The Hatters progressed to the knockout stages of the Checkatrade Trophy with a terrific win at AFC Wimbledon tonight courtesy of an Andrew Shinnie brace.
The Scottish midfielder struck a goal in each half to open his Town account since his season-long loan move from Birmingham City in the summer as Nathan Jones’ side secured home advantage in the second round as Southern Group F winners, a point above their League One hosts.
Jones selected a side that featured goalkeeper James Shea, making his first return to the Cherry Red Records Stadium since leaving in the summer, with James Justin, Frankie Musonda, Akin Famewo and Jack Senior in front of him.
Glen Rea – who will be suspended on Saturday in the FA Cup – was the only player selected from Saturday’s starting XI against Coventry, and he captained the side, with Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu, Lawson D’Ath, Luke Gambin and Shinnie, who made his return after five weeks out with an ankle injury as a late sub on Saturday, making up the midfield, with Elliot Lee up front.
Town had the game’s first attempt on goal in the fourth minute when Elliot Lee fashioned a shooting opportunity from the edge of the box after a raking ball from Rea found Senior, who combined with D’Ath and Shinnie to tee the ex-Barnsley man up, though his effort was deflected over.
Rea put the forward in again in the ninth minute after a sharp burst through the centre-circle gave him room to find Lee in space on the right, and this time his snapshot was blocked by Dons defender Jon Meades.
The Hatters took a deserved lead in the 12th minute when Shinnie waltzed into the left side of the Dons’ area to finish with a flourish after a fine flowing move involving Gambin, Mpanzu and Senior on the left.
The hosts were level within two minutes, when Lyle Taylor finished left-footed into the far corner from 15 yards – and they might have taken the lead within another minute, were it not for a perfectly timed tackle by Musonda as Harry Forrester prepared to pounce on a Taylor backheel.
Jones dropped Rea into the heart of a three-man defence before Taylor went close again just before the half-hour mark, his floated effort just clearing Shea’s cross bar. Then the Dons left wing-back Callum Kennedy tried his luck with a 20-yard drive, with the same result.
The Town were enjoying plenty of possession without really creating any clear-cut chances, and it was Wimbledon who went close again in the 40th minute when captain Paul Robinson rose highest to meet a Kennedy corner, but his glancing header drifted wide of the far post.
Lee had the Town’s next opportunity, two minutes before half-time, when the 22-year-old collected a pass inside from Senior and drove at the home defence, only to see his 25-yarder always rising over Joe McDonnell’s bar.
The second half took a while to come to life, but just before the hour Lee sparked a rapid counter-attack after picking the ball up midway inside his own half and skipping past a couple of players.
Mpanzu took the ball on and spread the play to Gambin on the right, the Maltese international then playing the over-lapping Mpanzu in to the byline, but the midfielder’s low cross flashed across the six-yard box, just evading Shinnie’s boot.
The Scot came closer than anyone to restoring the Town’s lead in the 65th minute when he took a lay-off from Lee, after some great build-up play from inside their own half from Musonda, Rea and Famewo, in his path before pulling the trigger from 25 yards, only the post denying him this time.
Gambin had the next effort on goal as the Town stepped up the pace, Mpanzu again at the heart of things driving to the left byline before looping a deflected cross to the far post, which eventually found its way to Gambin’s feet, although his shot was blocked.
When the second goal came it was inevitable it was Shinnie, the Scot profiting from good work on the left by Lee and some intelligent play by Gambin to tee him up in the box to slot into the bottom corner from 20 yards on 73 minutes.
Two minutes later Justin produced a timely block on Cody McDonald to preserve the lead, as the ex-Norwich striker got on the end of a low Andy Barcham cross, but it was the Hatters who were soon setting the tone again, Lee working his way in from the right and cracking a shot just past the post.
Sub Luke Berry, who had come on for Shinnie, looked lively and fired a right-footed volley from just outside the area with a couple of minutes left, but McDonnell was safely behind this one – then he had a first-time effort from the keeper’s poor clearance skid just wide in injury time.
The Hatters had done enough, however, to progress to the knockout stages with home advantage as group winners.
TOWN: Shea, Justin, Musonda, Rea, Famewo, Senior, Mpanzu, D’Ath, Shinnie (Berry 80), Gambin, E Lee (Jarvis 83). Subs: Potts, O Lee, Sheehan, Richardson, Isted (GK)
Goals: Shinnie 12, 73
DONS: McDonnell, Oshilaja, Robinson ©, Meades (Egan 74), Sibbick, Kennedy, Abdou, Hartigan, Forrester (Barcham 62), Taylor (Kaja 41), McDonald. Subs: Tzanev (GK), Francomb, Soares, Kalambayi
Goal: Taylor 14
REFEREE: Gavin Ward