Lyle Taylor scored an important goal for the second successive game to secure a deserved victory for AFC Wimbledon today.
The Dons dug in to earn a hard-fought victory against one of the form sides in League One – a 1-0 win rewarding Neal Ardley’s men for a resilient home display.
It was just Wimbledon’s second victory in 2017 and a first since Oxford at home in mid-January. Indeed, a first victory after six without a win was just what was needed with tough trips to Scunthorpe and Bolton coming up next.
Neal Ardley made just one change to his starting line-up after the battling draw at Gillingham with Dannie Bulman recalled in place of David Fitzpatrick. Dean Parrett was once again deemed fit enough for the bench after only recently returning from injury.
With Walsall having suffered just one defeat in eight games, it was no surprise that they started with plenty of confidence. Erhun Oztumer was at the heart of Walsall’s attacking play, showing his quality in midfield, as Wimbledon were penned back in the opening stages. One flowing move ended with James Shea forced into action, the Dons keeper showing good reactions to turn away Jason McCarthy’s drive.
Following a difficult start in the first 15 minutes, Wimbledon upped the tempo and forced Walsall back towards their own goal. Lovely midfield play by Jake Reeves sent in-form Andy Barcham racing clear and his flick over a Walsall defender appeared to be scuppered by a handball, but referee John Busby did not see it that way. However, it got the Wimbledon crowd going and the rest of the first-half was much better from their team. With starting to dictate matters in midfield, Wimbledon were able to build a platform for attacks.
Barcham, who was aiming to score for a third successive game, was once again proving to be a useful outlet on the left and he sent over a dangerous cross from the left that Lyle Taylor just failed to reach. Sean Kelly provided good support on the left flank in attack and he produced one fine run inside to create space, but his shot was deflected wide. Though Wimbledon improved as the first-half wore on, chances were hard to come by as Walsall defended their box really well. At the other end, there was relief for Wimbledon when Simeon Jackson latched onto a through ball from Isaiah Osbourne and beat Shea with a lob, but it cleared the crossbar.
It had been an evenly matched first-half between the two sides, but Walsall had created the better chances so far. Wimbledon started the second-half aiming to put more pressure on Walsall with Barcham again looking most likely to unlock the visitors’ defence. Another of his driving runs down the left ended with a cross only half cleared and Dannie Bulman struck a fierce drive that Walsall keeper Neil Etheridge did well to beat out.
As the second-half progressed, Walsall attacks were becoming few and far between with Wimbledon committing more men forward. With the visitors proving to be a tough nut to crack, Jake Reeves produced a powerful drive from outside the area that Etheridge watched all the way to save. Wimbledon’s second-half pressure deservedly earned its reward in the 69th minute. A free-kick launched forward by James Shea was won by Tom Elliott, who caused havoc in the box, and Andy Barcham managed to get a flick-on to tee-up Taylor. Though the Dons striker completely miskicked initially, his second attempt was clinical, and it beat Etheridge to make it 12 goals in all competitions for Taylor. It could have been effectively all over just minutes later when Elliott rose highest in the box to meet a corner, but Etheridge saved smartly.
The goal produced a spirited response from Walsall, but Oztumer shot well over the crossbar, before a better effort from Kieron Morris flashed just wide with Shea scrambling to his left. However, Walsall struggled to exert sustained pressure as Wimbledon held firm. Neal Ardley went for fresh legs with seven minutes to go as Dominic Poleon entered the fray for Taylor, who was deservedly given a great ovation from the home faithful.
In a frantic finale, James O’Connor forced a save from Shea and Scott Laird hit the crossbar, but Elliott twice came close to sealing it. The towering hit man shot just wide after a great move involving Francomb and Poleon and he also had a shot saved by Etheridge in injury-time. However, one was just enough to earn a deserved victory.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, George Francomb, Seam Kelly, Paul Robinson, Darius Charles, Dannie Bulman, Jake Reeves, Tom Soares, Andy Barcham, Tom Elliott, Lyle Taylor (Dominic Poleon).