The Hatters moved up to fifth in the Sky Bet League One table as goals from Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Elliot Lee secured a third successive win at struggling AFC Wimbledon this afternoon.
The Town produced a real workmanlike performance to inflict a sixth straight defeat on the Dons, and keep a second clean sheet in those three winning matches to cement their place in the play-off positions having made the breakthrough with the 4-1 midweek dismantling of Accrington Stanley.
Mpanzu volleyed in the opener just after the hour with his first goal of the campaign, while Lee – the only change to Nathan Jones’ starting line-up at the Cherry Red Records Stadium as he returned after three games out to replace the injured Jorge Grant – bagged his fifth with ten minutes to go, after Danny Hylton had seen a penalty saved in between.
James Shea was in goal on his return to his former club, with Jack Stacey, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley and James Justin in the back four. Glen Rea anchored the midfield with Mpanzu, Andrew Shinnie and Lee ahead of him, behind the front two of Hylton and James Collins.
The Town came within a lick of paint of opening the scoring in the fourth minute, when Lee crossed from the right and Hylton’s header hit the inside of the post and came back out, and Shinnie and Rea couldn’t force the rebound home.
The top scorer went close again in the 12th minute when Lee and Mpanzu produced a great bit of combination play to the left of the Wimbledon penalty area, the former crossed for Hylton to get another header on goal, and although it beat Joe McDonnell, centre-half Rod McDonald was on hand to hook clear off the line.
Wimbledon responded with James Hanson sending a tame header straight at Shea, before a 15th-minute corner caused consternation in the Town six-yard box, but the assistant’s flag was already up for offside before Tom Soares hooked his shot over the bar.
Anthony Hartigan fizzed a right-footed shot just past Shea’s post on the half-hour as Wimbledon enjoyed a decent spell, but the Town were soon back on the front foot, Mpanzu ignoring Stacey’s overlapping run down the right to pick out Collins at the far post, but the striker’s header was comfortable for McDonnell to hold.
A scrappy period followed, but it was the hosts who finished the half with the next shot on goal, Scott Wagstaff picking up a ball just inside the Town half and driving forward to unleash a right-footed shot that Shea was right behind.
Shinnie had the first attempt of the second half, although his 25-yard drive was too high to trouble McDonnell – and it was the same at the other end, as Hartigan curled a free-kick over Shea’s bar from similar distance after Bradley had fouled Hanson.
Justin was on set-piece duty for the Hatters in Grant’s absence, and it was from the 20-year-old’s right-wing free-kick that the next opening came for the Town, Bradley meeting this one with a looping header that landed on the roof of the net.
The breakthrough came in the 61st minute when Stacey, Hylton and Shinnie linked up brilliantly on the right for the Scot to stand a lovely cross up to the far post, where Mpanzu was waiting to volley past McDonnell for his first of the season.
Three minutes later Shinnie was at his creative best again, feeding Lee to his left, but the ex-Barnsley man’s attempted curler was well saved by McDonnell, who – two minutes later – had his easiest save of the afternoon to make as Hylton’s attempted Panenka penalty, after the striker had been fouled himself by Trotter, never looked like making its way past the home keeper in the middle of his goal.
Wimbledon threatened briefly in the 73rd minute when Trotter’s back header from a long throw was saved comfortably by Shea, but the action was soon back up at the other end as the Town set up camp in the Dons’ half.
Rea headed onto the roof of the net on 75 minutes, another Justin free-kick from the right causing the hosts a problem. A minute later a great turn by Shinnie enabled the midfielder to feed Hylton into the box to his right, but the striker could only find the side-netting as McDonnell narrowed the angle.
The Dons’ keeper denied Collins with his feet in the 78th minute, after Lee set up his fellow four-goal forward.
The favour was returned with interest two minutes later, however, as the tireless Collins won a thunderous challenge midway inside the Wimbledon half and emerged with the ball to feed Lee, who moved one goal ahead of his pal with one of those curling right-footed shots into the bottom corner that we have become accustomed to from around 22 yards out.
That was enough to seal a fifth win in the last six league matches – six in seven in all competitions – with the Town scoring two or more in each of our last eight fixtures. Next up, Rochdale!
TOWN: Shea, Stacey, Pearson, Bradley, Justin, Rea ©, Mpanzu, Shinnie, Lee (Sheehan 84), Hylton, Collins. Subs: McCormack, Cornick, LuaLua, Jarvis, Jones, Isted.
Goals: Mpanzu 61, Lee 80
DONS: McDonnell, Purrington (Pinnock 65), Oshilaja ©, Nightingale, Wagstaff, Hartigan, Appiah (Pigott 65), Trotter, Hanson, Soares, McDonald. Subs: King (GK), Watson, Thomas, Egan, Burey.
REFEREE: Andrew Davies
ATT: 4,202 (751 Hatters)