Andy Frampton capped a superb Wimbledon fightback with an 83rd minute winner on a dramatic day at Spotlands Stadium.
In a match interrupted by floodlight failure, both sides returned after a 25-minute delay and Frampton popped up to earn a 2-1 win for Wimbledon. The defender’s late intervention secured just a second away win this season for Neal Ardley’s men and it suggested that Wimbledon can put their dismal recent run behind them and start looking up the table once again.
Neal Ardley unsurprisingly decided to switch to his preferred 4-5-1 formation on the road against a Rochdale side that came into this match with an unbeaten home record this season.
Captain Alan Bennett returned to the heart of Wimbledon’s defence in place of Rhys Weston and Harry Pell was restored in midfield with Charlie Strutton missing out due to illness.
Wimbledon made a bright start at Spotlands Stadium with their early pressure forcing two corners. Michael Smith got on the end of one of those set pieces from a Callum Kennedy cross, but he directed his header wide. Rochdale gradually started to gain a fair share of possession as the first-half wore on and Matt Lund threatened to take matters into his own hands when he powered towards the area and unleashed a powerful low drive that was just wide.
With classy midfielder Lund starting to pull the strings in midfield, it looked like being a tough afternoon in Lancashire for Wimbledon against a Rochdale side determined to get back to winning ways after their first loss in eight games last weekend. The biggest talking point of so far came after half an hour when Matt Done’s flying run ended with him crashing to the floor after a challenge from Andy Frampton, but referee Iain Williamson booked the Rochdale man for diving.
On the balance of play, it was no surprise when Rochdale opened the scoring in the 34th minute and it was a well-worked goal from the home side’s perspective. Michael Rose powered down the left and sent over a cross that was headed back at the far post and Jamie Allen produced a low finish that just beat Ross Worner. Wimbledon had an instant chance to get on level terms when George Porter burst down the right flank and delivered a teasing cross across the face of goal that just eluded Francomb. Wimbledon’s best opportunities came from set-pieces before the break and they had another half chance just before half-time when Smith rose highest from Kennedy’s corner, but his glancing header was just wide.
Neal Ardley decided against making any half-time changes and he was rewarded with the equaliser in the 54th minute after good wing play from Porter won a free-kick. Kennedy’s lovely free-kick from the right was flicked on at the near post and Sammy Moore took one touch before beating previously untested Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis. It’s so often said that goals change games and that was certainly the case here as Wimbledon almost turned the match on its head. Harry Pell, who started the second-half with the high energy that impressed so much during early season, turned inside and produced a sublime curled effort that beat Lillis but just missed the far post.
The outcome was very much in the balance as we approached the midway point of the second-half with Rochdale continuing to show their threat. Rochdale captain Oliver Lancashire got behind the Wimbledon defence from Gary Dicker's free-kick, but his header was straight at Worner. Pell’s influence grew during the second-half and he found space for another shooting chance, but this time he shot over the crossbar.
Then followed that extraordinary turn of events after the floodlights failed and both sides were ordered off by referee Williamson. A delay of approximately 25 minutes followed before all but one of the four sets of floodlights came back on and the two teams emerged once again. After a five-minute warm-up, Worner restarted the game with a goal-kick, but shortly afterwards Wimbledon were fortunate that he was not picking the ball out of the net when Lund headed over from close range.
Neal Ardley decided to introduce Kevin Sainte-Luce for the final stages and he had an immediate impact for what turned out to be the winning goal. A mazy run from the winger opened up the Rochdale defence and though his subsequent shot was blocked, Frampton struck an emphatic winner which resulted in ecstatic celebrations from the Wimbledon players.
Worner was required to make an excellent save to deny Ian Henderson, but Wimbledon were full value for a win that could breathe new life into their season.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Sammy Moore, Andy Frampton, Alan Bennett, George Francomb (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Harry Pell (Charlie Sheringham), Michael Smith, Peter Sweeney, George Porter.