Wimbledon completed a superb away double this afternoon with Paul McCallum’s clinical finish earning another hard-fought victory and moving them off the bottom of League 2.
Manager Neal Ardley (pictured) has now engineered two excellent victories on the road to provide the perfect lift at the start of 2013 and Wimbledon fully merited the 1-0 win. Though Rochdale had to play with 10 men for over half an hour with Joe Rafferty having been sent off, Wimbledon deserved everything they got. The visitors built on a steely defensive performance during the first-half and found the key to the door in the second-half through that man McCallum, who made it two goals in three games since returning from suspension. Wimbledon’s reward was moving off the bottom of League 2 with Bristol Rovers and Plymouth both losing and Neal Ardley’s men are now 22nd in the table.
With Wimbledon having produced such a good performance to earn a thrilling victory at Torquay last time out, Neal Ardley made just one change to his starting line-up. Jack Midson had to settle for a place on the bench with the Wimbledon manager deciding to play Luke Moore in support of lone front-man Paul McCallum.
The Dons were lucky to survive as early as the fifth minute when Jonathan Meades brought down Rochdale danger-man Bobby Grant, who scored for John Coleman’s side in their 2-1 win at the Cherry Red Records Stadium in September. Grant was almost celebrating another goal against Wimbledon with a superbly struck 20-yard free-kick that had Neil Sullivan beaten, but the ball bounced off the crossbar. However, Neal Ardley had stated in the build-up to this game that the priority was to nullify a Rochdale attack that had plundered 45 goals already this season – the third best scoring record in League 2. And his side had certainly done that during the first half an hour with Rochdale having failed to threaten during that spell apart from Grant’s free-kick. There had been little to enthuse about from an attacking sense from the Dons though with a lack of support for McCallum in attack.
In a first-half of few chances, Neil Sullivan had to be alert when the hosts finally offered some threat again in the 40th minute after Andrew Tuttle found space in the box for a shooting chance, but the Wimbledon goalkeeper saved well. While Wimbledon failed to recapture any of the attacking thrust that was such a positive feature at Torquay, the visitors produced a tenacious first-half performance. Jonathan Meades, playing in the midfield holding role that Steven Gregory made his own during a three-month loan spell, produced an assured performance in the centre of the park and did a fine job in protecting the defence.
However, Neal Ardley decided to utilise the versatility of Meades for the second-half as he was switched to left-back with Warren Cummings having been withdrawn and Jack Midson entering the fray to provide more support for McCallum. That change signalled a more attacking approach from Wimbledon as they sensed a real opportunity to earn their second away win in five days.
Luke Moore engineered Wimbledon’s best move of the match so far in the 53nd minute when he picked out McCallum and his flick-on produced a shooting chance for Toby Ajala, but his volley was just blocked. The Dons came even closer with their next attack when Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis was forced to make a fine double save to turn away a Midson header and then McCallum’s follow-up. The travelling Wimbledon support never had long to wait for the opener though as their side grabbed the initiative in the 56th minute. Rochdale only half cleared their lines and Mat Mitchel King’s flick-on fell perfectly for McCallum, who made it two goals in two games with a clinical close range finish. It got even better for Wimbledon two minutes later when Rochdale were reduced to 10 men after Joe Rafferty made a rash challenge on Meades and he received a second yellow card from referee Kevin Wright.
Neal Ardley decided to shuffle his pack once again 20 minutes from time when he gave Jason Prior another opportunity as a substitute with McCallum departing after another encouraging performance. Prior came close to making an instant impression when he latched onto Luke Moore’s free-kick and struck a fierce 20-yard drive that Lillis just managed to turn away.
However, one goal was enough to ensure another crucial Wimbledon victory and earn a first clean sheet for the Dons since the 1-0 win at Wycombe Wanderers in September.
AFC Wimbledon: Neil Sullivan, Curtis Osano, Warren Cummings (Jack Midson), Rashid Yussuff, Will Antwi, Mat Mitchel-King, Toby Ajala (Brendan Kiernan), Stacy Long, Paul McCallum (Jason Prior), Luke Moore, Jonathan Meades.