The Hatters rounded off a fine home campaign this afternoon with a 3-1 win over Forest Green Rovers as a sell-out Kenilworth Road crowd celebrated promotion from Sky Bet League Two in style.
Danny Hylton netted his 50th goal for the club in his 89th appearance to set the ball rolling in the 20th minute, before Christian Doidge equalised for Rovers after half-time.
Late goals from Olly Lee and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu put the icing on the promotion cake, and although Accrington Stanley’s 1-0 win over Lincoln put the title out of Town’s reach, Nathan Jones and his squad were cheered to the rafters as they were presented with the runners-up trophy and medals before going on a lap of honour after the game.
Jones had named an unchanged team for a fourth successive match as his side looked for a victory to keep the pressure on Accrington.
The Town secured automatic promotion with a draw at Carlisle last week, but a win today coupled with defeat for Stanley at home to Lincoln would see the title race go down to the final day of the season.
They were looking to make it five matches unbeaten – with three wins in the last four – as they aimed to get the post-match promotion celebrations started with another impressive home performance.
An outrageous piece of skill by Elliot Lee by the right touchline led to Mpanzu whipping in a cross that Collins put in the back of the visitors’ net on eight minutes, only for the striker to be shown a yellow card for using his hand.
Dayle Grubb had a shot deflected wide at the other end two minutes later, before Sheehan brought the ball out of defence to trigger a move that ended with Mpanzu dragging his left-foot shot well wide as he entered the area.
Rovers keeper Cameron Belford pulled off an unbelievable save to prevent Potts’ header from Olly Lee’s right-wing cross finding the top corner.
The lead wasn’t long in coming, and it had to be that man Hylton who was there to finish off another fine move that started with Elliot Lee slicing open the visitors’ back four with an inch-perfect pass into Collins’ path.
The ex-Crawley man’s shot was half-saved by Belford, but Hylton was there to slot the loose ball over the line from inside the six-yard box for goal number 23 of the season – all of them from inside the penalty area.
Belford was soon making another good block to prevent Hylton adding to that tally from close range, just before the striker joined Collins in referee Lee Collins’ notepad for pulling back Reece Brown as he raced down the right.
Elliot Lee was running the show from the tip of the midfield diamond, and after another couple of drops of the shoulder, he arced a 20-yard shot that was destined for the bottom corner until Belford flew across his line to push it around the post on 27 minutes.
A lull in proceedings followed until Elliot Lee found Mpanzu and the midfielder played a slide-rule pass into Hylton’s path, but somehow the top scorer’s shot ricocheted between Belford’s legs and skipped across the six-yard box, before Mpanzu pierced the Rovers defence with another terrific pass, this time for Stacey, but the right-back’s cross just eluded Collins at the far post.
With 45 minutes on the clock Shea had to be alert to keep out Scott Laird’s left-footed piledriver, but it had been a half of Hatters’ dominance as they punched the ball around the wet surface with aplomb.
Rovers were back in the game eight minutes after half-time when Doidge took a pass from Iasiah Osbourne a yard inside the area and thumped a right-footed shot past Shea into the bottom corner for his 25th goal of the season.
The Town had started the second half in second gear, and a mix-up between McCormack, Sheehan and Rea almost presented Doidge with another opportunity on the hour, Rea blocking the striker’s eventual shot, before sub Tahvon Campbell fired an angled shot just wide of the post.
Shea was called into action once again by Brown, getting down low to his right to push the ball away, before Elliot Lee led a charge with 20 minutes to go after Mpanzu had won the ball in his own box, but referee Collins waved appeals for a penalty away as the 12-goal forward went down under a challenge from Farrend Rawson.
Forest Green had asked most of the second half questions, but with just over ten minutes to go the Hatters mounted a period of sustained pressure that ended with Elliot Lee firing into the side-netting, with the aid of a deflection, before Sheehan went down in the box as he prepared to shoot, but again ref Collins waved appeals away.
The Town regained the lead in the 86th minute when Cornick picked out Olly Lee with a low cross from the right and the midfielder lashed in his seventh goal of the season from 12 yards.
Then Mpanzu netted his second in as many home games, with the aid of deflection, from 25 yards to really get the party started in the 89th minute.
TOWN: Shea, Stacey, Rea, Sheehan, Potts, McCormack (Cuthbert 90), Mpanzu, O Lee, E Lee, Hylton, Collins (Cornick 82). Subs: Justin, Jervis, Downes, Gambin, Stech (GK)
Yellows: Collins, Hylton, McCormack
Goals: Hylton 20, O Lee 86, Mpanzu 89
ROVERS: Belford, Laird, Collins ©, Grubb (Campbell 60), Doidge, Brown (Reid 85), Gunning, Rawson, Clements (Cooper 63), Hollis, Osbourne. Subs: Simpson, Wishart, Pickering (GK), Hendy
Goals: Doidge 54
REFEREE: Lee Collins
ATT: 10,029 (117 away)