Injury-time winner keeps the Town Under-18s' title chance alive
Town Under-18s 4
AFC Wimbledon Under-18s 3
A last-minute winner from Brett Longden sealed a 4-3 win over AFC Wimbledon to keep the Town Under-18s on the tails of Watford and Orient at the top of the Youth Alliance
The Hatters had their first game at Ely Way since early November on Saturday, hosting AFC Wimbledon in what turned out to be an entertaining game that was won at the death by a piece of individual quality from Brett Longden whose strike saw his side beat their London rivals 4-3 to keep up the pressure on Watford and Leyton Orient at the top of the table.
In the Hatters’ first game at Ely Way since early November, Paul Driver was able to name the same outfield start line-up for the third game running - an illness to Ben Barnes meant he was replaced by Josh Carpenter for the only change to the previous two teams.
It was AFC Wimbledon that opened the scoring inside the first 10 minutes with a powerful strike from 20 yards that went in off the underside of the cross bar giving Carpenter no chance in the Hatters goal.
The Town almost struck back immediately when Leeroy Maguraushe made a well-timed run to the back post but side footed his effort just wide of the post. The equaliser was soon to follow, though, on 20 minutes when Zane Banton finished well after finding space in the box to make it three goals in the last three games for the striker.
The Dons nearly re-took the lead, however, getting the ball into the net in the 22nd minute but the officials ruled out the effort for a foul on Carpenter.
An excellent move started and finished by Jemale McKenzie-Lowe put the Town in front in the 32nd minute. The big striker won the ball in midfield and switched the ball to Luke Trottman who found Charlie Smith and his cross found McKenzie-Lowe in the box and his powerful header put the Hatters in front.
But Wimbledon always looked a threat in attack and a dangerous cross was turned into his own net by Zac Jules just before the break to take the side into half time level at 2-2.
The second half continued like the first with the attacks of both teams looking dangerous and it was the Hatters that re-took the lead in the 53rd minute when Ian Rees was fouled in the box and Smith duly netted the spot kick for his third goal in four games.
AFC Wimbledon then equalised, again from the spot, in the 59th minute when Carpenter was adjudged to have fouled the oncoming striker - receiving just a yellow card for the foul as the striker was going away from goal.
Jerry Nash and Daril Ngwala replaced Maguaraushe and Banton (who had both not trained until Friday with knocks from the draw at Aldershot) in the final 20 minutes as the Hatters looked to get the win.
And just when it seemed the game would end in a draw, a brilliant run and left foot strike from Longden from outside the box flew into the top corner to win all three points for the Hatters.
Boss Driver told lutontown.co.uk: "This was a great game between two sides trying to play good football and we are delighted to have taken the three points to keep our hopes of the league alive.
“It’s a great achievement when you consider the line up has two under-16s in there and six first-year boys.
“We are a young team and we now have three really tough games to Bournemouth and Portsmouth away from home and Southend at home.
“However, we've come through this game without any injuries and have great back up from the under-16s and the older boys out on work experience if we need them.”
Team: Carpenter, Longden, Jibodu, Rees, Chabata, Jules, Trottman, Smith, McKenzie-Lowe, Banton (sub Ngwala 68), Maguraushe (sub Nash 68). Subs not used: Kirkpatrick, Perry.