Two goals from substitute Jack Marriott in the final 11 minutes helped the Hatters grind out a second successive victory at Kenilworth Road over 10-man AFC Wimbledon.
The Hatters had been frustrated in their search for a breakthough for 80 minutes against the Dons, who saw central defender Karleigh Osborne sent-off in the first half after picking up two yellow cards in the space of three minutes.
But 63rd-minute introduction Marriott changed all that. His first goal arrived when sniffing in the penalty area to guide a finish into the corner on 79 minutes, before he grabbed his and the Town’s second in the final minute of stoppage time to seal a victory and lifts John Still’s men up to within three points of a Play-Off place.
Beginning showing the same side that beat Mansfield last weekend, the Town began on the front-foot without seriously testing visiting goalkeeper James Shea.
Mark Tyler was the first goalkeeper called into action when he gathered well from George Francomb’s shot on 17 minutes before Adebayo Akinfenwa headed over a right-wing cross a minute later as the hosts threatened early on.
While the Hatters were seeing more of the ball, it was the Dons who creating the more dangerous opportunities, and a deflected effort from Jake Reeves on the edge of the area worried the Hatters as it bounced inches wide of the target.
It was end-to-end action as both sides traded possession and chances within a two-minute spell on 27 minutes. Josh McQuoid wasn’t far away from seizing on a forward pass from Paddy McCourt before Akinfenwa got ahead of Stephen McNulty to power a header wide. McQuoid then glanced a header wide after latching onto Jonathan Smith’s left-wing cross.
But as the break approached, the game turned on two mistimed tackles by Osborne which saw the Wimbledon centre-half dismissed. His first booking on 31 minutes halted McQuoid’s progress before he then checked Cameron McGeehan three minutes later and referee Brendan Malone had no option but to pull out a red card. In between the sending off, Tyler had to be alert to get down to prevent Andy Barcham’s shot from creeping home at the near post.
With a man advantage the Hatters upped the ante before the break with McQuoid denied by a superb block on the edge of the box from Dannie Bulman on 39 minutes and McCourt firing over four minutes later.
After the break the pressure continued, but the Town were finding it tough breaking the resolute Dons defence.
The Hatters came mighty close to taking the lead on the hour when Scott Griffiths saw his low shot across goal, destined for the bottom corner, was turned behind by Shea in the visitors’ goal.
However, Still made a double change on 63 minutes, introducing Marriott and Alex Lawless for Stephen O’Donnell and McQuoid and seven minutes later the Town almost came close to opening the scoring when a Stephen McNulty cross caused chaos in the Wimbledon six-yard box only for the Dons to desperate hack the ball to safety.
Despite playing with a man light, the visitors were certainly still in the game, especially with the score blank, and the Hatters had Tyler to thank for a super sprawling save on 73 minutes to stop Sean Rigg’s shot from the edge of the box from finding the bottom corner.
However the Town continued to press, and their endeavours were rewarded 11 minutes from time when all three substitutes combined to set-up the opening goal. Ryan Hall, who had come on for Griffiths, floated in a left-wing corner which found Lawless. His shot was blocked in the box but the loose ball was seized on by Marriott, who flicked a smart finish into the corner to break the Dons’ resistance.
Behind, it was the visitors’ turn to lay siege on the Hatters’ goal and with five left Tyler was there again to save the Town with a fingertip save from an Akinfenwa header that almost dropped home.
But as time ticked down the Town began to take control. Luke Wilkinson headed over with three minutes left before Marriott made all three points safe in the final minute of stoppage time. McCourt robbed the Dons of the ball and passed inside to McGeehan. However the midfielder couldn’t get a clean shot away. Luckily, the ball then fell at the feet of Marriott and he did the rest, lashing a left-foot finish into the net to seal victory.
Another three points, another clean sheet, all of a sudden the Town are three points off the top six.
See you at Morecambe!
Town: Tyler; O’Donnell (sub Lawless 63), Griffiths (sub Hall 75), McNulty, Wilkinson; Smith, Lee; McCourt, McGeehan, McQuoid (sub Marriott 63); Mackail-Smith. Subs not used: Potts, Green, O’Brien, Justham.
Attendance: 8,415, including 588 from AFC Wimbledon.