Lee 8 Collins 39
AFC WIMBLEDON 2
Pigott 28 Seddon 90+3
BY LAWRENCE LOWNE AT KENILWORTH ROAD
Champions-elect Luton Town were expected to complete the double over AFC Wimbledon, but the renowned party poopers of old were summoned one more time, and duly delivered.
Wimbledon manager Wally Downes named an unchanged team to face the League One leaders and to lock horns with good friend in the opposite managerial seat, Mick Harford.
This was a game played at a frantic pace with incidents and talking points galore. It entertained and produced groans of despair for each side as opportunities were taken but also wasted.
Twice Luton took the lead and twice Wimbledon drew level.
Luton were chasing down automatic promotion, Wimbledon chasing down points to remain in League One. It had the classic ingredients for a night of drama, plus Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was looking on to see how Cherries loanee Aaron Ramsdale performed.
The keeper pulled off some stunning saves during the 100 minutes played.
Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth was there too. The Chairboys face the Dons tomorrow at Kingsmeadow in what is pretty much a crunch winner-takes-all match.
Luton took the lead in the eighth minute with a move which demonstrated just why they deserve to be top and destined for the Championship.
Their neat passing and pace sliced open the Dons defence and Elliott Lee had the simple chance to make it 1-0 from seven yards.
There followed six more chance of gilt-edged quality.
Ramsdale saved, Anthony Wordsworth and Steve Seddon cleared off the line and the bar came into play too – 4-0 or 5-0 would not have been unflattering to the home side.
And yet, there was a nagging feeling that this match had more to give.
A clearance up field saw a defender dither and soon Toby Sibbick was chasing down the ball.
Sibbick won possession and then picked out the supporting Wordsworth, who created some space for himself and swung in an inch-perfect cross for Joe Pigott to dispatch a header inside the penalty box to make it 1-1 in the 28th minute.
That was the former Charlton striker’s 16th goal in all competitions this season.
Luton got back into their stride, building pressure and a poorly-defended free-kick on the edge of the box was lashed home by the unmarked Jimmy Collins in the 39th minute.
It was a thunderous goal.
Other points of note from the first half included an assistant referee being subbed after twisting his ankle, Ramsdale coming to the rescue after Will Nightingale’s poor header, claims of penalties – wishful thinking – for the home side after Wordsworth came back to clear up and undeserved bookings for Pigott and Seddon.
“The team had been too nice and we asked them to be stronger in their challenge,” said Downes post-match when asked about his pep talk.
The Hatters took their ascendency into the second half and four more chances went begging when it looked easier to score.
That was down to a mixture of excellent Ramsdale saves and also inaccurate shots – one when there was an open goal.
Nerves, lack of concentration or simply the pressure of knowing they were so near to getting across the finish line perhaps conspired to ensure Luton failed to add to their tally.
Fifteen minutes of pressure fizzled out and Wimbledon became dominant as the introduction of the pacey Irish winger Dylan Connolly changed the direction of the match and saw the away side start asking more searching questions of the home defence.
Mitch Pinnock replaced the tiring Anthony Hartigan on 76 minutes. A fresh pair of legs and an ability to cross added weight to the Wimbledon superiority as they used space well.
James Hanson headed wide from a yard out from a Sibbick cross.
Wimbledon’s leveller came three minutes into the four added minutes.
Marek Stech got a hand to Pigott’s shot but it failed to clear the danger, Seddon heading home.
There were wild scenes from the 733 Wimbledon supporters behind the goal – Wordsworth disappearing amongst their number.
Ramsdale was man of the match but Steve Seddon ran him close – as did Sibbick.
Three young players, two on loan and one homegrown.
Wimbledon are so near, and yet so far from safety – just as Luton Town are from promotion.
AFC Wimbledon (3-5-2): Ramsdale 9, Nightingale 7, Wagstaff 6 (Connolly 62, 7), Hartigan 7 (Pinnock 76), Seddon 8, Hanson 7, Sibbick 8, McDonald 7 (Thomas 46, 7), Kalambayi 8, Pigott 8, Wordsworth 8. Not used: McDonnell, Soares, Pinnock, McLoughlin.
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD