Substitute Kevin Sainte-Luce struck a fantastic late winner for Wimbledon this afternoon to reward the visitors for a dogged display at Victoria Road.
Sainte-Luce (pictured), making his third Wimbledon appearance from the bench, struck a 20-yard thunderbolt to secure a 1-0 win that lifted the Dons off the bottom of League 2. It was a day when Neal Ardley’s revolution – only Sammy Moore, Luke Moore,Jack Midson and Rashid Yussuff were in the Wimbledon squad that won 2-0 here last season – really started to take effect. However, the Dons needed Chris Hussey to make a superb clearance off the line in injury-time to deny Dagenham goalkeeper Chris Lewington a memorable goal for Daggers.
The Wimbledon manager decided to hand Brennan Dickenson his full debut after his arrival on loan from Brighton and he replaced Toby Ajala in an attacking 4-4-2 line-up. Dickenson offered width to the Wimbledon side on the wide left with Luke Moore reverting to right midfield. The only other change from the side which started against Northampton was enforced with the injured Peter Sweeney replaced by Sammy Moore.
With 873 Wimbledon fans filling the Traditional Builders Stand and offering excellent support on the day, the visitors made a bright start and they created a decent chance in the ninth minute. Jack Midson, who was intent on making his mark against the club where he once had a loan spell, was sent racing clear by a searching Sammy Moore through ball, but the striker blazed into the side netting after making room for the shot. Wimbledon had another decent chance in the 18th minute and again it fell to Midson, but he shot wide from 10 yards after a fine move down the left involving Gary Alexander and Dickenson. The first half hour bore all the hallmarks of a relegation battle with both sides scrapping for everything, but Wimbledon had the better of it in terms of possession and attacking play.
Midson and Alexander were showing great link-up play at every opportunity and the former had another shooting chance shortly afterwards after being put through again by his strike partner, but he sliced his shot wide. The Dons fashioned their best chance so far on the half hour when a teasing cross from Harry Pell found Alexander at the back post and he struck a fierce volley that Dagenham goalkeeper Chris Lewington did well to beat out.
At this stage Wimbledon were well in control of the match as they played some attractive football considering how hard the surface was. Pell, who helped form an effective central midfield partnership with Sammy Moore, sent over another dangerous cross that Alexander came so close to converting at the back post. Though the hosts had shown decent approach play themselves, they were proving ineffective as an attacking force thanks to a solid Wimbledon defence and Abu Ogogo’s shot straight at Sullivan summed up their first-half efforts.
Dagenham started the second-half with a great attacking intent and they were close to breaking the deadlock four minutes in when Matt Saunders turned and produced a powerful drive that Neil Sullivan was grateful to flash past the far post. Wimbledon suffered a setback in the 52nd minute when Jonathan Meades, who was doubtful beforehand with an ankle injury, had to be withdrawn and Mat Mitchel-King was required to fill an unfamiliar right-back slot for him. Wimbledon came close to an opener on the hour when Mitchel-King’s goal-bound header from a Chris Hussey corner was just blocked by Dagenham.
With Wimbledon having struggled to make an impact as an attacking force in the second-half, Neal Ardley made a double substitution just after the hour with on-loan striker Jesse Darko coming on for his debut in place of Alexander and Kevin Sainte-Luce replacing Dickenson. That did spark an improvement and Wimbledon almost exploited a defensive lapse from the hosts when a long Mitchel-King throw-in fell for Luke Moore, but his shot from close range only found the side netting. However, the travelling Dons faithful were celebrating a superb goal 10 minutes from time when Sainte-Luce opened his account in stunning style. Mitchel-King’s initial effort from a Hussey corner was cleared off the line, but the ball fell nicely for Sainte-Luce on the edge of the area and he smashed an emphatic drive into the roof of the net. The celebrations from Sainte-Luce matched the quality of his strike as he did a few impressive somersaults before running towards the away end to acknowledge the Wimbledon support.
Wimbledon had to absorb a late spell of Dagenham pressure and they needed Hussey to clear superbly off the line in added time, but they were full value for the victory in the end and hopefully the tide is now starting to turn for Neal Ardley’s men.
AFC Wimbledon: Neil Sullivan, Pim Balkestein, Sammy Moore, Ben Dickenson (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Jack Midson, Luke Moore, Harry Pell, Gary Alexander (Jesse Darko), Jonathan Meades (Mat Mitchel-King), Alan Bennett, Chris Hussey.