Wimbledon went down fighting at Griffin Park tonight with late goals from George Francomb and Peter Sweeney salvaging pride.
It looked like being a particularly sorry exit from the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy as Wimbledon were 5-1 down at one point, but they rallied to give an excellent travelling support something to shout about.
Dons supporters filled the Brook Road Stand for this tie with a total of 1,226 making the short trip and excellent goals from Jim Fenlon, Francomb and Sweeney at least gave them reasons to cheer in a 5-3 defeat.
Neal Ardley decided to shuffle his pack by making five changes from the side that started against Fleetwood on Saturday. The omissions of Barry Fuller and Andy Frampton meant that it was a young back four. Fenlon switched to centre-back alongside Rhys Weston with Callum Kennedy returning at left-back and Francomb filling the right-back spot.
An end to end start at Griffin Park suggested that both sides were taking this competition seriously. Indeed, there was incentive for both clubs with the Bees aiming for a repeat of their final appearance in 2011 and AFC Wimbledon aiming to win just their second game in the competition after beating Stevenage on penalties two seasons ago.
Wimbledon were far from second best early on against the League 1 high-flyers and Michael Smith was just denied a chance to net his third goal in as many games when his goal-bound effort was blocked after good work by Kevin Sainte-Luce. Jack Midson then had an even better chance after Sammy Moore picked him out, but he shot wide after finding plenty of space in the area. Wimbledon suffered a setback just before the half hour when Sainte-Luce had to be withdrawn through injury and Porter replaced him on the wing. Though Brentford showed their class in possession, there had been little to trouble the Dons during the first half hour.
The Bees had their first meaningful chance in the 35th minute when Farid El Alagui was left completely unmarked from a Scott Barron free-kick, but he headed straight at Ross Worner. Despite struggling to gain a fair share of possession, Wimbledon had the better first-half chances and they had a great opportunity to break the deadlock when Porter showed Barron a clean pair of heels and crossed well for Smith, but he dragged his shot wide.
Wimbledon conceded a goal out of nothing three minutes before the break when they paid the price for slack marking at the back. Luke Norris was allowed to find space on the left and he crossed for El Alagui, who had a simple task to net the opener. El Alagui then almost doubled the advantage with a fine run and shot, but Worner saved well with his feet. Though Porter fired over after good work by Midson, Wimbledon desperately needed half-time after enduring their worst spell of the match so far before the break.
Wimbledon had reason to feel aggrieved just after the break at 1-0 when Porter missed a great chance to convert at the second attempt, but referee Lee Collins refused to point to the spot after the Wimbledon winger had been taken out by Brentford goalkeeper David Button. Wimbledon’s sense of injustice was compounded when the Bees doubled their advantage in the 51st minute. The visitors were caught out by a quick break and Norris was left in acres of space on Wimbledon’s right side to pick his spot for number two. The Dons had a mountain to climb three minutes later when El Alagui beat the offside trap and kept his composure after rounding Worner to make it 3-0.
That at least produced a spirited response from Wimbledon and Fenlon struck his second senior goal in emphatic style when he turned inside from the right and unleashed a powerful drive with his left that arrowed into the bottom corner. That threatened to make a game of it, but it needed Worner to make a superb point-blank save to deny El Alagui his hat-trick. Neal Ardley had to make another enforced change just after the hour when Arthur had to go off injured and that meant Pell entered the fray. Worner was picking the ball out of the net again in the 64th minute when Wimbledon failed to deal with a Sam Saunders cross and Ben Nugent was left completely unmarked to make it 4-1. Smith came so close to edging Wimbledon back into it when he had two goal-bound efforts charged down.
There was no stopping a rampant Brentford side now though and it was 5-1 in the 69th minute when Worner failed to hold a powerful drive from Norris and substitute Javi Venta made no mistake from close range. Worner also denied Dallas from making it six, but Francomb netted a fine goal when he latched onto a Midson flick and powered through the heart of Brentford’s defence before striking home emphatically.
There was still more to come and Sweeney curled home a sweet strike to make it 5-3 in the 90th minute after good work from Porter. Wimbledon could have made Brentford sweat by making it 5-4 if Smith had headed home from close-range, but his effort was over, and the Dons had to settle for a gallant exit in the end.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Callum Kennedy, Peter Sweeney, George Francomb, Sammy Moore, Michael Smith, Jack Midson, Jim Fenlon, Kevin Sainte-Luce (George Porter), Chris Arthur (Harry Pell), Rhys Weston (Barry Fuller).