The Town dropped behind in the race for a place in the Play-Offs as league leaders Burton Albion condemned the Hatters to a fourth straight home defeat.
Despite enjoying the majority of the play and ball the Town fell to Matty Palmer’s deflected goal 11 minutes from time to give Burton their second smash-and-grab win over the Hatters this term.
The result was harsh on the Town who more than matched a Brewers side who are destined to play in League 1 next season following this win.
With the Hatters celebrating 130 years since the club was formed, the class of 2015 were unlucky not to go in at half-time in front after going close with a number of decent chances.
The first of those came in the ninth minute when Paul Benson volleyed over after Burton skipper John Mousinho’s wayward back-header presented the striker with the opportunity.
Three minutes later the Town came mighty close to breaking the deadlock when Michael Harriman hammered a first-time shot from the edge of the area that flew off the outside of the post.
As the Hatters continued to boss the opening exchanges, Elliot Lee – one of the three changes to the team that won at Tranmere on Easter Monday – shot wide after Benson had nodded down Nathan Doyle’s pass.
Burton were offering little in the way of attack, with the Hatters restricting the leaders to shots from distance which were either off target or comfortable for goalkeeper Elliot Justham.
But on 19 minutes the Town came close once more. Cameron McGeehan bulldozered his way through on the edge of the penalty area and Alex Lawless sent a curling first-time, left-foot shot wide of the post.
As half-time approached the Town upped the ante, and Lee came close to breaking the deadlock on 39 minutes only for his back-post header to drop wide after being found by Jake Howells’ inswinging free-kick.
The visitors’ threat in the first period had come mostly from outside the penalty area but on 55 minutes the Brewers came close to going ahead when the unmarked Adam McGurk nodded a header straight at Justham from 12 yards.
Two minutes later, however, the Town came close themselves, Lee and Howells combined excellently on the edge of the area to play Scott Griffiths through, but the defender’s left-foot shot zoomed inches over the crossbar.
John Still introduced Nathan Oduwa, Mark Cullen and Luke Guttridge in the final half-hour, with Cullen off target with a chance before Oduwa’s low cross from the byeline saw Benson’s near-post shot deflected behind for a corner.
But just as the Town were hunting a winner they fell behind. There was a hint of offside as the Brewers crept in behind the Hatters defence, but after the ball was played back into his path Palmer hammered a firm shot that took a deflection and whizzed past Justham into the roof of the net.
Hurt from going, behind Cullen almost restored parity two minutes later when he latched on to McGeehan’s pass to thump a difficult chance on his left-foot over the crossbar from 10 yards.
Four minutes were added at the end of the 90 but despite huffing and puffing in search of a late leveller, it never came and the Town’s birthday ended in defeat against the Brewers who toasted victory to keep them top of the league and course for promotion.
As for the Hatters, they have four games left and three points to make up on the top seven, starting at Dagenham on Tuesday night.
Town: Justham; Harriman, Griffiths, McNulty, Wilkinson, Doyle, Lawless (sub Oduwa 67), McGeehan, Howells (sub Guttridge 76); Benson, Lee (sub Cullen 61).
Subs not used: Hall, Kinsella, Lacey, King.
Attendance: 8,680, including 500 from Burton.