful drive, and his follow-up.
Hatters were soon back on the front foot, however, and Read nodded inches wide after Shinnie’s effort had been parried into his path by Moore, just before Grant made it three on the hour.
Jarvis turned centre-half Finn Tapp magnificently on the Town left and aimed a shot at goal that Moore got a hand on, but only to lob it up for the onrushing Grant to steer in with his head from close range.
Read went closer still to extending the lead in the 68th minute the midfielder raced clear of the Milton Keynes back four and slipped the ball past Moore, but saw his effort bounce off the outside of the post.
Rea blazed over five minutes later when Senior and Grant combined down the left to set him up 12 yards out, then LuaLua called Moore into action again before Grant pinged a corner to Sheehan, lurking outside the box, but the captain’s left-footed Paul Scholes-style volley was deflected wide.
LuaLua was running riot and after reaching the left byline, he cut a beautiful ball back for Justin to run on to, Moore getting down low to keep the right-back’s side-footed 20-yarder out.
Jones handed youth teamer Jake Peck his senior debut with three minutes to go, before Josh Neufville and Connor Tomlinson came on to make it five academy graduates or current scholars on the pitch at the final whistle as the Hatters progressed through the group for a third season in a row.
LUTON: Isted, Justin, Rea, Sheehan ©, Senior, McCormack, Shinnie (Neufville 90), Read, LuaLua (Tomlinson 90), Grant (Peck 87), Jarvis. Subs: Bradley, Stacey, Collins, Shea (GK)
Goals: Sheehan 17 (pen), LuaLua 28, Grant 60
MILTON KEYNES: Moore, Lewington © (Gilbey 46), Cisse (Nesbitt 46), Watson, Aneke (Thomas-Asante 46), Hancox, Simpson, Brittain, Jackson, Kasumu, Tapp. Subs: Sietsma (GK), Nombe, Sole, Pattison.
REFEREE: Craig Hicks
ATT: 875 (208 away)