- Albion seal impressive 3-2 victory at MK Dons
- Aaron Connolly fires a hat-trick for the Seagulls
- Kieran Agard and Mitch Hancox score for the hosts
- The Seagulls just miss out on Checkatrade Trophy qualification
Despite an inspiring performance from a Brighton & Hove Albion under-21 side at Stadium MK this evening, which saw Aaron Connolly fire a hat-trick to seal a 3-2 win, the Seagulls fell just short of Checkatrade Trophy qualification.
Connolly found the back of the net in-between strikes from MK Dons duo Kieran Agard and Mitch Hancox, but the Irishman fired further goals in the second half to extend his goal tally to 15 for the season and secure three points for Simon Rusk’s team.
But it wasn’t enough to see Albion reach the knockout stages, as Peterborough United’s 2-1 win against Luton Town ensured their one-goal advantage on goal difference would take them through.
The hosts began the game positively and went close through striker Hancox, as the forward glanced a header just over the crossbar from a Conor McGrandles cross.
Just three minutes later and the home side found the back of the net — Agard received the ball on the edge of Albion’s penalty area and drilled a low shot into the bottom corner to break the deadlock.
After Hugo Keto tipped over a dipping effort from Ousseynou Cisse, Albion created their first chance of the game up the other end, as Warren O’Hora’s header across goal was fired over from close range by Connolly.
The Irishman was no doubt frustrated by his miss, but made up for it in perfect fashion after 23 minutes, as he raced down the side of his marker and picked out the bottom corner from a tight angle to level the scores.
Viktor Gyokeres then forced Stuart Moore into a fine save at full stretch, as the Swede chested the ball down and powered a shot towards the bottom corner from 20 yards, which the Dons keeper tipped around the post.
But just four minutes short of the break the hosts found themselves back in front — Hancox ghosted in at the back post and found the back of the net with a simple finish to restore their advantage.
Albion returned for the second period and almost got themselves on level terms again when James Tilley pulled the trigger from 20 yards, but the winger’s curling effort dropped just wide of the target.
Jordan Davies then struck the woodwork at the back post when he connected with Mathias Normann’s excellent cross, and Albion's pressure finally took its toll and Rusk’s team got their reward soon after with an equaliser.
Gyokeres delivered a low cross into the penalty area and Connolly was there to confidently convert his 14th goal of the season and give Albion’s hopes of qualification a fighting chance.
Rusk’s team knew they needed another goal - that’s exactly what Connolly was able to deliver again soon after, as he volleyed home at the back post from another Gyokeres cross to turn the scoreline on its head.
Albion pressed for a fourth goal, which could have sealed a place in the knockout stages, but Ben Barclay’s header dropped just wide and the final whistle blew, meaning Albion’s impressive attempt to reach the knockout stages of the competition fell just short.
ALBION: Keto; White, Barclay, O’Hora (Ljubicic 88), Cox; Sanders; Tilley (A.Davies 77), Normann, J.Davies, Gyokeres; Connolly.
Subs not used: Collings (GK), Kerr, Cochrane, Spong, Cashman.