Wimbledon clinched a second successive home win in dramatic style tonight with Danny Hylton’s debut goal capping a remarkable turnaround.
The Dons were 1-0 down and struggling to make an impression with 18 minutes to go, but Will Antwi pulled Wimbledon level and three minutes later Hylton made it 2-1. That’s the way it stayed and a second home win in four days provides a great platform for the rest of this season for Wimbledon.
Neal Ardley decided to shuffle his pack with four changes made from the side that started against Exeter City on Saturday.
Following his excellent second-half cameo performance against the Grecians, Kevin Sainte-Luce was handed a first League 2 start of the season in place of Luke Moore and Charlie Sheringham was preferred to Charlie Wyke. As expected, Jim Fenlon was thrown straight back in after suspension for the injured Callum Kennedy and Aaron Morris returned in defence in place of captain Alan Bennett.
The visitors made a bright start with Bradley Walker carrying the fight for Hartlepool early on. The midfielder’s first long-range effort was fairly routine for Ross Worner, but the Wimbledon goalkeeper was at full stretch to tip over Walker’s next effort.
It was noticeable that Sheringham was this time deployed in the hole behind a front pairing of Midson and Sainte-Luce. Though this struggled to click into gear early on, Sheringham became more influential as the first-half wore on as he helped to link midfield and attack. The Dons had their best chance so far midway through the first-half when a Sammy Moore corner was helped on at the near post and Sainte-Luce had a great chance, but he failed to connect with the ball from close range. Hartlepool were always a threat though as they enjoyed more of the possession in the first-half and it needed great defending from Morris to stop Luke James powering clean through.
Considering the pattern of the first-half, it was no surprise when Hartlepool took the lead three minutes before the break. Neil Austin was allowed space to get a cross in from the right that was headed back by Andy Monkhouse and Luke James bundled home the ball to make it 1-0. It was a fully deserved lead for Hartlepool at half-time and Wimbledon needed to summon up the battling qualities that served them so well against Exeter if they were to get anything from it.
With Wimbledon having failed to click as an attacking force, Neal Ardley made a double change at half-time. It was a significant change for the two players introduced with Danny Hylton making his debut and Wyke facing his former club. Jack Midson and Sheringham were the men to make way. The changes almost paid off instantly as Wyke powered through and forced Hartlepool goalkeeper Scott Flinders into his first save of the match and Hylton just failed to convert the rebound. Hartlepool continued to pose a threat on the break though and Wimbledon were relieved when former West Ham striker Marlon Harewood blasted over the crossbar.
The Dons had improved after half-time and at least Hartlepool number one Flinders was kept busy after the break as he had to make another decent save to turn away a Sammy Moore effort after good work from Harry Pell and Hylton.
However, they had been unable to exert sustained pressure and Neal Ardley made a further change midway through the second-half when he sent on Chris Arthur for Barry Fuller. But the breakthrough for Wimbledon came from an unlikely source when Will Antwi met Sammy Moore’s free-kick with a looping header over Flinders and his effort just had enough on it to cross the line before it could be cleared. All of a sudden, it was a completely different game and Wimbledon were in front in the 75th minute. Good work down the right from Morris set-up a shooting chance for Hylton and his drive from just outside the area beat Flinders and nestled in the bottom corner. That transformed the mood around The Cherry Red Records Stadium and Hartlepool seemed stunned by the turnaround.
Wimbledon seemed fairly comfortable in defending the lead until the last minute of normal time when Worner made a point-blank save to deny James and then Monkhouse just failed to reach the rebound.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller (Chris Arthur), Jim Fenlon, Aaron Morris, Darren Jones, Will Antwi, Sammy Moore, Harry Pell, Charlie Sheringham (Danny Hylton), Jack Midson (Charlie Wyke), Kevin Sainte-Luce.