Wimbledon again got the better of York City in thrilling style today with a victory that moved the Dons out of the relegation zone.
Harry Pell (pictured) was the hero for Wimbledon with the dynamic midfielder scoring in successive home matches to earn a 3-2 victory for Neal Ardley’s men. Though this latest encounter was two goals shy of the 4-3 FA Cup replay win against York in November, the excitement matched the thrills and spills of that match. In a clash when the stakes were higher with both sides desperate for the victory in the League 2 survival race, Wimbledon had to summon up a performance of courage and determination to beat a York side motivated by the appointment of new manager Nigel Worthington.
Neal Ardley made four changes from the side which started at Cheltenham, which included an immediate debut for on-loan Charlton goalkeeper John Sullivan between the sticks. The Wimbledon faithful were quick to offer their goalkeeper a warm reception when he safely gathered his first cross in the first minute. Jonathan Meades made a welcome return after missing the last two games due to injury and he replaced Chris Hussey at left-back. The other two changes saw Rashid Yussuff handed a chance in place of Luke Moore and Brennan Dickenson replacing Jesse Darko.
It was Dickenson who was the main instigator of a bright start from the Dons. First, the talented on-loan Brighton left-winger’s cross picked out Yussuff, but he scuffed his shot from close-range. Dickenson also sent in another teasing delivery that Gary Alexander met at the near post, but his volley was straight into the arms of York goalkeeper Michael Ingham. In between those two chances was a shot just wide from Sammy Moore after York had only half cleared their lines. At this stage it was all Wimbledon as they looked to capitalise on a nervy start from a York side that had gone 11 matches without victory.
Considering how quickly Wimbledon came out of the blocks it was no surprise when they took the lead in the 21st minute. However, the goal came from an unlikely source with captain Mat Mitchel-King opening the scoring in emphatic style. A long throw-in from Meades was flicked on by Harry Pell and Mitchel-King met the loose ball with a superb volley that left Ingham with no chance. It could have been 2-0 shortly afterwards when Balkestein’s header from a Sammy Moore corner picked out Jack Midson just a few yards out, but he just failed to bundle the ball home.
However, the opening goal produced a spirited response from the visitors and they drew level with their first meaningful attack on the half hour. Though Wimbledon claimed that there should have been a free-kick in York build-up for a foul on Pell, there was still a lot of work to do from that point and Ashley Chambers beat Mitchel-King down the left before sending in a cross that was headed home by York captain Chris Smith.
Wimbledon struggled to recapture their early rhythm after that setback, but they came so close to going back in front in the 44th minute. Meades found Dickenson, who had been impressive throughout the first-half, and he sent over another great cross that Gary Alexander met with a superb glancing header, but the ball hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced away from danger.
After a slow start to the second-half from Wimbledon, Dickenson again got the hosts going with another stunning delivery from the left that Alexander just failed to reach. The Dons came closer from the subsequent corner when Yussuff swung the ball across and Pim Balkestein’s header was tipped over by Ingham. All of a sudden Wimbledon had found their momentum again and it was almost 2-1 when Midson got on the end of a Pell cross, but Ingham did well to hold the Wimbledon striker’s close-range effort. Wimbledon were celebrating the second goal that their pressure warranted on the hour when that man Dickenson crowned an excellent individual display with a goal. Midson got a vital touch to Balkestein’s through ball and Dickenson held his run intelligently to beat the offside trap before rounding Ingham and tapping into the empty net. Wimbledon’s overall display – full of attacking verve and energy – was appreciated by the home support and the Tempest End was the loudest it had been for some time.
Neal Ardley decided to make a change in the 66th minute when goalscorer Dickenson was substituted and replaced by Kevin Sainte-Luce.
Wimbledon were punished though for failing to maintain that tempo when their Achilles heel of failing to defend a set-piece was exposed again. John McGrath’s free-kick was admittedly a tough one to defend as it was swung in dangerously, but Smith was left unmarked again to get his head to the cross and the ball just about crossed the line. It now appeared that York were about to take control of the match for the first time, but Pell changed all that with an opportunist strike 11 minutes from time. There was still a lot to do when a Sammy Moore corner fell for Pell at the edge of the box, but he produced a fine half volley that bounced off the inside of a post and just over the line. The Dons made another change immediately after that goal with Jesse Darko replacing Yussuff.
Wimbledon needed to retain their composure to preserve the advantage and they came through an anxious four minutes of injury-time to earn a win that they fully merited on the balance of play.
AFC Wimbledon: John Sullivan, Mat Mitchel-King, Jonathan Meades, Sammy Moore, Alan Bennett, Pim Balkestein, Rashid Yussuff (Jesse Darko), Harry Pell, Gary Alexander , Jack Midson, Brennan Dickenson (Kevin Sainte-Luce).