Luton Town suffered late, late heartache as they fell to a 3-2 defeat at AFC Wimbledon this afternoon.
It had looked like the Hatters would leave Kingsmeadow with a valiant point, after battling back from 2-0 down thanks to goals from Jayden Stockley and debutant Elliot Lee.
But in a frantic finale, Dons substitute David Connolly nipped in to round keeper Elliot Justham and slot into the empty net.
Defeat was incredibly harsh on Luton as they showed fantastic fighting spirit to level after a poor first half, but
The visitors had a number of changes to the side that lost 1-0 at Mansfield on Tuesday night, the most surprising one in goal with Justham handed his league debut, as Mark Tyler’s run of 79 successive league games was ended by a knee injury, as he missed his first game since April 18, 2013.
Luke Guttridge was handed his first start since the 1-0 defeat at Burton on November 22, while midfielder Cameron McGeehan came in for his second debut, Nathan Oduwa was recalled and West Ham loanee Lee on the bench after signing on Thursday.
Striker Mark Cullen missed out after it was revealed afterwards he has asked to leave Luton, while Matt Robinson was dropped and Jake Howells amongst the substitutes.
Justham was called into action after just 24 seconds as Alfie Potter was afforded time and space to turn, the keeper diving to his left to cling on, while Craig Tanner nodded off target from a good position.
Town started to get back into the game as Oduwa’s run and shot deflected behind.
Justham had to stay alert to get an important glove on Dannie Bulman’s clever overhead volley on 11 minutes, flicking it behind for a corner.
Hatters then had a massive let off when Franks’ poor clearance was seized on by Barry Fuller, who crossed for Akinfenwa, but eight yards out, he fired against the post, with the rebound deflecting off the imposing striker and fortunately behind.
A well-worked corner then saw Sean Rigg’s low side-foot saved by a combination of Justham and the woodwork.
The hosts took the lead on 27 minutes though when Akinfenwa somehow pulled a long ball down and found Tanner, who teed up his striker partner.
Justham made a brilliant stop from Akinfenwa’s side-footer, but the rebound was tucked in by Tanner.
Luton tried to mount an immediate fight back, Oduwa breaking at pace and finding Stockley, who got the ball stuck under his feet as the chance went begging.
Rigg blazed over, while Guttridge thought he had a penalty when upended by Dave Winfield.
Akinfenwa then did superbly again, nonchalantly rolling in Jake Reeves, who really should have tested Justham, dragging off target.
However, with both Alex Lacey and Franks struggling against the nous and physicality of Akinfenwa, the Dons moved 2-0 in front on 42 minutes when a corner was punched clear by Justham, but straight to Bulman just outside the area.
With no Luton players converging, he took aim from 25 yards, absolutely hammering the ball into the top corner for a wonderful finish.
Out of nothing, Hatters were back in the game though as Guttridge found some space in the area and his shot was deflected on to the post, with Stockley turning the rebound over the line.
In the second period, Scott Griffiths headed Drury’s corner over the top, before Stockley had two chances to double his tally.
First, the striker stretched to poke straight at James Shea, while a marvellous run by Griffiths saw him find Stockley, whose effort deflected into Shea’s grateful hands.
Just after the hour, Luton thought they had a clear penalty when Winfield lost possession and scythed down Stockley in the area.
Somehow, referee Frederick Graham bafflingly saw it as a dive by the Luton striker though and booked him for simulation, in what can only be described as a disgraceful decision.
The travesty of justice seemed to suck the life out of Town’s attacking intent for a while, as Alex Lawless and Lee were brought on for Oduwa and Drury.
However, Luton were then back in after 67 minutes as AFC’s defenders got in a terrible mix up and Guttridge was on it in a flash, sliding in Lee, who with his first touch in a Luton shirt, slid his shot under Shea with a seriously cool finish.
With Town netting two on their travels for the first time since October 18, it looked like the Hatters would go on to win it, only for AFC to wrest the initiative back once more.
Potter shot over and then Sean Rigg tested Justham, the keeper flipping his free kick over the top.
Chances came and went at both ends in the closing stages, Lawless blasting over, before Dons’ sub Adebayo Azeez raced clear only for Justham to make a marvellous low stop.
However, Luton’s impressive reserve keeper was then let down by his defence as they were caught by a long ball forward, allowing Connolly to nip in and score a heartbreaking winner.
Dons: James Shea, Barry Fuller, (C), Callum Kennedy, Jake Reeves, Adedeji Oshilaja, Dave Winfield, Sean Rigg (Tom Beere 75), Dannie Bulman, Craig Tanner (Adebayo Azeez 80), Adebayo Akinfenwa, Alfie Potter.
Subs not used: Joe McDonnell, Jack Smith, George Francomb, Adebayo Azeez, Tom Beere, David Connolly.
Hatters: Elliot Justham, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths, Alex Lacey, Fraser Franks, Andy Drury (Alex Lawless 64), Cameron McGeehan, Jonathan Smith (C), Nathan Oduwa (Elliot Lee 64), Luke Guttridge, Jayden Stockley (Alex Wall 86).
Subs not used: Liam Gooch, Jake Howells, Andy Parry, Shaun Whalley.
Referee: Frederick Graham.
Booked: Oshilaja 45, Drury 55, Stockley 64, Lee 89.
Attendance: 4,050 (Luton 829).
Hatters MOM: Luke Guttridge. Ran the show second half and hopefully he’s back to stay.