REPORT: MK Dons 2-3 Brighton U21s: Dons bow out of the Checkatrade Trophy

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An Aaron Connolly hat-trick for Brighton U21s sent MK Dons out of the Checkatrade Trophy as the Seagulls youngsters left Stadium MK 3-2 winners.

Dons twice led on a night they needed to win, while requiring Luton to beat Peterborough. Kieran Agard fired Dons into the lead after six minutes before Connolly opened his account on 23 minutes. Mitch Hancox restored Dons’ lead shortly before half time, but the in-form Brighton striker netted twice in the second period to end the Checkatrade adventure for another year.

Conor McGrandles was back in the starting line-up for the first time since opening day of the season, sporting a mask to protect the facial fractures he suffered in the dying moments against Oldham. It was a strong side put out by Paul Tisdale, with four players who started in the FA Cup defeat to Grimsby keeping their places.

One of those was Kieran Agard, and he kept up his goal-scoring form by firing Dons into the lead after just six minutes after Lawson D’Ath found him on the edge of the box.

Dons could have doubled the lead when Ouss Cisse forced Hugo Keto into a fingertip save, but it should have been level on 14 minutes but for an incredible miss from Aaron Connolly. A deep corner was headed back across goal and with the empty net in front of him, Connolly managed to put it over the top.

He made up for his howler though eight minutes later when he fired Brighton level. Charging into the area, he managed to beat George Williams for pace before firing low past Stuart Moore.

And they were good value for it too, and probably edged the game heading towards half time, with Connolly, Jordan Davies and Viktor Gyokeres all coming close.

But Dons would go in ahead at the break through the unlikely source of Mitch Hancox. Once again coming courtesy of D’Ath, Hancox raced in to slide home the cross at the far post to give Dons a slightly unjust advantage heading in at the interval.

Worrying signs came though when Joe Walsh hobbled off shortly before the break.

McGrandles’ return to the first team was somewhat muted in the first half, but he could have marked his return with a goal shortly after the restart when he got into the box on the right-hand side, but saw his effort blocked by the recovering George Cox. He was withdrawn after 65 minutes, replaced by Jordan Houghton.

While the game lacked much zip and intensity, there were still chances for both sides to add to their scores, most notably from Jordan Davies who saw an effort cannon off the post from close range as he raced in at the back post.

Connolly though would draw the visitors level with 21 minutes remaining, poking home a low cross into the box, left totally unmarked to beat Moore with ease.

The Brighton youngster would complete his hat-trick six minutes later when he tapped in Gyokeres’ cross at the far post to give the visitors the lead for the first time.

The result ultimately would be irrelevant with Peterborough beating Luton 2-1, sending Dons out of the competition before the final whistle at Stadium MK.

Referee: Roger East
Attendance: 1,018 (63)

MK Dons: Moore, Walsh (Brittain 45), Cargill, Williams, Hancox, McGrandles (Houghton 65), Watson, D’Ath (Gilbey 78), Cisse, Simpson, Agard
Subs not used: Nicholls, Lewington, Gilbey, Aneke, Healey

Brighton U21: Keto, White, Barclay, Sanders, Gyokeres, Tilley (A Davies 78), Connolly, Cox, J Davies, O’Hora (Ljubicic 88), Normann
Subs not used: Collings, Kerr, Cochrane, Spong, Cashman