Wimbledon came from behind in dramatic fashion this afternoon with Gary Alexander’s injury-time header stunning Capital One Cup finalists Bradford City.
In a stirring encounter at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, substitute Jack Midson claimed the equaliser seven minutes from time and then Alexander made it 2-1 with almost the last action of the match.
The Dons had looked like paying the price for another defensive lapse that gifted Bradford the opener, but Neal Ardley’s men battled back to win it. Victory was deserved for a spirited Wimbledon performance that augers well for the club’s survival push.
Neal Ardley decided to shuffle his pack once again by making four changes to his starting line-up from the side that were beaten at Chesterfield.
Harry Pell came straight back into the Wimbledon midfield after serving a suspension with Stacy Long having to settle for a place on the bench. With Luke Moore ruled out on Friday due to a shin injury, Toby Ajala was restored to the side and Jim Fenlon’s back problem meant a return for Sammy Moore with Jonathan Meades switching to right-back. Neal Ardley decided to go with Gary Alexander as his lone frontman and that meant Rashid Yussuff came back into the Wimbledon midfield and Jack Midson had to settle for a place on the bench.
Wimbledon made a bright start and Pell, who enjoyed an impressive debut two weeks ago, was in the thick of it early on. The towering midfielder offered good support to Alexander and when his cross was only half cleared, Wimbledon came close with Peter Sweeney’s fierce 25-yard strike just off target. The Dons came even closer in the 18th minute with Pell again at the heart of it. After driving through the midfield , Pell found Alexander in space down the right and the striker’s dangerous cross was almost diverted into his own net by Michael Nelson, who was relieved that Bradford goalkeeper Matt Duke got down well to save.
After soaking up a spell of sustained possession from Bradford, tenacious tackles from Sweeney and Ajala showed the fighting spirit Wimbledon needed to stay in it and the home faithful responded by getting behind their side. Perhaps the only criticism of Wimbledon’s first-half performance was that they lacked the creative spark to open up the Bradford defence. However, the hosts produced a moment of promise when Pell and Hussey linked-up well and the latter’s cross fell kindly for Ajala, but he scuffed his shot from inside the area.
The first-half had been a tight encounter with few chances of note created by either side, but certainly no one could fault Wimbledon’s commitment to the cause as they battled every inch of the way to contain the visitors.
It was pretty much the same pattern after the break with plenty of blood and guts, but little in the way of composure and attacking flair from the two sides. Ajala, who impressed with his pace and trickery, produced a trademark run down the wing, but his subsequent cross lacked any accuracy.
The visitors grabbed the lead in the 59th minute with a goal that was a particularly poor goal to concede. Wimbledon failed to deal with a routine long ball forward and with Alan Bennett’s header back coming up well short for Neil Sullivan, Gary Thompson needed no second invitation to open the scoring with a clinical finish. Neal Ardley responded by sending on Jack Midson for Sammy Moore in an effort to produce more of an attacking threat. The Wimbledon boss also sent on Kevin Sainte Luce for his debut in place of Rashid Yussuff and Mat Mitchel-King was replaced by Pim Balkestein.
It could have been game over though with the Bantams coming close twice in a minute. First Thompson broke through the Wimbledon defence again, but he shot wide and then Kyel Reid was just off target with a fine curled effort. Sainte-Luce showed flashes of real promise on the right wing and one impressive run from the youngster ended with a cross that so nearly fell for Alexander. In a way it was a moment that summed up Wimbledon’s day as they produced plenty of promise, but too many times the final ball was lacking.
However, Wimbledon were celebrating the equaliser in the 83rd minute with a goal out of nothing. Balkestein produced a teasing delivery from the left and Midson managed to just get enough of a connection to scramble the ball over the line.
In a stirring finish that saw both sides going for the win, there was a late twist to the tale and it could well be the shot in the arm that Wimbledon so desperately needed to push away from the relegation zone. With time running out, the hosts won a string of corners and in the final minute of injury-time Ajala’s cross was headed in superbly by Alexander. With Northampton at home to come this Tuesday, Wimbledon have a real opportunity to build some momentum in their fight to stay up.
AFC Wimbledon: Neil Sullivan, Jonathan Meades, Chris Hussey, Peter Sweeney, Alan Bennett, Mat Mitchel-King (Pim Balkestein), Toby Ajala, Harry Pell, Gary Alexander, Rashid Yussuff (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Sammy Moore (Jack Midson).