Wimbledon ensured League 2 football for another season in style by winning at Home Park for the third successive campaign.
The loan acquisition of Kwesi Appiah has proved to be a managerial masterstroke by Neal Ardley and it was the Crystal Palace striker who struck the winner to earn an impressive 2-1 victory. With Bristol Rovers having been beaten by Rochdale in the early kick-off, a point at Plymouth would have been enough to seal safety, but the Dons went one better to do it with a flourish. It certainly made it a worthwhile trip for the 270 travelling Dons fans as they watched their side come from behind again with Jack Midson cancelling out Conor Hourihane’s early strike.
Neal Ardley made two changes to his starting line-up with Tom Richards replacing Jim Fenlon and Harry Pell preferred in midfield to Jake Nicholson.
The Dons were aiming to take three points away from Home Park for a third campaign in a row, though it was Neal Ardley’s first visit as Wimbledon manager with Simon Bassey and Terry Brown having engineered those two previous wins.
Wimbledon so nearly made a perfect start as they almost took the lead after just 70 seconds when Jack Midson met Barry Fuller’s deep cross with a powerful header, but Plymouth goalkeeper Jake Cole just managed to tip the ball over.
Despite such an encouraging opening, it was a familiar scenario for Wimbledon in the sixth minute when they fell behind yet again. There appeared to be little danger when Plymouth captain Conor Hourihane picked the ball up 25 yards out, but he let fly with a superb strike that arrowed past Ross Worner into the top corner.
However, a spirited Wimbledon response followed and they could count themselves as unfortunate to be behind after contributing so much to the first 20 minutes. The visitors enjoyed plenty of early possession and there was a cutting edge too with Kwesi Appiah’s pace and energy causing problems for Plymouth. The on-loan Crystal Palace striker almost notched his second goal in as many games when he cut inside and unleashed a low shot that was just deflected wide. Appiah was instrumental in Wimbledon’s next chance as he headed Barry Fuller’s cross across the face of goal, but George Francomb blazed over the crossbar.
Wimbledon continued to offer plenty of attacking threat as the first-half wore on and they came close again when Aaron Morris flicked back Francomb’s corner, but Andy Frampton was unable to get enough on it. The Dons had to be careful not to commit too many men forward though with the powerful presence of Reuben Reid threatening to open them up on his own. Reid, who scored a late equaliser in the corresponding fixture, beat two or three challenges on one occasion but dragged his shot wide.
With Wimbledon having played very well in the first-half, it was no surprise when they drew level in the 42ndminute. Appiah was too strong for Plymouth defender Paul Wotton and he sent a perfect pass into the path of Midson, who had time to pick his spot and he made no mistake with an emphatic low finish.
Wimbledon had to withstand a period of sustained pressure for the first time after the break, but Plymouth struggled to really hurt the visitors and the best they could muster was a header from Reid straight into Worner’s hands. The Dons broke with devastating effect to open the scoring just seconds later and it was a really well-taken goal from Appiah. After beating the offside trap from a long Tom Richards through ball, there was still plenty of work to do for the striker, but he cut inside and beat Cole with a clinical low finish.
Neal Ardley made his first change just after the hour with Peter Sweeney entering the fray for Pell. And it didn’t take long for Sweeney to get involved as he created a chance for himself with a smart turn, but then he curled wide from just outside the area. Plymouth were struggling to make any impression and Wimbledon made a positive change in an effort to seal victory with Danny Hylton replacing Morris. Hylton almost put the icing on the cake, but his well-struck shot struck a post and bounced to safety.
Though Plymouth huffed and puffed in search of an equaliser, there was little to trouble Wimbledon in the latter stages until injury-time when Worner made a superb save to tip Max Blanchard's strike onto the bar.
Wimbledon were full value for the win on reflection and with safety now assured, Neal Ardley can start planning to build for next season.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Andy Frampton, George Francomb (Will Antwi), Sammy Moore, Jack Midson, Harry Pell (Peter Sweeney), Aaron Morris (Danny Hylton), Darren Jones, Tom Richards, Kwesi Appiah.