Neal Ardley’s new era started to click into gear tonight as a rampant performance from Wimbledon secured a first home victory since the opening day of the season.
If this was a sign of things to come, then there will be plenty of exciting football at the Cherry Red Records Stadium this season and Neal Ardley answered the call for a wave from the Tempest End as the home crowd acknowledged a stirring performance that perhaps merited more than a 3-1 victory.
While it may be too early to get carried away by the display against an admittedly poor Rovers side, who were reduced to 10 men near the end when Tom Parkes was sent off, the manner of the victory offered real promise for the rest of the season.
Neal Ardley effectively decided to keep faith with the side which performed so well at Fleetwood as he made just one enforced change from Saturday’s starting line-up. Rashid Yussuff replaced the injured Sammy Moore and that offered the former a chance to show what he could do from the start after he impressed so much at Highbury Stadium as an early substitute. Yussuff (pictured) certainly did that as he claimed a double on the night, the third goal he is also claiming too despite it initially being awarded to Will Antwi.
The Dons came out of the traps with real conviction and they could have been in front in the sixth minute when Jack Midson sent over a teasing cross from the left for his strike partner Byron Harrison, but the in-form forward headed over the crossbar. That offered early encouragement for the hosts and there seemed to be a buzz about the place with home supporters responding to a start full of attacking threat and passing fluidity. One flowing move ended with Stacy Long creating a chance for Harrison, but he was just foiled by Rovers goalkeeper Neil Etheridge from an acute angle.
Wimbledon’s early promise paid off in the 20th minute, albeit with a huge slice of fortune for the Dons. Credit must go for the move which created it though with Stacy Long, who had such an impressive opening, once again the architect of another fine move. Long found his former Stevenage team-mate Harrison in space with a defence-splitting pass and his shot across the face of goal was diverted into the back of the net by Rovers skipper Garry Kenneth. That goal never changed Wimbledon’s drive to get forward though and the supporters in the North Stand were roaring for a penalty in the 25th minute when Midson was brought down by Kenneth, but referee Pat Miller adjudged that the foul was outside the area. However, the North Stand never had to wait too long to cheer another goal when George Francomb sent through a clever pass for Yussuff and he kept his cool to finish emphatically past Etheridge. The Dons were absolutely rampant at this stage and it was 3-0 in the 33rd minute when Yussuff's well-executed free-kick went straight in past Etheridge.
The second-half started in the same fashion as the Dons continued to dominate and the home faithful sensed there was more goals in this for Wimbledon. Certainly, it was the loudest the Tempest End crowd had been for some time as they urged the Dons to continue the attacking verve that had been such a feature of the first-half.
Francomb, who has looked an even better player since being released into an attacking midfield position after the return of Curtis Osano, fizzed over a cross that evaded everyone when it only needed a touch. However, the Dons twice came even closer just minutes later. First, when the impressive Yussuff curled an excellent drive against the inside of a post and then Midson’s flying header produced the save of the match so far from Etheridge. Jack Midson also had a powerful shot from outside the box turned away by Etheridge and in what was becoming a personal duel, the Dons number 10 was then denied by point-blank range from the Rovers goalkeeper.
Neal Ardley made a double substitution midway through the second-half with Harrison one of the men to make way and he received acclaim from the Dons supporters for leading the line so well, albeit without adding to his seven goals this season. That offered Luke Moore a chance as substitute and Curtis Haynes-Brown came on for Jim Fenlon. The visiting fans were celebrating a goal back though in the 72nd minute when Curtis Osano gave the ball away and Tom Eaves found the top corner with a powerful drive that left Seb Brown with absolutely no chance.
That failed to change the pattern of the match though with the Dons never really threatened and Rovers were well beaten by the time Parkes was sent-off for a second bookable offence near the end.
AFC Wimbledon: Seb Brown, Curtis Osano, Jim Fenlon (Curtis Haynes-Brown), Rashid Yussuff, Yado Mambo, Will Antwi, Stacy Long, Steven Gregory, Byron Harrison (Luke Moore), Jack Midson, George Francomb (Christian Jolley).