The Hatters moved into the Sky Bet League One play-off places with a 4-1 win over high-flying Accrington Stanley at Kenilworth Road tonight, with striker Danny Hylton grabbing his third hat-trick for the club.
Hylton set the ball rolling in the fifth minute when he finished off a wonderful counter attack that started with a Stanley free-kick deep in Town territory, and involved a sweeping move between James Collins, Jorge Grant and James Justin.
After Offrande Zanzala had grabbed an equaliser before half-time, Andrew Shinnie restored the advantage seven minutes into the second half before Hylton completed his treble, taking his goal haul to 55 in 97 appearances since joining from Oxford in the summer of 2016.
The win made it 14 games unbeaten at home for the Hatters in all competitions, since Accrington themselves came to Kenilworth Road in early March and took all three points as the sides tussled at the top of League Two.
Jones made one change for the clash, with the switch from Saturday’s home victory over Walsall an enforced one, James Justin coming in from the kick-off after appearing as a substitute after Dan Potts suffered a groin injury just before half-time of the 2-0 win.
That meant James Shea was in goal behind a back four of Jack Stacey, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley and Justin. Captain Glen Rea was in the midfield holding role with Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Andrew Shinnie and Grant behind a front two of Collins and Hylton.
The Hatters made a dream start when Hylton volleyed them in front with just five minutes on the clock. Accrington had a free-kick 30 yards from goal, but the Town wall stood firm not once, but twice, blocking shots in quick succession and Collins collected the loose ball.
The striker spread it wide to Grant, who sliced the Stanley defence open with a beautiful angled pass for Justin to run on to, and without breaking stride, the left-back curled in a perfect cross for Hylton to volley past Jonny Maxted from six yards out.
Shea was called into action for the first time on 15 minutes when he flew across his line to push away a header from Offrande Zanzala, but the Town were playing well and dominating possession, without creating any other clear-cut chances.
Stanley grew into the game, however, and Zanzala headed in the equaliser from Callum Johnson’s right-wing cross in the 27th minute with a carbon copy effort from the one the Town keeper had just kept out, this one creeping through the keeper and over the line.
The Hatters responded well, Justin raiding down the left again to win a corner, which Stanley managed to clear, before he stung Maxted’s palms with a rasping 25-yard drive just after the half-hour.
A short corner routine on the left saw Grant and Justin combine to set Shinnie up for a thunderbolt of a shot that smacked Billy Kee full in the face, leaving the Stanley striker needing treatment.
Shinnie was next to have a go too, in the 38th minute, when he ghosted past his man on the edge of the box after a good period of possession, but his left-foot shot was a foot wide of the near post.
Collins was presented with a wonderful chance to restore the lead with 45 minutes on the clock when Stacey’s pass from just inside the Stanley half was dummied by Hylton, and the ball landed at his strike partner’s feet, but Maxted got down low to his left to keep his 18-yard shot out.
An ill-tempered end to the half resulted in bookings, did have the advantage again by the 52nd minute when Shinnie fashioned space for himself on the edge of the area and cracked in a low right-footed shot that beat Maxted’s outstretched right arm into the bottom corner of the net.
Two minutes later it was three, and again Shinnie was key, racing to the right byline and cut back for Hylton to lash into the net right-footed from eight yards out.
Shea had to be alert to keep out a curling Sean McConville effort, with Justin making a brave block to prevent Zanzala netting the follow-up, before the Town keeper dropped on another McConville shot in the 63rd minute.
Hylton had his hat-trick in the 70th minute when, after Mark Hughes had been booked for fouling him again, Grant curled in a free-kick that Bradley headed back across the box for the ex-Oxford man to nod in off the post.
Stanley reminded the Town they were still a threat when Zanzala headed against the crossbar in the 74th minute, but with Cornick on for Grant and Kazenga LuaLua for Hylton – who received his trademark standing ovation after leaving the pitch in the 81st minute – the Hatters remained a threat as they looked to see the game out comfortably.
Three minutes into injury-time it could, and should, even have been five as Cornick, Stacey and Bradley – of all people – led a lightning quick counter-attack from a Stanley corner, after Rea had headed over his own bar at full sretch.
Cornick fed Stacey to his left, with centre-half Bradley racing through the middle, and the ball finally made its way to Collins’ feet again, but Maxted was equal to his shot and the Town had to settle for 4-1 and a fourth win in the last five league matches, heading into Saturday’s trip to AFC Wimbledon.
TOWN: Shea, Stacey, Pearson, Bradley, Justin, Rea ©, Mpanzu, Shinnie (Sheehan 85), Grant (Cornick 76), Hylton (LuaLua 81), Collins. Subs: McCormack, Lee, Jarvis, Isted.
Goals: Hylton 5, 54, 70, Shinnie 52
Yellows: McCormack, Grant
STANLEY: Maxted, Johnson (Hall 74), Hughes, Ihiekwe, Clark, Zanzala (Mangan 87), McConville ©, Finley (Brown 59), Anderton, Barlaser, Kee. Subs: Sykes, Mingoia, Platt, Warner (GK)
Goal: Zanzala 27
Yellows: Bell (assistant-manager), Clark, Brown, Hughes
REFEREE: Chris Sarginson
ATT: 8,454 (64 away)