Wimbledon produced a stunning late fightback to snatch an unlikely victory at Rodney Parade with a superb individual effort from Kevin Sainte-Luce.
The tricky winger came good just when Wimbledon needed him as he cut inside and cracked home a fantastic winner to earn a deserved 2-1 win for the Dons. Wimbledon were heading for defeat midway through the second-half when Ross Worner made a hash of a routine Newport free-kick and he was credited with an unwanted own goal.
However, substitute Charlie Sheringham struck his first League 2 goal for the Dons and then Sainte-Luce capped an amazing turnaround with a goal that was AFC Wimbledon’s 1,000th league goal.
The Dons made three changes to their starting 11 after that last-gasp defeat against Bury with Jack Midson offered an opportunity to solve his side’s goal drought. Midson replaced Charlie Wyke with Will Antwi and Luke Moore both also handed recalls in place of Aaron Morris and George Francomb respectively.
With a vocal home support creating a raucous atmosphere early on, Newport pushed the Dons back and it was clear what their main tactic was going to be from the outset. The hosts aimed to utilise the pace of former Dons forward Christian Jolley and his strike partner Chris Zebroski at every opportunity and it needed a timely interception from Antwi to stop the latter going clean through on goal. Wimbledon coped without any further alarms by the half hour mark and began to earn a fair share of possession, though it was tough to play any football on such a threadbare pitch.
The best chance so far followed in the 28th minute when Newport goalkeeper Elliott Parish was forced to make the first save of the match. Sammy Moore swung in a free-kick from the left that was only half cleared and Luke Moore latched onto the ball and had a decent low effort saved by Parish.
Though that had been the only sniff of a chance for Wimbledon so far, they had coped quite comfortably with Newport’s threat as half-time approached. The only criticism of Wimbledon’s first-half performance was that they had struggled to provide much service for their experienced forward pair of Midson and Danny Hylton. There was half a chance for Wimbledon in first-half injury-time though when the lively Luke Moore attempted to put Midson clean through, but the striker’s first touch took him away from goal and he was crowded out.
Wimbledon showed more adventure at the start of the second-half and they had a decent chance to score after Jack Midson won a free-kick on the right. Sammy Moore swung in a dangerous cross that Hylton rose highest to meet, but he could only direct his header over the bar. Newport served warning of their threat at the other end though when Jolley cut inside Antwi, but he flashed his shot into the side netting. The game became more stretched as we headed towards the hour mark and that man Midson had a fine opportunity to net his first goal since his winner against Exeter City. Hylton picked up a loose ball through the middle and sent Midson scampering through, but his extra touch allowed Newport’s defence to get back and the opportunity went begging.
Newport made a double change on the hour with manager Justin Edinburgh changing both his strikers. Rene Howe, a nemesis so often for Wimbledon in the past, was introduced, along with Shaun Jeffers, for Jolley and Zebroski. It wasn’t long before Newport snatched the lead against the run of play, albeit it had nothing to do with the changes. A long free-kick was lofted forward and there appeared to be no danger when Ross Worner came out to collect, but the ball slipped through his hands and trickled over the line before Alan Bennett could clear it.
The Dons refused to feel sorry for themselves though and a spirited response followed that should have yielded the equaliser. Midson was sent clean through by Hylton but his shot was well saved by the feet of Parish and then when the ball was diverted into his path by Luke Moore, the Dons striker was ruled offside. Neal Ardley made a double attacking change of his own with 20 minutes left as Wyke and Charlie Sheringham were introduced for Midson and Hylton. Sheringham had an instant chance to make himself a Wimbledon hero but he headed over the crossbar and then he missed his kick after good work by Michael Collins.
Wimbledon made their final substitution with 15 minutes to play as Kevin Sainte-Luce entered the fray for Jim Fenlon. With the Dons now committing so many men forward, they were almost caught out when Antwi gave away a free-kick that he was cautioned for and Worner just gathered Andy Sandell’s free-kick at the second attempt.
However, Wimbledon got the equaliser they deserved on overall play when Sheringham scrambled home from close range after Newport had failed to clear a Sammy Moore corner. And the Dons completed a remarkable turnaround in style three minutes from time. Sainte-Luce, who had barely touched the ball since his introduction, picked up the ball on the left and turned his marker smartly before lashing home a superb strike into the top corner.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Jim Fenlon (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Sammy Moore, Darren Jones, Alan Bennett, Luke Moore, Will Antwi, Danny Hylton (Charlie Wyke), Jack Midson (Charlie Sheringham), Michael Collins.